A few months ago I went out a few times with this guy. We’ll call him Robo Writer.
Our last date was a doozy. He joined me at an on-site radio interview. Then we got Chinese food and ate in a park. A few hours of writing side-by-side in the library’s Rose Room followed. Then I stocked up on groceries at the Grand Central market, we slugged on the slow Saturday subway home, took Mitra for a walk to the Hudson, I cooked us dinner, I cleaned the kitchen, we yah know, and then we finally crashed. Or he crashed–I stared at the ceiling all night. The next morning, I couldn’t wait for him to head to work.
I liked the guy a lot. But 80% of that date I’d been lying to him. I’d been feeling oh so f-ing sick. And I didn’t tell him once the entire time.
I didn’t accept his offered help to cook or clean — when I feel sick, it’s “easier” to stay tough and forge on alone. I didn’t change up our plans for the sake of my health. I faked my feelings. I pulled into my head. Maybe he sensed that. A few days later, he ended things.
This was during the first few days of the No Sugar Challenge — a few mornings before the election and me getting a cold and an eye infection and me starting to date another guy again. It was before a weird holiday No Gifting Challenge, followed by January’s TeleWonderWoman study of negative thinking, and them the two No Waste months made incredibly introverted as they coincided during weeks of extreme illness. It was before I’d started having revelations about shattering habit loops, how I’m not a disposable person, and about discovering that I was now so, so happy despite life still being hard.
I’m not now blaming my actions for or mourning the loss of Robo Writer (I wish him well, but there’s no “one who got away” thing going on here). But when pondering how I want to approach the relationships in my life now and what I want in my romantic relationships going forward, the Challenges of the past few months had me thinking back to that last date. For the first time, I realized how much of my true self I’d kept from that guy because of this new habit I’d formed: When I feel that sick, I batton down the hatches, focus, and do whatever it takes to get from A to Z. It feels “easier” to toughen up than it does to soften. To fake feelings and do it all myself, and handle the overwhelming crash that happens whenever the person leaves, or the accomplishment has been achieved. My enjoyment gets sacrificed… but that’s not a priority. The priority is making it to Z. Just making it.
That means I lie to people. I don’t accept help. I don’t let others see all of me. Or share their gifts — gifts often easy for them to share that have a hugely positive impact on our shared time and my happiness.
I decided to take baby steps in stopping that. For one night while out and about with other humans, I wouldn’t lie. When people asked how I was or what I was up to, I wouldn’t make up stories. I would accept help if offered. I would stay or go and follow my body.
I tested the waters last night at the celebration of ten awarded pastry chefs I look forward to every year, since some of my favorite people are always in attendance. I met a dear friend going in. I shook hands with fascinating humans new to me and tightly hugged ones I haven’t seen since the autumn leaves turned golden.
And I talked.
When a colleague daydreamed about my breezy life as a freelancer, I countered with a balanced reality check. In the past, I would have tossed back vapid responses. But freelancing is hard; I can count on one hand the people I know who have been doing it as long as I have continually. And so I shared my current struggles with freelancing — being my own boss and assistant, keeping up with the demands of a changing Internet culture, shifting mediums, etc. — with my obvious adoration for it, too. Because of all this mad Challenge self-reflection, both were present.
Because of all this mad Challenge self-reflection, both were present. My sense-of-self was confidence, without my having to falsely shape it.
Later, a colleague who has Crohn’s disease and so therefore understands a bit of the physical frustration of modern New York City life noted my weight loss and asked if it was healthy or not. I told him my honest reality: physically, I’m not great. But, emotionally, I’ve never felt stronger. I felt extremely vulnerable in sharing so honestly with him for our seven-minute talk, but not like I was weak or whining.
Finally, a third colleague wrapped up his compliments with, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it because you look great.” I just responded with, thank you. Because while the superficial part of me suspected that the “look great” part originates from the fifteen pounds gone since he’d last seen me, I know there’s more behind my look right now that only that. I had been dreading attending this event because I’d had a string of rough body days in a row. But despite that, the introspection, reflection, study of choice versus habit, and digging into what I like/want/am of this Challenge work still had me comfortable in my skin. My “look” was not just about the clothes I was wearing — old clothes, just me — or that I felt good. I was just being me.
And when I started feeling not good enough to even be there any more, I left.
Oh. And I attended the event alone. Almost a year ago now, I buffered solo event attendance with booze. Last night, I stayed sober.
So my social interactions, physical health, and sense-of-self (the three means by which I measure these Challenges) were all only made stronger by my one night of not hiding or lying about where I am right now. Working as a freelancer is hard. Living in this body is extremely painful. But I am at least comfortable in my core, and my place moving through the world right now. Or as much as I can be, anyway.
And telling that truth feels good.