Friday, December 30, 2011

Reasons to Bond Over

When you and another person bond over something that you both love, it doesn't really matter why you love it. You can have fun riding bikes or making crafts or watching a marathon of your favorite TV show because your bond is about doing the activity together. When you and another person bond over something you both hate - a required class or the way people with glasses are portrayed in the media - it becomes more important that you agree on why you hate this thing. It may be your reasons that you actually bond over.

Suppose that Ashley has a very hard time tying her shoelaces. (And let's assume that she can't just practice and learn how to tie her shoes). As a result, Ashley hates gym class because it's really embarrassing to not be able to tie her sneakers. Now, many people would say that Ashley isn't alone because a lot of kids hate gym class.  But the truth is, someone in Ashley's position would not necessarily bond with kids who hate gym class for other reasons.

A lot of kids hate gym class because they don't like sports. Ashley may be really good at sports and love to try out for a team if only they didn't require her to wear sneakers. Some kids hate gym class because other kids bully them or pick them last. But it's possible that all the kids, even the ones who are teased, pick on Ashley about her shoelaces. It is also possible that Ashley picks on kids who are not athletic. The kids who don't like gym may be popular and think they're too cool to participate, or athletes could rule the school and the kids who don't like gym may be unpopular, and we don't know which group Ashley fits into.

If Ashley is athletic, she won't bond over hating sports.
If Ashley is not arrogant, she won't bond over being "above" gym class.
If Ashley is popular outside of gym class, she won't bond over feeling like an outcast.
And if Ashley is the only one who has this particular problem, she won't bond with people who bully or criticize her for it.

This is just something to keep in mind, before you tell someone that they are not alone because there are other people who feel the same way. If everyone loves a particular type of lemonade, and you hate it because it's not sweet enough, your first thought might be to bond with other people who hate it also. But what happens when you learn that the other people who don't like it think that it's too sweet, that they're petitioning to make it even less sweet than it is now?  Would you still be able to bond with them, or would you actually have more in common with people who like the lemonade the way it is? When it comes to disliking things, it's our reasoning that really matters.

Pride and Other Emotions

People are always telling me that I should feel proud about things that I don't feel proud of at all.  I only feel proud of achieving something that I wanted to achieve, something that I enjoyed the process of.  For me, pride must be linked to another positive emotion.

Back in high school, I was in a state theatre competition each year. There were three rounds of competition, and at each level, three schools were selected to advance to the next competition. Most of us had a high stake in the competition and were disappointed about not advancing. But to me, advancing was never about winning - it was about making the competition last longer. In addition to the competition play, my high school had a play from September to December and another play from January to March. But after that, there were three months of school without any theatre, just waiting for summer vacation.  Our first round of the theatre competition was at the beginning of March, but if we had ever made it to the third round, the competition would have lasted through April.  It would have been the most fun year ever.

That was why I wanted to advance. Not because of the achievement, but because it meant more theatre.  That was the award for me.  I liked the idea of winning, but if there was only one round of competition and the play ended there whether we won or lost, I would not have cared as much as I did about winning. And if the rehearsal period was stressful rather than fun, then a part of me would have been happy that we didn't advance.

Here is a personality quiz question I found that explains it perfectly:

If you got accepted into a very special all-girls school, you would feel:
a. Nervous
b. Bummed
c. Proud
d. Excited

My answer was "bummed" because I didn't want to go to an exclusive all-girls school. But if I had wanted to go, my answer would have been "excited." I never would have answered "proud" because my reaction would be based on how much fun I expected to have at the new school. I would only feel proud if I also felt excited; if I didn't want to go to the school, I wouldn't care very much about the achievement of getting in.

Pride is something that I experience if it is linked with another positive emotion.  I don't feel proud about achieving something if the process wasn't fun.  I don't feel proud about getting into to programs that aren't going to be fun.  And I don't feel proud when I hear something positive about a school or program I was in unless I enjoyed my experience. I do feel proud of things that I wanted to do, things I enjoyed working for, things that I would go back and do again. It doesn't work that way for everyone, but this is how it works for me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holistic Experiences

In my last post on vegetables, I mentioned that I experience things holistically, and I'd like to elaborate. A holistic experience means taking everything into one experience rather than separating the individual parts. Like, if you were having a really fun time at a party and certain music was playing, you might always think of the music in a positive way, even if it wouldn't normally be your favorite kind of music.

I always remember these fruit drinks that tasted kind of like fruit smoothies. Most of them had some type of benefit - they were packed with certain vitamins or are designed to boost your concentration or immune system.  My first introduction to these fruit drinks was during my preparation for the SATs in high school.  My mom found the drinks in the store and bought them for me to improve my concentration and keep my immune system intact during all the stress. I though of these drinks as medicine. Even when I bought them years later, I just couldn't drink them like juice - I couldn't get past the feeling that these drinks were like medicine and not something that a person drinks for the taste.

This is probably the most extreme example, but generally speaking, what I like depends not only on taste, but on my perception of the food, whether I've always thought of it as something that tasted good vs. being told I should eat it because it was good for me.

I would be curious to know how this affects other people's likes and dislikes.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maybe Vegetables Aren't So Bad

For most of my life, I didn't like vegetables.  My mom said that when I was very young, I loved peas and carrots so much that she would add more of them to my soup.  She said I began to reject vegetables when I began watching Sesame Street and got exposed to the idea that kids don't like vegetables, but adults push kids to eat them because they're healthy.  Somewhere inside, I still feel this way - if someone is pushing me to do something because it's good for me, I figure it must not be something that I would want to do on my own.  It's hard to like vegetables in a culture where "Eat your vegetables" means do what you're supposed to do before you can get what you really want.

Once we were teenagers and the whole "kids don't like veggies" phase died down, the cool thing to do was eat salad. I don't like salad (or any kind of dressing), and the pressure to eat salad turned me off to it even more.

The first vegetables I really loved were avocados. Homemade guacamole, to be precise.  Unlike broccoli, carrots, and green beans, I never faced a pile of avocados on my plate that I was "supposed" to eat. My parents had always loved guacamole, so I always thought of it as a fun food. Once I tried it, I was hooked.  Soon beans and guacamole became staples for me.  Discovering that one of my favorite meals - a meal that could be made into a seven layer dip for a party - was actually a healthy one, made me reconsider my judgement of vegetables. I used to think of vegetables as just salad, but now I've discovered eggplant parmigiana, spinach pie, veggies dipped in hummus, caramelized onions and peppers, oven-roasted  veggies, and more.

I have a much better understanding of what I like and don't like based on the actual flavors of the food, not what other people tell me I should and shouldn't eat. If you experience things like food holistically (like I do), it can be hard to make that distinction, but trying different foods will help you figure it out.  With all the unwanted pressure to go on diets and care about calories, there are still times when I want to reject all vegetables. But I can't. Because guacamole is still at the top of my list.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why We'd Feel Better Without GPAs

For most of my life, I didn't know what my grade point average or class rank were. We didn't have GPAs or class rank until until high school, and they weren't included on our high school report cards. I never checked my GPA or class rank until I needed them to apply to college. Things were different in college: every time grade came out, your GPA and rank were also included. I didn't want to see either of these things because they made me feel really bad. I got some bad grades during my first year at college, but I did well after that.  If I had only seen my new grades in the following years, I would have felt proud that I had improved so much, but because my GPA reflected my bad grades from the first year, I always felt like I wasn't doing well.  I always felt like I needed to do better to recover from my first year, but looking at my grades alone, I had already recovered.  And even though I don't care how well my grades compare to my classmates', seeing my class rank made me feel like I was doing really poorly in school, even though I was getting good grades by my own standards. I spent my entire time at college feeling like I wasn't doing well when I actually was doing well - all because I didn't have the option to see my grades without viewing my GPA and class rank. I think schools need to give us that option to only see what we want to see, because some of us just want to feel good.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not Everyone Wants Balance

I have never been interested in living a balanced life. Yet a lot of people I've met don't believe me when I say this; they can't let go of the notion that everyone must want balance.

Here's an example that comes up a lot. Let's say there are three activities that a person can spend their time on: A, B, and C. So I decide to devote most of my time to thing A, but also do a little of B and C. People try to convince me that I want to do more of B and C. They'll tell me that one day I'll look back and regret that I didn't do more of B and C. But I can usually predict what I will regret, and I know that if anything, I will look back and regret that I spent any time at all on B and C, that I didn't devote all of my time and energy to thing A.

"But you're already doing so much of A!" they'll argue.

"But it is only so much," I'll try to explain. "It's not everything. It's not all of A that I could be doing." And did it ever occur to anyone that if I wanted to do more of B and C, I would? Why would I spend so much time on A if I had any interest in living a balanced life?

How College Students Dress

College Casual
A lot of people will tell you that clothes don't matter as much in college as they did in high school. It is much more acceptable to wear, t-shirts, sweatpants, and other comfy clothing in college, but that doesn't mean that all personal styles are welcome. When it came to fashion, my college could be divided into two groups: people who cared about clothes and people who didn't. This may sound all-inclusive, but it wasn't. Almost all of the people who cared about clothes wore preppy clothes. (A few also wore hippie clothes and high-fashion clothes, but that was it). Then the rest of the students were more causal and just wore jeans and t-shirts.

College "I care how I look"
This seemingly chilled-out environment left out tons of styles that you see in high school:  goth, emo, punk-rock, funky, glam, creative, and tons of personal styles that didn't have a name. Styles that people put a lot of effort into, but do not fall into the category of dressing "nicely." I knew plenty of high school kids who put just as much effort into their goth or emo styles as other kids put into their preppy appearance. But in college, you never see things like goth or emo; styles other than preppy, hippie, and sophisticated/artsy just aren't acknowledged as real styles, no matter how much effort the person put in.

Shirt over tank top (college style)
"Effort" is a strange word when it comes to style, because we use "effort" to mean looking nice by societal standards, regardless of how much time a person actually spends on their appearance. Take layering for example: if you wear a tank top under a long-sleeved v-neck shirt, it looks nice.  If you take that same tank top and wear it over the long-sleeved shirt, it looks much more casual, even though both choices take the same amount of effort.

Tank top over shirt (my style)
Here's another example: the most time-consuming part of getting dressed for me is picking out an outfit. If I have a job interview, I am much more concerned about having every hair in place than I would normally be, but I only have one interview outfit that I always wear. If I'm going to a pool party, I'm less concerned about looking perfect, but I have many more outfits to choose from. I would probably spend weeks thinking about what I can wear and trying on different combinations.  So even though I look nicer at a job interview, I actually put a lot more time and effort into dressing for a pool party.  We shouldn't assume that someone who dresses "nicely" puts more effort into their appearance than someone who doesn't because different styles can take equal amounts of effort.

Finally, casual is a style. It's not a lack of rules. It's not a safe zone where you can dress however you want. It is a style, and there can be casual cliques with the attitude that you're supposed to reject fashion, that you don't belong if you plan your outfits a week in advance. I remember the awkward glances I got in college when I asked people what they were wearing to a theme dance - like we were supposed to be beyond that sort of thing. I toned my personal style way down in college because I felt way more self-conscious than I ever had in high school; people who weren't preppy weren't expected to care about clothes. It was weird to wear anything that got attention and made you stand out.

My Style
My Style
Even if you go to a college that's less preppy, alternative styles are usually hippie or artsy/sophisticated.  It's rare to come across the younger, more rebellious styles that you find in high school. Colleges aren't more accepting of personal styles in general - they just have different group of socially acceptable styles than high school.
My Style

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Piece of Advice

I was flipping through American Girl's new book, A Smart Girl's Guide to Knowing What to Say, and came across a section about being supportive to someone who is grieving or going through a very difficult time.  It gave examples of helpful and unhelpful things to say, and one of the unhelpful things was to compliment the grieving person on being strong and saying that you couldn't handle the situation as well as they are handling it.  This is unhelpful because:

1. The person may seem okay on the outside when they're broken inside, and complimenting them on being strong may make them feel like they need to act like they're okay when they're not.
2. This compliment may be appropriate for a person who chose to do something challenging, but it's not appropriate (and a little insensitive) to say to someone who is going through something horrible that they never would have chosen.

This is what I thought all along. Kind of nice to see it in print.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Being Yourself on the First Date

I've always felt a little uncomfortable when I read suggestions on what to do on a first date. Not because I was afraid of doing what was recommended, but because it would have been false advertising for me to do a lot of the behaviors suggested; I would not have been being myself.  Now that I'm in a relationship, I can already see problems ahead for people who follow that early-stage advice blindly, without giving consideration to whether or not the suggested behaviors would be an accurate reflection of who they are every day.

Take this example: Cosmopolitan magazine once said that a good way for a girl to impress a guy is to show that she is laid-back. They gave the example of getting the wrong order in a restaurant and eating it anyway.  Well, that's fine if that's what you would normally do, but what about those of us who aren't laid-back? Those of us who wouldn't eat something we didn't order? Is it really fair to the other person to behave differently around them?

Some time later, a woman wrote into Cosmo asking for advice. She said that guys like her at first because she acts chill, but once she reveals that she's actually high maintenance, they don't like her anymore. Instead of telling her to be herself from the start, Cosmo suggested that she solve the problem by trying to be more chill so guys would like her. That was the end of my subscription.

But what's silly about this situation is that the woman may have gotten into that mess by taking Cosmo's advice in the first place by trying to act chill.  It's a common problem in relationships that people start to act differently as time goes on, especially after marriage. It's like, they were behaving a certain way to attract each other, but once they knew they had each other, they could go back to normal. But I don't think the problem here is that people stop what they were doing at the beginning; the problem is that they ever started something that they didn't really want to continue.  We're told we need to do A, B, and C to attract someone, but what if those are things that we just wouldn't normally do? There's no point in getting someone to like you on your special dating behavior if you're not like that in everyday life.

My first date with my boyfriend Eric was a walk in the woods. It didn't have the pressures of a normal first date because we hadn't officially called it a date. We didn't know each very well back then, so there wasn't as much at stake. We were able to speak normally, like friends. I was a bit revealing on that first date; I had my suspicions about whether anyone would really want to date me, so I gave Eric a taste of what someone might not like about me. Not your typical first-date behavior.

Well, it's been almost a year since that first walk in the woods, and my boyfriend and I are madly in love. Eric supports me in everything and we can talk about anything - it's so weird to think about what I was once afraid to reveal.

So, my dating advice? Act naturally. Because you will attract people who like you as you are, not as you happen to be acting on that first date.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Not-So-Happy Ending

In the book Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult, a character explains that the ending of "The Three Little Pigs" story is not a happy one at all.* We assume it's happy because all three of the pigs survive inside the brick house, but they won't live happily ever after because they would never get along living together based on their different personalities demonstrated by the types of houses they have built. Just thought this was an interesting insight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Introverts Can Be Actors Too

Acting involves taking on the role of someone else, someone who may come from a different country, culture, time period, or background than your own. A kind person can play an evil character. A smart person can play a foolish character. Yet for some reason, people just can't imagine an introvert playing a more outgoing character, or sometimes any character at all. For this reason, some college student directors think they should take your real personality into account when deciding who to cast.  I've filled out many audition forms that asked irrelevant questions to show how extroverted, funny, creative, or charismatic you are, but none of those things have anything to do with acting.  If you're playing a character who is the comic relief, the director should see whether you can perform the role in a way that will make people laugh.  Whether you have a joke of your own or can make up a funny story on the spot has no relevance unless you are auditioning for an improvisation group.

Upon entering college, I had been in more than 20 stage productions, and out of these, there was only one time that I performed as my real self, without acting (in a talent show). Most of the time you are acting when you're singing or dancing, even it's not part of a musical.  There was one particular group at my college that performed songs from different musicals, including some parodies about our school. In the breaks between songs, students would come out and have funny conversations and routines, addressing each other by their real names. But these pieces were scripted, so there was absolutely no reason why those students had to be funny and charismatic in real life. Yet being that kind of person was basically a requirement for getting into the group.

It's okay to be yourself onstage, but it shouldn't be a requirement.  Being talented in singing, dancing, or acting involves expressing attitudes, emotions, and personalities that are not your own. Who you are in real life should not matter.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


When I was in middle school, a lot of my classmates had braces and always talked about how horrible they were. When my friends asked me if I would ever get braces, and I said no. I said that even if I needed braces, I wasn't going to get them because it sounded like a really bad experience. My friends then tried to tell me that braces weren't really that bad and were even kind of cool, after they had complained about their own braces all year. I did end up getting braces the following year, and they weren't as bad for me as they were for most people. (It was a minor adjustment, so they weren't as tight). But if braces had been as bad for me as they were for my friends, then I would be happy to know that someone else decided not to get them because of what I had said.

The braces are only one example of this: there have been many times when I said I wasn't going to do something because other people said that it was really bad, and the people almost always backtrack immediately and tell me that it's really not that bad. I understand that you wouldn't want someone to follow you blindly or make a decision based only on your experience.  But when someone is taking what you say seriously, you don't have to back out; you can explain the specific reasons that you didn't like a particular experience so that the person can decide whether or not they would be bothered by the same things. You can also explain how your situation may be different from theirs.

If a person wants something so much that they're willing to do anything to get it, they won't be fazed by anything negative that you tell them. If they are fazed by something you've said, it means that they probably would have had a problem with that issue when they discovered it on their own, whether you had mentioned it or not. If there is any doubt in a person's mind, you would be helping them by bringing those doubts to the table before they begin something that they might not want to start.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Making it Easier to Say No

Whenever someone asks me "Are you free on Monday?" my response is always "Why?" or "What did you want to do?"  I won't reveal that I am free at a given time until I know what I'm being invited to do, because it's much harder to say no to something you don't want to do once you've revealed that you have the time. It doesn't give you the freedom to decide whether to make time for an activity based on what it is.

After years of being asked whether or not I'm free on a certain day with no further details, I have developed a better way of inviting someone to do something.  I say, "If you're free on Monday, would you like to come to the party/ help out at the fundraiser/ hang out?"  This way, the person knows the event and the date at the same time, and can make a decision based on whether they want to go as well as whether they want to do something on Monday.  Sometimes I even expand the question and say "I don't know what you're doing on Monday, but if you are free, would you like to..." It's a bit drawn out, but it makes it even easier for the person to just say "No, I'm not free on Monday," and leave it at that because you've built into the question that they might not be free.

Of course, wording invitations this way is only a temporary solution to our issue of  "No" not being a complete sentence, but it would make things easier for people who feel pressured to say yes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Absolute Validation

Validation - When you validate someone, you're letting them know that what they think and feel is legitimate, that they have every right to think and feel that way.

Absolute Value - (Different from the mathematical term).  Absolute value is the opposite of comparative value.  A person can be tall in a room of shorter people or short in a room of taller people, but their actual height stays the same.  Tall and short are comparative words, but a person's actual height is an absolute value because it doesn't change based on their surroundings. Focusing on absolute value means caring about what you're doing, but not in relation to what anyone else is doing:
  • Being satisfied with your good grade regardless of how many classmates scored above you. 
  • Feeling free to express how much you hate all the work you have to do, even if you have a lighter workload than everyone around you. 
  • Posting what you're in the mood to post even if everyone else is talking about something more important.
So when you put the two together, absolute validation means validating people without comparing their situation to anything else.
  • Absolute validation means that if your friend feels x because of y, you consider that perfectly legitimate even if you would not feel the same way in their situation.  It means not saying that they should feel z instead, even if that is how most people feel about y.
  • Absolute validation means that if your friend indicates that something is of a certain importance, you accept that importance at face value, even if the same thing wouldn't matter as much to you, or to most people.  It means treating the situation as seriously as your friend indicated it should be treated.
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend to suck it up, tough it out, or get over it. It means accepting that your friend's situation is not okay if they tell you that they are not okay with it.  
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend that they shouldn't be so upset about something because there are bigger problems in the world.  It means not intentionally using other problems to one-up them.
  • Absolute validation means not telling someone in an earlier stage of life that their problems aren't that bad because things will get harder when they reach a later stage of life.
  • Absolute validation means paying attention to both the objective situation and the subjective story that your friend tells you. Understanding the objective situation can help you solve a problem, but only if you keep your friend's priorities and feelings in mind. 
  • Absolute validation means accepting that your friend may find something boring or stressful that you find fun. It means not trying to "help" your friend get comfortable with an activity unless they are interested in doing so.
  • Absolute validation means being happy for your friend when they're psyched about getting a B in a class, even if you thought the class was an easy A.
  • Absolute validation means supporting your friend's goals when their focus is different from your own.  It means treating a friend's school play as seriously as they do, even if you're focused on applying for jobs.
  • Absolute validation means accepting it when your friend doesn't care about losing weight, being more social, studying, etc. It means not pushing your friend into doing something they don't want to do and telling yourself that that's a good thing.
  • Absolute value means respecting your friend's priorities, even if they pass up an opportunity that you would have taken. 
  • Absolute validation means never telling someone that the discrimination they face doesn't exist because you don't see it.
  • Absolute validation means believing your friend when they say that they were harassed, assaulted, or raped.  It means not asking if they're sure it was real, but believing them without question.
  • Absolute validation means not telling your friend that things aren't bad enough for them to kill themself. Obviously things are that bad, or your friend wouldn't be considering suicide. Absolute validation is helping a friend find other permanent solutions to their problems, not trying to tell them that their problems aren't that bad.
If you've been an absolute validator in my life, I appreciate it so much. I hope I can be one in yours.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When to Question Legitimacy

I said in a recent post that I don't approve of questioning legitimacy, and I wanted to further explain what I mean.  There are many situations in which we should question legitimacy.  For example: if you receive an email stating that you will win a free car if you give some information, you would probably think that the offer is not legitimate.  In this case, questioning legitimacy means questioning whether what the email says is true. That's fine.

Now, let's say someone tells you that they're not feeling well or that they're going through a tough time.  If you suspect that this person might be lying - saying that they're not feeling well when they actually feel fine, or saying that they feel worse than they actually feel - then it's fine to question the legitimacy.  People lie sometimes, and it is possible that someone might lie about not feeling well. What I have a problem with is when we believe that the facts are true, we believe that the person actually feels the way they say they do, but we say that their situation is not a legitimate reason for feeling the way they feel, or that the way they feel is not a legitimate reason for acting the way they are acting. That's for them to decide, not us.

A few of the dictionary definitions of legitimate are "conforming to established standards of usage, behavior, etc." and "based on correct or acceptable principles of reasoning," but I don't think either of these things should be up for judgement, and I don't believe in "correct principles of reasoning."  Everyone has their own reasoning.

Finally, think about this: a person who is lying wants to be believed. If someone is going to make up an excuse for not being able to do something, they would probably say that they were sick or had to go to a funeral, since these are acceptable excuses in our culture.  If someone says they can't function because the walls are yellow or people are typing too loudly, they are probably telling the truth because someone who is lying would come up with a more socially acceptable reason.  And keep in mind that some people lie because no one will accept the truth.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't Be Careful What You Post

We've all heard people say that you should be careful what you post, that you shouldn't write anything online or even in an email that you wouldn't want your parents or teachers or future employers to know about.  Well, that doesn't work for me because there is not a single thing I post online that I would want future employers to see, unless I am actually talking to them.  I love to write online and refuse to censor or reign myself in, and I get really annoyed when people tell me to be careful what I post. I have privacy settings and anonymity so that I can't be found by everyone. I don't let people into my online space if I have to be careful what I say around them.

I understand that we should avoid hurting people's feelings and sharing other people's private information online. But if you want to share your own private information, why not just regulate who can see it? I understand that sites will sell your info to market researchers, but when it comes to privacy against people you know in real life, the privacy settings can pretty much do the job.

Not everyone wants to keep their websites as private as I do, but the point is that there are multiple ways to make your information private from individuals whom you don't want to see it.  I once got into trouble for something that I posted on Facebook, and since then, I've often been told to be careful what I post. But I am much more careful now - I'm careful about who can see it. My Facebook page is private. Only certain friends can read what I post. I have never used my full name on this blog. I have searched my own name on the internet numerous times and nothing that I don't want people to see comes up.

The example on the right is commonly used as a be-careful-what-you-post warning. But why can't it instead be a be-careful-who-you-friend example? Not saying stuff like this is one choice, but not adding your boss in the first place is another choice, and is the right choice for those of us who want to complain freely online.

Don't let people tell you not to over-share, online or anywhere else.  If someone is going to make you compromise what you would like to share, they don't belong in your personal space.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peer Pressure Is Not Okay

A good friend of mine says that if a person says no to something 49 times and the 50th time you ask them, they say yes, that's not consent; that's pressure.  I couldn't agree more, yet a lot of people think that it's okay to pressure someone into doing something that they don't want to do if the thing itself is positive.  But I make no distinction between pressuring someone to try drugs or get a haircut or join a volunteer group if the person has said that they do not want to do it.

Part of the problem here is that we have learned to associate peer pressure with negative behaviors; when we learned about peer pressure in elementary school, the scenarios we discussed usually involved one kid pressuring  their friend to do something wrong, such as stealing.  While it is important to teach children right from wrong, the message of the story is that the kid shouldn't go along with their friend because stealing is wrong.  As we get older, peer pressure is all about drugs, alcohol, and sex, but the peer pressure education is still the same.  Anyone who teaches you to stand up to people who push you to try drugs or do sexual things assumes that those things are wrong, the same way that stealing is wrong. They don't emphasize the "if you don't want to do it" part; they tell you not to do things. Our whole concept of peer pressure is so intertwined with what society tells us is right and wrong that we have never been taught about handling peer pressure that doesn't involve something wrong, pressure to do neutral or positive things that you just don't want to do.

Peer pressure is often disguised as encouragement.  The only time I believe in encouragement is if a person knows what they want, but is having trouble getting there.  If a friend told me that they really wanted to try out for the track team but were nervous about not making it, I would encourage them to go for it because they have made it clear to me that it is something they really wanted to do.  But if I asked my friend if they want to join the track team, and they say no, that they would rather get home after school and watch TV, then any further encouragement is negative peer pressure because my friend has already said no, regardless of the benefits they may (or may not) receive from joining.

In order to not pressure people, you have to pay attention to what they want.  When my college friends asked me for advice about things, like whether or not they should take five classes instead of four, I turned the question around and said, "Well, do you want to take five classes?"  I asked a lot of questions that would help them think about the pros and cons of taking five classes and figure out what they wanted to do.  But most of the time, if someone asked everyone at the lunch table whether they should take five classes or four, almost everyone encouraged them to take five, without asking questions or trying to figure out what the person wanted.  That to me is a subtle form of peer pressure.

Finally, consider that if a person wanted to do something, they would probably do it or work towards it. It's fine to recommend things to a friend that they might not have known about, but if they say they're not interested, that's the end of the discussion. If a person wanted to cut their hair, change their style, join a club, join a gym, join a social network, get drunk, get a hook-up, apply to college, look for a job, or educate themselves on a particular topic, they probably would have done so already. Or at least expressed interest.

No is a Complete Sentence

Here is an example of "no" used as a complete sentence:

"Are you coming to the talk tonight?"

Simple, but it never feels this simple.  For some reason, we can't accept no as a complete answer to a question.  Yes is a complete sentence.  If you replaced the "no" with "yes" is the above conversation, it would sound fine. If your answer is yes, you don't need to provide an explanation for why you are going.  Yes can be followed by a period, but no is always followed by a comma and then a reason for not going.  But you don't owe anybody an explanation for why you're not doing something. No is a complete sentence.

I really hate it when people complain about other people's stupid excuses. People wouldn't have to invent so many stupid excuses if it were perfectly acceptable to just say, "No, I'm not going/not joining/not interested," and leave it at that.  No one has an obligation to do something just because they can.  People often denounce the "I don't have time," excuse, saying that the person does have time.  But I always assume that someone might choose to take an easier course load or a less busy job because they want that extra time for themselves. If anything, I would assume that a person who is involved in a lot of things already would be more likely to join something else because they clearly like to be involved in a lot of things.  I would also guess that a person who is involved in fewer things (or nothing at all) would be less likely to add something new to their schedule because they probably don't like to be busy.  And saying that a person who doesn't do as much should do more amounts to peer pressure, which is not okay.

No does not require an explanation.  No should not be followed by a comma, but by a period, because no is a complete sentence.

I Support Attention Seeking

If you want money, you can look for a job. If you want to be fit, you can work out at the gym. But for some reason, if you want attention, you're not supposed to try to obtain it.  No one asks you to pretend that you enjoy bagging groceries after school because it's socially acceptable to do it just for the money.  So if attention is what you want, why is it not socially acceptable to try to get it the same way that you try to get anything else?

I am an attention-seeker.  I absolutely love attention, and I support other people's attention-seeking.  It really bothers me when people "write off" behaviors as attention-seeking, as if attention is not an acceptable reason for doing something. People can do things for any reason that they want.  I was once disappointed about not getting into a fiction-writing class that involved a lot of individual meetings with the professor. When I said how I felt, someone asked me it was really the class I cared about, or if it was all the individual attention that I wanted. Of course I wanted the attention!  This person acted as though the attention was less of a reason to join the class, but for me it was more of a reason. There is nothing wrong with doing something to get attention.

I understand that some people do things that are wrong to get attention, such as lying or deceiving other people.  But those actions are wrong because deceiving is inherently wrong - it's not wrong because of the reason that it was done. An action that doesn't hurt anybody doesn't become wrong because someone does it for attention.

Finally, we can't write off other people's behavior, like "She's just saying that to get attention," so that we don't have to respond to someone's distress.  It just gets us off the hook of having to care about other people's problems. Maybe it's our own lack of response and attention that has made the person resort to whatever they are doing.  The worst is when we write-off suicide attempts as attention-seeking. First of all, almost everyone who attempts suicide is seriously considering it.  Secondly, even if we somehow know for a fact that someone attempted suicide for attention, there is still a major problem: if a person has to resort to attempting suicide in order for people to pay attention to them, then something is very wrong with their situation, with the fact that no one will listen or be there for them unless they do something extreme.

The bottom line is that attention-seeking does not make something less legitimate, valid, or real, especially when it comes to serious things. Attention-seeking does not write off or lessen or invalidate what a person is doing.  Attention is something that a lot of us want, and we shouldn't have to pretend that we don't.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

When It's Okay to Change

When I first got my driver's license, I was very cautious on the road.  I drove about below the speed limit and never took a right turn on red.  I had no problem taking my time when I was going to a fun event, but the following summer, when I started working, I realized that my slow driving meant getting up earlier in the morning to get to work on time. That's how I started going the speed limit, taking right turns on red, and driving like everybody else.  I don't do things like learn to drive on the highway because it's what people do - I do things when I want to or have a reason to.

I was used to think that people changed when they entered a relationship, and I knew that I would never do that.  But I realize now that there is a difference between changing for someone and changing because of them. Changing for someone means that you're purposely altering yourself to please them.  Changing because of someone can mean that the person is your reason for doing something, the same way that sleeping later in the morning is a reason to drive the speed limit to work.  I've been wearing more fun outfits since I've had a boyfriend, but I've always liked clothes and putting outfits together.  It's just that in recent years, I haven't had anyplace to go and wear fun outfits (I'm not going to dress for a beach party just to sit in a boring class).  I haven't changed - I just have a reason to do things that I wanted to do all along.

Like I said in a previous entry, when it comes to acting differently in a relationship, you need to think about how you normally act in other situations.  If your behavior varies from situation to situation, if you do things because you have a specific reason, then changing because of another person is no different than learning to drive because you have someplace to go.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How Children's Media Discourages Introversion

In many children's stories and TV shows, a kid will get into a fight with their friends, storm off, and then try to play catch, tether ball, checkers or some other game that requires a partner by themself to show that a person can't have fun alone.  As a child, I used to hate having the message pushed on me that you can't have fun by yourself.  I loved playing by myself as a kid, and I still love doing things alone now.  Why play catch by yourself when there are so many activities that are actually more fun to do alone?

Children's media is primarily aimed at extroverted children and it confuses friendship with the false idea that you need other people to have fun. I love my friends and really miss them when I can't see them, but I miss them as individuals, rather than missing the "hanging out with friends" experience. Missing my friends doesn't mean that I have nothing fun to do by myself. When the media shows kids playing catch by themselves, they confuse the idea of missing an individual with the idea that it is impossible to have fun on your own. If a story is about a fight between friends, the friends could still miss each other, but not act like they have nothing else to do.

If a bunch of kids are playing a game that one kid doesn't want to play, the story shows the kid's failed attempts at trying to have fun alone, and ends by indicating that it's more fun to play a game you don't like with your friends than to be by yourself.  But that's just not true for everyone - maybe it is for some kids who are really extroverted and just can't have fun alone, but those of us who enjoy playing alone in the first place can actually have a lot more fun doing something we love alone than doing something we don't like with someone else.  If you want to address the friendship issue, the kids could take turns deciding what to play, or they could decide that in this particular instance, spending time with friends is more important than the activity.  There are many different ways to get a lesson or message across, and there is no reason to diminish the value of having fun alone in order to prove the value of friendship.  There's no reason to play catch alone.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't Tell Me I'm Not Alone

As time passes, I often find simpler explanations for things I had trouble getting across before. Let's say my college serves lemonade that almost everybody loves.  There's also a subculture of students who don't like the lemonade because they think it's way too sweet.  So I take a sip of the lemonade and think it's horrible because it's not sweet enough - I would need to add at least ten cups of sugar before I would want to drink it.  And when I tell people about this problem, they tell me that I'm not alone and I should go and bond with the other kids who don't like the lemonade - the kids who would make the lemonade even less sweet if they were in charge.

That's my college experience in a nutshell.  So please don't tell me that I wasn't alone, that there were plenty of other people who didn't like the lemonade.  Would you gravitate towards people who were fighting for less sugar when you were fighting for more?  Then don't tell me that's what I should have done.  I know plenty of people who were unhappy with the way things were, but not a single person who wants their lemonade as sweet as I do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Being Yourself in an Impression-Management World

I always said that I would never let things like work or job interviews influence personal choices such as streaking my hair bright colors, getting a tattoo, or using whatever I want as an email address.  I have done things a little differently than I imagined I would, but that's because of what works better for me.

I used to think that using your real name as your email address was boring, but now I understand why a lot of people do it, and it turned out to be the perfect fit for me.  For my first email address, I used the name fhsdramaqueen199. FHS was my high school and 199 was the chorus room number.  But once I'd been out of chorus for a year, the "199" was no longer significant to me. And I knew once I graduated high school that I wouldn't necessarily want the "fhs" in my name. I realize that any email address I come up with will have the same issues of feeling temporary - anything except for my real name. My real name is the only thing that will always feels right.

Regarding tattoos, I used to think I might like one because my friends all talked about getting them, but the truth is that I can't think of anything that I would still want on my body a year from now, let alone the rest of my life. My style and interests have changed in ways that I could not have predicted.  The tattoos I would have liked in middle school wouldn't have fit me in high school, the things I would have liked in high school wouldn't have fit me in college, and so on. There are things that will always matter to me, but whether or not I want those things on my body has more to do with my style than with their importance. And my style is temperamental. It's based on how I feel. So no matter what tattoo I get, there will be days when I just won't want it on my body.  Not getting a tattoo is really the right choice for me.

And regarding the hair streaking, I got some fake hair pieces that I can put in and take out whenever.  I never liked the idea of having to permanently streak my hair and wait for the color to grow out - I much prefer choosing when I want to wear streaks. Again, this makes it easier to dress the way I feel at a given moment.

The point is that, even though I imagined myself having a tattoo and real hair streaks and an email address like "broadwaydivastar"or "anitcollegeemogirl," I made different choices not because I'm giving into any pressure to act mature or appropriate, but because of what is right for me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Relationships and Compatibility Tests

Most compatibility tests suggest that the more similar you and your partner are, the more compatible you are.  I took the Big Five personality test on Facebook, which also calculates a similarity score between you and all of your friends who have taken the test. My similarity scores with everyone ranged from about 60 to 90 percent alike, and my closest friends and I are in the 60s to low 70s range.  The test considers us to be opposites (although it's hard to know whether 70 percent is actually a low score, given that my lowest similarity score was 58 percent) The results got me curious and inspired me to propose study on personality compatibility for a psych class.  But knowing that my friends and I had opposite personalities didn't threaten the stability of our friendship - I was really curious about why we were attracted to each other, but I never wondered about whether we would last as friends.  I just assumed that we would.

So why do compatibility tests have such authority when it comes to romantic relationships?  I understand that it's more serious and that you're spending a lot more time with the person, but I have to what you look for in a partner so much different from what you look for in a friend?  Most of us will tolerate more or less from our friends, but if you think about what you ideally want in a friendship, isn't it very close to what you would want in a relationship?

In the beginning, I was concerned about the fact that my boyfriend and I are only 72 percent alike, and when I compared his scores to my other friends, it turned out that he is more like all of my other friends than he is like me.  In the beginning, I wondered if this meant we weren't compatible.  But when you think about it, if my friends and I are all about 70 percent alike, then it makes perfect sense that I would also attract and be attracted to a boyfriend whom I am 70 percent like.  Whatever the reason, those are the people I get along best with and who get along best with me, so why should it be any different in a relationship than a friendship?

As fascinated as I am by personality quizzes, the best advice I can give on compatibility tests is to just have fun with them if you can do so without worrying, and put real life first.  Friendship is at the core of a relationship; you wouldn't wonder about compatibility if you answered differently than a close friend, so don't give compatibility tests authority over your relationship.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Travel Complaints

I've heard lots of stories about people who've gone a trip with someone who complained the whole time and ruined the trip for everyone else.  Then the question that always arises is, "Why did they bother coming?"  Well, I have a few answers:

Possibility #1: When you invite someone on a trip, they may have no prior experience to know whether they would like it or not.  They are probably basing their decision to come on how much fun you tell them it's going to be, the way other people talk about trips like yours, and the way that trips like yours are portrayed in the media.  A person really should consider themself and how they personally will react to the trip, but that's something that takes practice and a lot of tuning out what other people say.  Before you criticize someone for complaining, ask yourself how analytical you would be if someone invited you to something.  Would you think through every detail carefully, taking into account what you really know about the people, the place, and yourself, or would you just jump in the car and get excited for a fun-filled weekend because that's what everyone tells you its going to be?

Possibility #2: Sometimes, a person knows that they won't enjoy the trip and shouldn't go.  But when you tell me about a person like this, I have to wonder if it was really okay for them not to go.  If the person said that they didn't want to come because they didn't think they'd like it, would you really have said, "That's okay," or would you have tried to convince them that it would be fun?  Would you be happy that they weren't going to ruin the fun for everyone else, or would you be sitting here telling me that you can't believe they didn't go with you?  Perhaps they bothered coming because they were never really welcome to stay home.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Truth or Dare

I still remember playing truth or dare at recess in first grade, when lying in the game seemed worse than lying in real life. The feeling of truth or dare has changed a lot throughout the years. In elementary school, it was a mostly just a fun game, with silly dares. Once we got to high school, most "truth" questions were about who you had a crush on, which was fine with me because I told my friends about crushes anyway (but this is a very private topic for some people, so not the best idea). But starting in college, the questions in games like truth or dare became more private - stories about what you've done sexually or while you were drunk. I hadn't done anything, but that in itself was something I didn't want to reveal.  I didn't want to be called out as Miss Innocent in front of the group because I didn't see myself that way.

When you auditioned for plays or singing groups at my college, you had to answer irrelevant questions, such as "What's the craziest thing you've ever done?" I always wrote about something a friend had done as if I had done it myself. Stretching the truth on these audition forms taught me how to do the same thing in games like truth or dare.  If I was asked about the last person I kissed, I would say "A boy I was in a play with," but I wouldn't mention that it was just a stage kiss in the play. I felt safer this way, but still left out. I longed for a wild story that would shock everyone on an audition form or a in a game of truth or dare. I considered doing things I didn't want to do, just to say that I had done them.

It's funny how the anticipation of things is so different from what actually happens.  Now I have a boyfriend, and I don't think I could have predicted how amazing everything actually feels.  It's hard to believe that I once thought that the point of all this was to tell everyone.  I used to say that I would throw the biggest party ever when I did certain things for the first time, only to realize that those things are the biggest party ever. Truth or dare is kind of like a one-night stand - telling people intimate stuff when you don't have an intimate relationship with them is supposed to be fun. I was never into one-night stands.  It also never made sense to exaggerate stories that meant nothing to me when I had tons of stories that meant everything to me. Truth or dare may be fun, but in the long run, it's more important to find people who like you for your real stories, whatever they may be.

Questioning Motivations

Let's say that Person A is cleaning out her closet, finds some clothes that she doesn't wear anymore, and decides to donate the clothes to charity. Meanwhile, Person B has been feeling really bored and frustrated all week.  She doesn't like where her life is going - she wants to do something much more fun and exciting and rebel against anyone who tries to get in her way.  Just when she gets home, her mom starts criticizing her appearance.  She's had enough.  She empties her closet into a trash bag to donate to charity and heads to the mall to buy some new clothes that reflect the person she really wants to be.

I've been in Person B's shoes a lot, and a lot of people will judge you when you do something like this in anger.  But my question is this: What difference does it make?  Won't people still benefit from the donated clothes regardless of the reason that they were donated?  If Person B had donated someone else's clothes without their permission, then that would be wrong, but if the action is good, then we have no reason judge the reason behind the action.

The actions that we take can have either positive effects, negative effects, or no effects on other people. The only time we should question reasoning is if the action itself is harmful. It makes a difference if you punched someone to hurt them, or to get away because they tried to attack you, because the action harmed someone else. But in the case of the clothes, the action actually benefited other people.  Here is a neutral example:

Let's say Person B breaks up with her significant other and decides that from now on, she's never wearing red again because it was their favorite color. Many people will judge this decision as silly and stupid and immature. But again, what difference does it make? What impact does her not wearing red actually have on anybody else?  It is perfectly acceptable to not wear red because you don't like the color.  How does it suddenly become unacceptable because someone has a different reason? We have no right to judge someone for acting based on their own feelings when the act itself does nothing wrong.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dos and Don'ts of Party Hosting

You probably remember how parties worked when we were younger: you got an invitation in the mail telling you who, what, where, when, and asking for an RSVP.  So you responded and arrived at the party, which was just as it was described on the invitation. Now that we’re older and we don’t send out invitations for non-formal parties and events, I think we may have lost some of the basic party-hosting etiquette that those invitations required us to follow.  Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that I think we all should follow when hosting a party or event.

Let your guests know the date, time, location, and type of party/event you’re having, and any other information that might be helpful.  Think about what you would write on an invitation, and give your guests the same info.
 - Pick a specific date and time, rather than saying “sometime next week.”  There are a few conditions under which you might not be able to pick a date and time very far in advance:
 1. You’re getting together with just a few friends and want to wait and see which day is best for everyone.  This is okay because with such a small group, your guests know that they will be included; you’re catering your plans to them.  In a larger group, however, you may not be able to accommodate everyone, and changing the party date so that someone can come will probably mean that someone else will no longer be able to come and will feel more left out than if they couldn’t go on the original date.  If you have close friends who you want to accommodate within a larger group of guests, take care of that before you announce the party date to everyone.
2. The event is weather-permitting.  In this case, you should pick a date as soon as you know the weather forecast.
3. You truly cannot commit to a date and time very far in advance (ex: because of your changing work schedule).  Again, let your guests know the exact date and time as soon as you can, and in the meantime, give them a rough idea.  You could say, “I’d like to start the party by 6, but I’m not sure I’ll be out of work by then.  But it will definitely start by 9 at the latest.
Be accommodating in the way that you invite guests to your party.  If you create a Facebook event, for example, call any friends who don’t have Facebook.  Also call any friends who haven’t responded, as they may not have seen the message.
- Answer any questions about the party. If you don’t have an answer yet, tell your friend that you’ll get back to them, so that they know you got their message.
- Stick to your plans as best as possible.  Your guests are assuming a certain party plan and may not be okay with doing something else.
Let your guests know what level of food you’ll be serving, and follow through with your plans.
Let your guests know what will happen if there is a problem.  Ex: If it might rain the day of your cookout, will you postpone it or have the party indoors? 
-  Only cancel or postpone the party if there is a real reason for it (ex: you’re not feeling well)
If anything does change at the last minute, let your guests know as soon as you do.  Call all of your guests to tell them, especially if they might be on their way already.  It’s fine to update the Facebook event or send an email, but you can’t be sure everyone will see the message in time. 
- Apologize for the inconvenience if the party needs to be postponed, and understand if not everyone can make the new date.
Respect anyone’s decision not to attend your party if they’re not interested in the activity you’ll be doing.
- Make your guests feel welcome and let them know how glad you are that they came.
Leave your guests wondering about important details until the last minute.  
Refuse to pick a date and time in advance because you want to wait and see what other fun offers you get.  
Assume that everyone checks Facebook, email, etc. as frequently as you do.
Ignore questions about the party.
- Assume your friends won't mind if you cancel the original plan as long as you invite them to do something different.
- Change your plans about serving a meal. 
Leave your guests wondering what’s going on if there’s a problem (ex: a blizzard).  
- Cancel or postpone the party because you get an offer to do something better.
Forget to inform your guests about last minute changes of plans.
Change the party date as if it's no big deal and everyone can still come. 
- Criticize your guests for not being interested in the type of event you're having. 
- Indicate that your friends should feel lucky to have you to show them a good time.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    The Responsible One

    Since the beginning of high school, I've been considered "the responsible one," and I've always hated that label.  I hate it because it's not what I want to be.  Deep down, I really want to be wild and crazy, but my role has always been to keep things under control.  I thought about the logistics of our plans.  I kept track of time when we had someplace to be.  I suggested that we shouldn't walk in the middle of the street late at night.  I was in charge of everyone's safety.

    Once drinking entered the picture, not wanting to drink left me walking people to their dorms and driving people home and being the only one not laughing or acting crazy or really having fun.  I have to take care of the people who are supposedly taking me out to show me a good time. I resent the fact that drinking is considered the only way to party.  And I have always resented that being sensible is considered the opposite of being wild or having fun.  I used to dream that I could go out and do something really stupid and crazy, that for one night I could disregard the rules of logic and safety and just be like everyone else.  I can't count the number of times I've planned or threatened to do crazy things, but I've never been able to follow through.  It's just not me.

    But I realize now that I was going about this the wrong way.  I never wanted to be irresponsible - I just wanted the people around me to be to be equally responsible so that we could all have fun together and look out for each other, so that being sensible is a default condition rather than a stand-out quality.  When everyone is responsible, being responsible is not inversely proportional to having fun.  And I personally can relax and have a lot more fun knowing that I can really trust someone else.

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    Being 18 Again

    If you ever revisit a place you haven't been for years, you'll probably notice right away that it smells familiar, even if you were barely aware of the scent before.  In fact, the scent itself might take you back in time to when the place was a part of your life.  Scents can be pretty powerful in triggering memories.  When I was in sixth grade, I had some strawberry chapstick that I wore every day like lip gloss.  I wasn't allowed to wear real makeup in middle school, so the chapstick made me feel grown-up.  At some point in seventh grade, after I started wearing a new chapstick every day, I realized that just smelling the strawberry chapstick brought me back to the time that I was wearing it.  Sixth grade was an awesome year for me because I had a lot of fun in my first play.  Seventh grade wasn't such a great year, so I appreciated instant access to the happy memories.  By the end of middle school, I decided that I would keep a collection of chapsticks, lip glosses, and body creams that I didn't use anymore because they each acted as a portal to another time.

    As years passed, my collection dwindled down.  Expired creams turned sour and old chapsticks lost their scents entirely.  But for some reason, the original strawberry chapstick stayed the same.  It's been years since I've worn something scented for a consistent time period - the last time I did was the summer before college.  That spring, I had gotten a free Victoria's Secret body cream sample while walking through the mall, and I absolutely loved it.  Normally I wore fun fruit scents, and I wore them as fashion accessories, but this was different.  This was seductive.  I'd never worn anything like it before.  I tried to ration out the sample between prom, beach week, and the rest of the summer, when my mom suggested that I just buy a bottle from the store.  That was the logical thing to do, but I had never bought anything from Victoria's Secret before, and I didn't think I'd want to spend so much money on cream.  But I did, and it felt wild and exciting.

    I continued to wear the cream a little into freshman year of college, but after a while I only wore it when I felt rebellious or when I desperately wanted to be back home.  But it occurred to me just now that I might be interested in wearing it again.  Really wearing it, like I did at 18. So I went to my bathroom closet, opened the newest bottle I had, and rubbed a little bit on my hands.  For a moment, I was transported back in time to our senior year beach week, but a second later, it was gone.  The cream used to be very strong, but the scent had faded after just a few seconds. It wasn't made to last forever. And I have hunted around for more of the same stuff, but Victoria's Secret doesn't carry it anymore.  That last of it was what I had.

    But in the brief moment that I returned to that summer, I realized that I didn't want to go back there. Sure, I loved high school and hated college, but now that I'm out of college, high school isn't always better than the present by default.  It was exciting wearing something seductive for the first time, but I was never completely comfortable in it.  It was kind of like wearing something that belonged to someone else.  That scent carries confusion and heartbreak and a lot of things that I don't want to relive.  I wish I could hold onto just a little bit of it, just as a memory for my collection, but even the strawberry chapstick is beginning to fade now. But it's okay - cosmetics may expire, but memories can stay alive forever.

    Even if I could find the same cream I wore that summer, it would always carry the emotional weight of another time, a time when I couldn't handle some of the best things in my life right now. I'd much rather find a completely new cream - something that might have made me squirm in high school, but that I'd wear in full confidence now because I'm not 18 anymore.  I feel 23, and I love it.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    How to Fall Madly in Love and Stay True to Yourself

    The other day I set off to go to the post office for my dad.  First I went to the bank, then realized I didn't need to go there, then I headed back toward the post office but drove past it and came back home without my dad's mail.  Explanation: I was distracted.  I was daydreaming about my boyfriend and forgot what I was doing.  And most people would say that that's a bad thing, but I don't see it that way.

    When I first started dating in high school, my mom and I ran into some disagreements - she didn't like how obsessed I was acting and that I only wanted to talk about guys all the time.  I was sixteen by the time I really started thinking about guys; prior to that, I had no interest in dating.  For most of my life, I was vaguely aware that when people first entered relationships, they often became giddy and couldn't concentrate and would do silly things.  My mom always said she didn't understand that, and that while she was (and still is) passionate about my dad, she never acted that way.  And since I had never dated, I assumed that if the time ever came for me, I would be like her.

    But what I failed to realize was that I'm not like her.  My mom is lives a balanced life, but I zoom in on one thing and tune out everything else.  When I was in my very first play, Oz, back in sixth grade, I got so excited about the fact that "oz" is the abbreviation for "ounces," which meant that every label on every bottle and can said the name of my play!  I took a yellow marker (for the yellow-brick road) and highlighted the "oz" on everything in our kitchen.  I was bouncing off the walls about it practically every day.

    This is just one example of how I act when I'm psyched about something. So logically, it never made sense that I would suddenly become rational when I started dating someone I really, really like.  I should have known that I would act giddy and silly once I started dating based on how I acted in other situations.

    I had my uncertainties about dating at one time because I wondered if when people acted giddy, they weren't being themselves anymore.  I used to spy on one particular close couple at my high school, just to see how they did it.  I knew that both of the students were very ambitious and had many things that mattered to them outside of the relationship.  And while they really enjoyed their time together, I didn't observe any alterations in their personal goals.  That really cleared things up for me.  And now that I'm in a relationship, it's weird to think that I would have to question something like that.  You are still you and your choices are still your own.

    Acting differently doesn't necessarily mean that you're not being yourself; most of us do act differently in different situations, some more than others.  If you got involved with an activity that you loved and became more stimulated or happy than normal, no one would tell you that you're being fake - you're just acting the way you feel.  If your emotions are causing you to act differently, then the important thing is to let the other person know what you're like when they're not around, what you were like before you were in the relationship.  If you are honest about how you normally are, then I see nothing wrong with falling headfirst into all the feelings you have.  It's worth the second trip to the post office.  

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Why Shopping Isn't Fun

    My favorite pattern
    At first I was really excited about going bathing suit shopping today.  When I was in college, I had to wait until spring break to shop, and by then, everything was picked over.  This was the first time in a while that I've seen such a wide selection.  So I grabbed about six or seven suits in my favorite patterns and headed to the changing room.  But I was disappointed to find that having a choice of everything in the store didn't solve the problem I've had since I was fifteen.  The bikinis that I like - the ones that are bright, summery, and have wild patterns - are always made for girls who have really small boobs.  I always have to choose between showing more of my body than I want to or getting a bathing suit that I don't really like.  The last few years I went with bathing suits that didn't cover quite as much as I would have liked and figured I could wear something over them.  But what's the point of getting a bathing suit if you can't even wear it?

    The closest I could find that fit
    This year, since I went shopping early, I was able to find one that I like with a really good fit.  But it was nowhere near my first choice because it's classic rather than trendy.  It doesn't have that young, wild look that I love.  I hate the way we equate the word "wild" with "revealing."  We assume that someone who doesn't want to flash everyone at the beach must want an older, more conservative style.  My style is still what they put out for high school kids.  Just because my body has changed doesn't mean that my style has.

    Every year I go through my clothes and find some that I can give away.  If I haven't worn something in a few years, I assume that I probably won't wear it again.  That rule has pretty much worked for me; I've never regretted getting rid of anything, until now.

    I'm a person who dresses the way I feel - if I look happy and put together, it means that's how I feel inside, otherwise I wouldn't present myself that way.  For this reason, I decided to turn more emo during my second year of college, and as a result, I gave away a lot of fun, tropical, summery clothes that still fit because they passed the test of having not been worn for years.  But now that I don't feel so emo anymore, I look through the stores and I can't find anything like what I had in high school.  I wish I had held onto those clothes and waited to feel better.

    When I think about it now, my true style hasn't changed much at all - it's my surroundings that make a difference.  In high school, it was perfectly acceptable not to talk in class or express any interest in school, and then be bouncing off the walls about something else.  But in college, this wasn't socially acceptable, and I chose to identify as an unenthusiastic person because it wasn't okay to be selectively enthusiastic the way I was in high school.  In high school, I wore bright, fun clothes because I liked them, but also to be rebellious. Wearing stuff like that to class meant that my mind was elsewhere - I was thinking about the weekend and the personal life that I actually cared about.  Really, I dressed the way I did for the same reason in college, except that in college, dressing like you're happy indicates that you're happy to be there, not that you're tuning out school and making fun plans for the summer.

    It's really hard to find the same kind of clothes I had before - like the bathing suits, the stuff I like best is made to fit younger girls.  I look at the pictures from a few years ago and wish I could just open my closet and have everything back again.

    **Update: I ended up finding something closer to what I was looking for when my family was on vacation in the Caribbean and I found the perfect bathing suit in Florida. My wardrobe is restored, and I will be much more careful with it now. I will think about why I really haven't worn something, and hold onto it if I think I may ever feel like wearing it again.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Pressured to Exercise

    My idea of fun
    We all recommend things to friends that we think they might like, based on other things that they like.  You may recommend a book in their favorite genre or a movie that you think they'd enjoy.  But you wouldn't recommend a fictional TV show to someone because you saw them watching the news or a baseball game.

    The rules are different when it comes to exercise.  It seems like people are always looking for ways to pull you in. If you say that you enjoy an active activity, people assume that you're in it for the exercise and that you would enjoy other forms of exercise as well.  Some people are just ready to pounce on you and drag you to the gym with them if you even mentioned the slightest interest in something active.  If I say that I like to jump on my trampoline, people assume I want to go to the gym with them even though the trampoline is completely different from gym equipment.

    But beyond that initial assumption is the fact that people don't accept no as an answer. In college, I started to really miss jumping on the trampoline at home, so I thought I'd go to the gym just to try it. I felt really out of place because everyone was so hardcore about working out.  I didn't see a single person who looked like they were just there to have fun. I didn't see anyone who just showed up in what they were already wearing, like I did. When I mentioned that I had tried the gym to see if I liked it, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. Everyone wanted me to be their gym buddy.  And I told them no. I explained that I might go to the gym when I felt like it, but I didn't want any pressure to go consistently.  I said this over and over again but people wouldn't stop pressuring me to be their gym buddies until I quit going to the gym altogether.

    Not my idea of fun
    I love swimming.  My mom and I used to swim laps together at our city pool and talk. I wore my bikini and she wore her lap suit. There were all different people in the pool - parents with children, kids playing Marco Polo - it was an environment where any level of swimming was acceptable.  I thought it might be fun to try swimming in our campus pool, but I was in for a surprise.  The pool at our gym was for people who were athletic and really good at swimming.  I wasted my money on a one-piece swimsuit that I'll never wear again, that I only bought so I could look like the other girls. Whenever I talked about this issue, everyone told me that I could practice swimming and get better at it.  But you know what? I don't want to get better!  I don't believe that anything worth doing has to be worth doing well.  I have a few things that I actually care about, and everything else is just for fun.  Everything else, I'm not interested in working on or getting better at.  I didn't want to be a better swimmer - I wanted it to be perfectly acceptable to swim the way I do in the pool that I PAID to use!

    I'm not sure why the word "fun" is so incomprehensible, why even after you tell people that you love to catch up with friends while you're walking, or perform a dance of your own creation on stage, or jump as high as you can and feel like you're flying, someone always brings the subject back to how many calories you're burning.  It's okay if we have different reasons for doing the same thing, but please don't pressure me to exercise.  As I have said before, I'm just here to have fun.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Are We Defined by our Desires?

    I have wanted to go nightclubbing since I was about 16. When I turned 18, most of my friends still weren't old enough to go. In college, partying was synonymous with drinking, and living in a community of students who didn't drink, I didn't meet anyone who wanted to accompany me, let alone approve of my desire to go clubbing in the first place. Back home, my friends were going out on the town without me.  As my goal felt out of reach, my desire grew stronger.

    When I finally went clubbing for the first time the summer after I turned 21, I was really disappointed.  Part of it just wasn't what I expected, but I really felt empty inside. Nightclubbing was one of the final things on my list of goals. Having it as a goal had been such a big part of who I was in college, and now I wasn't even sure I liked it. But then I said to myself, Look, you're 21 and you're writing your first novel. Doesn't that count for anything?  Logically, I knew that writing a book should be much more defining than a desire to go nightclubbing, if for no other reason than that I was actually doing it, not just wanting.  Then it hit me - I had built nightclubbing up so much because I couldn't do it.  I didn't have anyone to go with, I wasn't comfortable going by myself, and it just wasn't a goal that most people approved of. It made me feel rebellious.

    The moment I decided to write a novel, I started working on it.  There was nothing preventing me and no disapproval, but most importantly, my novel didn't spend much time being a "desire" before it was what I was really doing.  But, like the nightclubbing, my novel became more self-defining, more something I wanted to tell everyone about, when September came and schoolwork began to interfere with my writing - when my goal of finishing my novel became harder to reach.

    When I think about the things that have mattered the most to me, only a handful are things that I fantasized about for a long time before I got to do them.  I would think that actually doing something should be more important than wanting to do it, but sometimes it feels like just the opposite.  Maybe desire really is what matters most.