Overcoming Self Shame

If I could diagnose my self shame, it would be the negative banter that races through my mind at a mile a minute, every time I do something that falls short of the superhuman I aspire to be. Be it the way I carry myself in public, the things I did or did not contribute to a conversation, failure to articulate, not feeling intelligent enough, blushing when I’m anxious, awkwardly fumbling through my very disorganized purse, or putting on an outfit that seems too boring or unfit for my personality, the list goes on.

Sometimes, my shame is a heaviness that sits in the pit of my stomach when I drive to work in the morning, as I ask myself what I’m doing with my life. Other times, it’s a giant finger shaking in my face disapprovingly after I scarf down a bag of chips, or a ball of fear that sits on my tongue and stops me from opening up to someone. Most times, it’s an ugly and ominous thing that regenerates every time I think I’ve almost killed it, like the black mold in my shower. It tells me I need to have a specific demeanor, be a film and music expert, know certain authors and have a creative job. It tells me I will never be a conversationalist, let alone a decent socializer.

When I pick up my head to look around, or down to stare at my phone screen, I see people living their lives in ways of their choosing, and it’s more often than not a sensory overload: people dressed in suits and ties, talking business on their bluetooth headsets. Other twenty-somethings that appear beautiful and happy. Creatives sharing impressive visions on social media. Instagram vanity. Usually, my internal monologue exclaims, “Dang, they have it together,” or “Why can’t I look like that or have that life?” As if these carefully curated images of other young people are meant to dictate how I should live my life.

My self shame becomes deprecation.

In overcoming this shame, my mind always circles back to the sentiment that “we’re all human.” I repeat it again and again, until it rings dumb in my head. But it doesn’t stop me from comparing myself to others, or from fearing them. We all create pseudo hierarchies of coolness, both in person and on the webthese fortresses of intimidation we attach to one another. How can one not come head to head with self shame when the scope of our world’s expectations is literally at our fingertips with features like Instagram’s explore page?! A vortex of media, from social outings and gatherings to recipes and diets, floods our minds. It can become daunting to live life in a certain way, without looking to others as a reference pointfor what’s normal, and for what we have come to put on a pedestal.

I know what I need to do, but that doesn’t make the process any simpler. Self shame is a disorder that can quarantine me off from trying new things. I hide behind my phone when I walk outside, look past people rather than smiling and making eye contact, and stand a certain way in photos because I know it will make my legs look how I want them to. There are some facts, vocabulary words, and trends I simply don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I google search my way through life.

I can’t always pinpoint where my shame begins and ends, which makes overcoming it a confusing process to sort through. Especially when it becomes a habitual emotion. The solution to conquering the shame demon looks different for everyone. For me, my solution is being tirelessly courageous in my social interactions. Conquering my hypersensitivity and developing thicker skin. Being compassionate more often than self critical. Everyday, I have to remind myself that not everyone is going to be receptive. Some people might not hold the door, validate my work, or be compatible with what I put out. Taking chances on peoplewhether that’s smiling at a pedestrian, viewing people as my equals, or being forward with my feelingsis the only way I’ll move past the more debilitating parts of my shame.

Shame makes us human, but it doesn’t have to control us. Moving past my shame means doing things to serve my own happiness, and not to impress others. It’s an ongoing project that is special and unique to me. What might this project look like for you?

 

What Gets Lost In Virtual Translation

If I could go back to reference the text history with the last guy I was interested in and point out all the instances where what I was trying to say was lost in translation, I couldn’t. Why? Because it’s not there! I deleted it. I was unsure about my responses, so I didn’t want to be reminded of it. There’s no evidence that we communicated, not even a trace.

When your identity is a little grey bubble, it’s easy to be whoever you want to be. You can take seconds, minutes, hours, or even days to come up with something to say. There’s an endless amount of silence at your disposal to choose the right words. If you don’t know what something means, you can mull it over, or get second opinions from your friends. Often, a text that is sent doesn’t capture the intent of the message.  It adopts a myriad of identities: your best friend, the co-author, the self you think is most appealing—an exemplary and idyllic knight in shining armor.

The longer time ticks after a text is sent, the more the anticipation builds. The anxiety of a virtual ellipsis that appears and vanishes gives me heart palpitations every time I’m texting someone I’m romantically interested in. It usually leads me to powering off my phone, manically pressing the home button every two minutes, or hurling it across the room.

Read receipts are all the more confusing. When the message I’ve sent has been seen without a reply, I often feel dejected. Did they intend for their reader to see the message as read? Was it oblivion? Did they get sidetracked? It’s interesting that I feel this way about read receipts when I myself have them turned on. Personally, I keep mine on because it holds me accountable to respond right away. Otherwise, I’ll probably never get to it out of laziness. I know some other people keep them on as an antagonistic power move or to play games.

Last weekend, I asked my friends their opinions on what I should text the guy I’ve been talking to. I’d only spent the night with this guy a few times, and didn’t want the text to sound annoying or intrusive. I realize this was overly analytical, but I was stumped on what to say. There was “Hey” plain and simple, “Heeey” with three E’s, “Hey Hey”, “Hi”, and a number of other greetings. Then, the question of whether or not I ask him a follow-up question: “How was your weekend?” The majority ruled yes, and I sent it.

Although it should be normal to text someone you’ve been intimate with, I felt like the underdog. Maybe it was my own ego combusting, but it seemed like a wearisome attempt at holding a conversation. I do this thing where I label myself as the lesser one, rather than treating myself as an equal to my partner. In my head, I’m the clingy one if I initiate conversations. Of course, I understand this is a futile train of thought.

Evidently, so much is lost in translation when you’re using a keyboard alone to communicate. I’m cringing at the frivolity of the whole thing, but I can’t help but psychoanalyze my half of the conversation. Impressing someone I’m trying to woo via text message is quite literally an art form. Matching their syntax to the intended tone of voice can be a labyrinth, especially when the situation may already be a game of cat and mouse.

I’m only using the dating dynamic as an example because it’s an experience that’s most fresh in my mind. I’ve encountered similar issues in texting with friends: sounding cold or removed because I used lowercase, excluded emojis, or was active on social media without responding to a text message.

It’s not so much what gets lost in virtual translation, but the ambiguity of voiceless communication. To me, reading the text message of someone I’m getting to know is the equivalent of decoding something foreign.

 

Single Stigma

For some of you, the morning after a sexual encounter may begin with groggy words of endearment like, “Last night was fun, gonna call an uber in a sec.” From that point, the exchange may shift to your relationship history. “How long have you been single?” Then, it could end with something like, “You’ve never been in a relationship before?! That’s shocking! Especially because you’re like, so good looking!” As someone who’s been single for 9 years, with the exception of short term hookups and two-night-stands, my impermanent suitors have reacted with this backhanded compliment almost every time I’ve shared my status.

The shock value of their responses may have lost its punch over the years, but I’m left retracing the origins of my dating and hook-up experiences, and often placing the blame on myself for not “putting myself out there enough,” or for “giving off the wrong vibe.” Navigating the dating world amidst these expectations and assumptions is exhausting. When my partners have questioned the duration of my single status, using conditions like beauty and appeal as reasons for their confusion, I become frustrated. Not because they’re ill intentioned, but because being single is so often misunderstood as involuntary, or as some kind of solitary confinement.

The weight placed on beauty in a relationship status— whether “taken” or single— has created a false standard that beauty should serve a purpose, and exist merely for someone else’s taking. Physical appeal, especially that of women, has been learned as something to be observed and enjoyed by others (predominantly men). If one is deemed beautiful, pretty, sexy, or hot, their “single status” becomes outlandish, or undeserved. People are surprised if beautiful people are without partners, as if the concept that one might not want a partner is simply out of the question. Beauty shouldn’t equate sex, romance, or be a determinant of why someone is in a relationship or not. Beauty is exploited and fetishized, which furthers the assumption its primary purpose is to please.

I’m a woman that’s horny often, lonely sometimes, and usually down to spend the night with a respectable, attractive guy if the opportunity arises. Although inexperienced in the world of relationships, I’d imagine that when you’re in one, there are momentseven if they’re fleeting when you want nothing more than to be a maverick, unbound by responsibility.

For me, it’s the same as a single woman. There are moments when I want nothing more than to be loved, spooned, and nurtured by a boyfriend, even though I’m content being single. Of course, I’m not speaking for all singles, but personally, I’ve discovered and explored many parts of myself as an independent that I wouldn’t have been able to embrace otherwise. From the excitement of coming home to my bedroom and spreading my limbs across my comforter, to the endless time I get to devote to my friends and weekends out, the bliss and harmony of being able to do what I want, when I want, fills me up. I’ve had years and years to work on friendships, try out new pick-up lines, learn how to navigate sex with different people, and get a feel for what the hell is out there.

One time, I was chatting with a male friend at a party, and the conversation turned to our relationship statuses, and the pro’s and con’s of being single versus in a relationship. He told me that maybe I needed to try being more open because I came across “stand-offish.” It was awful to feel like my character was not only being judged, but that my apparent isolationism was the reason I was single. Once again, I found myself reflecting on scenarios where I was at social gatherings, questioning whether or not I should have presented myself differently, approached that cute guy, or ventured out from my clique of girlfriends. I replayed the way I carried myself, my gaze. Did I come across “bitchy” and cold? Am I single because I’m that cold bitch?!

These toxic questions made me question the pride I had come to so closely associate with my singledom. I felt incredibly self conscious. After talking to many different people, gathering opinions, and taking the time to just think, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should all try to be better about making assumptions and judgments about people based solely upon the way they’re standing, or who they are or aren’t talking to. While it can be intimidating to approach someone who seems removed, or above it, I’ve realized that nine times out of ten, that person is either…

A) enjoying the evening with their friends, or B) feeling the same way you do. Yes, A and B may lessen the amount of new people you speak with in a night, but don’t let someone project these reasons onto your single status, and certainly don’t let them perceive these realities as inherently negative.

There are assumptions that being single for so long means you’re either a party animal or a recluse, hedonistic or anti-monogamy. The single life is filled with opportunity and autonomy, yet often, it’s met with sympathetic pats on the back, or these baffled remarks.

It wasn’t until very recently that for the first time ever, a guy I was hooking up with responded differently. Instead, when I told him I’d never been in a relationship, he said, “You seem like a strong, independent woman.” Sadly, it took me aback. This is the type of feedback that us singles miss out on, but need to hear more. The aghast reactions of my hookup partners at the “single for 9 years” sentiment is proof that being single is misunderstood in many ways. For some, it’s a choice and for others, it’s not. But either way, the single life deserves far more respect and critical thought for being the absolutely valid and acceptable lifestyle that it is.