The day before you departed to San Diego, you picked up your bloated, lethargic, hormone-infused butt and took at trip down south to Tacoma, WA to have a lunch date with your favorite high school teacher, Ms. Mosher.
With you was Buffy, one of your longest-standing friends, going all the way back to middle school. Buffy had actually grown up just a couple blocks up the street from your house, and your original best friend was practically her next door neighbor. While it may seem odd that the two of you never crossed paths, it wasn’t actually surprising. You’d spent your whole childhood attending small, alternative, and distant private schools, and had been unable to cultivate many lasting friendships over the years.
Buffy has an intimidating, unrestrained sense of humor that has you doubling over in laughter much of the time, or at least leaves your face sore from smiling. When you were kids, your own sense of humor had yet to develop, but you could certainly appreciate her lack of restraint in discussing most topics–especially bodily functions.
Your lives diverged upon graduation from high school, yet you always managed to see each other when you came back to town. There were a few uncanny similarities between the two of you, aside from toilet humor:
“Buffy, I just got married.”
Then, “Yeah, Maria… I’m divorced now. It didn’t work out.”
Then, “I just popped out a kid!”
“I’m about to donate my eggs!”
These odd little parallels may have served as an extra adhesive to your friendship. Maybe not. Buffy made a point of telling you that she liked staying in touch with you–unlike many of your old high school affiliates–because you “weren’t a complete dumbass!”
Buffy also isn’t shy about telling the truth. In August of 2011: “When are you going to grow up, Maria? Seriously. You can’t just travel around forever. And what’s with the lip ring? What are you, twelve? .”
You also don’t hold her opinions against her. Buffy, then, admitted she was planning to have a baby. She and her (new) husband had talked about the timing, and it seemed like the best time. You were dubious. Dubious because it seemed like tough times were ahead for everyone, and staying in the middle class was proving trickier and trickier. But who were you to judge? Buffy also wasn’t “a complete dumbass.”
She was doing everything that you perceive “normal” people want to do.
You were doing everything that wayward, aimless, escape-artists do.
If the judgement was on anyone, it was on you.
So yeah, Buffy popped out her kid, moved to a gorgeous, safe, upper middle class neighborhood, had a wonderful, stable husband, and had executed her plan seamlessly. Over the past two months, as you visited her and watched her baby’s fat little cheeks engulf her face, you learned the specifics of her situation, her financial planning, and so forth.
Despite the stark contrast between your lives, you felt very proud of her and he good sense, even though you wouldn’t touch her lifestyle with a ten-foot pole.
Your values are different. Plain and simple.
Isn’t that what most disagreements boil down to? Different values?
Linda, your B&B “mom” in Seattle–with whom you’ve crashed for several months over the past few years in exchange for labor, is a Mormon, and a right-wing republican. You don’t judge her for her values, and she doesn’t pass judgement on yours. You are sure to stay on the patches of common ground.
Staying with your family in Seattle can always end up being an exercise in patience. While you’ve known Lorelei and Rory your entire life, you are still startled by the contrast. Your values are diametrically opposed, it would seem, and your stomach turns when you watch Lorelei blow through as much money in a weekend as you could live on for 3 months.
Politics is always a hot topic for people, who seldom appreciate the fact that their values are being leveraged against them in order to distract from more far-reaching policies and externalities. Someone may not understand the implications of foreign policy as well as they understand the right to marry. That same someone may value a person’s right to marry more than the avoidance of widespread economic hardship or war.
When an argument reduces down to immutable values, it stops. Agree to disagree. Values aren’t universal.
All you care about is whether someone’s behavior is consistent with their values.
- It is easy to be frustrated with someone you care about who fails to see that their behavior is working in opposition to their values.
- It is frustrating to argue logically with ignorance (lack of information) and denial, a great deal of which is perfectly understandable psychology; but it is still a stop.
- It is difficult to deeply relate with people whose values are unknown, incomprehensible, or inconsistent to you.
- It is most difficult when persuasive people cause you to doubt your own values, and force you to acknowledge your own inconsistencies.
While you are generally more confident than the next person, you are not without moments of doubt. In fact, you might even experience self-doubt more commonly than the next person. It’s probably a symptom of frequent introspection, rather than insecurity–or perhaps both.
Are you being consistent? Are you being overly judgmental of others? If you are, what does that say about you? Why are you on the attack? Are you being insecure?
You received the following email from your teacher a couple days after your meeting:
“thanks for the visit as well. i hope you can find what you are looking for in life. part of me envies your ability to just live simple and travel. i guess my chance of doing that will come when i retire! you will find you calling i am sure. you have a lot to offer in energy and intelligence. now you just need to channel it into some endeavor.you are in my thoughts as you travel the world! take care!!!!!!!”
You must have been feeling insecure at the time, because you couldn’t help but feel like you were misunderstood. Was she implying that you still haven’t found your calling? That your current endeavor doesn’t count? You’re not sure.
You take no offense, whatever was meant. You have no trouble understanding that the saga of your post-collegiate life looks disorganized and fruitless. You have the intelligence and work ethic to succeed in anything you end up wanting to do, and it may be difficult for your friends and family members to see that your choices are a result of having too many options, rather than too few.
Here is an interesting feature of your life at home: your brother-in-law, Manfred, a 76-year-old East German, hates you.
He has always disliked you. Since you were 8 years old, he was stern and disapproving. As you grew older and defied the will of your sister, he probably grew to hate you more. Everything you did, from being insubordinate to determining your own education, he seemed to hold against you. As you engaged in the common thrill-seeking behaviors of your high school and collegiate years, he despised you even more.
He and Lorelei flew to New Haven to visit you during your freshman year in college. You hadn’t actually spoken in years, and he was on good behavior–that is, until Lorelei excused herself to use the toilet. Finally alone, he squared his body toward yours and proceeded to tell you what an ungrateful shit you were–what an ungrateful loser and fraud your father was–and how you owed everything in your life to your sister, and were it not for her, you never would have gone to Yale.
Oh yes, Manfred despised you. And this resentment only ripened with age.
Hence, whenever you are in Seattle, you are not allowed to set foot in your sister’s (enormous) house whilst Manfred is there.
Lorelei and Rory love to theorize about why Manfred can’t stand you. The most prevalent theory is that you “wasted” your education.
“He just thinks that you should have gotten a good job after you graduated from Yale. He just doesn’t understand your generation,” Lorelei offers.
That might be, but it wouldn’t explain why Manfred hated you before your collegiate years.
“You should make him understand!” your brother Rory exclaims. “Life is different now than it was back then. What’s a ‘good job’ these days, anyway?”
“Manfred is proud that Evelyn–” his granddaughter “–graduated from school, got a good job, and now has two kids,” Lorelei says.
Rory: “I cannot see Maria doing that. Doesn’t he understand that not every woman aspires to that kind of life?”
On and on…
“You know, Maria,” Lorelei says, “You and Manfred actually have a lot in common. You both are hard workers, you hate spending money, you both traveled around Europe, worked in kitchens, did different jobs, read non-fiction, have similar opinions…”
Truthfully, in another life, you and Manfred would have been pals!
Lorelei continues, “Don’t worry, Maria. I think it’s great what you are doing. You get to travel around and see the world. You don’t have to work right now. So why should you? I would have liked to do those things, but I couldn’t. I had too much responsibility. I had to work all the time. I’ve worked my whole life!”
You thought about all the reasons why she had to work her whole life–namely, she had expensive tastes.
While Lorelei is kind when she supports your lifestyle, she has conveniently forgotten her previous judgement. Years ago, “So… you’re a personal trainer… how long do you think you will do that? You’re not going to do that for the rest of your life, obviously.”
At the time, you were married, living in Boston, trying to convince yourself that you wanted the house, the stable career, and the white-picket fence and children. You wanted what Kady wanted. You were on the rebound from your break-up from rowing.
“I don’t know,” you said. “I love being a trainer. I wouldn’t be surprised if I stayed in this industry for the rest of my life.”
“But… a personal trainer?”
The judgement was there. A personal training certification cost about $500. A Yale education: $160,000.
Clearly, you should have been chasing a more glamorous income in a more esoteric field.
Perhaps Lorelei didn’t know you had canceled your interview with JP Morgan to accept a job framing houses. No sense in trying to force a fabulous round peg into a square hole.
Your partner Katie is a kind ally. She says, “Maybe Manfred should understand that people don’t go to Yale so that can get good jobs. They go so that they can do whatever the hell they want.”
You didn’t go to school so you could get a job. You’ve never had a problem convincing people to employ you. You went because you wanted the education–nothing more.
It all just boiled down to values. There’s something about you–your values, your walk in life, that shakes Manfred’s values to their core.
You can’t force someone to value (and prioritize) their health any more than more than Manfred can force you to value the chains of a mortgage, a desk, and babies.
And for more “normal” the people who occasionally “envy” your freedom and your travel…
You imagine that longing for another person’s life–even aspects of it–must be a difficult emotional state. To you, it signifies a person’s acknowledgement that things could have gone a different way, but that ultimately they valued something else more. This should serve as a reminder that whatever you choose to do, you are ultimately responsible for your own state of affairs. The more you point the finger at other things, other people, other circumstances, the more you fail to own that responsibility.
So, what’s the point of this blog, anyway?
- Initially it was a way to let your friends and family know you were still alive while you did the unthinkable.
- Then it became a stand-in for your own memory, especially as you witnessed the devastating affects of Alzheimer’s.
- It serves as your lifelong favorite way to pass the time (writing), and probably as constructive form of narcissism and catharsis.
- It currently serves as a testimony to possibility; a record for hows and whys of your choices, lest you try and deceive yourself later.
Memory is funny and unreliable, and most certainly selective and self-preserving. You have, in your lifetime, twice egregiously deceived yourself. These deceptions, to say the least, were emotionally traumatizing.
Perhaps this blog is simply your best defense against self-deception.