Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Serious Goal

Ever since I graduated Colby in 2010, my goal has been to be non-meta. What I mean by non-meta is feeling free to talk and write about whatever I want to without feeling hindering by invalidation and social pressures, by people telling me, “That’s not a real issue – get over yourself,” or, “Why are you wasting your time on that when there are more important issues in the world?” I wanted to talk about things without sounding defensive, without mentioning that I was scared I wouldn't be taken seriously, without having to emphasize that yes, what I'm saying IS that big of a deal. I wanted to speak and write with the assumption that people would accept that everything was as important as I indicated it was, just like I did before college.

2013 was a breakthrough year for me. I connected with some very close friends and wrote my essay about everything that happened at Colby. I managed to do it without sounding defensive, in that non-meta tone where I trusted my readers to take me seriously. About a month later, I started my sex blog, which was the ultimate non-meta project. I made a point to write about sexual things as though it was perfectly normal to discuss them, barely acknowledging the taboos about what I was writing. I wrote a very long post about how cured I was at the end of 2013, and said that I finally had the confidence to write a super-long post about getting my hair cut without worrying that people would judge me for the importance that I gave to this topic. My first blog post of 2014 was a long post about hair length, and I thought this meant I had succeeded. That Colby was a thing of the past and I was prepared to trust people fully again.

As 2014 progressed, things between my boyfriend and me started to fall apart. He didn't accept who I was like he pretended to in the beginning. I could see very clearly when I shared my poem at the poetry slam and my post secrets at my birthday party that he didn't accept any of it. I started to realize just how many of my recent blog posts on pressure and invalidation were not directed at Colby, but at him. Our apartment-hunting experience taught me that he was not someone I could trust to take me seriously about things that I was not okay with. He had encouraged me to trust people again, and yet *he* wasn't someone I could trust. People like him are the reason that I’m afraid to trust people to take me seriously. At the beginning of March, my boyfriend finally admitted that he wasn't willing to get an apartment with me. That was when I started using Facebook as my diary. In the middle of April, he broke up with me. Our final fight was over a message from someone else who was pushing me to accept tough love, after I had CLEARLY stated that I was only looking for warm fuzzy cuddles and I was NOT willing to accept what was going on, and my boyfriend agreed with it. If he had said that from the start, I never would have dated him in the first place.

I recently wrote on Facebook that I would never be non-meta again because I have no reason to be. The breakup was another Colby scenario where people didn't take me seriously. Some people tell me to talk about what’s wrong, but so many of them don’t take me seriously when I do. I have friends I can be non-meta with, but for the general public, I don’t think I will ever be non-meta again.

The other day, I was talking to a friend who, like me, was afraid to talk about her feelings because she been invalidated so many times. I suggested that she begin conversations by saying that she was afraid the person wouldn't take her problem seriously because other people hadn't, and then see how they respond. That was what I had always done at Colby. When I got off the phone, I couldn't believe the advice I had just given. I had spent 3 years trying NOT to start conversations that way, trying to speak with the assumption that people would take me seriously, and now I was advising someone else to do the opposite. But then I thought about it, and realized that maybe being meta isn't such a bad thing. Maybe being meta is actually necessary for saying what you stand for and creating a culture where people are free to express themselves however they want to.

When I was straight out of Colby, being meta prevented me from doing a lot of things I wanted to do. Like, I would write a long piece about how damaged I was after Colby and how I would never be able to write about stuff like my hair length freely again…but I would do that *instead* of writing about my hair length. The problem was never the fact that I was writing about the issue of feeling safe to share – it was that I didn't have the courage to write what I really wanted to say. Because it’s possible to do both at the same time. When I really think about it, what would have been the harm in starting off my hair-length post with a message asserting my right to post it? I don’t see any harm there at all. In fact, that might have helped other people who've been pressured to do more important things with their lives feel safer talking about what they really want to talk about as well.

When you’re an activist for something, you speak out about that issue. For instance, you point out instances of sexism in the media and call people out on sexist comments they make, rather than just trying to treat everyone equally on a personal level. Being aware of how you act on a personal level is important also, but you need both. You wouldn't tell someone, "Stop writing about serious issues that affect millions of people! All you really have to do is treat people equally in your own life, and everything will be fine." I mean, I'm sure there are people who say that, but it's really not good advice. We need both.

What I realized from talking to my friend is that not feeling safe to talk about your feelings is a very serious issue that affects a lot of people. We have a huge movement in our culture to suck it up and deal and act happy all the time, and that is something that I need to be fighting against. Getting to a point where I felt safe to share my own feelings again was a huge step, but it is just the first step. Some topics, such as what I write on the sex blog, are taboo enough that there is no need to *say* "This is something that should be okay to talk about" - simply writing about the topic says it all. But I don't think that everyone who writes about negative feelings online is necessarily making an active statement against the suck-it-up-and-deal movement. In fact, several people who have pushed me to just accept reality and be happy also post lots of complaining-emotional stuff online. My friend Eli says that with something socially undesirable like laziness, for example, you generally have people who are lazy and people are against laziness, and that’s it. You don’t have anyone who is pro- laziness. But I’m pro-laziness. I'm pro- feeling how you feel and expressing yourself however you want to. And that issue is something that I NEED to talk about, and my goal is to promote sharing feelings as much as I can promote it, validate other people's feelings every chance I get, and teach other people how to be validating in their own lives.

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