I’ve talked, and written, a lot about how I made myself small over the years. How I would literally crouch my big body in photos or in groups to not be the largest person, to not call extra attention to myself. I have skipped events and not spoken up, for fear of taking up too much space, too much room.
I don’t do that anymore. Not in what feels like years. Now I fill up any space I am in, I embrace others, I invite discussion, attention, I sprawl myself out wherever it is I feel like I can. I am my authentic self and I push everyone to be. I spend almost every day encouraging adolescent girls to stand tall, to not take the shit, to not be ashamed about their body, to not be dependent on a man, to not make decisions for their lives based on the expectations of those men, to not make themselves small, ever, for anyone.
Imagine my surprise one April morning when I heard my own words to one of these girls, I heard myself saying things that were true, they were honest and heartfelt, and she believed me and hung on every sentence. What a fraud, I remember thinking about myself later in the afternoon. I am talking this talk and not exactly walking the walk, I think that I should be saying these things to myself.
When I met Steve, I was, small internally, but a whole lotta girl on the outside. I had a big mouth and a strong personality but my self-esteem was in the toilet. I didn’t like my body, I had no career prospects, I was financially unattractive and overall just floating (or sinking!) through life. Years before we were together, we first met and spent a few days across a summer hanging out and then we lost touch. He was the one who got away, I searched for him on the internet in it’s clunky early days, I wrote emails to his last known email, I called the old number I had for him.
When he resurfaced in my life, it was like coming up for air. I loved him instantly.
I don’t know what my thought process was like; this is 13 years, eighty pounds, a bankruptcy, a second masters degree, a dead dad and a professional license ago. I didn’t know who I was. We didn’t know who we were.
There were, I know now, things that I expected to have or experience in my life that did not coincide with the things he wanted or expected. I conceded. Unknowingly, unwittingly, but just the same, I moved as an us. I doted, I did the things that would keep us an us. I went along with most things, not out of pressure, honestly, but because why not, why not do XYZ, this is what a relationship is. We called ourselves ‘team awesome’, the ones who didn’t care about petty things, silly things, we went against the grain, non-traditional, cool kids. It was perfect. Until I was sitting across from my therapist processing yet another series of dead dad emotions. I was talking about how I wished my father had the opportunity to have done more these last few years, how life is short, how I hope he didn’t die with regrets … how I don’t want to die with regrets.
I spiraled, briefly.
Who am I? Outside of my relationship? I know what I have accomplished and what I’ve done, but this has been the last dozen years of my life, am I living and loving this life or am I going through the motions? Was I truly anti-things, did my statements reflect my own beliefs, or was I operating as part of a unit, what happened to my loud-mouthed autonomy? When people would ask about our relationship, about marriage or a baby …. we don’t want those things I’d say, or we don’t care about that. Did I care about those things? Did I numb things about myself for acceptance and love? Am I a fraud? Did I force it? Do I swallow it? Do I put it all out there?
What. The. Fuck.
I unraveled, briefly.
I am shining a light on all these parts of myself now, and of my relationship, our relationship. I have begun examining my role in my own disappointment and how that has impacted the relationship, and the person I care so deeply for. I started with one small concession, let’s say, not celebrating a hallmark holiday. I gradually let myself slip through the cracks and I share this not because I am proud, but because in an effort to have what I wanted, keep who I wanted, I made concessions – and they are not the same as compromises. In a relationship, they can be life-altering for both parties, so I guess it’s a cautionary tale of sorts as my deep dive into self-reflection has caused some waves and now we are both holding a flashlight.
Choose yourself first, every time. Not because you’re selfish. Not because you don’t care about another person. Not because you are the only one who matters. But because if you lose yourself, you can’t fully connect with another person, you can’t be authentic. Choose yourself before you give away the pieces, so you aren’t trying to fit them together years later.
You can’t be half of “team awesome” while you’re wearing the “team who the fuck am I?” jersey.