Cynicism

From a very young age, I had a sharp tongue. In fact, pretty much every time I got a whoopin’, it was because I had smarted off to my mother. I was pretty sassy and independent and really hated being told what to do. At least with her. With my grandmothers, I didn’t even attempt to talk back to them because I feared them. Anyways, the point is, I’ve always had a bit of a bite to me.

Fast-forward 20+ years, and I’ve gone through a few different personality shifts. No, no, I don’t have multiple personalities, but I have grown and developed different attributes as I’ve gone through different life stages, experiences, relationships, and surroundings. When I was heavily involved in church, I was sweet and gentle, amiable most of the time and allowed a lot of people to influence me. I also believe that my insecurities played a huge role during that time of my life.

When I left the church, I was so hurt and angry from the situation, that I allowed those emotions to create barriers to my vulnerable side in order to protect myself. In doing so, I didn’t realize that I was allowing myself to start down a road of cynicism. I became quite the smart ass in my humor, very sarcastic in casual dialog and heated arguments (I have a killer eye-roll). I enjoyed this side of me because I felt like it gave me some power, some control. It allowed me to keep some distance between my emotions and reality.

As I started working with my therapist years ago, I never really thought that my sarcastic sense of humor could be influencing my state of mind negatively or that maybe it was even pushing people away from me, and honestly, I can’t really think of a time that we talked specifically about this topic, but it’s been on my mind the past few days (maybe even longer) since a specific conversation took place between a man and I at a bar. Side note: Why do all of my best conversations/life lessons/situations happen at bars?!

Shortly after I moved from Seattle to Detroit, I breathed a sigh of relief and contentment with the genuine pleasantness of the Midwest that I had missed so much. As I was greeted each morning by a random person on the street while walking Ginger, I couldn’t help but smile at how it infected my overall mood. In turn, I became the person saying hello first to people I encountered on walks, in the grocery store, or at a restaurant. During a conversation with a friend back in Seattle, I summed it up this way: “I just feel softer here.” And those words clicked inside of me. It’s like, they popped out without running through my brain filter first because it was exactly the right way to describe how I had been feeling the past two months.

As I’ve been settling into my life here, and things become more routine and normal, I tend to find myself reverting back to some of my former instincts (road rage seems to be trying to make a comeback for starters), and I’ve found myself with snarky retorts to people, or, in the case of last weekend, an intense conversation about relationships, double-standards, open dialog and trying to look past our past hurts and insecurities and hope/believe that someone may be a good person and have good intentions. I listened well as he spoke about various circumstances and his own issues/hang-ups but in my mind, I was screaming “BUT YOU’RE ALL THE SAME” and it really threw me for a loop. When had I become so jaded?

Now, specifically, I’m headed into the dating/relationship topic because I find that this is where so much of cynicism lies. Well, that and religion, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Dating….dating, dating, dating. Blech. I was 13 when I was first hurt by a boy. I wrote him a note at school telling him I liked him and he showed it to everyone and they all made fun of me. Pretty harsh intro to love. That same boy hurt me again at 17. I didn’t technically begin dating until I was 23, and I fell hard for someone who lived in another country (we met while he was here, don’t worry). Needless to say, I cried a lot. From then on, I’ve really just had a series of dating disappointments and a couple short-term relationships that left me bruised and hurting. I had a handful of guys I ended things with, but for the most part, I’m usually the one being broken up with. That has led to a lot of internal questions about what is wrong with me to be so unworthy of love. Now, thanks to therapy, I’ve been able to work through a lot of that stuff, but the thing about insecurities is that I’m not sure they ever totally go away. I think that they get better, maybe 99% better, but I’m not sure if they’re ever truly gone. So, while I can sit here and type out all the ways in which I have worked on myself, the changes I can feel and see in myself, and the changes in my friendships and way that I approach relationships,  I can’t say that that question of “why can’t I be loved” is completely gone.

The fact of the matter is that we, as humans, hurt each other. Now, hopefully as we grow and mature, we don’t do it intentionally and it becomes infrequent. But, it still happens. We’re all individuals who see and feels things uniquely, and so it is bound to happen. The difference is when we can admit it, truly apologize and move forward with awareness of not letting it happen again. I’ve been truly lucky to have a best friend who has given me a lot of grace and time to learn this important lesson. But, sometimes it’s easy to leave that lesson within the safe confines of our friendship and not take it with me into new relationships.

I’ll admit that over the past few years, I have truly embraced feminism. I believe whole-heartedly in equal rights and I am not here for anyone who believes they can control another human being. I’m not here for the patriarch or presidents lashing out at pro athletes for their right to protest. But, what I have been made acutely aware of over the past 3 days is my lack of balance between my residual pain/embarrassment/anger from personal experiences, feminist beliefs, believing in someone’s goodness until they show me that they are not good, and gracefully standing tall in the fact that I deserve love and respect.

Because the universe is silly and likes to make a point, there was an incredible article that happened to find its way into my inbox on Sunday morning that was all about being cynical and how bad it is for us. I’ll spare all the details but post my favorite quote from Caitlin Moran:

“When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes “No.” Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment.

And this is, ultimately, why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are scared of disappointment. Because they are scared someone will take advantage of them. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them — that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them.”

When I read that, my eyes welled up with tears as I thought about all the times over the past few years that I’ve used a cynical retort, either aloud or in my own head, to hide my insecurities and to prematurely stop anyone from hurting or disappointing me. My therapist used to ask me every few months or so, whenever the topic of dating (or my lack-thereof) came up: “Do you think there’s some type of non-verbal signal you’re giving off that is subconsciously saying ‘don’t look at me’?”. Honestly, I wonder if it was my cynicism all along. Not saying if I dropped the cynical attitude that I would be happily married in Seattle right now, but I do think it has played a part in my dating life, and I hope that I can move forward with this awareness to not allow those thoughts to fill my head and heart from now on. I love how I’ve felt here since moving. I love how open I feel, how vulnerable this experience has made me, and I love feeling that softness.

Yes, people are going to hurt me. But I can choose how to experience and process that hurt honestly without, in turn, placing it on someone else. That’s the dream. ❤

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