Free speech is important but sometimes people forget that it comes with consequences. Historically the amendment was made to protect individuals from persecution if they speak out against those in power. It does not and SHOULD NOT protect against hate speech, so I’m glad to see many college students are making this distinction. I have been told numerous times bu many different people that “no one has the right to not be offended” and under the free speech amendment they can say whatever they want, and if I get upset them I’m preventing them from exercising their freedoms or even accusing them of thought crime. Maybe I don’t have the right to not be offended but I do have a right to a safe environment where I feel I will not be harassed. I have been told that harassment is protected under freedom pf speech. I have been told I can not speak out against my oppressors because I am preventing them from exercising my rights. A good friend once told me “You are free to say whatever you want, but you are never free of the consequences.” If the consequence is something as simple as me reminding them to use inclusive language, I don’t see why anyone should have an issue with that. But a lot of people have essentially told me that free speech gives them the right to be an asshole. If someone wants to be an asshole, go right ahead; but be prepared to be called out for it! Free speech should not negate the need for inclusive language and hate speech should absolutely come with consequences from the University. Free speech should protect students’ right to protest but it should not excuse harassment. In my job I work hard to make students aware of our bias incident/hate crime procedures, but there are those on this campus who would get rid of those resources in the name of “free speech.” My question to them is always: Are you inconvenienced by people’s right to report you for saying racist, ablist, homophobic, sexist, and other discriminatory things? If so, I probably don’t want to be your friend, because I can see you’re not a safe person to be around.
I declined one of the best positions I’ve ever had in favor of something I might not get. I can’t get the job I want, the job that sounds almost perfect, until I get a driver’s license. I’ve already failed twice. My next test is in two days. What if I fail? I still have options. Nothing is ever ideal. I wonder if I’ll ever find something that seems right. What am I even looking for? I can’t trust the people that love me most and the people who are supposed to care the most about me scare the shit out of me. As soon as I love people, I push them away. I expect them to leave. And that hurts them. I’m tired of hurting people and I’m tired of being stupid. I’m tired of being seen as small, dumb, helpless. I’m tired of making stupid mistakes. I’m tired of never knowing what to do. I’m tired of trying and trying and trying but almost always failing to get people to trust me and look up to me. I want to be a help and not a hindrance. I want to believe in myself. I want to make a choice by myself without someone acting like it was a horrible thing to do. I want to be able to push away the people that hurt me and hold close the ones who love me. I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to stay, and I have no where else to go but sometimes it feels like there’s nothing else I can do. Where am I supposed to be? I have no context. I have these people on this side saying these things and those people on that side saying those things. Who can I believe when my sense of self is so off-balanced? There’s so much about me I want to change, but I don’t know what would be left when I’m done. I don’t know what a better me would look like or sound like or act like. I wish I could try on someone else’s brain to see what life would be like. I envy those who can walk through life without my filters. It was almost better when I was younger and just blamed all my stupid thoughts on myself. There was no label I could blame for the way I am and that’s better because it’s so hard to look at a word and accept the fact that you can’t change it. I wonder why I have to live in this world where what I am doesn’t even fucking exist, where I have to rely on exceptional people to just fulfill what most other people take for granted. If I tell them who I am, I could legally be fired or turned down from even applying. Those people that look at me and smile like I’m a ten year old because I guess my grade school kids are right. And there’s nothing I can do. I don’t know how many of my kids in Pine Ridge are still alive. I don’t know why I was prevented from going back when fate brought me there in the first place and going there changed my life. The world is telling me one thing but people keep telling me something else. I don’t how long my kids from TRIO will last or if they remember my face and what I told them. And every minute I remember who they are and how much they’ve seeped into my life and nag at every thought that goes through my brain. Because I want them to keep going so I have to show them I did too. And I keep saying how much I’ve changed but what was there at the start that I could even change from? How is there progress if there was nothing at the start? I wish I could go back but I hate what I would have to go back to. And forward is so scary sometimes I want to forget everything that’s kept me going. And I think that’s the really scary thing. Because if I love someone it makes it that much harder not to stay.
I’m a broken human.
I’m emotionally unstable and suffer from two, probably three, diagnosable mental illnesses.
I struggle with self-harm and low self-esteem. My brain in constantly telling me that people hate me, that I’m a horrible worthless person, and no matter how much people prove otherwise, no matter that I know the voices are wrong, nothing can convince my brain that I’m worth more than the dirt on the bottom of my shoes.
My gender is non-binary or nonexistent. My body may have been labeled “female” but that has never been the way it felt. Society constantly screams at me to follow rigid norms, to choose one or the other, but I don’t. I can’t. Even trying to use the bathroom can feel like choosing between which leg to chop off. The consequence is that I suffer from dysphoria and a constant anxiety that I’ll never fit in, never be understood, never be fully accepted. That it’s me and not society that has to change. That if I just tried a little harder everything would work out just fine. But I’ve been trying as hard as I can for my entire life. I deserve a break that I’m never going to get.
You’re my favorite kind of person.
You’re quiet but you have the power to speak your mind if people are willing to listen.
You take the time to listen.
When you state your opinions you let people know that’s what they are.
You’re 100% okay with agreeing to disagree. You don’t see disagreements as a roadblock to friendship.
You’re okay with admitting you’ve had struggles, while acknowledging that you might not understand those of others.
You don’t sympathize with people, you empathize.
You understand it’s okay to not like everyone. You get that it’s not your duty to be everyone’s friend. You’re cool with being selective. You understand quality is better than quantity.
You’re fun to talk to. You appreciate popular media but you dig below the surface to see what deeper meanings and implications the stories may hold.
You’re excited to share your passions with others and you are open to listening when others want to share their passions with you.
You’re eager to learn and excited to make an impact in this world.
You seek me out when almost no one else will.
There are few things I want more than to be with you, talk with you every day, feel you holding me so I know that things are eventually going to be alright. To have you around to confide in and share in the intimate parts of your life. I want to know the details of your day. I want to be a part of your routine.
But I don’t want to break you like I’ve been broken.
I don’t want to suck you in to the disaster that is my life.
I don’t want to upset you if you have to tell me you’re not comfortable dating someone who’s not a girl.
I don’t want to put you through any kind of emotional upset.
Because after knowing you for only a few months, I care about you too much.
I can’t be so selfish as to put you through that.
To put you in a spot where you might have to choose. Where you might struggle when I convince myself you don’t care about me. I don’t want you to feel like you have to prove yourself. I don’t want to draw you in and then push you away. I don’t want you to suffer the emotional tug-of-war that was my last relationship.
I don’t want you to care too much.
I don’t want you to become afraid of me.
So instead of telling you I’ll keep it to myself.
Better to see you wind up with someone else than with me.
The first time I saw Erik was when he asked our tour guide at the Bundestag to speak in English. The second time was when the guide stopped the entire tour because my shoe was untied, and Erik stooped to tie it for me before I even noticed why we’d stopped. Our brief exchange in that moment was in German because neither of us knew yet the other spoke English fluently.
The third time was when we paused for a break and we sat in couches across from each other and he asked for everyone’s name and major. I told them about my plans for a Social Justice degree and wanting to work with children. I told him about my summer camp. He listened intently to my stories. He nodded eagerly when I explained how I preferred to explain the rules to the kids rather than just enforce them, give respect rather than just demand it, and learn from the kids rather than just act as the “sage on a stage.”
“What you’re doing, that’s what the world needs more of,” he said. “It’s amazing that you took the time to stand on the same level as your students.”
I smiled, self-conscious but pleased that someone was finally appreciating the extent to which I strived to help my kids. I went on the tell the story of how a group of the kids had started throwing a banana around until was brown and splattering against anything it touched; how that was the only time I spoke sharply to the kids, scaring them all a bit with my sudden firmness as I explained the food they ate was free and they needed to respect it.
“See, I hate that,” Erik said, leaning back on the couch. “You should never tell a child they have to do something. It shuts them down.”
I thought about that—he had a valid point, but I still believed what I had done was appropriate.
“Maybe I could have gone about it better,” I said. “But from my perspective, food is a precious resource. And I know a lot of these kids come from low-income homes, where food is not always easy to come by. For me, food is a task. It’s a commitment and a struggle. And I know a lot of the kids face the same things. So when they come to summer camp all the free food seems phenomenal. But I don’t want them to take it for granted. They have to understand that it comes from somewhere, too. And they’re lucky to have it, just like I was lucky to have free meals three times a day for taking that job. I appreciated every single one. I wanted them to, as well. And since it was the only time all summer I raised my voice at the kids, I think most of them didn’t shut down—they took me seriously, because they knew if I was yelling it must be serious.”
Erik looked at me keenly and leaned forward again. “You know, you’re right,” he said slowly. “Thank you. I take back what I said.” He reached over to shake my hand. I accepted the gesture, a bit taken aback by his graceful but significant redaction. I couldn’t remember the last time someone told me I was right about something like that.
Erik left a good impression on me then. I saw him here and there throughout the course of the trip, but it wasn’t until I almost got left alone on the train heading back to the hostel that we had our next, and last, significant interaction.
He waved at me through the window, already outside with the others, and seeing him out there I quickly jumped off the train right before it started off again. The others were a ways ahead of us now, leaving me and Erik alone amid the city throng.
“You almost got left behind,” he said, leading the way out of the train station. “That would not have been a good thing.”
“No, probs not,” I said, a bit uncomfortable by how close he was walking to me. I tried to inch myself away but it was difficult as we wound through crowded streets and up and down stairs. He had a habit of grabbing my every time I stumbled or tripped, and I found I had to shake myself free. I knew it was a cultural difference in spacing and contact preferences, but I couldn’t help feeling violated by how many times he grasped my shoulders or clutched my elbow to steer my around corners.
“Do you know which way to go?” he asked when we were about halfway to the hostel.
“Kind of,” I said, afraid that he didn’t and we were going to be lost. I hadn’t been paying much attention to directions to and from the train station during our excursions. I was irritated to be caught off guard.
“I ask you because I want you to be able to find your way back, if you are walking back by yourself sometime,” he explained.
Of course, that is totally logical and makes perfect sense, and it’s nice he was looking out for me. But his method was so annoyingly like that of my ex that I instantly became pissed off and defensive. I stepped away from him again and quickened my pace.
“I’m pretty sure we go down this street and then turn left,” I said, which was fairly accurate.
“Look, here’s the street sign. Boxhanger Strasse,” he pointed out. “You can always look for Boxhanger Strasse.”
“Boxhanger Strasse, got it,” I said, hoping we were almost there. I hopped off the curb and made my way across the street, half zoned out with thoughts of consent and exes, and half used to the small-town world I grew up in where pedestrians have the right of way and crossing lights aren’t a thing.
“Whoa, whoa!” Erik snatched me back again as the cars barreled towards me. Still irritated as hell, I yanked myself free of his grip and snapped, “I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but we have this rule about no touching in my country.”
I couldn’t tell if he was offended or just annoyed. To be honest, I didn’t care. We crossed the street at the green light and he told me that I looked “irate” when I jumped into the street like that and people would think I was crazy or going to get hurt. All I could think was You mean erratic. But I didn’t say anything.
We made it to the hostel and for the rest of the Berlin trip I saw very little of Erik. Maybe he was avoiding me because I’d offended him. Maybe it was a coincidence. Either way, once we got to Kassel he seemed to have forgotten about our escapade. During a tour my shoe came untied yet again and he smiled at me, saying it was a habit my shoe seemed to have. I said only “Yeah, I guess.” At one point he quoted me in his notes during class and made sure I saw. I was confused but also pleased that he once again made a point to show his appreciation for my opinions. I wasn’t sure what to think. I didn’t have many more opportunities to test my feelings.
The last time I saw Erik he was surrounded by people and music and laughter and tears. He was a popular guy in our group. His smile seemed genuine and his farewells were touching. I even appreciated the poem he read at the talent show. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he was wrong. Or maybe we both learned from each other, since that was what this trip was about.
People flicker in and out of our lives and I always wonder what impact those short-term relationships have on us. I’m still figuring out what the definition of Erik is in my life. For now I’ll just appreciate it as it stands. Annoying, yes. Uncomfortable, yes. Touching maybe, and funny. The man who stooped to tie my shoe on the front steps of the German Capital building and didn’t know about consent in touching and holding hands. People are a lot more complicated than I was raised to think.
During that awkward time we tried to be friends, my ex kept telling me I’d taught her a lot in our time together and she knew she’d taught me as well. But she never specified what it was we were supposed to have learned. I came up with this list the other day when I was feeling especially vindictive. I realize a lot of my distress stemmed from the fact that I was too afraid to speak up or share my real emotions, but there was no doubt a power play in our relationship, and she absolutely had the upper hand.
Things my Ex taught me
- It’s unnecessary and excessive to be open about a relationship
- Ignore each other in public
- Don’t talk about each other to others
- Refrain from referring to each other affectionately
- No physical contact unless we’re alone
- No couple selfies
- No profiles pics of the two of us
- Because only gooey, mushy, clingy couples do things like that
- The person with the most relationship experience has authority over the relationship
- They get to decide what’s okay
- They get to tell you how you should feel about things
- If this is your first romance, you don’t know what you’re doing, so anything you think and feel is likely wrong
- It’s okay to dwell over your ex with your new partner
- And it’s okay to constantly compare them
- It’s okay to hold your partner hostage emotionally by:
- Refusing to commit to the relationship
- Talking openly about other crushes
- Insinuating that if your partner asks for “too much” you won’t want to date them anymore
- It’s okay to exclude your romantic partner from your friend groups
- All of them
- It’s okay to deny your partner the labels they want and reject all labels rather than coming to a compromise
- And then go around using your own label without your partner’s consent
- It’s okay to refuse to admit you might be together for a while
- And normal to assume that you won’t
- It’s better to be roundabout with emotion
- If you’re upset, don’t tell your partner—wait for them to find out and ask you about it
- If you think your partner is upset, don’t ask them about it. Wait for them to tell you exactly what’s wrong up front
- If you start talking about emotions stick to the theoretical and avoid the practical
- Ignore patterns of behavior. Get hung up over the little things
- Your partner’s concerns and fears will become unimportant if you treat them like they’re not important
- It’s okay to simultaneously take advantage of and be irritated by your partner’s lack of experience
- Even though you’re more experienced than your partner, and they’ve never had sex before, and they’re really self-conscious about it, don’t be the one to bring it up or open the discussion. Wait for them to make the first move.
I was so shocked that anyone would want to spend any amount of time with me at all, let alone even entertain the idea that she might want to spend the rest of her life with me–that when she refused to commit to me, refused to commit to a long-term relationship, said it was unrealistic for me to expect that of her–or of anyone–I believed her. I believed that no one would want to be my life partner. I believed that she was totally in the right to keep her commitment hanging over my head. Emotional blackmail. I thought it was okay. Because I loved her. And I was waiting for the day she’d say she loved me back. It was worth waking up every morning afraid today would be the day she left. It was worth the emotional tug-of-war. It was worth consistently being told that I was wrong. It was worth the pain of never knowing, only guessing. At least I thought it was. I felt lucky she was giving me anything at all. I thought it was okay. Because she said it was. And I believed her. Because I loved her.
Remember how I said the people you love should make you appreciate the little things more? And how since I’d started dating my ex, I was distracted from those little things?
A few days ago she sent me a picture of a bird with the caption “I thought you might like this.”
What the fuck is the Universe trying to tell me?
Someone or something does not want me to forget my ex.
We’d agreed not to speak to each other outside of our jobs at the end of October. After weeks of silence on her end and me finally giving up, she somewhat randomly (from my perspective) confronted me about all the little things she hated about me. How I acted. How I ate. How I talked. How I interacted in different groups. I’d previously just been upset, but now I was mad. I was fucking pissed. For the first time since we started dating, since we broke up, I stood up for myself and fought back. She was taken off guard and we both fled the scene in anger.
I resolved not to contact her again, and this time she was the first one to reach out, proposing a solution I was not thrilled about. I told her we both needed space, we’d both be traveling soon anyway, and once we returned, maybe then we could see if it was still worth sorting things out.
I was remarkably relaxed about the whole ordeal. This time I’d been the one to break ties, and it gave me a sense of power, rather than the helpless despair I’d always felt before. If I saw her I smiled and said hello and went on my way rather than stopping to chat or pretending I didn’t see her. At first she seemed shocked that I was acknowledging her and refused to respond, but after a while she started saying hi back and smiling. We even managed to sit next to each other at an event (by accident) without getting mad at each other. We managed to have a civil conversation.
Then on one of my low days I happened to see her upset and suddenly I was worried about her all over again. Coincidentally, the next day we bumped into each other in the hall, and stopped to catch up. She was overwhelmed but fine. And so was I.
Then, though, she came to my apartment to visit my roommate. I didn’t feel like talking to her so I pretended I didn’t see her, but she kept throwing words my way till it was too rude for me not to say hello. But I was irritated.
Then we passed each other in the hall again and she waved and said hi but stopped in her tracks as though shocked when I waved and said hi back.
“Wait, what?” she spluttered.
“I said hello,” I snapped, wondering why she had to make a production out of every time we crossed paths.
Then one day it randomly occurred to me that she has been dating her current boyfriend for longer than she’d dated me. The fact hurt more than it should have. Maybe it would have been easier to deal with if she hadn’t started dating him only three weeks after breaking up with me.
As I ruminated over this I remembered something she’d posted on her Tumblr, which I’d read before deleting my account. She’d said something about not understanding how he could think of such nice things to say about her. That no one had ever done that for her before.
At the time I’d just been a little upset reading about her boyfriend, but thinking back on it, I realized what that meant.
It meant that all those things I’d said to her didn’t mean anything.
All of my compliments, all of my encouragements, all of my critique, all of my praise. None of it had meant anything to her. None of it was good enough.
It made me feel like I had wasted four months’ worth of words on someone who wasn’t listening.
Two nights in a row I tried to block out these thoughts by binge-watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix. It was starting to work–I was getting caught up in the story, though the constant references to “true love” were a bit depressing.
Then I spent a morning with a friend and we went to his apartment. He lived on the same floor as my ex. Randomly, I had just found out that he knew about us, when I’d thought he hadn’t. He was taking me to see his cat. We took the elevator.
When the doors opened on his floor there she stood with her arms full of laundry.
I was too shocked to muster up some sort of fake hello and didn’t even step out of the elevator until my friend did first. She stared back at me with a startled “Hello” directed at both of us.
I’ll forever be grateful to my friend for what he did. He went up to her and gave her a huge hug. I knew it was mostly because he was happy to see her once more before she moved out and left the country, but whether he knew it or not, he was also blocking me from her view until I could get out of her view enough to excuse the fact that I wasn’t looking at her. He then engaged her in conversation until she boarded the elevator and threw a generic goodbye to both of us.
Thank God she didn’t hug me, text me, or ask me how I was doing.
My friend led me to his apartment. “Of all the people to randomly be on their way down as we come up,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all fine.” I was in a bit of a daze, not sure if I should have handled that differently. Am I the only one in the planet whose ex still had that kind of affect on me, after only four months of dating and six of breakup? And why, for fuck’s sake, do our paths keep crossing? Before, she would always seem to pop up when I needed her most. Now, she seems to appear when I most want to forget her.
I know the Universe works in mysterious ways but I wish it would lighten up. I can’t wait until we’re in different countries. I need her out of my head. I need to move on. Every time I get close to being okay she pops back into my life. Even deleting her on all my social media can’t keep her out of my line of sight.
Maybe someday I’ll understand and be grateful; there’s still this crazy part of me that thinks whether either of us likes it or not, we’re going to continue to fall into each other’s laps. It makes me wonder how she felt when she saw the door slide open and me standing in front of her. On her way down to her car, preparing for her new life elsewhere. And suddenly I was there.
Whatever device of life this is I hope one day I can look back and appreciate it. But right now I’m left wondering.