It is easy to write articles regarding a compare and contrast between my once and former self. However, when the 'once' is a "still" (with possibilities), the discussion of my personal progress is more of a question than an answer.
Here's what I can say about the past. For the entirety of my life, I have never believed that I deserved anyone. The tiny, insidious voice in the back of my mind that began this whisper of self-doubt was unfortunately echoed by a series of life events that made my insecure impression of romance a concrete and unshakable ideal. The only member of the opposite sex that I can ever recall telling me that I was beautiful was my father. My rational self, while appreciating this reflection of his love, also deflected the compliment for the same reason. Of course, your parent is going to say wonderful things about you, but it's not reality. How long can you believe, and how long can you repeat the same words to yourself, when they aren't uttered by another, totally objective human being?
This opens a whole can of worms, for the argument accidentally adheres to the theory that a woman's sense of self is still very much attached to the way she is received by the opposite sex. In defense of the silent attacks of nothingness that I was receiving from the opposite sex, my inner Susan B. Anthony retroactively told me that the opinions of men didn't matter. On certain days, I would tell myself that I had evolved past a place of warmth, total emotional connection, and (the dream of dreams) life defining sex. I was a girl who did not need, because I had all the universe within me and that was enough. Other days, I would tell myself that love was still possible, but if I were going to find a life partner, I would just have to win him over with my wit and humor. No one was going to look at my skinny, shapeless self and be filled with desire. I accepted that.
This is not to say that men weren't occasionally attracted to me. I, like all young women, was encouraged by the heart-fluttering cat-calls of horny teens and overgrown boys hooting from their cars. This, of course, made me feel very special. I mean, you can start your day feeling like garbage, but if a man shouts "Nice ass!" or sticks his tongue out at you lewdly, sunshine suddenly pours through the darkening clouds of your inner torment. (I'll let that image marinate until you're sure that I'm being sarcastic). Clearly, I never found these objectifications enlightening or validating. When a stranger came up to me at a bar and made a pass or appeared out of nowhere, grinding against me on the dance floor, my initial reaction was definitely not, "Ah, a hero at last..."
Firstly, with my dangerous self-criticizing, I figured that the male interloper clearly didn't realize that I wasn't a real girl. I was a Meredith: a mysterious asexual unable to exhibit any form of intimacy with a man. Secondly, I fully understood that the male sex drive has an end game that goes from A-B (Aim---> Bed) which has little to do with truly taking interest in the creature that has assisted him in his night's cathartic release. Some women seemed to overlook this and let the erotic male gaze energize them. I took it to another place, which was composed more from pity than disgust. While I don't make masculine ego maintenance my problem-- sorry, angry honkers, that I didn't bat my eyes at you and make you feel powerful-- there was also room for compassion. I mean, the poor saps just couldn't seem to get it together enough to be human. (Watching a boy try to figure out how to become a man is like watching a flatulent giraffe trying to work a calculator).
Needless to say, after a lot of creative philosophising, I was somehow able to disguise my loneliness as a personal choice. My progression from a little girl-- who believed Love was a universal dream that always came true-- to a full-grown girl who thought that marriage was the ultimate, pathetic cop-out, was half genetically-induced depression and half overactive, coping methodology. When I look back and retrace my steps, I see a fairly optimistic albeit shy youth, who actually had a boyfriend briefly in the 4th grade, (I got more play in grammar school than at any other time in my life), transforming into an overlooked pre-teen stuck at "Go" who watched confusedly as her friends developed into curvaceous, beautiful women. Being ignored in those oh-so-precious, formative years really screwed me up. I wasn't fully initiated into the human race, because I felt uninvited to the vital party of sexual awakening. I always woke up alone. I never really learned to play with boys unless I was being one of them. To truly be "a girl," I felt that I had to mutate into something different and uncomfortable. Why couldn't people just be real? Why did they have to wear masks??? I interpreted flirting as the ultimate intellectual insult: talking in code, pushing buttons to see how far you can push someone until she lands on her back, and playing dumb so the boys felt smarter. Of course, this was all instigated by the fact that no one really flirted with me, which only intensified my ire and disdain for the mating practice. Slowly, I had started making a stone of my heart. No one was getting in, and I wasn't letting anything get out.
With my blinders on, I would overlook men the same way that they had overlooked me. In the rare instance that a boy, dude, guy, etc, would take interest in me, I either wouldn't notice the sexual inference-- instead thinking that a confused martian had lost his way and come to me for help, I would point him to the nearest gas station-- or I would immediately get into my "skeptical chair." As I knew that no real person could want anything to do with me, I assumed that whatever current specimen was talking to me, in that exciting and inviting tone, was A) more pathetic than I was, B) very stupid, or C) very desperate, as the world had clearly run out of women. I would put up the stone wall, essentially ignore him until he went away, then wonder why no one liked me. Logic is... interesting.
Suffice it to say, I look back on my youth now and realize that I had opportunities to learn what everyone else now seems to know, but at the time, I was too scared to embrace this information. "Growing up" didn't seem applicable to me. By the time I went on my first date, at the age of 21, I was beyond repair. Poor, poor "Alan." He was such a nice guy. He picked me up, took me to dinner, and tried in vain to get me to talk to him, but I just smiled stupidly while my face reddened and wondered what the Hell his real motive was. What was the angle? Where was this interest coming from? It was utterly confounding, and the meal was torture for us both. I assumed what he really wanted, but surprisingly, as he was a gentleman, it wasn't sex after all. He didn't try a thing. Of course, this may just be because he was scared of the ice queen whom he had wrongly presumed was a red-blooded woman.
"Woman..." Here I am, just turned thirty, and I still have trouble referring to myself with that word. A 'woman' is a fully-formed being in touch with herself and in control of her life. I am still putting the pieces together, and I have to admit, I am finding it incredibly difficult to do so. So much has changed both within me and without, now that I have received treatment, but the drawback of thinking with a clearer mind is that one truly starts absorbing all the miniscule pieces of her past and present. I have been forced to make some admissions. I have made mistakes. I have regrets. In certain ways, I have been a terrible person. I have blamed the world for the prison that I myself helped to create. At worst, I have lost thirty years that I'll never get back. While I can forgive myself for this and move forward with a fresh perspective and an open heart, I find the love stuff the hardest burden to both forgive and newly embrace. I worry that it is simply too late for me to begin this journey. There is so much I don't know, and by the time I figure it out, all of the eggs may have left my basket... so to speak.
In actuality, the only real relationship I ever had was not a relationship at all. "George" was the only member of the opposite sex whom I'd ever met that seemed to respect me as a person, care for me, and be carnally interested at the same time. I accepted his "friendship" and obediently attended to his every wish like the "bitch" I had promised myself I'd never be. Meanwhile, he wouldn't commit, which is to say he would never define what we were to each other, and I never asked him to. Meanwhile, the only time he showed any open affection or tenderness toward me was when he was drunk. I interpreted this as an in vino veritas situation instead of the giant red flag it was. Meanwhile, he couldn't give me the physical validation of my womanhood because, in this same inebriated state, he couldn't "perform his duties." Meanwhile, George found a prettier girl, who wasn't a bland, blond "yes-girl" like me, but the American Dream: the coy, brunette, girl-next-door with big, blue eyes. She, as is the style, played it coy and dumb while playfully counting the men she had twisted round her fingers and feigning both innocence and ignorance at her Penis Power. Who me? Yeah, right. (Bitch. Slut!! I may be holding onto some anger here).
All this "Jezebel" had to do was bend one of those delicate digits her way, and George went running, leaving his balls behind him. The lesson I learned from this was not that I had been foolish to give my all to someone when I wasn't receiving a damn thing in return. Nor was it an education that taught me to honor myself and who I was more than a dip-sh*t man's occasional attention. What I gleaned from this experience was that I was, purely and simply, a totally unlovable fool. I was not the girl men fell in love with. After all, if you give someone everything, and they shamelessly and so easily throw it back at you, that can only mean one thing, right? I was worthless. Period. So, I swallowed that lesson like a good, little German, locked up my heart, and threw away the key. For good. I've let no one near me since.
Now, here I am, fully awake and regretful, mourning the great love I never had-- the high school sweetheart, the college boyfriend, the impossible love who rips your soul in half and makes you who you are-- and trying to build on what little foundation I've accrued to hopefully achieve those human rights I now feel like I may deserve after all. But how does one build on a foundation of nothingness? While I love and appreciate myself and all that I've survived, while I think that I am a good person who can now have more, the only time I really hear my "dark passenger" is when I think of love. I want to start dating, to put myself out there, and never have I been more ready, willing, or excited at the prospect. Yet, at the same time, there is a lump in my throat. What do I do? What do the real people do? What will he do when he finds out how immature I am in the most necessary of human ways? I have conquered singledom 100%. No one can do single like I can, but coupling up??? It is hard-- harder than anyone who hasn't been in this same place can ever understand-- to outgrow the persistent and familiar expectation of rejection, so well honed, and to somehow see an new, happy picture at the end of the road instead.
My greatest fear is that I will meet someone and feel something for the first time in a long time, but when I reveal who I am, he will turn his back on me-- yet again adhering to my former theories of worthlessness and consequential social omission. I still have trouble imagining a man imagining me as anything more than that very nice, weird girl he sees every morning at Starbucks or that strange quiet chick always reading in the corner. I am a cursory glance soon forgotten and not a landing place. The idea of interesting anyone feels very foreign. I'd sooner expect to win the lottery (and I don't even buy tickets). So, of my many "missions," this one is still very much in the works. It is also one that has been bothering me increasingly over the past weeks as I try to solidify into a formidable and comfortable self. Am I brave when being optimistic and hopeful, or am I retreating from a well-protected fortress of my own rationale? Am I beautiful just because I tell myself I am? Is sensuality truly sensuality if it isn't shared and accepted? Is a person lovable if she isn't loved? Can I continue telling myself that I'm worthy if no one picks up the hand I drop? My romantic future still lingers in a strange vacant place. It is the age old tree in mid-fall. I suppose I won't know until it hits the ground whether it will make a sound or remain silent. Will I?