What Wouldn’t I Change?

Today’s writing prompt: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Given the maelstrom of change that the long-overdue collapse of my marriage and subsequent divorce has sucked me into during the last fourteen months or so, plus an often-voiced desire over the years to be anybody other than myself, this question is kind of redundant.

Since October 2012, I’ve gone from being married to being single. From living in a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. From living in a semi-rural suburb to living in the city. From rarely venturing out of my circle of comfort (as such) to going more places, trying new things, and meeting new people.

I mentioned “the long-overdue collapse of my marriage”. It really went on for at least two years longer than it should have. When the rift between us broke open, I knew it was the beginning of the end. Though we never discussed it, the only thing keeping us together was our shared unemployment—without jobs or money, neither of us could afford to strike out on our own. Similarly, neither of us had the resources to maintain the house alone (she had no savings, and I’d liquidated both my HSA and my IRA to pay bills and property taxes).

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve often wished I were somebody else—anybody else, for that matter. I wasn’t a bad-looking kid, but being the class brainiac didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity, except perhaps when folks were stuck on an assignment and/or wanted to copy my answers. I wasn’t especially athletic; I wasn’t the worst pick on the playground, but it was regularly assumed that, as the class brainiac, I didn’t particularly have that kind of ability. I wasn’t considered the best dressed. I wasn’t popular with girls. I was regularly teased for my tastes in music—even when my musical obsession evolved from The Partridge Family to Elton John (at the peak of his popularity no less) to Elvis Costello. One girl even wrote in my ninth-grade yearbook that “it was nice knowing you—even though you have the cruddiest taste in music I’ve ever heard!”

This didn’t change as I got older. If anything, it got worse. Added to the list was the frequently voiced complaint that I didn’t talk enough. Even people who liked that I was thoughtful, that I didn’t go running off at the mouth, saying the first things that came into my head, would tell me, “You need to talk more. Don’t be so quiet.”

It was hard to feel comfortable being myself when the message I got from most of the people around me was that being myself was somehow wrong. It got to the point where I would regard compliments from others with suspicion, because I was so used to coming up short in one way or another, and so used to pointing out my own flaws before anyone else had the chance to.

The last few months have begun to change that. The people I’ve been spending time with appreciate me for who I am, not judge me for what I’m not. They show interest in what I’m saying, rather than giving me that “get on with it” look when I pause to collect a thought or find the right word. They listen compassionately, instead of immediately jumping into problem-solving mode and trying to “fix” me. They allow me to express myself honestly and openly, without judgement.

As a result, these days I’m learning to value more of my abilities and focus on what I like about myself, instead of spending so much time focusing on my flaws or worrying about what I can’t do. I’m finding it easier to just be present in the here and now.

Do I still have doubts and insecurities? Absolutely. That’s probably not going to change any time soon—except perhaps for weird dreams and the earth’s rotation, nothing happens overnight.

But I’m already starting to do enough things differently that I don’t worry as much about what things I would change. Now, the longer list would fall under the heading, “What Wouldn’t I Change?”

(6 November 2013)

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