When you’re younger, everything feels a little bit more emotionally heightened. That’s not to say once you get older your senses are suddenly dulled, but it’s just like more of a selective process that your heart has to decide what’s really worth getting worked up over.
I think back to just a few years ago, how my weeks revolved around my weekends and my weekends revolved around other people. Mostly strangers. I wanted to look good for the strangers. I wanted to look cool for my friends.
These nights were like, electrically charged. Everything got an emotion and I loved the thrill of validation, no matter how short term it was. I loved dressing up like someone that I wasn’t at all on the inside. I loved the attention, I must admit.
Anyone who got too close could see right through it though, obviously, and sure enough I was attracting all the wrong kinds of people going about life this way. But I was young and I thought it felt good. I thought it was supposed to feel good.
There are times where I am nostalgic for this. When I miss feeling things so widely and deeply and I miss how big the little things seemed and how the little things seemed so insignificant that I hardly remember them now.
It seems silly to me to miss a time when my emotions weren’t so in check. When I would beg people to love me when they never had any intention of doing so.
I would hope with all my might between every text that they would change their mind. That I could craft a response so powerful it would completely pull a 180 on how they felt about me. What a game it was. It never ended either, because it was one I could never win.
Back when I would bend and twist and try to dance around in order to keep my friends interested in me. There was one who I would have to search for something out of sorts in my life to bring up every phone call because our friendship didn’t really exist if we weren’t complaining about how unfair life was.
And if things were going well for me, I needed to find a way to downplay it. I couldn’t deviate from that script that the world was out to get all of us. Good breaks for me were luck. For her, they were earned.
I was addicted to trying to convince her I was worthy. That I deserved the good things that came my way. She would laugh at my optimism as if I was some naïve girl who couldn’t figure out how dark the real world was. She would brush me off when I confided that people weren’t treating me right. She convinced me that that’s what caring looked like and I wasn’t mature enough to realize that.
I let go once I realized that she was one of them. I found my worth very closely outside of her opinion. It’d been there all along.
There was another who would subtly list off reasons for me to feel anxious and then condemn me for not being more even keel. The times I would try to break free, I was met with tears and guilt about how if I left they wouldn’t be alright. I was the thing holding them together. Their crutch. For a while, I was fueled by how important that made me to someone.
After a while, I realized it just meant that I was being used and I left them just like the ones before me did. Blatant guilt trips no longer wield power over me, and for this I have them to thank.
There was another who I was always almost good enough for. I was just shy of what they needed, but I was so close to being perfect that I had a locked in spot on their roster. We spoke almost every day as though one day if I was just a little bit more of whatever it was he needed, he would be mine.
He continued to talk to me like this, despite choosing someone else. He was always choosing someone else and making me watch. Or rather, he gave me the option to watch and I never felt like I could look away.
Finally, I just had to choose myself. I realized out of the two of us, I was the only one that ever could.
I was the most emotional over the one who didn’t know what emotion meant. Polar opposites bounded by a connection so old, but we could dust it off and it would play just the same sweet tune.
I was high with nostalgia of a simpler time. He showed me a life I could only dream of and places that I’d never been before. We laughed, really laughed, on a too late night, in the bed of someone else with only our knees touching.
But he was always trying to convince me I was living too small. That a stable job and a good home weren’t enough. I needed the glamour. I needed fame and money and more approval from even more strangers. I needed to lose weight and clear up my acne and write a book to be worth anything. I needed a $900 red coat to be seen.
The end felt impossible until it wasn’t. He hurt me one too many times, and I had realized at that point that something as simple as a cozy bed and a good movie meant more to me than any kind of gilded glory.
Sometimes I can feel the phantoms of their opinions, scouring my online presence. Looking for a flicker of themselves to prove they had an impact. Looking for ways that I got it all wrong, I got them all wrong. I was just too sensitive and cowardly to take the pain they inflicted and put it into words for others to hopefully learn from.
But I don’t live my life online anymore.
And the thing I’ve learned is that I am a villain in each of their stories too. I’m the girl who left without giving them a chance to explain. I was the one who left hastily and selfishly. I left without wondering what pain it would cause them and gave up years and years of a slowly built foundation based on a few misunderstandings.
I completely own being that villain. Everyone is the bad guy to someone. We all have reasons for who we are and for what we do. These reasons that I left just happen to be mine.
I’m still young but I’ve found that relationships are much more satisfying when the people around you genuinely like you. When they aren’t trying to change you or hoping that you rise to an impossible standard. When you can tell them news, both good and bad, and know that they aren’t waiting for you to trip up because it gives them a secret thrill.
Those are the kind of people that are worth getting worked up for. Those are the kind of people you don’t have to try to look cool for. They already think you’re cool.
And if you hang around them long enough, you will start to effortlessly believe it too.