Ropes and Rabbit Holes

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

[So many commas & parentheticals]

Earlier, Dave, my husband, and arguably my much taller half, made an off handed comment regarding how he is received (in the workplace). He was like, 

“If they don’t like my tone, then they can deal with it.” (In truth, I think he said something more nuanced like, “if they don’t like how I write, then maybe we are not a good fit.”)

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

WHAT? No. Like, really? WHAT? How can Dave so confidently believe that he does not have to step aside or change who is for the sake of someone else?

My brain broke. 

Immediately I fell 300 feet down a rabbit hole, or maybe just a giant figurative pothole, one that my short-circuiting mind could not see. 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

As I tried to climb out of that deep, dark brain hole, Dave left the kitchen. I am certain he did not notice that I really could use a hand, or maybe even a very long rope, like that kinetic rope he recently purchased. Dave’s rope is shinny white nylon, long, strong and braids into an even stronger rope, “which translates into lower impact but higher energy transfer to the stuck vehicle.”

(Dave’s new kinetic rope arrived two days ago. Yesterday before Eli left for his friend’s cabin, and while standing next to the front bumper of our 4Runner, Dave sweetly and fastidiously explained how to attach the rope. Dave LOVES Eli! So do I. I love watching Eli become his own adult person. I love that he has grown his hair out and has found his own beautiful mountain man style. I also love watching Dave and Eli’s  connection. Eli was patient and also anxious to go. At that, Dave enthusiastically admonished,

“Eli, you can use it  for helping others out of tough spots.”)  

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Of course I imagined Eli helping his friend’s crazy dad free his Prius from a ditch. That dad is also the one who owns the cabin and who also [insert air quotes here] “accidentally” touched my left boob as Eli’s wide eyes met mine. (We still talk about the boob touch, of course with accompanying air quotes.)

Back in the kitchen I realized there was no kinetic rope in sight. I was still stuck in that emotional hole. Eventually, I decided to climb out myself.  

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

There I was. I was standing next to the trash can drawer. Then I turned, looked out the west-facing window, and noticed the spring blossoms.

“Everything’s so green and alive.” I happily thought to myself.

Dave walked back into the kitchen. 

“Hey buddy.” I gently said. 

He paused to look in the fridge. 

“I have been thinking about what you said regarding your writing. Honestly, I cannot wrap my head around your words.”

Dave stopped foraging and looked at me. Before he could speak, I blurted (in a nice voice — for real),

“Come on, man, how can you be ok with not adjusting yourself for someone else? It makes no sense. See,  I never thought I could just let someone, especially a work colleague, accept me the way I am. I come from the generation where a woman was told to hide her emotions. You know that place where a woman’s workplace tears are a sign of weakness. I come from the family where I was told if I want a man I should learn the rules of football. Thank God you don’t like football. I come from a religious heritage where I was told that a man is the boss of our home — a.k.a. the patriarch. As a result, what I have received is the message that my own thoughts, feelings and insights are insignificant, or better, that my thoughts are significant unless I check them with a man first.” 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

I don’t know if I had fully processed what had  triggered me. I am certain Dave had no idea why my words were directed at him or how they had impacted me. I think that is ok. Should he? Possibly. I am certain no one ever told him that his directness makes people think he is a bitch, or that his effective organizational skills makes others feel threatened, or that his confidence would disrupt the ‘sorority-girl’ vibe, or that his human tears make him appear unstable, especially in the workplace. Nevertheless, I think it is ok that he (and men in general) understand this perspective. 

After I finished processing out loud, Dave walked toward the sink, turned on the faucet, and rinsed his hands. Then he walked in the direction of our west facing kitchen window. He paused again, turned toward me and said, 

“If anything I have been told to show more emotion.”

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

We both laughed and quickly fell into a tangent, where I compared his family to Vulcans from Star Trek: 

(According to Wikipedia, “Vulcans are a fictional extraterrestrial humanoid species in the Star Trek universe and media franchise. In the various Star Trek television series and movies, they are noted for their attempt to live by logic and reason with as little interference from emotion as possible.”)

I thought to myself, 

“Our therapist always says that logic is an emotion, (which I love more than I can adequately articulate here).” (She says “logic is an emotion,” in response to Dave asserting that all I ever care about are feelings not facts.)

I was not mad at Dave, yet I wanted to be mad. Somehow I managed to do some quick self talk. I told myself,

“Beth, it is time to stop. Please do not walk this strange and introspective moment into a heartbreaking fight.”

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Thankfully my self talk worked (enough). Instead of fighting, I quoted the most prominent Vulcan, Spok: 

“I do not understand your human emotions.”

Then I looked at Dave and said, 

“Dave, you are like Spok. You don’t understand my human emotions.” 

We laughed again. We talked about why Dave likes every incarnation of that television series from, “Deep Space Nine,” to “Discovery.” I said that it makes him feel closer to his people (as if to imply that he was raised not to consider others or their feelings). Even though I said it in a fun loving tone, I thought I was being mean. In truth, I was not mean, nor was I kind. 

 (*By the way, I call these humorous digs pain avoiders. Instead of feeling and processing pain, these funny slights are effective at undermining the impact of my words. Thus they keep me lodged in a self-reinforcing space, a space where I believe I need a man to tell me that I am ok.)

I was connecting. I was feeling the pain of my conditioning, the one that tells me my worth is based on the concept that I need a man to validate my worthiness. 

In the sunny afternoon light, I paused again, (not something that comes easy for me). 

I let myself feel the intense flood of my past pain and inadequacies. For a second I thought I would drown. I looked at Dave, and he became my kinetic rope. Thankfully, he took it, at least enough so I could catch my breath. 

Marriage. ❤️ 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

A few hours later:

As a result of yesterday’s allergy shots, my right bicep is twice its normal size. Because we have dinner tonight with some relatively new friends, I am feeling terribly insecure. I reach for my new eggplant-grey colored shirt. I put it on. I love how the color looks on my skin. I walk over to the office wearing my new shirt and  ask Dave if he likes it.

“Not particularly.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It looks like one of those ‘Flashdance’ shirts.”

“That’s the point!”

“Well, you asked me if I liked it.”

Defeated, I try to muster a comeback. Nope. I feel myself falling. Then I say something like, 

“But my arm. I need something to cover my crazy swollen arm. Are you sure it looks bad?”

“It looks fine.”

“I wish you would throw me a lifeline. I wish you would like it.” I say.

Dave quickly responds, “If you did not want my opinion, you should have not asked.” 

“Dave, you are not wrong,” I say to him and then play those same words on repeat to myself:

“I should not ask for his approval. I should not have asked for his approval.” Then I add, “Beth, you should trust yourself.” 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

And really, what does Dave know about fashion? Have you seen his dark brown, bright orange bottomed snow sneakers he is currently wearing?  Eli often says that it looks like Dave is wearing potatoes on his feet. (I point out his “potato shoes.” We both glance at them.) The difference is: he does not care that we think his shoes are hideous.

Maybe that is it (at least for me). I have been conditioned to doubt myself and to seek a man’s approval/validation. Can’t I wear the shirt if I like the shirt? Apparently not. I am returning it. In between sentences, I am packing it up now. 


Artist’s rendering of my shirt (By artist, I will mean, while editing, Dave inserted this image into post):

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Running From Narcissists While Learning From Them

High School me and Me now. YES. This was hard to post.




excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.

Me, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia

I would argue that during all of my High School years I spent an excessive amount of time in front of a mirror. Interest in my physical appearance was an understatement. I was consumed. Most days you could find me in one of the high school bathrooms reapplying my Maybelline Thick Pencil Teal Eyeliner or my Cover Girl Translucent Pressed Powder. I had combination skin. The powder, or so I thought, toned down the oily places. (It only made me look more like a ghost.) The teal eyeliner, or so I believed, made my aqua-green colored eyes pop. (My family often called this make-up application, my “Racoon Eyes” look, stating things like, “Are you really going to leave the house looking like that?”) On a really bold days you may have also witnessed me in the school bathroom. You would see me pull out a large can of hairspray (Aquanet), which I hid under my shirt as I traveled the distance between my locker (where it was stored) and the bathroom. Then I would bend over, vigorously apply the hairspray, leaving a sticky dust cloud in my wake.

And if I were being super honest, I would also suggest that during my teen years I spent an inordinate amount of time performing finger surgery on my unclear skin (I know — gross). In fact, I can still hear both my mom and my grandma often proclaim,

“Beth, stop picking on your face!”

As I swiftly and insecurely pulled my hand off of my face I would blurt out,

“I am not picking on my face.”

And way back then I believed people when they said, “You are not as pretty as your sisters and you definitely should lose weight. Have you tried Weight Watchers?”

The boys & I, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Probably the most damaging things said, however, were about my intellect:

“Beth, you are not smart enough,” stated a friend (ha ha, not a friend), “there is no way you could take honors classes like I do.”

And said by many adults:

“Beth, you know (insert issue here) means so much more to them. You also know they are much better at that thing than you are. You should step back and let them have the light.”  (By the way, ultimately, I always stepped back.)

My personal favorite (said by a professor):

“Beth, I don’t think you are very smart. A university is probably not the place for you. Have you considered a vocational school?”

Me, The Hague, The Netherlands

As a result, I would suggest that with me there was no self-love or admiration. And when I did come up for air, my self-love and admiration were told to sit on the sidelines, (because someone needed them more). I tried to convince myself that my stepping back was a noble strength. Most times it stung. I wondered why we all could not share the light.

Consequently, I wonder if any innate narcissism I had was conditioned out of me. I looked in the mirror and what I saw was an awkward, misshapen, dumb person. When I did see beauty (usually my eyes — I like my eyes), I always told myself, “your sisters are much prettier.” So, applying a literal layer of make-up and a hairspray veneer was the best I could do to shield the world from the likes of me. Harsh, biting sarcasm became my wall. When the focus was too much on me (positively or negatively), slinking back became my move. Consequently, checking out and stepping back kept me safely away from the “Beth, you are not good enough” perception that seemed to fill my brain. Early on I figured that being an emotional support human/cheerleader was the closest (noble cause) I could get to personal success (without having to feel the sting of failure or my own reflection).

Us, Gouda, The Netherlands

Ok. Wait. Do not feel sorry for me. Life is not black and white. I am sure my siblings would say something like how I was “Mom’s favorite,” (we all know it is Brian), or how I was super dramatic, or how I punched first and then ran to my mom and told on them. Two of those things may be true. Also keep in mind that home is where I felt the safest being myself.

Regardless, it took me straight up living, a lot of therapy, a husband who believed in me (still does); super mean, arrogantly neutral and straight up use-y friends to knock some sense into me; great mentors, some loving family members, unconditional friends, and a lot of deep breaths to peel away the layers, remove the hair product and make peace (mostly) with the face, body and brain I was born with. (I am still working on finding love for my upper arms — for real.)

I am slow.

Us, Berowra National Park, Australia

Finally, and after so many bureaucratic hoops, as a middle aged woman, I was readmitted to a university and finished my last semester of college with nearly straight A’s. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Woot! (It is never too late, by the way.) During this time I also started doing something important to me: travel. And I have been determined to be a mom who apologizes often, encourages my sons to follow their dreams and not to let people tell them who they are (that is the big one). I am not perfect. I see myself criticize them. Then I try to stop myself, even if it means biting through my tongue. I apologize often. Thank goodness they are forgiving.

Us, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

All this preamble is to get to bring me to the conversation Dave and I had last night. We were on a walk (of course). See, over the weekend we went to at an art show where our friend Mark was displaying his art. It is also the place where we ran into an old friend. (Hi, old friend.) It was also the encounter, in which my old friend and I discussed at length our interactions with someone we both know. Of course our conversation prompted so many thoughts. The biggest one is that for some reason I am like a magnet to narcissists. Or better, narcissists know I make a great audience. I am a good caretaker. I love stepping back and giving them the spotlight. Ok. No. Not really. And often eventually I cannot take it and piss off the narcissist, leaving them screaming something like:

“You should have paid for my fucking Starbucks!” or, “Beth, your apology is not good enough. Try again,” or, “He was my best friend, I don’t know why he married you. You are nothing like me,” or (at the end of hosting someone for a week and paying for all of their food and watching their kids several times), “Beth, you better not think I am paying for your museum entrance,” or, “Beth, your writing embarrasses me,” or the pièce de résistance, the woman who shrieked at me repeatedly, “Beth, you are an embarrassment!”

Dude, I know. You nailed it. I am an embarrassment. I stepped aside and took crap from all of you. And when I tried to defend myself, things only got worse. I made you sad. I am sorry. I suck at being a comfort human. Ok. Wait. I cannot make anyone sad, but you told me you were sad because of who I am.

It is a weird place to be in. I admit. I stepped aside to give others the spotlight. Then I felt sad when you did not see me. Does that make me some sort of narcissist variant? Maybe. See, I think my brand of narcissism is that I am the person who thinks her actions are powerful enough to make others happy and successful. I thought my actions could break your gaze. The weird thing is that whether I step aside or cheer louder, narcissistic people do not change. As a result, I am continually reminded (humbled) that I am not powerful enough. I cannot break their excessive interest in themselves. Oh man! I WASTED SO MUCH TIME trying to prove my worth to others (via the comfort human route). And now I actually feel sorry for all of us. How could I expect you to see me when all you can see is yourself? Again, I am not that powerful.

Us, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

What I keep relearning is that life is healthier when I put my oxygen mask on first. I cannot be a good friend, cheerleader, or human if I am not breathing. It is not about excessive admiration. It is about balance. When we share the air, doesn’t it seem like we can all breathe easier? Does that make any sense?

At this point, I recognize that the only person who benefitted from me stepping aside was me. Really. And the only benefit I received was staying out of the path of abuse. Hey, that is not a bad thing. I also realize that had I been more brave, had I fought harder, had I held my ground, and had healthier boundaries, that my path may have been different. Who knows. It is on me.

And that is a revelation.

Me near Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

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