I ran across an article recently and it described many of my thoughts and feelings as I reflect on my life and the past few years specifically. Life can be challenging for empaths and feeling your own emotions plus the emotions of others can be taxing and difficult. On the professional front it took me years to be able to sleep without staying up and worrying about the problems that my clients had. There aren’t many things I read where I find myself agreeing with almost everything the author states and I have to admit that this author shared a fear that I have as well. And maybe fear is the wrong word because it’s not a perception and there is a good chance that it might happen. You can read the article here. There’s a huge opportunity for growth when we are willing to be honest with ourselves and face our fears head on despite not always feeling adequate to do so. It’s not a quick thing but I think that the results are worth the self-work and intentionality that are required.
I’ve come to appreciate those lightbulb moments that make you pause and contemplate your life. Recently, after two weekends of work I decided that I needed to get away for a bit and go on a road trip. It wasn’t really planned but I knew that I wanted a change of scenery and that I didn’t want to drive too far away. I drove to the next state over and found myself at my alma mater. I guess I should give the background story. My college experience was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. Outside of staying with my grandmother for a few nights, I had not been allowed to spend the night anywhere else. I packed way too much stuff and had to send most of it home. I was incredibly studious and was hyper-focused on making sure that the balance of my school bill was paid. I took a lot of classes and worked several jobs so that I would finish my degree as soon as possible. I lived in the library and sang in the choir. I knew a lot of people but was never invited to a party or asked out on a date. It was so nostalgic to walk back on campus eight years later with three additional degrees and years of professional practice. I had the opportunity to speak to students in the same classroom that I was taught in and it felt incredibly weird but full circle to be introduced by the title of “Doctor.” I was reminded of the fact that I’ve learned so much over the years and as a result my worldview has shifted a bit. There’s nothing like being reminded of where you came from and I think that acknowledging the past can be a way to give ourselves permission to create a future that we want.
One of my goals since moving to the east coast a few months ago has been to be more social. I decided that I was going to make an effort and go on some dates. I set a personal goal of going out with someone at least once a week. So far it’s been going pretty well with the exception of that one time I caught feelings too fast and ended up rather heartbroken. But that’s another story for another time. This one is about a date that I had last week. I’m on a rather popular site for dating that will remain nameless and there was a guy who had been messaging me for a while. He would write the occasional greeting and ask for a chance to get to know me. Regular stuff. So night I was bored and decided to respond (bad idea). He wrote me back almost immediately and asked for my number. I sent him the one that I give to people that I don’t know. Yes, I have one. Too many years of working in mental health and medical settings will have you protecting any little bit of privacy you can have. But I digress. John (definitely not his real name) called me right after I sent my number. He asked me what I wanted in a relationship and I gave my usual response of getting to know someone and seeing how it goes. He told me a bit about himself. He was from Nicaragua and worked in a blue collar trade job. He was in his early 30s and had never been married and didn’t have any children. He enthusiastically told me that he had just gotten his drivers license back after having it taken away for unpaid tickets and that he didn’t have his own place and was crashing at his own place. “But that’s ok baby, we’ll just hang out at your place,” he said. First of all, I don’t appreciate the assumption that I’m going to invite you over at any point. That’s a privilege reserved for a select few. John said that he wanted to spoil me and prove that he was the best man for me. He asked me out for dinner the next night to a Peruvian restaurant that was fairly close to my house. I could tell that he was hoping even at this early stage that he would get an invite over to my place after dinner. So I promptly crushed his hopes and dreams (very nicely of course) and let him know that I don’t get down like that. Because you know, standards and everything. So we agree to meet up the next day. Tomorrow comes and I get the generic “good morning beautiful” text message which never ceases to annoy me unless it comes from someone I think is beautiful and then it’s ok. He sent me a picture of his face as well and then asked for feedback. I don’t think I responded because sometimes the best answer is no answer. So the evening came and I arrived at the restaurant on time and parked. No John. He called me to say that he was running late. No biggie. So in order to make the best use of my time I checked in via text message with one of my other friends and caught up on what was going on in their life. John arrived about 20 minutes late and blamed traffic. Whatever. We are immediately seated by the waiter and we sit. John starts conversing with the waiter in Spanish asking about the drink options. I order water and politely decline his offer of alcohol. I try not to drink with people I don’t know plus I know I’ll have to drive home and it’s a weekday so I have work in the morning. Then the interrogation begins. He asks me multiple times if I like what I see. In the true spirit of avoidance I reply that he looks just like his picture. He shows me the obnoxiously big cross that’s hanging from a chain on his neck and declares (somewhat loudly) that he is a follower of Jesus Christ and a die hard Catholic. Instant turn off. I’m not particularly religious but I can appreciate the value that religion brings to the lives of millions. He then follows up his profession of faith with an extremely graphic description of the things that he would do if we were behind closed doors. He talks at length about how happy I’d be if I would just give him a chance and take him home. He promises that once I’ve had a “real man” aka him I’ll never go back. Now granted I haven’t been in the game that long but I do know that the more someone talks about their abilities and skills in that particular department, the worst they are at actually following through. It’s like their insecurities do all the talking and when push comes to shove their actions can’t cash the check their mouth made. Small pet peeve of mine. While the waiter at the table was semi-attentive, the food took a while (40 minutes) to get to our table. So John amused himself by talking to the couple at the table next to ours. One of which was a doctor. John immediately proceeded to ask a diagnosis question about some radiating pain in his neck that he had been having for a while. I wanted to crawl underneath the table. This is why I rarely introduce myself as a therapist because then people stay asking questions and sometimes I just want to be off the clock. But I digress. Finally the food came and John proceeded to eat his food loudly and messily. He chewed with his mouth open as he talked about his childhood and told me how much money had made last year. Then he started to ask me if he would see me again and I gave the most noncommittal answer known to man. “We’ll see.” However, technically it’s just a nice way to say no. The meal is finally over and he decides he wants to walk me to my car. Once we’re there he proceeds to try to put his hand down my pants in broad daylight and kiss me. I quickly extricate myself and get into my car and drive away. Date over. Never to happen again. He texted me the next morning and messaged me on the site. John also took the time to include a picture of a certain part of his body telling me that I didn’t know what I was missing out on. I could clearly see that I’m wasn’t missing anything whatsoever. I was actually winning because once again my theory about big talkers had been proven true. So after a few other pictures and messages about all the things that he had planned for me, I blocked him (thanks google voice). Case closed.
I can across an interesting article that coincides with what I’ve been thinking hard about these past few days. It’s about black people and wealth disparities. You can read it here . As the product of two generations of a middle class family (grandparents and parents), I don’t have anything to show for all their hard work. No property, no trust fund, no assets. Just a crippling amount of student loan debt. And I know that I’m not the only one in this predicament. Growing up, my father worked and my mother stayed home to care for us. She decided that she wanted to raise her children and homeschool us so she did. As a result, we lived in a single income household. A phenomenon that I’m experiencing now with my household of one. There are so many things that I want to do now but I won’t be able to because of my financial obligations. Transitioning to teaching or a post-doctoral position would require a pay cut of about 20k to 40k per year and I can’t afford that. This year one of my goals is to become more financially literate and I’m working on it. However, I wish that I didn’t have to start from the bottom and if I ever make enough money to afford kids I want them to have a different experience. It’s like I’m starting off at a disadvantage and don’t have the opportunity to at least start at baseline. Definitely tough.
I admit that I struggle with the general idea that one has to “qualify” in order to get married. There’s this list of things that single women are given and expected to accomplish before they are ready to get married. We tell our girls that boys will always be there and to get their education first. You’re expected to work on yourself, do fun things, finish school, pay off debt, and get a decent job among other things before you qualify for marriage. Now granted, my story is different in that while I’ve always wanted to get married, I had a feeling that I would be on the road less traveled for a long time. I just didn’t anticipate how long it would be. I was hoping for 25 but now I’m pushing 30 without any actual potential mate on the horizon. I find it frustrating when I’m told that there’s something that I’m doing wrong or just haven’t done yet that makes me unqualified to be married. I see people all day, I’m a good listener, I can hold an emotionally safe place and challenge the perspectives of others in a way that is non-threatening and supportive. I’m the sole provider of my household of one and while I’m not rich, bills do get paid and I travel once in a while. I recently completed the highest educational level one can achieve (PhD) and yet the Universe still apparently sees me as unqualified for a mate. I’m all about doing the work but shit, being alone gets old after a while. I’ve learned how to self soothe and what to do to calm myself down but there are times that I’d sell my soul for a hug and the knowledge that someone has my back. Yes, I’m approached by guys but so far they aren’t ready for anything serious or want me to finance their lives and take care of them. Neither is an option I want to live with. It sounds corny but I want to matter to someone. Really matter. I haven’t found that yet and the older I get the less optimistic I am. It’s just exhausting and tiring doing it alone all the time and while I’ll always do what I have to do, I wish things were different.
One thing that I often encourage my clients to do is to get outside of their comfort zone once in a while. This often takes the form of encouraging them to travel somewhere. That’s why I really liked this article about traveling that’s written by a therapist. You can read it here. There’s nothing like doing something while going out your comfort zone. There’s the opportunity for learning more about yourself and the world around you when you go somewhere. You have the chance to experience a new culture and navigate in an unfamiliar environment where you don’t necessarily have the backup of friends and family. Solo travel can be daunting but that’s the fun part about working through your reluctance. The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. But it’s all about taking the first step and doing it–because let’s be honest, sometimes you just have to do things while scared because it’s something your future self will thank you for.
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is definitely needed and deserves attention. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with some women who have experienced it. While DV impacts both men and women, so far professionally I’ve primarily worked with women. People seem to be always quick to judge this population and I have to admit that women quite often catch the short end of the stick in the court of public opinion. There’s an opinion that women who stay with cheating spouses are just doing what is expected of them and in many situations men aren’t questioned when they leave a relationship if the tables are turned. The truth is that it’s not always easy to get out. Abusers often control finances and seek to isolate their victims from close family and friends. It’s even more complicated when children are involved and there are questions about next steps and potential custody battles. It’s also important to realize that abuse doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be emotional and verbal as well. In order to make a plan to leave the relationship, one has to come to the understanding that it’s an unhealthy/abusive situation. I’ve had women tell me that every marriage has ups and down and that they don’t want to be quitters by leaving when it gets tough. Many have been encouraged by pastors and faith leaders that they should just submit to their spouse and just bear their cross. It’s important to understand that most victims don’t leave their abusers on the first attempt AND that they are more at risk for increased violence when they try to leave. This is why it’s important to be a supportive friend because you don’t know what someone is going through. Many times women won’t open up to their friends or relatives because they feel ashamed and may feel like they have failed in the relationship and/or marriage. Be present, be aware, be supportive. Learn and recognize the signs of an abuser and don’t give second chances.