On Birthdays

This year was a milestone birthday for me, and it was one I was NOT looking forward to. So much so that for most of the last year I have been formulating my plan to spend the day locked in my house, alone, only interacting with a series of drivers who would deliver me food until I felt that my ancient and decrepit body was satisfied. I had even started putting money into a ‘mid-life crisis’ fund for whatever crazy stunt I tried to pull in the weeks or months after to make myself feel young again. I was absolutely prepared to go full ‘anti-birthday drama queen’ on the day, and to hate every minute of it.

I’ve never liked getting older. Watching my body change from bouncy and smooth to saggy and wrinkly, feeling my energy levels drop with every mediocre night sleep or early morning bathroom trip, developing aches and pains that I can’t remember the reasons for and that take longer to heal every time, and envisioning the endless stream of old lady conversations about renovations, grandchildren and medication has always made me shudder in dread. Aging was a slowly closing trap of loss and boredom that I couldn’t figure out how to stop, but at the very least could avoid commemorating.

As I got closer to the big day the people in my life started asking me what I was planning to do to celebrate.  None of them seemed to really understand why I didn’t want to. Some of them even starting finding ways to work around my planned day of mourning, by scheduling celebrations on other days, initiating ‘surprises’ that I couldn’t stop, or by telling me they were going to join me in my wallowing, even if that meant pajama pants and shitty delivery food for them as well. They were persistent, invasive, and unyielding, and I am incredibly grateful for it, as I learned a few important things about ageing and birthdays because of them.

The people in my life are amazing. They are intelligent, creative, funny, adventurous, supportive, loving and a lot of fun. Yes, I still had friends and family in my life when I was 20, or 30, or whatever age we consider young these days, but they are nothing like the people that are in my life now. Even the ones that are the same people have changed enough that they are only barely recognizable as the same. Not only do they not take any shit from me, they won’t let me take any shit from myself or others. They have learned to embrace their quirks, ask for what they want, and move on when they don’t get it. They have learned how to be happy. Over the years people have come and gone from my life, but the ones who are with me now are the ones that have proven special enough to keep. Time has filtered out the people who were in my life for a season, and left me with only the people who are in my life for a reason.

I am better than ever. Right now, in this moment, at this age, I am the best version of myself that I have ever been.  I thought that was the case last year, and the year before that, but it wasn’t. Every year since I started on this journey I have been growing. Of course I still make mistakes, and wind up following paths that I shouldn’t, and there are still things in life that happen to me that are out of my control, but the person I am today has developed the ability to learn from those moments rather than be defeated by them. I have learned to embrace change and chaos and conflict, and to grow because of it. And yes, my body is getting older, and softer, and gravity is having its way with it, but I have never been more comfortable with it, or known it better. I know exactly what I have to offer, and what I want in return, and there’s a confidence in that that my perfectly fit 20-year-old self never found. I don’t know if you’ve heard this before or not, but confidence is sexy as hell, and it has attracted better partners for me than a perfectly taut neck ever did.

My birthdays aren’t about what I want. You would think out of any day of the year your birthday should be the one day that gets to be all about what you want, right? Nope, it turns out that is entirely untrue. My birthdays are the one day of the year that my friends, family, and loved ones get to celebrate me, whether I really want them to or not. It’s the one day that I can’t put them off, deflect, or pretend that I’m not important enough for them to focus on. It gives them a chance to do things for me that I may not be letting them do at other times, and the chance to celebrate having me in their lives. As much as the attention may make me feel uncomfortable I have to acknowledge that they have earned the right to have that day.

For most of my life I’ve truly believed that after a certain point birthdays became about mourning what you once had rather than celebrating what you are. This year I learned how very wrong I was. Just because my number is going up doesn’t mean that I suddenly have to start contemplating plastic surgery, going to bed at 8pm, or watching DIY TV shows. I don’t have to become a wrinkly, tired, boring old lady, even if I am a little achy sometimes. I can stay the adventurous, entertaining, confident person I am right now, and can continue to surround myself with people who feel the same. One day we might turn out to be the strangest group of senior citizens you’ve ever seen, playing D&D with large print dice, painting our oxygen tanks horrible shades of orange, and smacking each other’s droopy butts until they sound like old leather, but you know what? I don’t care. And who knows, it may just give some future young person the chance to realize that getting older doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  

You Are Enough

Do you have that friend who just seems to blossom whenever they are in a relationship? Maybe they were quiet, or shy, or socially awkward in some way, but then they met someone and that all just seemed to melt away? They became this confident, outgoing, charming person that you could always see in them, but they never seemed able to see it in themselves. Is it possible that maybe you are that person, and just haven’t realized it yet?

That description used to fit me to a T. When I was single I was too shy to go out on my own, too introverted to speak to a complete stranger, and too uncertain to see the things I had to offer. When I didn’t have someone to believe in me I had a very hard time believing in myself. The longer I was single the worse it would get, until eventually it became difficult to even remember a time before I was the girl who was home alone every night. Whenever I found someone who saw something in me it filled me with a feeling of worth, like maybe because they saw something in me I really had something to offer, and I would actually start putting those parts of myself out there for other people to see.

Being in a healthy relationship can be a wonderful thing when you have self-esteem issues. You have someone to go out and do new things with, someone to cuddle up with when you are tired and want to stay in, and someone to help you out when you need support. Someone who likes you for who you are, someone who wants what you have to give, and perhaps most importantly, someone who chose you. Not because there weren’t any other options, or because they couldn’t think of a better thing to do today, but because of who you are, and what they see in you. 

There are a few things I have learned that I had a habit of doing when I was in a relationship that I’ve realized are not healthy, and they stemmed from my own self-esteem issues. It had nothing to do with my partners, and the relationships themselves were healthy, but the way I allowed myself to change because of them was not. Yes, we all change when we bring a new major player into our inner circles, and a certain amount of adapting and adjusting is normal, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that, and often resulted in the relationship coming to an end. The changes I’m talking about are the ones we make to become more of what we think our partners want, not the ones that would be considered normal personal growth.

In my previous relationships I have felt like I am ‘less than’ or ‘not enough for’ my partners. I loved that they had chosen me, and I didn’t want to change their minds, but I also didn’t understand what they saw in me, or how they could want me. I didn’t feel worthy, and I worried that eventually they would realize that I wasn’t. In order to stop this from happening I would do everything in my power to become indispensable to them. My life became about supporting them, being there for them, and giving them everything and anything they needed. I would lose myself in trying to make or keep them happy, and my needs and interests would take a backseat to whatever they wanted or needed. None of my partners had ever asked me to do that, and most hadn’t even really noticed it happening, but in many cases it became the thing that ended the relationship. Everything I was and did became about them, and the person they fell for and wanted wasn’t there anymore. In trying to keep them happy I buried the person that peaked their interest in the first place.

Another bad habit I developed was letting my partners know I felt that they were better than me. It was the kind of thing that sounded sweet when I said it, usually with a ‘you are so great, I’m glad you decided I was enough for you’, or the even more blunt ‘thank you for settling for me’. The idea of the message came from a good place; I was trying to let them know how grateful I was that they wanted me. Unfortunately having that outlook and sharing it created a lot of problems. In some cases it put a lot of pressure on my partners and left them feeling like they had to carry the weight of my self-esteem. In others it created an unhealthy feedback loop where they needed to constantly reassure me that I was enough. And a few times it opened the door for them to really believe that they were better than me, and then they would start to treat me accordingly.

It took me a long time to learn to love myself, flaws and all, and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to see how much my self-esteem issues have affected the people who have chosen to love me. Watching the person you fell for bury all the things that made them special, or having to constantly reassure them that they are still what you want, is a lot for anyone to deal with. It’s a huge strain that not many relationships can survive.

There is nothing wrong with feeling better about yourself when you are with someone, or having a partner who helps you see what a wonderful person you are. Just make sure that what you learn from them is something that you will continue to believe about yourself even if for some reason the relationship ends. Remember that your amazing, loving, perfect partners are choosing you because of who you were before you were a couple, and because of the things in you that were there before their influence on you became a factor. Remember that you are worth their love; otherwise they wouldn’t have given it to you. And make sure you aren’t asking them to be the one who makes you feel worthy; find your own worth, with their help if you need it, believe it, and hold onto it no matter who comes in or out of your life.