Definable.

I used to have a bumper sticker that said, “KILL YOUR TELEVISION,” because at some point I decided that was a dramatic proclamation I could get behind since…you know…I couldn’t afford cable.

In my college years I was very big on finding “bold” stances to take that would get me some sort of attention in some capacity. Or more importantly – that would allow me a concrete hold into some sort of peer group or clique that I felt I needed. Maybe these proclamations would allow me to fit into a circle that I maybe did not feel welcomed into: I don’t eat meat! Let me into your hippie circle! Or it allowed me to shun people I didn’t think would accept me anyway. I only shop at thrift stores, I’m not part of your trendy circle with GAP shirts! But mainly I just felt like it was required of me in some way. I couldn’t like pop music if I was going to Grateful Dead shows. I couldn’t be friends with sorority girls if I liked hacky-sacking in front of the University Center. I couldn’t wear pink nail polish if I liked to hike in the woods.

I just had this weird perception like I need to be DEFINABLE, if that makes sense. I remember one of the times I tried to get healthy and I would go to the track on campus to try to run and I could not find any clothes to wear to the track because running clothes did not fit into my undercut/Doc Marten/Nine Inch Nail T-shirt style. I remember distinctly thinking, “Well…I have these old running shoes and some Umbros from my Volleyball days in high school, but that’s not really me.

Like me was some sort of rigidly defined Rube Goldberg system where if you changed one small thing nothing would work anymore. I often remember seeing girls on campus who seemed to be defined better, all of their outfits always matched one persona and their attitudes and their tastes and everything fit into a nice little definable package: Goth. Punk. Hippie. Greek. Geek. SGA. Athlete.

Obviously my close friends had ranges of themselves, but I didn’t have a lot of close friends and so I just assumed they were anomalies and I still felt like they managed to mix and match different personas into one that defined THEM. Whereas I always felt like no part of me fit into some great definition and so I was constantly trying to change and modify myself to find something that fit.

I think it’s why I ended up ruining so many relationships during those years. It’s really hard to connect with a girl who switches up her personalities constantly. I mean, I read several books on Budhism and went to test out a Budhist Sangha in Tennessee only to then find myself a short time later answering an alter call at a Baptist Church and got Baptized a few weeks later only to drop that and start focus all of my spirituality on the study of Biology and the great outdoors.

Can you imagine how hard it is to be friends with that girl? Eventually I found myself alone and starting over after shitting on all of my friendships in my quest to define myself. (The, “Maybe I’m a party girl?” period was not my best.) And while I didn’t realize I was doing it, I just started accepting the fact that maybe I didn’t fit any rigid definition of a personality. Maybe no one did.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”

I often think back to that girl because I remember her very well, her anxiety over worrying about fitting in to various circles is still something I can feel when I put myself back there. She was so desperate to feel a part of something…ANYTHING…but I can see how hard it is for her to connect when she was never really being true to any full concept of herself.

She was also known to make annoying proclamations I’m ashamed of now. Not because I don’t support women who make the same proclamations, but because I look back and see the mask she was trying so desperately to wear. I think she felt like she needed to be a “liberated woman” on some sort of extreme spectrum (I blame 12 years of Catholic schooling that squashed a lot of my feminine desires) and so I would rave about Howard Stern and would suggest we all go to Hooters for dinner and I would brag about knowing all of the sex toy dealers in town (there were some weird laws back then, you had to have things like tupperware parties – but for vibrators) like I was unafraid of my sexuality and of anything that I see now as demeaning to women.

I WAS THE WORST.

Not because I believed any of those things – especially not the “unafraid of my sexuality” part – because those are great stances for women to take. BUT I AM A NATURAL PRUDE and once I realized it was okay to admit that, I felt much more secure in my own femininity. I suddenly became much more in touch with my inner-goddess (so to speak) when I allowed myself to just be me, someone who prefers The CW to HBO and who flinches when people use the F-word around her.

It turns out I wasn’t prudish because of the religious upbringing, my prudishness ran deep in my blood even after abandoning religion for over a decade. I just needed to embrace it.

This is what I love the most about aging. Something really does click inside of me every year that allows me to stop trying so hard. And in not-trying so hard, I find I’ve been able to build stronger and richer relationships. It turns out if you’re honest about your love of musical theatre, you make friends with other people who love musical theatre! And yeah, maybe they are also loyal church-goers who hate the outdoors but you don’t have to connect on EVERY level with someone to have ANY connection whatsoever. Most of my best friends have interests or passions that don’t include me at all. But because we share enough, and those things are REAL, the connections are strong and long-lasting.

I no longer feel like I have to be easily definable. I am Kim. I like to run, but I am not fast and sometimes I stop during races and take selfies. I don’t eat meat but I am not socially conscious enough to avoid buying cheap clothes at Wal-Mart. I love the outdoors but I’m too old to sleep on the ground anymore so I’ll take a hotel over camping. I am not a music person, no matter how hard I tried for years to fit into certain music-love groups of people. I have songs that mean a lot to me and to my memories, some break my heart and some lift my spirits, but I can go days without listening to any music whatsoever. I love YA fiction. I am deeply spiritual but I don’t believe in any sort of God or any sort of higher-level being as defined by modern-day religions. I love my coffee, but I hate Starbucks. I love good craft beer but not ALL good craft beer and I dislike anything too malty or too hoppy. I don’t wear makeup but I love jewelry.

And in learning all of this about myself, I realized the best people are undefinable. The best people contain multitudes. And you don’t have to have EVERYTHING in common with someone to build a rich and true connection. Shared vulnerability can cross all sorts of divides in taste in music and movies and books. And when I stopped trying so hard to fit into certain circles, I realized I could fit into all of them just enough to find people to connect with.

5 Comments

  • Colleen

    I enjoy knowing you now and am happy you are my friend! Your past experiences give me insight into young people who might be going through similar things. I’m glad to know you and that we have fun things in common like loving the outdoors, musical theater, and fear of left turns!

  • Sam

    THANK YOU! I’ve been thinking about this lately (mostly with regards to fashion but other things too) and it really, really does apply to every part of my life right now. I needed to hear this today 🙂

  • Ebeth

    I look back and Just wish I thought more. Thought more about others, more about what the hell I was doing, the stupid, obviously thoughtless things I should have thought more about. Man! Where was my brain??
    Owning my shit has definitely gotten easier with age. I find my Regrets are harder to own. They seek forgiveness. Or something I am not yet open to forgetting.

  • Olivia

    I love this post, and think you are spot on. Being vulnerably authentic draws the people into our lives who love us for who we are. I think most of us go through this when we are young. I know I did some of the same things which you described, and I STILL have trouble relaxing and being the most honest version of myself.

    When I started grad school, I saw the social things that my graduate trumpet colleagues were doing and thought that I would be happier and have better professional success by improving my social skills, so I started by throwing myself into social situations that I hated. I would think, “I’m going to go to this party and talk to x number of people. I’ll observe what people are doing and I’ll learn how to relax. I’ll invite friends over at least once per week, I’ll introduce myself to these people at this conference. I’ll memorize facts about them and ask thoughtful questions.” After these social experiments, I would rehearse entire conversations over and over and analyze for areas where I could have made mistakes. – Was I being reciprocal? Did I ask the other person questions about themselves? Did I validate their opinions? Those friendships were forced and inauthentic, and it took me awhile to realize what I was doing was never going to work because my motivations were all wrong. Friendships are formed when you have a genuine desire to spend time with the other person because you enjoy it. There is no substitute. I’ve learned not to beat myself up about the fact that I will probably never enjoy parties and that I won’t ever be part of a clique. I know that on some level, my friendships often don’t look normal, but I know I have empathy for people, and I can relate to my friends in my own way. It doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s way. Thanks again for another relatable, honest post.