I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I guess I grew up around enough people with an entitled attitude to have learned to steer clear of expectations. That, or growing up on the low end of the economic scale really doesn’t allow for you to get your hopes up very high. But I recall a conversation I had at lunch one day in high school when a person I hung around started in on one of his famous tangents. I don’t remember the exact words but I do remember the sentiment because it has been something that has been stuck inside my brain like a little black spot of plague.
He said something to the effect of, “Well why would she date someone like you?”
I knew what he meant. She was from the other side of the tracks – or more accurately, from the nearby upper middle class suburb and by all teenage standards, was clearly out of my league. Not because her parents drove nice cars, but because she couldn’t walk through the mall without guys throwing themselves at her. By early 90s mall standards, she was a 10 – and I was not. So when he said those words to me, I looked around at everyone else in our group and instead of seeing a bunch of supportive friends, I saw a bunch of people waiting for my answer. As if I had to try and explain by what magic or coercion I had managed to “attain” such a girl. And because I was young and without the confidence to stand up for myself, I did just that. I tried to explain my good traits. I attempted to lay it all on that lunch table for everyone to see that yes, maybe I DID deserve a shot at someone so beautiful.
But it turned out that she was positively rude. She walked with the confidence of Mariah Carey in all of her TRL glory days and acted like she could do or say whatever she liked because, well hey – look at how hot she was. I got to me so quickly that I couldn’t even pretend and our little relationship lasted no more than a month. But hey, we were kids and at that age, things like that matter. And while this comes off as a shallow example, this is more than a kid justifying himself. This is about anyone feeling they have to explain to anyone else in the world why they deserve happiness. I was guilted into explaining why someone like her would go for someone like me. After I said my piece, he looked at me and said something like, “Well yeah. I have all those things you said plus I’m taller, hotter, and I have a nicer body. She should have dated someone like me before someone like you.”
That is the kind of venom that burns the face of a 16 year old kid. To sit there and try to hold back tears when someone you call your friend belittles you and minimizes your character. And maybe that’s why it has been stuck in the back of my brain for so long. You don’t quickly forget that sort of embarrassment. And for as offended and hurt as I was, I remember holding my tongue and not saying what I really wanted to say. I wanted to say, “Sure, you have a six-pack and you’re tall and you have awesome cheek bones but you’re ugly inside. You are a racist and a homophobe and you never have anything good to say and you only laugh when it’s at the expense of others. That is why you will die alone and unloved because you don’t even know the first thing about loving yourself.” But I was a kid and even if I did have the balls to stand up for myself, I never could have said those word in the right way at the right time because isn’t that how it always goes.
As I grew into adulthood, I have come across more than a few of those same mean-spirited venomous people. People with such deeply rooted insecurities that all they know is to shame or embarrass others to make themselves feel a little better about not having what they think they deserve. And it’s a shame really. Not so much because it’s downright offensive, but because so many people underestimate their value. Those dark anchors irresponsible adults placed in their heart so long ago never disappeared and then one day, those people grew into adults. They went to school and they got jobs and they had children and they had to interact with other people and chose the ugly path. Because none of us are free of insecurity and every last one of us have had mean people burn scars across our brains. But for most of us, we have two choices – we can either acknowledge the issue and do our best to work past it, or ignore it and push our venom of self-loathing back out into the world.
But you know the real tragedy of this is that there was a 16 year old kid who actually believed for years, decades, that while sitting at that table he didn’t answer that question well enough. He felt compelled to answer that to the best of his ability. As if those people sitting there quietly judging all deserved a believable justification why the short, weird, poor, brown kid could date the tall, beautiful girl from the nice side of the tracks. And I carried that for years. That constant underlying desire to justify why good things came into my life. I mean, even now, as I write this there is a tone of justification. It’s something I can’t shake. But all I can do as a grown man is identify the issue and attempt to work past it but in the end, I’ll always be the insecure little 16 year old kid with terrible hair doing his best to explain why he got the pretty girl. And never feeling like he did a good enough job.
A few months ago, I sat across from a good friend of mine who told me that she felt like she didn’t deserve the guy she was dating. That he was too good looking and successful to be dating her and her issues. On almost a daily basis, she would tell me about how great he was and about how undeserving she was. And with each text, I would just shake my head and do my best to tell her everything her inner 16 year old needed to hear. I would explain to her how her compassionate heart and her amazing sense of humor are gold to men. I would remind her of how fun she was to be around and how absolutely stunning she looked. I did my best but I knew it wasn’t my fight. But I did what I wished someone would have done for me. To stand up and say, “Hey kid. Guess what? You deserve to be happy because you have earned your happy. You have put enough good out in to this world to have earned a supportive partner. And the only person you have to justify anything to is yourself.”
But she didn’t hear it because she wasn’t ready to hear it. Just like that kid at that lunchroom table couldn’t have heard it. Although it would have been nice to know that someone was in my corner. So that’s what I did for her. And I continue to do. And what we should all do. Is be the ally to the 16 year old kids of the world and let them know that if you put good out in to the world that you deserve good back. And that you should never let anyone tell you what it is that you deserve because only you know what you have earned. And when you get it – don’t justify your love, happiness, or success to anyone but that 16 year old kid inside of you.