My partner and I have been arguing lately.
Likely because we’re at that point in a relationship where our “quirky” personality traits have lost their lusty splendor, and humanized into regular, every day irritations –
I was clearing the table after dinner last night.
In my view (which is, of course, the only one), I’d been helpful. The loving, easygoing girlfriend.
“Shit, did you clean this pan with soap?” I hear from the far side of the kitchen.
The aforementioned monologue in mind, I gripped down on the white plates that now peculiarly resembled killer frisbees:
An exasperated sigh. “Damn, okay. This one can’t be cleaned with soap or it ruins the bottom.”
He stared at it like a child grieving ice cream that just fell out of the cone.
I lost it in that beautiful way people sometimes do. Slowly, subtly, and then with a rip-roaring bang.
It’s always easy to consider ourselves even-tempered, until we’re not.
One soap wash – and it’s ruined? I asked, with biting sarcasm. Better buy a better pan next time.
He ignored me, purposefully, which I gathered by his effort to look over me instead of at me as he walked past with the soap-murdered skillet.
I acted accordingly: choosing to hurtle the two plates into the sink, and allow them to clank together – leaving a rattling, ear-piercing splendor.
He whipped around from his hunchback, introspective stance:
“You don’t have to be so Defensive Diana, Jesus. I’m just informing you.”
This is one of those “cute” things we did – nicknaming our more difficult personality traits to the tune of “Defensive Diana” (me) “Controlling Chad” (him) “Insecure Irene” (me) and “Tone-deaf Todd” (him)
In my awe-struck lust, little did I realize how irritating it’d be to have character flaws thrown back in my face in the form of alliterations.
It’s one thing after the other, I quipped. Now it’s the pans. Earlier it was the knife for the cheese board.
He interrupted. No. I just had a proper cheese knife and thought you’d find it easier to cut through hard cheddar.
He emphasized the word ‘hard.’
I lowered my eyes. And the lights, I said. I don’t turn on your bloody lights correctly.
Never said that, he said. But, I don’t understand why you turn them on FULL BLAST when I have the energy saver that dims them.
Because I don’t know what a fucking energy saver light socket is, I said. And I can’t figure out which button is which. So there. I’m just a dumb, energy-consuming consumer of America YET AGAIN. Please, oh PLEASE, teach me more. Do I compost correctly? Do I recycle the wrong plastics? Do I eat too many non-organic blueberries?
I stomped off to bed.
In retrospect, I overreacted.
He can be a control freak, but typically in a way where he truly believes he’s helping to make my life easier.
Oftentimes, it does.
Which infuriates me.
I read recently, in a Tim Kreider book of essays, that if you want to enjoy the rewards of being loved, you also have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.
I double-highlighted that line in the book – in my self-affirming, pretentious “I love to identify well written truths” way, but I have since been plagued by the simple question it unsurfaced for me:
“What is it to be known exactly?”
What is my mortifying ordeal of “being known?”
Perhaps, my partner and I are at that bridge, wiggling our toes and cracking our fingers as we anticipate the trek.
“Being known” is a difficult point in a relationship for me, and not because it crosses the whole “to fart or not fart around you” boundary (I will never do this, I say.)
But because it requires me to R Kelly Bump n Grind with my over-boding, incessant feelings of inadequacy in life.
Here’s the cold truth when you spend 8 formative years on the eating disorder roller coaster:
It leaves you with very little skills.
At 16, I left cooking to my mom because granola was the only thing “okay to eat.”
At 17, I gave up piano because it wouldn’t make me thin. I started to run, solely to burn calories.
At 18, I sat in classroom lectures counting calories in the side margins of spirals.
At 20, I drank wine on an empty stomach in my house instead of attending free, campus writing seminars.
At 22, I lived in Spain and didn’t learn Spanish because I ran on treadmills multiple times a day. (I did learn, however, how to say “Where is the gym?”)
At 23, I sat at my first desk at my first job – and researched “Eat This Not That” lists while I should have listened to digital marketing webinars.
Basically, I never stuck to anything – except my eating disorder.
I didn’t have hobbies. I didn’t knit or cook or play piano anymore.
I didn’t think about composting or follow politics or engage in environmental sustainability efforts.
I didn’t read most of the classic literature books for my English degree.
I wrote things, only to lose them when my laptop broke.
Mostly, they were research about food.
Sure, I did some things non-eating disorder related:
I obsessed over a lot of people; got in a shitload of revolving-door 6-week relationships, which meant I changed identities on the reg.
Sometimes, I was a long-haired pothead’s partner. Sometimes, I was a frat guy’s girlfriend. Once, I was a (very young) professor’s eye candy. Occasionally, even a 34-year old bartenders drink-of-choice special. “The Hall-ways to my Heart” (this is a true drink special, yes.)
I always had a story of some torrid affair – or risky romance – which I thought made me “interesting.”
Sneaky and unsuspecting, I knowingly and unknowingly played dough-eyed boys with my insecurities (“I bet I can fix her”), fed them whatever lines I thought they wanted to hear, and then wrecked havoc like a tornado blazing Oklahoma.
I cheated on every relationship I had from 16-25. 99% of the time with other exes, because giving up someone meant giving up the only form of identity I had.
Sometimes, I was in two unsuspecting relationships. One time, I was in three.
The point being:
I spent most of my formative years as a hot mess.
Who has time to learn how to recycle when you have six boyfriends, a bottle of wine, and a bout of purging to manage?
Why pick up Salsa dancing when I can run and watch calories on a machine?
How could I possibly spend hours writing a novel when I have hours to burn more body fat?
Mostly, why engage with something new and look like an idiot when I’m inevitably not perfect at it?
Those realities plagued me – and continue now.
I don’t spend my life thinking about calories anymore.
And I don’t spend my life driving/running/biking/metro-subway-riding between 2-3 partners either.
But, I live now with this underlying, blatant inadequacy.
You wanna know how to shove your finger down your throat? Sure, I got plenty of methods for that.
Wanna know which foods have more sugar in them than others? How many calories are in a bag of Cheez-Its?
But, outside of honing manipulation skills, dodging exes at parties, and relaying countless stories of my torrid love affairs around the world –
I don’t have a whole lot of useful skills to share.
It’s a painful reality, and I’m being hard on myself here, but there’s truth to it.
My last few relationships have been with people who are full of skills – and incredibly knowledgeable about subjects most of us don’t spend more than 10 minutes researching. I look for it. I crave it.
Teach me, I scream internally. I want to know how to grow my own food.
I want to learn how to compost sufficiently.
I need to know what a Roth IRA is.
Teach me how to outfit a Sprinter van for living.
And which pans shouldn’t be cleaned with soap.
Basic skills are often lost on me – and none more than the kitchen.
A couple years ago, I googled “how to use a skin peeler” because I was too intimidated to skin a potato without looking for direction.
“You cut so slow,” my roommate has laughed.
Unknowingly to her, it stings.
I cut food slow because I didn’t cook. I ate out – or ate nothing – and now I tiptoe the line of “trying new things.” Cooking fills me with anxiety – and not so much anymore because of calories or carbs, but because I have developed very little confidence in my ability to not burn, char, or roast things.
Last week, I melted my partner’s cutting board on the stove.
I still haven’t told him.
What translates from all this insecurity is shame – which manifests in defensiveness, anger, and posturing.
I feel shame that I am a 28-year old woman who has no “insider info” on tasks like cooking, cleaning or hell, the history of Western Europe.
How do you KNOW all these things? I want to ask every person I spend significant time with.
HOW DO PEOPLE HAVE SO MANY SKILLS AND FACTS?
You have so much more than you know, my best friend said today as I summarized this post.
She proceeded to list my “charming” qualities.
Tell those to my exes, I laughed. Bet they’d have a different story.
You’re a hot mess, of course, she said. But, you have more balls than anyone I know. More courage. More relatability.
You’re fucking honest.
We both snorted at that.
I’m sure the dude I cheated on with his co-worker feels the same, I said.
She laughed. I’m not touching your relationship history. That is … not your finest attribute.
We agreed, as we do. My relationship tales are always up for a snicker.
But, the fact remains.
I spoke with a coworker recently, who’s in recovery for alcoholism.
Ever feel like you’re behind the times? I asked, as we walked to the gym.
They say the day you engage with your addiction, you become stunted in all areas, he replied.
I have no skills, I said – reflecting after I wrote a majority of this post. It’s like I bumble through the world with no useful knowledge or fact.
He smiled. Know what you mean. I spent a majority of my teens and early 20s drinking, so I don’t really have a whole lot of other memories.
Right? I said. It’s like I know nothing about anything. I’m still 16 trying to learn how to cook, or be a citizen, or a girlfriend, or how to manage finances.
Totally, he agreed. But, you can’t change what happened.
We parted then, as I headed into the gym.
Climbed onto a rusty, aging treadmill.
Did what I know.
Inserted my weight, my incline, my speed.
Flipped my E-book on, to the essays that someone else is writing – and I’m not.
Ran effortlessly, with a persistent minor pain in my right knee that reminds me I once had stress fractures.
Hopped off after a couple miles. Smiled at the woman next to me.
Changed clothes, examined myself briefly in the mirror.
Walked out, and went to a sushi place I frequent on the days I’d rather write than socialize or engage.
I finished this post, along with two sushi rolls – and edamame.
I googled “which plastics can you recycle?”
Set up a date to check out someone’s outfitted Sprinter Van.
Confirmed a podcast interview for Thursday.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll take up knitting.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll buy an e-book on Mayan history.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll cook that thai peanut rice chicken-garlic-something dish I keep bookmarking, but am too scared to try.
It’s easy to be a pawn to our eating disorder.
It’s sad to know that maybe we have some years to catch up on.
But, we can’t change reality.
This is the only life you have. You don’t have a redo.
So, we can either wallow in our choices, or try to change the monologue.
I get mad at my partner because I’m jealous that he wasn’t plagued by the same shit I was.
I am defensive by nature, because I hate that I wasted 8 years on anorexia and the beauty standard of being thin.
I hate that I fell for it. The whole thing.
Fell for the media and the magazines and the insecurity of being human.
I hate that being beautiful meant more than being informed – or compassionate – or a citizen on a planet that’s not mine.
I hate that I spent formative years, young years, being sad. And being lost in a way that wasn’t building anything.
Be lost so long as it gets you from point A to point B.
This world isn’t yours. It’s no ones. It’s a world we inhabit for a second, and then leave for others.
Learn all we can, right?
Learn every bloody thing we can.
Soak up the world that we know – because it’s the only world we’ll ever know (even if you believe in reincarnation).
We die – and we live ripples.
Have your ripples touch other ripples.
Finishing my sushi, going to walk back to my partner:
We may make it for the long-haul, we may not.
I don’t pretend to predict my life anymore.
But, I’ll hug him tonight.
And then maybe, I’ll google “how to clean your cast iron skillet without soap.”