I Hate People Who Take the Elevator

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A friend of mine made an off handed comment the other day. “I’m sick of lazy people taking the elevator!” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I pushed him a bit, and he simply said he hated that everyone did it, that it was an engrained social structure, that obesity was an epidemic, and that it was a waste of energy.

I think it’s time to review both fatphobia and ableism 101, as well as how they’re intertwined. The first thing to note about something like whether other people take the elevator or not is that it’s none of your damned business because you know nothing about this random other person and their behavior isn’t hurting you (we’ll get to questions of obesity soon). There is nothing morally wrong about not wanting to be active right this instant. And in many cases, someone might be incapable of taking the stairs: some people have invisible diseases, and your assumption that everyone should take the stairs is part of the underlying cultural norm that other people’s bodies belong to us and they all have to be able and thin or they are doing something wrong. They are causing harm.

There are a lot of things wrong with the assumption that you should be able to tell someone else what to do with their body or that it’s any of your business what someone else does with their body, whether that’s how/when they have sex or their choice of diet and exercise. The moment we start deciding what the correct way for another person to treat their body is, the moment we’ve decided to try to take away their basic autonomy.  Everyone has the right to decide what to eat, how to move, where to go, and when you assume that their actions are fair game for your shame and criticism because you don’t like what someone else is doing, you’re implying that someone else’s body is public property. And that’s just really uncool.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible to be healthy, happy, and active while being fat. The Health at Every Size movement has a great deal of information on this, but suffice it to say that genetics plays a huge role in your size, and that body composition makes a large difference. The “obesity epidemic” is based on the BMI scale, which does not take body composition into account at all and reduces many complex health problems down to “you’re a fatty, lose some weight,”. As this article points out, fat people often have to fight for the right to be able to eat food. Relatedly, they also often have to fight for the right to be inactive or rest. Any time we see an overweight person sitting down or watching TV or taking the elevator, we assume they’re lazy. We don’t do that with thin people, even though there’s not any law that says the thin person is more active than the fat person.

We tend to only accept a fat person as a “good fatty” if we see that they only eat salad or take the stairs every time. Fat people are by default considered unhealthy and lazy until they have proven that they do all the correct healthy behaviors and are still fat. Many people assume that if a fat person is engaging in any “unhealthy” behaviors, those behaviors are what has caused them to be fat (and thus a drain on society because all fat people are the worst ya know). Never mind that some people are fat because of disabilities.  Never mind that you literally have no idea whether or not that individual just came from the gym or not. Never mind that you have literally no evidence that taking the elevator is what caused this person to be overweight or whether or not this overweight person is unhealthy. Never mind that some people physically can’t take the stairs, even if they look able bodied.

It’s none of your damned business what anyone does with their body, what food they eat, and how they exercise. Bodies are complicated, and unless you’re someone’s doctor or intimately close to them, you don’t know even close to enough to make a judgment about whether or not they’re lazy. A lot of this is straight out concern trolling, and there’s good evidence that it’s not really about health in the fact that I don’t see any of these concern trolls telling me that they have a right to tell me to eat more and deal with my eating disorder because insurance! Public health! You need to be able to work! They’re not concerned with the state of my health and body because I am thin and able bodied and sometimes I rock climb and swing dance for hours. You cannot read someone’s health off of their body.

Maybe taking the elevator is an engrained social structure, and maybe we could do more to promote exercise. But any fat person or depressed person or sick person can tell you that they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it a thousand times. One more piece of shame is not going to help (it may actually make people fatter). There are more positive and more helpful ways to promote movement. I take the elevator because the stairs take longer and are boring. I’d rather exercise in a more fun fashion. So maybe that “just take the stairs” approach is alienating some people, and is actually an excuse to complain about fat, lazy people.

Yes, maybe it is more energy efficient to take the stairs. But we all make trade offs in our lives in terms of values and priorities, and how we treat our bodies is incredibly personal. If it’s so important to you, then take the stairs yourself, but stop haranguing others when you have no idea what their lives are like.

 

You Make Me A Better Person

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A common sentiment about what one wants in a romantic relationship is that they want their partner to make them a better person. They want to be challenged and supported, and in some way asked to step up and be the best version of themselves that they can be.

I’ve always wanted this in my life, but “a better person” is a fairly vague phrase. It’s only recently that I’ve started to concretely see what this means simply by having someone who does it for me (not like that you perverts). The typical image of this is that your partner pushes you. They hear your hopes and dreams and they tell you to pursue them. They take care of you when you’re having a bad day and keep you positive when you’re down.

This is not what I mean when I say that I want my partner to make me a better person.

Until a couple of months ago I hadn’t written anything creative for years. I’d been fairly focused on blogs and essays, and hadn’t made time for short stories or longer fiction. Oddly, for most of my life previous to that I had always written creatively. From the time I was ten, I wanted to be an author and write fantasy novels. The drive to create is deeply important to me, and somewhere along the line I had forgotten that excitement and joy.

Until I met my current partner, who without knowing or intending, got me writing again simply by being excited about his own projects and interests. When I first met him, he started telling me about an audio theater project he was working on, and within a week I was writing again, inspired by his ideas. I become a better person when I’m around others who are engaged and excited about life, because they remind me of the things that I love and want to do with my life.  I’m happier when I’m with others who are doing what they love and when their loves remind me of mine.

For most of my life I haven’t been the best at communicating. I try to tell people what I’m thinking or feeling, but I second guess myself a lot and I’m a people pleaser, so I end up doing what I think other people want. My current partner doesn’t demand that I communicate with him or ask me to tell him what’s going on in my head when it seems like things are happening in there. He just communicates with me, and lets me know what he wants and needs. He clearly prioritizes a variety of relationships, not just ours, and lets me know that he cares about that. He models being a healthy human being.

And every time I see him communicating clearly or letting me know that he needs to spend time with his friends or doing something else that is emotionally healthy, I become more likely to do it myself. When I say that I want my partner to make me a better person, what I mean is that I want to surround myself with amazing people who remind me what it looks like to be awesome in all the ways that I want to be awesome. Of course I also want them to support me and challenge my ideas and talk to me about interesting things, but you don’t make your partner better by telling them what to do or simply saying words to them: you do it by being better yourself and challenging them to step up to your awesomeness.

And while some people love having a partner that exposes them to new things and gets them out of their comfort zone (and to some extent this is healthy for everyone), it’s also wonderful to have someone who reminds you of the things you love and why you love them. They make you more yourself by reminding you of those essential parts of yourself that you can’t live without: your loves and passions.

When I’m engaged creatively with the world, I’m simply a happier, more functional person, and it took my partner being his creative self to remind me of that. In all my relationships, I want people who remind me who I am in essential, lasting ways. This is what it means to me to make your partner better.

You’re Allowed To Be Influenced

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For most of my life I have been vocal about not wanting to get married. Extremely vocal. Marriage is only what you make it, it’s unnecessary, it’s got too much history in patriarchal structures, it costs too much. I’ve never felt any particular need to announce to the world in general that I’m in love and want to be with my partner since the one who needs to know that is actually my partner not everybody else. I still believe most of these things. I still think that marriage is unnecessarily prioritized in America, and that defining a romantic relationship as the basis of family is unnecessary. I still think that weddings are a scam to cost lots of people too much money and that marriage makes straight monogamy the building block of society.

But I’ve realized that I want to get married anyway. Kind of a lot.

I’m not immune to culture. I’m not immune to the messages that paint your wedding day as the most romantic day of your life, and that illustrate marriage as a beautiful commitment between two people. I’m not immune to the excitement and joy that other people feel around weddings and marriage, and I’m not immune to wanting a pretty dress and good food and dancing.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty about the part of me that’s been influenced by culture, the part that wants to femme it up and be swept off my feet on my wedding day. But feeling guilt about the ways in which culture has influenced you doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t demolish the patriarchy, it’s just another way to tear yourself down for having feelings. Everyone has internalized things that they don’t necessarily believe logically. That does not make those things bad or wrong, just arbitrary. But not all arbitrary decisions are harmful. Sometimes you just have to pick between chocolate and vanilla without a logical reason except “I like chocolate”.

There are certainly problems with choice feminism, but as far as choices go, the decision to get married doesn’t have too many direct negative impacts and the choice to do what you think will make you happy as an individual is a pretty strong feminist choice when you’re a woman who spends too much time ignoring their own preferences and feelings.

There are absolutely contexts in which we need to question and challenge the cultural messages that we’ve internalized. But there are also circumstances where those messages are fairly harmless. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by external forces. It doesn’t make you a sheep or a bad skeptic or a horrible sexist. It means that you’re a normal human being who has grown up within a culture, just like everyone else. The place at which you need to make decisions is when you realize that one of your beliefs has come to you through culture. Once you’ve done so, you need to decide what the consequences of acting on that belief are, how much it will affect your happiness to try to leave that belief behind, and whether there are good reasons to believe what you do.

Sure, it’s never good to hold beliefs without any critical thought put into it, but sometimes we have to accept our arbitrary preferences. So yeah, I want to get married and I don’t need any more reason than that.

Confession Syndrome

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There’s a tendency that I have when I’ve done something cruel to myself to want to blurt it out at the most inopportune moments. Sometimes when I first meet people I have to tell them about the times when I went a week without eating, or how it feels to bleed on every object you own because you can’t go a day without cutting yourself. It’s like some sort of disease. Last week at a party I blurted out the story of the most recent time I felt suicidal to a friend, describing the moment in gross detail.

Things are not real until they are witnessed, until they have been woven into words and placed in context. There’s something especially painful about living through trauma silently. You begin to doubt whether it was real, whether it was as bad as it seemed, whether it’s actually a part of you. Every tiny thing you do to yourself is somehow validated as acceptable when there is no one to contradict it. Self harm or restriction or purging is a cruel thing to do to yourself, and appropriately they often come with guilt. If you did these things to someone else, you would feel you needed forgiveness. And so when you do them to yourself, there’s a need to confess and have someone forgive you, let you know that you can continue on.

I’ve started to call it confession syndrome. It’s a way to validate yourself and quickly signal to someone else that you trust them. But it’s cheating. There are absolutely circumstances in which you need to share these stories. They need to be heard and incorporated into your identity and forgiven by you and with the support of the people you love. You need reminders that you are still loved even with the darkest moments of yourself in full view.

But the unthinking moments of blurting out disturbing stories are not the same as honest and open communication that creates a validating environment. Instead, it puts other people in a circumstance in which they have to validate you and have to witness something about you that isn’t necessarily appropriate to your relationship. It bypasses the hard work of actually getting to know someone and shorthands to “we’re close” by disclosing personal information. And because you’ve pushed an interaction into a personal context, you’ve pressured your conversation partner into accepting and being close with you as well: validating you.

Confession syndrome is a horrible way to build relationships. One of the most important elements of trust is seeing how someone behaves over time in a variety of circumstances. You get a feel for someone’s character by doing this. It gives both parties time to increase their vulnerability on a fairly even level: one person might share something slightly more personal, then the other will reciprocate. When you drop a bomb like “I cut myself”, you don’t give the other person the option to reciprocate in any reasonable fashion. It’s a kind of emotional hostage situation: be close to me or else.

Having people in your life that will listen to the times you need to rehash the stories is important. Sometimes they weigh on you and you can’t help but need to say them out loud so that they will stop circling your mind over and over again. But learning how to be a whole human even with all the broken bits is not something to do with that person you just met or at that party while slightly tipsy. It’s for the quiet moments with loved ones. It’s for the places you are wholly safe. It’s for the people that don’t have to prove they will love you through the ugliness.

I’m putting away my confession syndrome, as best I can, moving forward. I have safe spaces to share these stories. I have people that I should tell about the things I’ve done to myself, people who want to know me more fully and who have shown they are trustworthy. These are the relationships that need these stories. These are the people who help me create myself with their narratives and their care. These are the people who want my confessions.

 

But Really You’re Just Insecure

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Recently I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my blog that include speculations and assertions about what I’m thinking and feeling. Things like “you’re just scared” or “you’re insecure” or “you want to control others”. For the most part these comments go in the trash because I love me some censorship, but it’s gotten me thinking about how useful it is to play armchair psychologist on the internet.
The answer is of course, not very, but some people are still fairly certain that if they can figure out the underlying psyche of the author of a post or article, they have the upper hand in some fashion. They believe that they can undermine the arguments by showing that they come from a place of insecurity or fear or anger. Sometimes people I like a lot do this: they talk about whining man children who are just afraid of having their power and privilege taken away. And while this can certainly be fun, it’s not an actual argument.
Diagnosing someone’s underlying emotions (particularly when painting them as childish or negative) is really just a sideways ad hominem attack. The implication is that because the person is being driven by their emotions, they are not being logical. What they are expressing is in some fashion selfish or immature because of the emotions that underly it. Unfortunately, that’s not how arguments actually work: the emotions that an individual is feeling don’t necessarily affect their arguments. Simply looking at emotions is a kind of tone policing that ignores the actual content.
Now it is possible that what someone is saying is just an expression of emotions and in that case it’s possible to discuss whether those emotions are appropriate or rational. But in the case of discussing a more general concept like whether quitting something is failure or whether monogamy is always unhealthy, the individual emotions of the author aren’t relevant to the points that they’re making.
Example: let’s say someone writes “I think men are superior to women because more men are CEOs than women.” Your response could be “you are just afraid of women getting more power.” Unfortunately that response doesn’t address any of the points that the person made. A more relevant response would be to bring up other factors that could lead to men being CEOs more often than women. It might also be true that the first speaker is afraid and insecure, but that doesn’t actually matter. What matters is whether or not we can look at the substance of an argument. The reasons someone is making that argument are a different question entirely, and while they can be addressed, they’re not the same as responding to someone’s points.
There’s no way to know what someone is thinking and feeling unless they tell you, especially on the internet. While claiming you can know someone’s insecurities and fears isn’t on par with internet diagnosis, it’s on the same spectrum and plays into the same assumptions that an individual is not the expert on their own mind. Not only does that mean it’s unhelpful to the larger conversations at play, it also means that it plays into dangerous assumptions about who gets to make claims about an individual’s inner state. No rando on the internet knows me better than I know myself, thanks very much, so unless you have concrete arguments to bring to the table, I don’t want to hear it.

Settling for Happiness

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For most of my life, I was fairly certain that the worst thing that could happen to me was an average life. Settling. I would think about working an average job (even one that I enjoyed) and coming home to a normal house and it all sounded like stagnation. It was the worst thing I could imagine. Most millennials have been told that they could be the best, which often translates into the implication that you should be the best. For me, this was the conviction that unless there was something in this world that I accomplished that no one else could, I was not doing enough.

Perfectionism is a nasty curse. There is always more that you could be doing. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, you’re losing out on your ability to make music or research neuroscience or learn languages. Possibility is always a kind of pressure. One of the biggest problems of defining yourself by your achievements is that there are always more things to be achieved. You might reach one of your goals, but there are five more that you could complete today alone. “Average” tends to be defined by goals and accomplishments. You know someone is outstanding when you can point to their resume of accomplishments. Or so we’re taught to believe.

The problem with this model is that I know dozens of people who have done amazing things in their lives. All of them have found different ways to excel, and dedicated themselves to whatever their passion is. I hear news stories almost daily about people accomplishing things I could never hope to achieve. There’s no way to live up to all of these possibilities. What I don’t hear is stories of contentment. There are very few people in my life who seem to simply exist in the space that they’re in without any energy pushing them somewhere else, any driving need to be doing more or appearing better.

Contentment is not a competition. If all your friends are content with their lives, you don’t have to be more content in order to feel ok. In contrast, achievement and perfection are values that compare: the more your friends achieve, the more you have to achieve if you want your achievements to stand out.

So here’s a new goal: settling for happiness. Are you content with your job? Do you have a place to live and a regular income? Do you have people that you love? Do you get to see those people on a regular basis? Awesome. Settle for that. Relish it.

A few nights ago I got to see my friends for the first time in over a month. We didn’t do much. Ate some cookies, played Mario Kart, and just goofed around with each other. I laughed a lot. I smiled. I got hugged and teased and affirmed. It was hardly a mind-blowing experience, except that there was no anxiety, no worry, no desire to be anywhere but where I was.

Yesterday I went to the Renaissance Festival with some new friends and felt nothing but affection and excitement for who I was with. I was a little tired and didn’t have the money to spend on all the exciting things I saw, but again, there was no question in my mind that this was where I wanted to be and these were the people that I wanted to be with.

Tomorrow I’m starting a new job and I’m a little anxious, but I get to hang out with one of my best friends afterwards, and I know that no matter what happens or whether the job is a good fit or not, I get at least a few hours tomorrow of pure contentment. That’s more than some people can say in months. That’s amazing.

I’m not saving the world. I’m not making tons of money. I’m not living in the nicest house or recognized around the world as a world changing genius. But I like who I am and I like who I’m with. I will settle for that any day over saving the world, because I have saved my world. Somewhere along the way I hope to improve the lives of some people around me, but the best way to do that is by being happy and doing things I like to do. So I’m going to settle. I don’t necessarily need a high powered career or a book deal. I don’t necessarily need an excess of disposable income. I suppose if that’s settling, then I’m all for it, because I’d rather be happy than amazing.

Rejection and Bouncing Back

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I used to be horrible at rejection. I’d get a rejection letter from a job or a scholarship and I’d spend the next few hours curled up in the fetal position feeling miserable, crying, beating myself up. I should have spent more time on the application, I should have been a better person, I should have been smarter, I should have gotten better grades. No one likes rejection, although some people handle it better than others. But it’s not uncommon for rejection of any kind to leave us questioning our worth as human beings.

In the last week, I’ve been rejected from two of the jobs that I applied to. That’s not that many, but both were things I was extremely interested in and sincerely hoped I’d at least get an interview for. And yet I find myself completely unconcerned. Of course I still would deeply like a job sooner rather than later, and I’m a bit worried about my finances, but I didn’t get that stomach dropping feeling that I screwed up and will never recover.

How?

It’s easy to imagine that I just somehow calmed down. I grew out of some of my anxiety, my meds are working better. But I think that discounts the real work that anyone can do to limit the panic that often results from rejection. I have just lived what could be considered a worst case scenario. I don’t have enough money to live on my own, I don’t have a job. There are times in my past that this would lead to a full on “I’m going to end up selling drugs on a street corner and living in a cardboard box” meltdown. But I know how this is going to end: I’ll go home, move in with my parents for a bit, furiously apply to jobs, take what I can get, and move on with my life.

My friends will still be there for me. I won’t be miserable because I still have a safety net, I still have the things that I love. The bottom has fallen out and I’m still standing. Now for most people this is not the ideal way to get past the failure fear. But you can imagine it. If you were to lose your job and your savings right this minute, what would happen? If you were to not get the job that you absolutely want and had to take something you weren’t thrilled about, what would happen?

In all likelihood, you’d survive. You probably have people to support you. And if you did have to take a shitty job, you might have other things in your life that could balance it: friends, family, hobbies. The shift of focus from “finding perfect career” to “building a family and home that I love” has completely changed my sense of rejection. My friends aren’t going to reject me if I screw up once. My family will probably never reject me. These human relationships are a far more solid basis for an identity and a safety net than a career or an education that doesn’t have a personal relationship with you. Personal relationships are what create safety for us: they keep the bottom from falling out because we’ve got some extra people hanging out with us who can catch us.

This metaphor has become far too cheesy, but the point is that each individual rejection no longer becomes about the whole of your future or your identity. It’s simply one piece of a life that has other elements to balance it. I used to think that I was amazing at seeing the big picture. I got a B on a test in high school once, and my mind immediately started following all the links to a prediction of utter doom: I wouldn’t get a good enough grade in the class which meant that I wouldn’t get into a good college which meant that I wouldn’t get a good job which meant that I would be homeless and die alone. Big picture, right? Thinking in the long term?

What I missed was that the big picture has to include all the elements of the picture: the fact that schools look at more than just grades, that I am a hard and dedicated worker, that even if things did go poorly I knew people who would help me out. The big picture is more than just a series of links in a chain to doom. It’s all the mitigating factors, the people you know, the backups you have in place, your resources and your resourcefulness.

So I’m not worried. I’m not worried that I’ll end up stuck in a career I hate because I got a few rejections. I’m not worried I’ll be living with my parents for years and years and all my friends will abandon me and I’ll die of starvation. Because I can survive some temporary nastiness and find new ways into the careers that I want. There is no singular right way, and not getting one of the things that I thought could be a right way doesn’t mean dead end. It means try a different route.

Maybe this whole “focusing on relationships and my identity” rather than focusing on accomplishments business is actually fairly effective. Whoa.