One of Ohio State’s traditions is the long walk. Buckeye lure says that if a person and their beloved walk across the Oval from OSU’s seal to the statue of William Oxley Thompson and no one crosses their path and the bells toll from Orton Hall (as they do every 15 minutes), the pair will be together forever. I have been on the long walk alone at least twice. The first time was unintentional. Somewhere between stress and sleeplessness, my footsteps trailed from crest to statue, the bells rang, and I realized, “OH MY GOD IM GOING TO DIE ALONEEEEEE”– because I completed the long walk alone. A year later, I intentionally went on the long walk alone. There’s a human desire to belong, to feel the tether of an apostrophe in being someone’s, that we are better in the arms of somebody else. In the five years since that walk, I have to remind me to pick myself and pick myself first.
My whole life has been a series of contortions to convenience someone else. I don’t know what it feels like to be anything but the last priority in my own life. People pleasing is an externally rewarded behavior that renders the people pleaser uncertain of their own feelings and desires. I don’t know how I feel about most people, especially people I’m dating. I am so invested in earning affection and approval that I abandon my own assessment of situations. Professionally, this is equally true. I am constantly analyzing what choice will pacify everyone else rather than weighing my own feelings in the decision.
Ages twenty-two to twenty-five are ruthless. No one can spare you from the dizzying uncertainty of your twenties. My childhood was performing adulthood, and I thought that when I arrived at “real” adulthood, I would be prepared. But nobody is. We are all insecure, craving love and attention, hoping to flesh out meaning, and breathe easy. I shed and reapply labels, identities, preferences, and I feel like a fraud. But trial and error is the surest way to figure out my preferences, my dislikes. After twenty-four years of molding my choices to comfort everyone else, it’s daunting and scary to venture into my own wants. There is no certainty there. Everything is lush and savage and uncolonized by the norms I’ve ridden to safety before.
People pleasing sheltered me. In always saying yes, I felt affection and validation. It is my “no”s and my screw ups where I discover how real that love is. This includes me. I deemed myself a compassionate person until I examined how I talk to myself, until I realized how rapidly I flog myself in the wake of mistakes. My errors are not an explanation to deny myself. Failure is the blessing that grates away at perfectionism. My perfectionism isn’t me– it is the shield I wore to keep me safe. Now, I need to be brave enough to remove it because I cannot venture to all the places I need to go beneath the weight of perfectionism.
This doesn’t just apply to the big stuff like career and education. When I say I’m no longer striving toward perfectionism but truth and grace, that includes dating people and disappointing them. It includes flaking on plans. This means, occasionally, I might get too drunk or foolish or say the wrong thing. That means my outfit might not always be perfect and my car might not always be clean. This means I’m showing up for myself when it’s hard and painful. I refuse to abandon myself in the wake of poor choices. The poor choice is how life sometimes redirects us, forces us through unconsidered trajectories. And when nobody leaves post-Marisa screw up, I won’t see that as an invitation to become suspicious or drive them away. I am through undermining my worth in the name of “growth”.
At the same time, I cannot continue to repeat poor patterns I carried previously. I struggle with worth. I fight myself on feeling worthy every day. So, when I find a boss, a friend, a crush who makes me feel less-than, I cling to them. “Thank God somebody is finally treating me like the trash that I am! They’re so right!” I think. They aren’t right. I am lovable and worthy. I do not have to be an open door for everybody that approaches me. It is a divine responsibility to serve myself, to advocate for myself, and I can’t fight for someone I don’t care about. I care about me. I care about my living situation and my health and being respected. It is not enough to feel the sugar coating of being liked. My soul longs to be nourished. Twenty-five years of fasting– a quarter century in starvation– finally, I feed myself.
There’s a quote about chapters in our lives finding their names long after we’ve lived them. And, yeah, I reflect on times when I labored only to have the reward born in a later season. The prize didn’t name itself in the suffering. But this chapter of my life, the one I am in right now, has a title. It is my name. Previous chapters have been called: sister, daughter, student, graduate, mentor, survivor, victim, patient, caregiver. But this is just my name. The period of my life isn’t defined by my relation to others or what I can do for you. It is defined by my existence and the emphatic choice to revel in how unencumbered I am right now.
I pick me. I choose me. I love you, but I love me more. It took me twenty-five years and thousands of dollars in therapy to write that, to live that. They will always call a woman who takes care of herself selfish. Let them. Let me be a poster child for all the ways people can no longer take advantage of me. This is the era of edification– of rasing boundaries and building myself. This is not the time to grow small for the love of a lesser someone. There will be more long walks alone where I’ll trip over my own two feet and make an ass out of myself. I might pick the wrong thing and must muster the courage to make another choice. I don’t want to exist as this open answer always awaiting someone else’s direction to be complete. I am complete. I am whole. Of all the things I can call this absurd, foolish, exhausting, unsure, and rich season of my life, there is no title better than my name.