Growing up, I always felt scared of what my mother. One moment I would walk by her as she leaned against the kitchen counter, eating tiramisu with a smile on her face, and the next I would hear her screaming my name in anger because she didn’t like the way I set my shoulders. Throughout my childhood I prepared myself all the time for her to berate or yell at me for hours.
“Your accomplishments are pretty amazing,” my former therapist L told me, a few years after I had left my childhood home for my undergraduate studies. “It’s kind of like pillars. For a lot of people, when one pillar gets knocked down, a lot of their other pillars fall too. But not for you.”
L said this to me when I told him I maintained a 4.0 GPA, at the end of the semester that my PTSD obliterated my mental health. I think he wanted me to take some pride in my academic performance even though a bunch of my friendships had fallen apart a few months ago and I had just finally managed to get ahold of my panic attacks. I probably shrugged, saying something like yeah, well, school’s kinda always been whatever for me, so.
My most recent year or two of therapy has helped me see this past conversation from a different, or at least deeper perspective. As a child, I lacked control over my life because of my mom, so I asserted that control later on through managing my weight, my grades, or more innocuous habits like how many books I read. While I have pretty much stopped caring about my weight, I still tend to do well in situations that require a keen eye for detail and some level of control, like research. Now, though, I’m recognizing certain situations in which my desire for control is unnecessary or unhelpful, namely in my r*mantic life
also I really don’t mean to glorify academic achievement in this post because I have definitely had crushes in the past on guys who were really good at school and really garbage at everything else, so, Grade Point Average or Great at Pretending to be emotionally Available, you tell me.
One joyful facet of my life that I did not plan into happening: my friendships with my two best friends. I worked two part-time jobs in undergrad and met one at one of my jobs and one at the other. When we first met and even for several months later, I didn’t think to myself, oh wow, these two are gonna be like my ride or die bffs. While I put in the work to maintain consistent contact with both of them after we graduated and moved to three different states, I didn’t invest that energy with the plan in mind that we’d get as close as we are today.
Flash forward a few years after that conversation I had with L. I’m a few years into my Psychology PhD and I’m visiting one of my bffs in the Southeastern United States. From her apartment, we can walk to Jeni’s Ice Cream.
“All of my friends have cats,” I said, lying down on her apartment’s carpeted floor. “Should I feel bad for not really wanting a cat? Like if I got a cat I think I’d feed it and play with it, but honestly I don’t really want a cat.”
“I think it makes sense that you wouldn’t want a cat, or any pet,” my friend said. “I feel like the two things you’re into are emotions and beats, and cats don’t really give you either of those things.”
I remember laughing out loud. When she said that, I felt truly seen and understood, like I felt this slice of joy that someone on this planet actually got me – the exact opposite of how I felt living with my mother for the first 18 years of my life. My friend went onto explain her statement, about how she’s observed that I derive the most pleasure from talking about interpersonal relationships and the emotions of fictional characters and fanboying upbeat dance tracks from BlackPink and Twice. I nodded along to her sage profile of me, and since then I have felt zero guilt for not wanting a cat or a pet in general.
When I think about my closest friendships, I recognize that I have exerted some control to maintain them. We make time to call and text. I take care of myself through means such as journaling, jogging to upbeat dance music, and going to therapy so I can show up in my friendships in a healthy way. I make sure to disinvest from the amatonormative, patriarchal glorification of romance and the nuclear family, such as by dedicating funds to see my friends in person and writing about them
in this super gay, super odd blog that you can find online, idk if I’d recommend it though tbh, the writer has great blonde hair but some of the crushes he’s had in the past, like please develop taste buds YIKES.
At the same time, I find it easy to imagine a world in which I did not meet either of my bffs. If I had been born a few years before or after my actual birthdate, our paths may not have crossed. If we had grown up in different parts of the United States instead of all in a similar region, we may have been less likely to go to the same undergraduate college. If one of us hadn’t been born with a disposition toward reading and writing, we may have chosen different part-time jobs at that undergraduate college.
I had no control over so many of these factors. In a way, I feel grateful for that lack of control though. All I had to do: live in a way aligned with my values, and these beautiful friendships fell into place from there.
Any unexpected things occur in your life that you feel grateful for? What motivated you to get a pet or to not get a pet? General reactions to this post? I finished my seventh residency interview yesterday, three more to go (my last one is one week from now)! In the mean time you’ll catch me listening to “I Can’t Stop Me” and “More & More” by Twice, expectedly.