These are likely to be obvious and easily refuted, but when one is doing something reflexively, as I am over-committing myself, part of the problem is not wanting to look at certain things and not wanting to admit certain things to myself or anyone else. So admitting I have a problem is probably the first step.
Q. So what’s wrong with a little downtime, anyway, M?
A. Sometimes, when I have downtime, I start to feel pathetic, like if I had friends, or a boyfriend/husband, or kids, I wouldn’t be sitting at home on a Friday night eating Wheat Thins like it was my job. I now feel compelled to say that I haven’t sat at home alone on a Friday eating Wheat Thins like it was my job in a very long time. And I totally have friends, with most of whom I’m currently too busy to spend any time. But there is a thing in me that wonders, when I’m alone, if it’s because of some fundamental unworthiness. The older I get, the more I realize that thing in me is not worth listening to, but I mostly “don’t listen” by proving it wrong. By stuffing its maw full of volunteer obligations and projects and outings and things. I am in fact so busy with things that it takes me several days of sitting at home on a night eating Wheat Thins like it was my job before I think there’s anything wrong with me. Which is nicer. It would be nicer still if the voice didn’t eventually come back.
Q. Does anyone know where I could get a job eating Wheat Thins? Because I could totally rock it.
No? Alright then.
Q. Is it possible that there is something wrong with me? That I’m not married because fundamentally, I’m not lovable? That there’s a justifiable fear here?
A. Whether the fear is justifiable, the truth is that I’m not unlovable. I have been loved. I am currently loved (albeit not romantically in any way that I reciprocate). Odds are good for my being loved again, whether that seems immediately true for me or not. I don’t like lonely. I can admit that. And I can admit that when I’m not so busy, lonely happens occasionally. But honestly, I’m not that afraid of lonely. I used to be. I used to be afraid that without marriage and/or kids, I’d be adrift. But I realized that I get a vote about adrift. I can proactively connect with people and causes and opportunities when I want to, and I can stay home and eat Wheat Thins when I want to.
Q. Am I just a person who needs a lot of structure?
A. I think I’m a person who needs some structure. Perhaps just after college, I didn’t have enough structure, which is why I’d find myself at the end of a weekend, my only accomplishment a warm dent in the sofa and a thoroughly perused comics section, and think I’d wasted it (though that doesn’t sound so unforgivable to me, at the moment.) Right now, I have more structure than I enjoy or find helpful. I putter extremely well and satisfyingly, and right now, I have basically no time for it. The truth is that I can trust myself to do things like work out regularly and clean up occasionally, to build my mind and imagination, and to connect with my community, in ways I might not have been able to when I was younger. I can trust myself to honor my own values. Even if I were to waste the occasional Saturday, I cannot, at this point, be convicted of wasting my life or potential, something that I worried about in a different time. Let me say it again: My life? Not wasted. The way I know this for sure? I’ve loved and been loved. I’ve felt wonder, laughed until my sides ached, and wept until my tears stung in my eyes and came no more. Because I’ve been a good daughter, a good sister, a good aunt, a good friend, a good employee, a good student. I’ve experienced and cultivated beauty. I’ve had adventures. I’ve pushed myself. If this minute was the last I got, I wouldn’t have much that I’d regret. My potential? Not wasted. There haven’t been many challenges that I haven’t faced and conquered.
Q. But isn’t your answer to why your life hasn’t been wasted just an argument for more doing?
A. It could definitely be read that way. I am, after all, on both ends of this interview, and we’ve established that I have a dysfunction in this area. But the truth is that I can experience adventure laying in the grass with my pup and a novel. I can be a good daughter/sister/ so forth without living at the end of my rope. I can push myself in ways, like this one, that are about telling myself the truth, not defensive justification of my worth to others.
Q. Alright, so not busy. Making room for the gifts I’ve ordered. Got it. What does that look like? Because you’re a volunteering, self-improvement project-ing fool, so how does making room look, in your life?
A. Fewer commitments during the week. Finding a live-able standard for the house and letting the rest go. Letting go of commitments that have run their course (whether those are volunteer commitments or guys who I’m no longer dating, but not quite ready to let go of). An open shelf, an open drawer, a closet somewhere in my house that is not packed to overflowing. One sign that tells you you’re over the line is the fact that you can’t manage more than six hours for sleep at night. You know you need at least seven. Given that seven’s pretty much impossible, you are the very definition of a modern overscheduled. Another way you can tell is that, weekly, you have a 15-hour day followed by a 12-hour day. That ain’t right. After you’ve figured out the sleep thing, maybe try for one bit of guilt-free, unstructured time a week not spent on chores or errands (dog walking does not count), and build from there.
Q. Does it mean no more Coursera and Groupons for rock climbing and guitar classes and stuff? Because part of this is that I’m interested in everything. And I love that about me.
A. I think it decidedly does not mean less of that. That’s pursuing passions. We’re still for that. Within reason.
Q. What does “within reason” look like?
A. Probably not more than two overlapping (let me say it again: overlapping, not concurrent) Coursera courses. You’re pretty good about not overdoing Groupons and Meetups, when you’re at a certain level of busy.
Q. Where does this leave online dating?
A. If you even decide to go down that road again, which, let’s be honest, isn’t happening anytime soon, just be reasonable. Don’t date guys you know you’re not interested in. Also do not continue talking with them after you’ve concluded that, because you’ll eventually feel like you have to go on a date with them to protect their feelings, and nobody (including not them) needs to go on that date again. You don’t have to date guys you’re not interested in to prove you’re date-able. You’re date-able. You’ve dated dozens of guys, most of whom in the last year or two have liked you enough for second or further dates. That’s what date-able looks like. Stop proving. Start doing the part of this that only matters to you, and let anyone who needs you to justify yourself find a hobby.