I am a little sister. I have a big sister. When we were kids, she could do anything. She could ride horses, arm-wrestle, and play tetherball. She was never afraid on the playground (all practically death defying undertakings to a puny little sister). I was more certain of her omnipotence than of my own birth. Being a big sister, she could also expertly terrorize me. One of her favorite things was to tell me that because I had no birthmark, it meant I had never been born. Insert totally confused little sister emoticon here.
I held my sister Justine the Great in such high regard that I never quite developed the ability to see that anything she said was wrong (even the part about my never being born). No matter how sweet or crappy she treated me, I saw her as all-knowing. And then I grew up. I forgot to read all those books about birth order that could have explained a whole lot about how I saw the world and how I related to others. In short, I played the little sister in all of my relationships (even with my stepsisters, who are technically little sisters). This paradigm reached an agonizing critical mass during my divorce.
My habit of projecting awesome big sister-dome onto every person who crossed my path was the fantasy/denial combo that kept me from feeling the most terrifying thing possible: Ultimately, I was gonna have to figure this divorce thing out for myself.
While I am a total lover of good old-fashioned guidance, TLC, and fabulous legal representation, what I was seeking was something else. I wanted other people to solve my problems. I didn’t think I could do it. I thought everybody else was smarter than me. I did manage to put one foot in front of the other, but with each step, I was certain I was doing it wrong. For me the answer was to look to all my fearless tether-balling big sister brethren and ask them what the hell I should be feeling, thinking, and doing several times a day.
But when you act like you don’t know what you are doing, people will start treating you like that is true. They will grant you your wish and inform you of what you should be doing. They will express opinions about things large and small. And then their friends, whom you’ve never met, will start chiming in. Until all you can hear is the din of conflicting advice that all shares the same awful subtext: You are clueless and you are, in fact, doing this whole thing wrong…
“You need to sell your house.”
“Don’t ever leave your house-you’ll never make it back into such a nice neighborhood.”
“You have no business driving that BMW.”
“Don’t sell the car.”
“Don’t date for at least a year.”
“ You need to sleep with your husband’s cutest friend as soon as possible.”
“ Stay away from match.com.”
“ Have you tried match.com?”
“My friend in Seattle says the guy you’re dating from match.com is an asshole.”
Reflecting back, all I can say is ouchie wawa. But I asked for it. This was my doing. We do indeed teach people how to treat us. I really needed help during that time. The care of my family, friends, and that dude in Seattle I’d never met, did buoy me up. But as Justine the Great would say, I had to stop being such a baby. I needed to grow up and take responsibility for my own darn life. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe the pressure of trying to take the actions everyone else would take in my situation just got to be blatantly not-doable. All I know is that at some point I had this really revolutionary thought: I want to make my own mistakes.
This idea was so comforting that I started to follow it like a pinpoint of light in a pitch-black tunnel. It was very faint at first, practically not even there. But the more I followed this logic, the brighter the light got and the more I felt like I was getting somewhere that I actually wanted to go. I was discovering what it felt like to really listen to my instincts. And by following my instincts, one of two things happened. Option one, something great. Or option two, some big hairy mistake that contained a life lesson tailor made for me. This was exhilarating. Who would have thought mistakes could be so cool? Maybe my life would not look great to other people, I decided. But, as much as I could, I wanted to take my life by the tetherballs.
So, for all you math geeks, here’s how the equation shakes out:
Making Mistakes = Pain + Humiliation + God almighty why did that have to happen?
Making Mistakes = Usually pain + Often mortification + I am learning precisely the things that I need to learn + Learning these things is making my life better + Yay!
Living this way takes me into territory that I consider pretty dorky and not that evolved. I do sort of worship at the altar of Taylor Swift. I like glitter nail polish and the promise of true love in a Nora Roberts romance novel. What am I gonna do? Read Nietzsche so that guy in Seattle won’t judge my dating? Did they even have glitter nail polish when Nietzsche was around? I think not. So, I will lean on my loved ones and most likely continue to gorge on self-help books. I have a lot to learn, people. But at the end of the day (or beginning), I want to put on some groovy big girl panties–La Perla would be nice — and make my own mistakes.