On Showing Up

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Recently, I was listening to an episode of Arielle Vandenberg's new podcast "The Only Child" with Lauren Paul on as a guest. The two got on the subject of Arielle's 30th birthday party a couple of years ago, about what an amazing, special night it was. "Transformative" is how she referred to it. Surrounded by friends who made her feel so loved that she wanted to cry. A night full of dancing and laughter. A great way to enter a new decade.

I listened to this, two friends remembering one of their funnest nights together, and started thinking about my own birthdays. I don't usually have much of a celebration. I tell people not to worry about it. I wave off questions about gifts or special meals.

The funny (or weird or stupid) thing is that I actually care a lot. I want my birthday to feel special, but because I downplay it, people probably don't know that I care. I don't ask people to show up for me because I'm afraid they won't.

My 24th birthday was one where I actually planned something for the first time in a while (and I haven't since). A friend had insisted that I do something to celebrate. Even though I was reluctant, because I don't like asking people to do things for me, I did it anyway, and it was so fun.

A bunch of my friends from different parts of my life and I got together and went to this cool bar that had a bowling alley and pool tables. When we arrived, some other birthday party was ending, and they told us we could have the rest of their catered food, so we all had mini beef sandwiches, pasta, and salad for free. We ate, we drank, we bowled, my work friends mingled with my college friends, and we all had a great time. I hadn't planned on having any sort of party for my birthday but it was one of my favorite nights to this day. 

I'm realizing that I'm like this in many areas of my life. Downplaying my needs, stubbornly refusing to accept any help, apologizing for expressing my feelings (even when I'm asked about them), all because I don't want to be a nuisance. I don't want to feel like I owe anybody anything. And I don't want to be disappointed. Zero expectations means zero disappointment, right? (How cliché.) I want to be cool and chill and so good at going with the flow that I never need anything from anyone. 

It's unrealistic and, quite frankly, it's exactly what ends up burning me out.

It's all counterintuitive. It's setting myself up for disappointment, when that's the exact thing I'm trying to avoid. I want X but I tell people I want Y, so I get Y and then I'm sad about it. I'm left feeling like I care more about people than they care about me when they're actually giving me what I said I wanted. I asked for Y and got it. They'd probably give me X if I asked for that, and since that's what I really want anyway, why not ask for it?

It's ironic that I've written about the importance of asking for help. Sometimes I forget my own advice. These posts are for you as much as they are for me. I still need the reminders.

Ultimately, I just want people to show up for me, but I'm too stubborn to ask for it. I want them to do it all on their own. In my mind, that's what means they truly care about me.

It feels weird to say (write) that out loud. Do I sound like a jerk? Maybe that's selfish or asking for too much. How can I tell the difference? What's reasonable to expect from people?

I guess it all comes down to believing. That's why I made it my word for the year, so I can learn to trust that the people I care about care about me too. Maybe we just express it differently. "Showing up" could mean something different for everyone. As long as we're all doing it.


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