Be An Onion, An Independent Onion

Since I live in my head, I have the impression that I’m constantly writing, then I see that I wrote my last post over a year ago and I realize I never actually materialized those gestational thoughts. Another reason I’ve been hesitant to post is that I’ve realized that I had been confusing over-sharing with creating intentional vulnerability and I wanted to make sure I got it right before trying again. I first started mulling it over when I stumbled upon this post by Mari Andrew:

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After spending quite a bit of time in France, I realize that being skilled at slowly divulging secrets about yourself is so deeply ingrained in French culture, that they don’t have to learn this lesson. The French keep their cards close to their chests and only reveal when: (a) you’ve put in the time and effort to earn it and (b) they feel comfortable enough divulging this information. To paraphrase the cultural substratum, Shrek, the French are like onions, they have layers.

To give you an example, I lived with my French roommate for seven months and only knew topical things about her: two of her hobbies, a few of her general likes/dislikes, her music tastes, etc. However, when I couchsurfed with an American girl a few weeks ago, within two hours I knew her favorite brand of birth control, I had seen pictures of her high school ex-boyfriends, and she had shared the underlying childhood trauma that still plagues her.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind. I like people who are direct and honest. I love both ways of being, I’ve just learned that the onion method works better for me. So, all this to say, I’m ready to share a little bit.

I gave up on setting resolutions a few years ago. Most people, myself very much included, are shit at setting attainable, measurable goals with enough scaffolding to ensure success. Instead, I decided to be very Eat, Pray, Love about it, and to set a word or a phrase as a theme for the upcoming year.

In 2015, it was “lean into discomfort”. I was avoiding a lot of situations and opportunities for fear of looking stupid or feeling awkward and this helped me shoulder through it.

In 2016 and 2017, it was “adventure” because I knew I wanted to do a year of non-stop travel around the world. Mission very much accomplished, though I still have a hard time posting about that trip because I realize how privileged of an experience it was.

By 2018, I had honestly kind of forgotten about this practice and it wasn’t until the end of the year that I realized what my word had been: “solo”. For example,

  • In January, I signed up to volunteer for the Sundance Film Festival in Utah by myself on a whim and got to see Jon Hamm. (Yes, he’s beautiful and yes, he was wearing tight pants.)
  • On a trip to Canada, I went cross-country skiing (my second time ever) alone and as I crossed the border between Yoho National Park and Banff NP, I saw a black bear cub and his mom.
  • I took a weekend trip to a French city I’d never been to before and I couchsurfed alone for the first time.
  • I moved to France and decided to live alone, in a different city than Robin.

I did some other stuff last year I felt proud of, like trying to lead a camping trip (I definitely didn’t get my campfire badge), dying my hair purple, randomly deciding to run a 10k on New Years Day, building a cajon, trying both skate skiing and biathlon training, etc.  In the end, I’m most proud of my intentional efforts to keep my individuality and my independent spirit, especially while in a long-running romantic relationship.

The first two months of living alone (that is to say, without Robin, because I lived with two roommates) were fucking tough. I couldn’t find my place, my flow. Robin is so charming and extroverted that I hadn’t realized I’d been going on autopilot and had been letting him navigate us through a lot of social interactions.

Back in high school, a dear friend of mine once said, “Even in my dreams, I’m the sidekick,” and it always stuck with me. It wasn’t until recently, however, I started to realize that the same was true for my life. I’m such an observer that sometimes I forget the starring role in my life is supposed to go to… me.

I’d been filling up my days with so many “activities” that I rarely sat down to make active decisions about what I wanted to do that day, in that very moment, rather than just following the schedule I’d preset for myself. I also realized that I was masquerading my inability to be my own person as selflessness. You’d ask, “Where do you want to go eat?” and I’d automatically respond, “I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”.  

This behavior is apparently known as fawning, which I learned about from an article by Sam Dylan Finch:

Most people know about fight, flight, and freeze — but another trauma response, “fawn,” is at the core of what people-pleasing is actually about.

To avoid conflict, negative emotions, and re-traumatization, people who “fawn” when triggered will go out of their way to mirror someone’s opinions and appease them in order to deescalate situations or potential issues.

I’m starting to feel like 95% of becoming an adult is figuring out how many of your negative qualities come from childhood trauma and trying not to coast on that information. Luckily, I’ve learned to keep a hand on the valve to adjust how much I let others in and how personal information I let out. I’ve learned to love spending quality time with myself. When I lived alone in Bergerac, I’d take myself on long bike rides along the Dordogne, I’d spend a full hour at the marché, shooting the shit with my coffee guy and biting into the most delicious, juicy pears I’ve ever had in my life. I loved it. I’m more in love with myself and I hope it’ll help me better love those around me.

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