you're not behind, and there's nothing wrong with you.
“Normal people definitely cry in the Target baby aisle.” Or at least that’s what I told myself the night I got teary-eyed trying to figure out which one of the little furry animal-themed playpens in front of me matched the one on my friend’s registry list. Because there was a stranger in the same aisle and they were giving me a look because I was crying and I guess that’s a weird thing to do in the Target baby aisle.
And it wasn’t like…the cute-sentimental-life-is-so-beautiful-and-I-want-to-throw-baby-powder-up-in-the-air-because-in-my-head-that’s-kind-of-magical kind of teary-eyed. It was for sure the oh-my-GOD-I-am-now-about-seven-milestones-behind-EVERYONE-and-I’m-NEVER-going-to-catch-up-what-am-I-supposed-to-DO-about-this??? kind. Absolutely that kind.
My kinds of teary-eyed are very, very specific.
Even so, this is not the kind of emotion that buying a gift for a friend’s baby who you are really excited to finally meet and snuggle should theoretically elicit. Okay, self, what’s really going on here?
What’s really going on is that the phrase that most often comes out of my mouth these days is, “I’m going to die alone,” which actually means “I hate dating, and it’s making me feel like a love failure, and that’s frustrating because I have all this love and domesticity trapped in here ready to get out, and it feels like a game that nobody gave me the rules to, and also I quit.”
Nothing against dating – kind of. Long story short, I’ll never go on another blind date (or as I like to call them, “stranger danger dates”) again, can absolutely never show my face at a Furman soccer game, and could probably write a whole book just on good (read: unfortunate) online dating stories. Yeah, that happened, get into it.
I didn’t do all that because I was “ready to put myself out there” as I wistfully gazed into my future. I did it because I was panicking and online dating felt like a way to speed up the process because I got to make a website about how cool I am, and it also fell into my skillset due to its likeness to online shopping. The good news is that it made me stare how shallow I can be right in the face, and worked wonders for my “need to go on a bunch of dates to prove that I am not a love failure” thing I had going.
There are some things I like about it, but quite honestly, I am always a little relieved when a love interest fizzles out because it means that I can stop pretending to be interested in whichever particular sports team I knew nothing about a month ago, you know?
So I struggle between the whole “I kissed dating goodbye” paradigm (I don’t want to kiss it goodbye, I just want it to make more sense) and settling into my “gonna die alone with cats” jokes because they distract me from the fear that something is actually just wrong with me. And when I say that out loud, I get a lot of, “Just be patient. You’ll find the love of your life and someday your prince will come and there will be fireworks and stuff. Persevere.” Okay. Except what I really need to hear when I start making cat jokes is, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
I used to think that was a wrong thing to think, because it felt a whole lot like thinking, “YOU ARE PERFECT.” I think there’s a really important difference, and also a fine line, between putting yourself on a pedestal and realizing your value. I was confused about that for a long time, because for a long time I only had two modes: conceit, and self-deprecation. Value didn’t really fit into either one of those in a way that still let it maintain its honor, because it was either throwing itself a parade (think Sharpay in High School Musical) or hiding in a corner, and I couldn’t find a happy medium. How do you do this whole value thing with (gulp) humility?
My friend Emma explained it to me, though. Once at Chipotle, and once at my house during brunch. She came to visit, and once we got past the smiley talk of how well things are currently going and on to the parts of life we’re struggling with, I threw out lots of words like loneliness and scared and all this word vomit came out about how I’m scared that all this writing and speaking about my insides is somehow making me less dateable, because that’s something somebody said to me once and happens to be Satan’s number one absolute favorite thing to bring up whenever I get invited to do a new speaking engagement or talk to a new friend about freedom and struggles and their insides.
And she inhaled sharply, and then got really fierce, the way people do with me when I traipse into self-deprecation land.
“No. Stop talking about yourself like that. Here. It’s like you’re on this cake stand.”
(To be fair, there was a cake stand on the table. I was using it as a waffle podium, if we’re going to go there, because I don’t bake enough cakes to own a cake stand and also because I’m creative and stuff.)
“You’re on this cake stand. And you didn’t put yourself there; everyone else did, because you’re actually, for once in your life, believing the good things that people say about you and becoming aware of your value in a way that’s letting you take risks and be brave and become more and more of who you are.”
What I took from this is that our value has everything to do with us within the context of our own story, not how good or shiny or awful our story looks when we line it up with someone else’s. It’s about appreciating our stories as journeys, rather than jumping into the “Who’s Ahead of Who?!?” Olympics. It’s not a competition.
Because I really don’t like the idea that we’re all on levels and that some levels are higher than others. I like to think of it as we’re in different stages of our lives, and those have nothing to do with being ahead or behind. Realizing your value, I think, has less to do with ego and self-concept and more to do with waking up to the reality that your story is an adventure and that every single day, whether that day be glorious or total crap, is on purpose. And that when we try and rush things, it looks a lot like trying to rush our stories along because we don’t trust that they’ll be good unless we intervene. Personally, for me, that has a lot to do with God and thinking I can do God’s job better than God can. I can’t. Have crossed that bridge. And they're really only between me and God, these gauges of the sacredness of my story, my journey through it, and of my own personal value. I decided that if anybody else tries to weigh in on that whole discussion, I can decide to just say, “Thank you for sharing.”
Value is about seeing our stories as works of transformation. And they’re in this big gallery together. And one isn’t better than another. And it feels like coming up for fresh air when we rip up the scorecard or milestone checklist and just appreciate each other, doesn’t it? That’s what value is about. It's about feeling the freedom to stop and breathe in how beautiful your own story is.
I JUST learned this like a week ago. I’ve been going through old journals as of late, and have discovered a pattern. And that pattern is a lot of whining to God about boys. I guess I should call them men now since I’m like…a grown-up. But anyway. Those. Lots of whining about them. I’ll have people talk about my value, specifically the value of my story, ALL DAY, but then I get on the topic of dating and I’m like, “Nope. No value. I am the worst person I know. Cats. Back to cats.” It’s like a weird “I’m not good enough but only right here” memory foam. Long story short, the whiny prayers go like this: “Hey. Make this work out. Lots of red flags here, and I’m pretty sure that he’s not the one, but maybe that’s fine, and I’m lonely and bored and BEHIND, so do this for me.”
(Sometimes when I pray I actually am nice and reverent and stuff to God, I promise).
But I’ve decided, or maybe have just taken a long time to realize, that God has something in store for me that is much better than conveniently only mentioning (and making up some of) the good things about a situation with a guy, or listening to Adele and scrolling through old text messages, hating myself, trying to figure out how to make someone decide that I actually am good enough, and when I couldn’t, making lists of how to do better next time. Or whatever. What a terrible pastime. What a terrible amount of time I have spent doing it.
Because here’s the thing. I’m not behind. There is no such thing as “Amanda Phillips as she should be” or “Amanda Phillips, the dateable version” or “…if she had done life correctly and was on track with this one friend she has” – I made those up. Those are not things God is holding over my head, like a taskmaster with a margin of error that I need to make up somehow.
He’s not going, “You’d better hurry up and get married and be 30 al-freaking-ready.”
There’s this scene in the Time Traveler’s Wife (which is a wonderful film, as gut-wrenchingly sad as it is…but watch it anyway), where the two main characters are looking at houses to buy. And since Claire’s husband (Henry) is a time traveler (it’s in the title, so that doesn’t count as a spoiler), he’s already seen the house that they love and end up with. He knows the right one, he’s just along for the ride with her, helping her find it. And on the third or fourth one, which is a pretty good house – good but not the one – he goes, “Nope. This isn’t it,” and starts to walk out. And Claire, a little shocked, goes, “What? But I like this one!” And Henry says, “I know. But you’ll like another one better.”
And I am so that way when I get in a hurry with metaphorical house-hunting, whether those houses are guys, or milestones, or things I feel like I have to accomplish (but almost always involve guys and dating, I just threw in “milestones” as a nice catch-all to make my inner-monologue seem more well-rounded) and I feel like I’m behind and am (God-forbid) crying in Target. That's when I start to get bargainy. And whiny. About "why didn’t I get to have this instead?" and “why didn’t it work out with that one guy?” And start to get actually angry. And this can be about anything in life, really. I spout out things like, “But good-but-not-the-one is fine and I can make it work and DON’T YOU SEE HOW BEHIND SCHEDULE I AM and THIS IS BETTER THAN NOTHING.”
I do that, and God laughs. And says, “Yeah? Is better than nothing what we’re going for now?”
And He walks out of the “good but not the one” house.
And I follow Him. I'm making a face, but I follow Him.
And between houses, He’s saying, “I know. I know that you’re frustrated. And I’m here with you in that. Nobody asked you to be married and having your own baby shower by now. And you can yell at me if you want, because I’m working on all these things that you can’t even dream up yet, and when you see them, you’re going to love them. You’re not still waiting because there’s something wrong with you; you’re still waiting because you’re simply not there yet. It's not because you're better or more broken than anyone else. I can already see it all and you’re just going to twirl around and jump up and down and squeal like you do when you get excited about things when you’re alone in your kitchen when you see it all, too. I just know it.”
“Life is not a race, but indeed a journey,” is what the wooden sign hanging up in my guest bathroom says.
Not a race. A journey.
Okay, sign. And God. I believe y’all.
(I really do.)