There’s one thing that keeps coming up in therapy, which I think bears mentioning here.
Whenever my therapist asks me to close my eyes and check in with my body, I inevitably adjust my posture, sitting up straighter, rolling my shoulders back, tightening my core. When we were talking about my natural stance, I told her that in junior high, I used to stand with my arms crossed over my chest, until people started telling me that I was presenting myself as “closed off;” now I stand with my arms behind my back instead. I talk about the fact that I got married too young and too quickly, and then insist that I won’t make that mistake again anytime soon; before I really even knew Doug, I told him that he would be waiting at least five years if he wanted to take that plunge with me. Likewise, after losing my first pregnancy, I chose birth control over continued carelessness, telling myself that the next time I attempt to bring another person into the world, it will be intentional.
This morning on the phone, a friend asked me to list off some things that make me angry. In addition to generalized things like dishonesty, I came out with a few pet peeves, including my most treasured common grammatical error: we have been so conditioned, beginning in childhood, to avoid starting a sentence with, “my friend and me,” that now most of us will say, “my friend and I” in any situation, even when that dreaded “and me” is correct. (I won’t go into the grammatical details here – just the trick to get it right: take your friend out of the sentence and see whether it sounds better with “I” or “me” as the leftover.)
My friend laughed. “I love that,” he said. “It’s not a rule” [it is too a rule] “but I just love how people go into hyper-corrective mode.”
Grammar rules aside, this, apparently, is how I live my life. In hyper-corrective mode, I mean. I know I’m supposed to stand up straight, so I make conscious efforts to do so. I was told not to cross my arms in front of me, so I moved them to the back. I saw my first, young and rushed, marriage collapse, and so refuse to give another marriage the opportunity to be young and rushed – even if I’m ready, even if he’s ready, even if we’re both sure that this is what we want and that it will work. And when I was pregnant, people told me that it was the wrong time, the wrong situation, so again, I set a time and a situation that I felt would be considered “right,” and I told myself to suck it up and wait for that “right” moment.
“I know what I’m supposed to do,” I told my therapist one Tuesday. I think we were talking about something silly, like my bicycle.
As always, she picked up on all my body’s nuances. “Why did you sigh when you said that?” she asked gently. “I felt so much sadness.”
Whether we’re talking about my bike or my life, it’s like I’ve almost resigned myself to this statement: I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to stand up straight; I’m supposed to put my intelligence to good use; I’m supposed to get married then buy a house then get a dog then have babies.
So I’ve dedicated my life to hyper-correcting the parts of myself that might be colored outside of those supposed-to lines. Do I really put this much stock in what other people think? Do I even know how to recognize what I want anymore?
My hope is that I do know what I want – because I believe that I do – and that I just don’t know how to get there. I follow the supposed-to route, knowing that it has worked for other people (like say, Dawn, my greatest example in most things), and hoping that it will work for me too.
But this seems silly. Didn’t Robert Frost encourage “the road less traveled”? Didn’t Dr. Seuss, as read aloud by some teacher before every promotion and graduation of my childhood, insist that “YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go”?
I don’t have an insightful conclusion here. I don’t have any plans to undo my hyper-corrections and slouch my way to a chapel in Vegas and/or Planned Parenthood either. I believe that I am on a good path, even if I can’t quite see where it’s leading me. But I do wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t listened to all those helpful suggestions and supposed-to’s, as offered by society’s norms and my own regrets.