No Fishing Allowed (aka: My Anti-Flirting Weapons Cache)

I wish there were a battery-operated aura I could wear whenever I go out in public. I could change the color of the electric glow to communicate to other people if it is okay to approach me.

Green light: Hi! You seem cool. Let’s chat for a while.

Yellow light: Hmm…proceed with caution, but be ready to walk away on my signal.

Red light: STOP! Stay back! Do not approach. I repeat, DO NOT APPROACH!

red light stop

I’m pretty sure that, when it comes to strange men, my red light would be on like, all the time. Nothing sets off my panic alarm like some man I don’t know approaching me for any reason whatsoever. So whenever I go out and about, I try to make sure that I have two handy weapons – a book in which I can bury my nose and a pair of earbuds so that I can pretend not to hear. This does not always work, however. Maybe I need to hire a fake boyfriend to accompany me whenever I need to leave the house. Or maybe just buy one of those electric NO buttons to add to my weapons cache. Then, whenever some guy tries to talk to me, all I have to do is click the button and let it speak for me.

The NO ButtonDude: Hey, what’s your name?

Button: NO!!

Dude: Where are you headed?

Button: NO!!

Dude: Can I get your phone number?

Button: NO!! NO!! NO!!

not dating

Tonight, I am going out dancing at a club with a bunch of other single people – something that I have not done since I was eighteen years old. (Yes, seriously). I adore dancing, but my anxiety level is very high, because:

  1. I don’t know this group of people I’m going dancing with. They are just a group of mostly strangers from a Meetup group. I am worried that I won’t be able to relax and be myself and really get into dancing with a bunch of strangers. Especially if they are going to be drinking, because I am not a social drinker – especially if I have to drive myself home. Which I do.
  1. Because I have no clue what women my age wear out to dance at a nightclub, and it’s not like I have a friend to call and ask for tips. Am I supposed to buy a special kind of purse I can dance with? Shoes? Help!
  1. No Fishing AllowedThat whole problem with men. Because I have no idea if that whole thing where strange men hit on single women in night clubs is just overblown in my imagination thanks to TV shows, or if that is actually how the single adult world works. The very idea makes me feel sick with fear. I don’t want to be flirted with. I just want to dance.

I know — maybe I should bring along my book and ear buds. Just in case. Better yet, maybe I should just stay home, where I can relax, and be myself, and there is no need for NO buttons or red lights.    unavailable 2

Just One Friend (aka: Wistful Thoughts of a Facebook Hater)

I am a Facebook hater.

Mostly.

It’s funny, because years ago, I was a Facebook addict. There was little I enjoyed more than checking in daily with my peeps, posting status updates and comments, and joining in the games on our very own virtual playground. It was my second greatest social outlet.

But…life happened. And life isn’t always pretty. And Facebook became something to hide from, rather than something to enjoy. It still feels that way.

Mostly.

Sometimes, I love to see updates and photos of everyone celebrating life. But sometimes, seeing all those happy, glowing photos filled with smiling faces can be a little too much. Friends together at parties. Friends at concerts, singing along with the band. Friends camping. Friends waving from the bleachers at sports arenas. Friends running in races, striking goofy poses for the camera.

Like. I click the button from time to time. Like. Like. Sometimes I post the obligatory family photos of my kids, and a few people (strangers and distant relatives, mostly) click like, too. It’s a never-ending circle of shares and likes that mean so little, really.

Maybe it is a kind of envy, the gnawing, empty feeling I get sometimes when I peek at everyone else’s happy chronicles of adventures with their friends. It is dumb, really. I love my quiet life with my three great kids. Together, we have plenty of fun. We camp. We hike. We roller skate. We laugh together. I am not bound to travel through life completely alone, because I get to enjoy them nearly every day.

adult friendsBut still. There’s this constant yearning. If only I had one friend. One good friend. One who would be as happy to hear from me as I would be to hear from them. One who would be like – What? Go to a soccer game/concert/camping/karaoke/movie/party/weird new restaurant/bookstore/lecture/farmer’s market/have a cup of coffee/whatever? I’m in! Relaxed, caring, reciprocal coolness together.

It’s not like I don’t put forth an effort. I’ve tried a number of times in the past few years to make acquaintances, and then nudge that toward friendship. Sometimes, I think that maybe I’m close. But it is so…I don’t know…difficult. Maybe it is due to my INTJ way of seeing the world. Maybe it is my insecure way of fearing that our feelings are always one-sided instead of mutual. (Or maybe that is not the voice of insecurity, but of wise intuition).

Maybe it is a strange sort of Catch-22, in which my lack of friends frightens away potential friends, as though they can sense the desperation hidden beneath my calm, cheerful exterior. Please be my friend? And I, afraid of seeming too needy, quickly back off, too. And so, friendship doesn’t happen. And I return to my cave and my world of imagination. Why is it so hard to make true friends?

If I had just one good friend, then today, perhaps we would have sat in the stands together, cheering on Manchester United as they beat Barcelona. (Those are um, soccer teams).

Together with my one good friend, maybe I would have found the courage to go to a downtown event that my Meetup acquaintances mentioned earlier today.

With one good friend, maybe I would go eat inside of restaurants instead of getting takeout and watching old shows on Netflix by myself.

besties laughing

Maybe that one good friend would even help to connect me to a few more friends, and together, we would all go out to roller skate or dance to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. And maybe take a few silly, fun photos to post for the Facebook peeps, like all the not-so-lonely people do. Or not.

Or maybe I will just live it all in my head, then write about it in my creative, introverted way. Which is okay, too.

Mostly.

Jumping on the Bandwagon (aka: Trustworthiness and Culture)

My 13yo daughter is suspicious. “Sure you’re just a regular mom,” she said to me yesterday. “You run superfast. You know all this computer and networking stuff. You speak Spanish and watch all these foreign movies. I mean, who just watches movies in Swedish?”

“Please,” I said. “I’m just a mom. Seriously. An ordinary, cookie-baking soccer mom.”

“Yeah right,” she said. “Let me guess…you work at a bank.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have let her marathon-watch Alias.

Secret Agent Mom

It was a funny and cute accusation. But it also made me wonder. You see, this wasn’t the first time in my life that another person had accused me of being fake, of covering up my so-called true identity with something less sincere. (My ex-husband, in fact, was among such accusers, hence why he is now my ex-husband). On one hand, I find it amusing. I mean, maybe there is something about my personality that makes people say hmmm… Maybe it is the way I constantly walk my own path instead of jumping on political or cultural bandwagons. Maybe it is the way I refuse to reblog those ridiculous memes that shout in bold letters: REBLOG THIS POST OR YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON WHO KILLS KITTENS! Maybe it is because I run superfast, watch Swedish movies, and have an interest in computers and networking stuff. Oh, and bake cookies.

Clearly, such a person can’t be trusted.

trustworthyI wonder what qualities make a person seem to be trustworthy or untrustworthy to others? It’s not a new scientific concept that most people make decisions about another person’s character based on outward appearances. Something as simple as eyebrow height, the pitch of a voice, or how “average” a person’s face appears to us can make a huge impact on how we perceive their trustworthiness. Want to make people trust you more? Try to appear just like everyone else.

fast fast fast runner
Ah, there it is again. The curse of the lone wolf. Perhaps, apart from outward appearance, a person’s life choices and ideology must also be deemed “average” in order to gain the trust of others. Perhaps we find ourselves unconsciously drawn toward people who not only look more like ourselves, but behave more like ourselves, according to the customs of our culture. Perhaps, in a white-collar, wine drinking culture, the blue-collar, beer-guzzling man will have a hard time gaining trust. Perhaps a conservative, rule-oriented group will have a hard time trusting a freethinker who questions authority. And perhaps down-to-earth, simple-minded folk may have a hard time believing the sincerity of a superfast-running, foreign-film-watching computer lover who may or may not be from Jupiter, no matter how delicious her homemade cookies may be.

But that will not keep me from trying to live the most honest, sincere life I possibly can. Even if no one believes it but me. Believe

 

Being Weird (in a Culture of Sameness)

He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

Albert Einstein

Imagine a world in which there is no racism, sexism, or conflict over religion. Now, imagine a world in which those things do not exist, because everyone is exactly the same. Sound like a theme for a dystopian novel? That’s because it is. The idea of sameness, a perfectly homogenous society, has been repeated in so many utopian and dystopian novels, that the novels as a group have begun to reflect their own theme. Sameness.   Swimming against the tide

We shudder to think of it. Because on the surface, we pride ourselves in being members of an enlightened culture, living in a time when our differences no longer divide us. A culture in which people can differ in appearance, in philosophy, in politics, and in socioeconomic class, and yet still coexist in harmony.

Or do we?

In a neighborhood where every house is painted a safe, neutral shade of tan, beige, or taupe, we cringe to see when a homeowner chooses to paint his home blue. What a crazy neighbor, we say. Doesn’t he know that his house is supposed to match the others? In a community where men wear their hair short and trim, and women wear it long, we are taken aback to come across the opposite. Oh, the woman with short hair must be a lesbian, we decide. And the man is probably a redneck, or perhaps a poor artist. And a family who owns a pet pig instead of the usual dog or cat or parakeet? How odd!

We shun what we cannot classify. We make fun of that which we do not understand. We alienate those who do not agree with the majority.

I am weird. At least, that is what people tell me. I have been told this so often throughout my life, that now I wear it as a label, even offering a warning to the people who dare to grow too friendly – “You should know right off that I’m weird. You know, just in case you only like ‘normal’ people.” I say it jokingly, in a better-to-laugh-at-yourself-than-let-words-hurt-you kind of way, but the truth is, the label still kind of hurts. Rudyard Kipling Conformity

And I have always wondered, what is it about me that people find so unusual? I certainly don’t go out of my way to appear different. I don’t dye my hair zany colors, or boast tattoos. I don’t have an intense or boisterous personality. I’m pretty sure that I have a healthy sense of humor, and can usually hold up my end of a conversation (as long as the conversation is not about celebrity gossip, golf, or reality TV scandals). But still, somehow, I am weird. Is it because of my classification of INTJ on the Briggs-Meyer personality scale (0.8% of all females in the population)? Is it my I.Q. score that makes me different? Is it because I am comfortable being alone? Because I enjoy alternative rock music, learning different languages, and geeky computer technology? Or the way I like to quietly take in the world, then reflect it back through stories and poetry?

non conformist

Whatever it is about me, it makes me weird. It means that other people do not know how to classify or relate to me. And so, in their discomfort, they slap on a hurtful label and cluster in their homogenous groups, where everyone gets along, because everyone is the same. They listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and share the same philosophies, or religion, or politics. “Want to join us?” they say. “Then you must become like us.”

We must be the same. It is the only way to achieve perfect harmony. Ironic, isn’t it?

Used to Be (aka: Seeking Community When You’re a Nonconformist)

colorful latex balloonsWe used to have parties. It is one of those observations, briefly uttered by one of my kids, marking the contrast between who our family is now compared to who we used to be. Or maybe it is less about our family, and more about who I once was. I used to throw parties. Big, noisy parties full of distant relatives or church group acquaintances. Small, intimate gatherings with close family friends. Colorful and silly children’s parties, messy with icing and confetti and cupcake crumbs.

Used to.

Back when I was a different person, I used to throw parties, which are now distant memories of music and laughter and food successes and failures. I used to receive invitations to parties, too (and not just the everybody-come-and-spend-your-money types, either). And every now and then, in moments of loneliness, or perhaps in a passing celebratory mood, I think, how nice it would be to invite a few people over! How nice it would be to have an excuse to cook some special dishes and mix up drinks and dust off the party games which have not been opened in several years. But then I think, now whom shall I invite? And just like that, my sense of enthusiasm for party planning deflates like a loosely tied balloon. friends party

Whom shall I invite? Who is my group? Planning a party was so much easier back during the days when I was part of a primary group or two. Now, I am no more than a drifter, skirting around communities of people which either change so rapidly that I rarely see the same faces twice, or are so large that I wander around, lost; or are so well-established, that I do not see how I can possibly contribute.

I recently tried to make friendship a tangible goal. Throughout the summer, I made it my personal growth project – like a mission, to try things that I had not tried, in order to change the situation. Make friends. Join the group. Be social in real life. And so, I attended Meetup event after Meetup event. When I met interesting people, I asked for their contact information, so that I could stay in touch. I said “yes” to going out on a few dates. I put away my iPad and forced myself to join the conversation, or even (gasp!) start a conversation with someone I did not know well.

The results of the summer project? Well, I had some enjoyable conversations with people I will probably never see again. I did a few fun things that I can now check off on my personal list of Neat Things I Got to Experience in Life. I learned some new ideas from strangers which continue to change me in small but significant ways. I learned that coming out of my cave is not always scary and disastrous. And I think that I even managed to make a friend (though at times I am still unsure if I have yet earned the right to use that term).

topsy turvy weird bird

But as positive as the results of my summer project may have been, I am still sadly lacking in the social department, with little more than superficial connections. Perhaps I could squeeze my way into some social group the old way – by watering down my personality so that I can conform to the norms of the group. As much as we like to think that our society honors the individual and celebrates diversity, the truth is that nonconformity makes us uncomfortable. It is human nature to form our social groups based on commonalities. Be yourself! We preach. But if “yourself” happens to be too weird to fit into a group, then learn to love yourself, be your own best friend, save yourself, date yourself, treat yourself, enjoy time alone, because obviously, you’re going to have to.

Sometimes I wish that there were some website for people seeking meaningful non-romantic social connections. Something like Linked-In for bestfriend wannabes, where you can post a personality resume. Something like:

Name:

Tiare (aka The Girl From Jupiter)

Roles You Could Potentially Fill in a Social Group:

Comedian

The Melancholy Intellectual

The Clueless Airhead who has no idea what is going on down here in the real world

The sweet, cookie-baking Nice Girl who still feels guilty when she says bad words

*The Storyteller

Things You Are Into:

Writing stories & poetry

Sports (esp. soccer and tennis)

Classic literature, films, music, and other esoteric shit

Silly memes, YA books, vampire shows, and other shallow things that keep life from being too serious

Camping, hiking, geocaching, nature

Cooking and baking

Talking in a British accent, like a valley girl, or in Spanish when the mood strikes me

Handicrafts

Daydreaming about world travel

 

Then, anyone who registers for the site can come along and browse one another’s Desperately-Seeking-Social-Group ads, and say – ahh! Just the right type of weird individual to fit into my ideal social group! And with a few clicks of the mouse, I have created an instant community of people to invite to a real-life party at my house. Friends Wanted Advertisement

Okay fine. Maybe the world couldn’t work that way, exactly. And maybe it would be foolish and dangerous to invite a bunch of carefully-selected strangers into my home for fun. People do lie about who they are, after all. But I suppose I am feeling nostalgic, or wistful, wishing that there were some way to fast-forward to the magical day when life will cease to be about who I used to be and what I used to do and will suddenly be what I wish it could be.

But some goals simply are not tangible.

 

 

 

Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do? You sit on the bench and read a book, and pretend that that is what you really wanted to do all along. You watch the other kids run and laugh and play together, and you study them, trying to absorb their happiness and companionship as your own. You listen to their conversations, trying to figure out the “right” way to talk and the “right” way to be, so that you will be accepted.

Because we all just want to be accepted.

So I decided to ask Google. “Google, how do adults make friends?” Well, Google had all kinds of ideas.

  1. Join a Club

Okay, great idea. After all, in the past, I made friends by being part of college Christian clubs and young married couple church clubs and new mommy clubs. And so I have been attending (almost) monthly Meetups for around a year for people learning Spanish. Unfortunately, the faces often change and many of the people are retired seniors. Recently, I joined a group for single parents. My kids and I attended one event. I had a lot of fun, thanks to my kids. But after the initial introductions, most of the other adults engaged in conversation while I hung back, observing and listening, not sure how to break into the other people’s conversations. (Blame it on extreme shyness. I hate being shy).

  1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or drinks

This would be so great if I had that kind of job. The truth is, I work in isolation in a cubicle jungle, surrounded by empty cubicles. I get most of my job assignments via email and often go days without saying much more than hello and goodbye to my supervisor. Not conducive to one’s social life.

  1. Plan a party and invite all of your acquaintances

The last time I threw a party was four years ago, during the last World Cup. I invited more than a dozen people. Three came (not counting children). It is very hard to throw a party when you don’t know people well, and very disappointing when no one shows up.

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations

Hahaha! Good one.

  1. Seek out friends of friends

This makes so much sense, as friends of friends may also share your common interests. But practically speaking, this doesn’t work when you don’t already have friends.

  1. Take a class

As a college student, I take many classes. But most of these are online, and the others are mostly filled with teens and young adults.

  1. Join an adult recreational sports league

I have been playing recreational indoor soccer for a few years. I love it, and it is a great stress release. But my teammates and I never get past the acquaintance, small-talk stage. Maybe we just lack that certain vibe, who knows?

 

Some of the advice I’ve read online is simply ridiculous. For example, on the site http://www.adultsocialskills.com/howtomakefriends.htm, written for loners like me, the authors give the advice that other people prefer those whom they perceive to be social. Therefore, it is better to pretend as though you have other friends. It is also better to pretend that you are interested in those things which other people are interested in, to make yourself appear to be more like them. In other words, fake it. Is this really how other people build friendships, based on insincerity? No thanks.

The Help Guide had this suggestion:

Attachment and relationships

How you bonded with a parent or caretaker as an infant will determine how you relate to others as an adult. Those who experienced confusing emotional communications during infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits your ability to build or maintain successful friendships. Read Attachment & Adult Relationships.

Of course, I followed the link and read all about attachment – a topic which I studied intensely my first time through university as a Child Development major. And yes, I recognize within myself my own insecure attachment issues, which probably continue to make it difficult to form meaningful attachments, or to detach from them once I have bonded with others. It also explains why I feel so mistrustful of other people, and fear a bandonment, and have trouble reading social cues, and blah, blah, blah. But knowing and knowing what to do about it are two separate issues.

So thanks, Google, but I am now back to square one, stuck in a constant loop of loneliness. And so I retreat to my cave, where I will bury my nose in a book, occasionally looking up to observe the rest of the world, and try to absorb the contentment they must feel from being so connected and accepted. And I will tell the world and tell myself (because it is less painful to convince myself), that this is all I really need.

 

how to make friends

 

The Loner Life (aka: Reflexions on Solitude vs. Relationships)

 

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to life in exile, and what it means to live a solitary life.  It is a state in which I have lived for so long now, that it is almost beginning to feel comfortable – the way a person who loses his limbs may eventually learn to accept the loss of his limbs. He would give anything to get them back and return to life as it once was, but he knows that it is impossible. The best that he can do is find a positive way to live without. That has been my challenge.

Time-Alone-Quote

This is true. I spend a lot of my alone time reading, watching good films or TV shows, disconnectcleaning house, baking, doing crafts, writing, and gardening. Fewer relationship commitments means more time for hobbies.

Just for kicks, I have been exploring a myriad of internet quotes to gain inspiration. It is both amusing and frustrating, as the world is filled with so many conflicting philosophies and values about relationships, solitude, and serving the self or serving others. After days of poring over popular quotes online, I came up with several clashing conclusions: Letting go and moving on makes us stronger, but we should never, ever give up on anything or anyone. Having fewer friends means that we have fewer problems, but having friends means more people to support you through those problems. Friends help us to become who we should be, but it is by being alone that we discover who we are.

have no friends

These words would be much more inspiring if not for her problems with drug abuse and eventual narcotic-induced early death.

Oscar Wilde

I agree that it is healthy to spend time alone. But how much is too much?

 

So which is it? Do we stay committed to people, even when times are tough, or do we move on and leave people behind when they no longer serve us? Is it through friendships and relationships that we find ourselves and become the best versions of ourselves, or is that achieved best through solitude and self-reflection?I think that perhaps, those are two different things. In solitude, we discover who we are in a self-centered way. In the context of relationships with our peers, we discover who we are within the context of a relationship. We only discover different facets of the same person.

The question that I keep coming back to, the one which the world only seems to answer in paradoxes and opposing opinions, is this: Is it better to actively pursue connections and attachments with other people, despite the risks of disappointment and heartbreak, or is it better to live the detached life, observing the world from a safe distance where neither good nor bad can touch us? Is it better to seek happiness and identity within the context of relationships, or better to know deeply and please the self, thus avoiding the drama and pain and expectations of others? Does one offer more reward than the other? Does one result in more suffering than the other?

nobody

…and vice versa No risk, no pain. No risk, no gain.

Friendship gives value to survival

Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

This week is filled with social obligations. There are kids’ soccer games to attend, Back-to-School night at my kids’ schools, and taking my daughter to a playdate at a friend’s house. Maybe these don’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, they are a huge deal. My stomach feels twisted in knots. The very idea that I have to be around groups of people I don’t know makes me feel somewhat nauseous and dizzy. The idea of actually talking to people I don’t know makes my throat close up, until I feel like I can’t breathe. I have developed this awful habit of looking anywhere but directly at people, unconsciously discouraging them from talking to me. It is very hard to get to know anyone this way, believe me! Every now and then, someone will smile and say, “Hi, aren’t you so-and-so’s mom?” I can usually manage a smile and a quiet, “Yes, I’m Tiare. Nice to meet you.” But the conversation rarely ever gets beyond that.

Am I shy? Well, yes, I have nearly always been shy. Since childhood, I was the one sitting on the sidelines with her nose in a book, occasionally observing the world and people around her. When I had friends, I was not at all shy with them. But making friends has never come easily for me. In fact, recently, it has felt nearly impossible, as my shyness seems to have grown into something much larger than simple timidity. Could I be dealing with a social phobia? I wondered. Out of curiosity, I took an online assessment by the Social Anxiety Research Clinic at Columbia University, which assesses and rates anxiety according to the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR). I answered as honestly as I could, then submitted the assessment.

The possible scores were:                  0-30 SAD unlikely

                                                                30-60 SAD probable

                                                                60-90 SAD very probable

                                                                Score 90 or higher SAD extremely probable

My score? 102. Interesting. So now I am not only shy, but frightened to death of people.

The other day, I discovered a fabulous new iPhone app, called SAM.  ,developed by the University of the West of England to help people to manage their anxiety. Here is what it looks like:

iPhone Screenshot 1iPhone Screenshot 2iPhone Screenshot 4

I have been using it lately to help me to manage and track my anxiety. It has been a surprisingly helpful tool – like an imaginary friend or therapist in my pocket, reminding me to breathe through my panic attacks, and slowing down the world for a moment while I regain perspective.

Now I know, SAM is only a tool, and not a true treatment for anxiety. Talking to a real therapist or friend would probably help, too. But there lies the paradox – finding either would mean talking to people. Ugh.

Watching Starlings

other women are starlings

Watching Starlings

Often, other women appear to me

like a flock of starlings

moving together in a natural dance

twittering in unison

their songs

without a gasp, without a sigh

fluttering wings together to catch the air

and paint the sky

 

I am but a fish

who has lost her school

and swims near the surface so as to see

the flight of the starlings

and wonder

and wish

to know the lyrics that they sing

to feel the wind and know the air

and join their sky with wings

 

lone fish

Mirando los estorninos

A menudo, las otras mujeres me parecen
como una bandada de estorninos
moviéndose juntos en una danza natural
gorjeando al unísono
sus canciones
sin tomar aliento, sin un suspiro
aleteando las alas juntos para agarrar el aire
y pintar el cielo.

No soy más que una pez
que ha perdido su escuela
y nada cerca de la superficie para ver
el vuelo de los estorninos
y preguntarse
y desear
conocer las letras que cantan
sentir el viento y conocer el aire
y unirse a su cielo con alas

The Girl From Jupiter

Yesterday was Sparkly Pink Boot Day for the girls in my daughter’s fifth-grade class.

“But Mom, I don’t have any sparkly pink boots,” my daughter told me. “My boots are tan.”

Of course, that is the part where every good parent tells their child, “You don’t have to be the same as everyone else. It’s okay to be different.” But that is such a lie! It is not okay to be different. Well, not unless you are super-rich like the Kardashians, or super-gorgeous, or so incredibly cool that your individual sense of style will be interpreted as a new trend and imitated by everyone else.

In 1984, when I was in fifth-grade, I was not the same as everyone else. I was different. I was myself. I loved sandwiches made with peanut-butter, dill pickles, and bananas. I wore mismatched socks on purpose. When kids asked me questions, I would reply…sdrawkcab. While other girls were giggling together during recess over girly things, I was sitting by myself reading novels, or studying Spanish, or racing boys across the blacktop in order to prove to everyone that I was the fastest runner at Madera Elementary School. (Okay, well…second fastest, just behind a really cute boy who played soccer and rode BMX bikes and was in my GATE class and on whom I had the hugest crush for two years).

Anyway, I was different. I was weird. Other kids reminded me of this fact so often that eventually, I began to embrace it. “The reason why I am weird,” I explained to everyone, “is that I am not from Earth. I am a changeling child from Jupiter.” It was the only possible explanation. I was no ordinary weirdo. I was a Jupitian. Sadly, being a Jupitian meant that I was never invited to birthday parties or playdates, and that I was picked last for kickball teams, even though I was a pretty good athlete. Being a Jupitian was a lonely identity, even though I was simply embracing who I was.

“Just wear your tan boots with a sparkly pink shirt,” I suggested to my daughter. “That way you’ll still sparkle like the other girls.” Inwardly, I wished that I could race to the store and buy my daughter the cutest, pinkest, most sparkly boots in existence, if only to help her to fit in  and have friends. Because I had to learn the truth the hard way. It is okay to be different…as long as you are still exactly the same as everyone else.