The Ghost of a Sister Who Does Not Love Me

Dear Readership,

The following is an unsent letter I wrote to an ex friend a while back. It’s messy and a touch melodramatic, but so am I. (Enneagram type fours, am I right?) I went back and forth a lot about whether or not to post it, but I finally decided that I should in the name of closure, and because I think that it is a pain most of us have felt. I hope that you don’t see yourself and your own experiences in this post, but if you do, you’re certainly not alone.

~~~

Have you ever experienced the pain of loving someone who stopped loving you back? I think that you have, because I remember sitting with you through the worst of it.  It is such a devastating ache to care deeply for someone, to assume that it is mutual — because it has always been mutual and I’m still the same me that I have always been — only to discover that it isn’t true and hasn’t been for a while. There is no hurt like finding out I have been breaking my own heart for a painful but worthy love only to realize that I’ve been causing myself anguish over an empty shell. That thing that I longed to retain, I have already lost. The person I so deeply cared for has already forgotten me and I am left with broken fragments of nothingness scattered all around me where you used to stand. 

“We drifted apart naturally and it was no one’s fault” you said.

Did we? But did we? Because I have felt for months that I was rowing upstream, feeding myself comforting lies to excuse your behavior because I longed to feel the acceptance that you used to always show me. I have been clinging to old memories of your love and telling myself that’s how it still is, even though everyone else could already see that it wasn’t. I would tell myself that you were just going through a phase, but as it turns out, I was the phase that you were going through and you have already moved on. I kept telling myself that our bond was stronger than that, but apparently I was the weak link in our broken chain and now I no longer own an arctic wolf. 

The silence has been a chasm, but I thought that perhaps you just had nothing to say back at the moment so I continued to shout into the wind indefinitely, hoping to reach you. I would text you and get a one word reply or watch the conversation die whenever you held it. I would invite you to things that you lamely excused yourself from. I carved time out to visit you and you would comply when convenient — or maybe you would just run errands instead. But I ignored all of it, waiting for you to tell me what was going through your mind the way that you always used to. Then whispers began to get back to me — people whispered, instagram whipsered, and your silence whispered loudest of all: I realized that you have never stopped speaking, you only stopped speaking to me. Your life has continued forward — filled with a happy frenzy that you no longer felt I deserved to be privy to in the way that I once was. 

Oh, it hurt. I cannot even say how it hurt. I wrote and burned 11 letters, each too mean and emotional. I cried, I lectured myself on overreacting, and then I cried again. I will always support your decisions and love you the best that I can, but when did you decide that I should no longer know what those decisions were and why? When did I stop being worth an explanation? I guess you decided that the day that you stopped loving me. When was that exactly? Six months ago? A year? The last time I confronted you because you would not speak to me about the things I did that hurt you? I don’t know when it was, but to me it is fresh, so the pain still holds all the malicious brightness and vigor of youth.  

Finally, unable to hold back my sadness, I said, “you’re hurting me, talk to me, friends talk.”

You said, “I don’t owe you an explanation. You’re being selfish.” 

You said to someone else that you like me, “less and less every day.”  I felt the weight of every single day slam into me when I heard that. 

I sparked with wounded anger. I said, “Then I guess we aren’t friends like I thought we were. I’ll not impose any longer where I’m not wanted.”  

You said (again, always, to someone else) that you won’t respond to me because you have seen my “true colors” and they are mean. 

You’re right, my truest colors are in fact the meanest colors you could imagine. I fill up with a hateful, poisonous rage. I am plagued with an all-consuming anger that looks for chinks in my enemy’s armor so that I can craft the deadliest words and take them down swiftly. I am ugly in my weakness, snarling and snapping and I go for the throat in a flash of blinding, white, werewolf-ian fury. You can guess at my ugliest true colors, but you have never seen them.

I told someone once — in a sigh of exasperation after you overreacted when you should have apologized — that you like to play the part of the victim when we argue. It has always irritated me because I have never yet made a victim of you. You would know it if I had because you — in all of your self-loathing fragility —  would not be able to stand back up again if I let my anger loose against you.  

I come from a tribe of hotheaded people who wield their anger like daggers, stabbing swiftly and deeply with teeth bared in a snarl of hatred. But the anger always fades as shame and apologies bubble to the surface of our lips. The eruption of swiftly flowing magma soon turns cold and new life is able to grow in the ashes. We are a proud and angry people, quick to look for fights that we won’t quit until we win. We are not a grudge holding people, but we are also not people who are often forgiven by those outside of our own. Our rock-hard Scottish heads crash against the spongy skulls of nicer, weaker people; once the stinging fades, we are left to wipe up the bloody remains of those who didn’t have the strength to recover.    

But you have not seen that. Never once have you seen me at my ugliest — my most explosive, sharpest, lowest, meanest, truest point of color. Because I am afraid to hurt your gentle spirit and because I love you. I have shielded you from the damage I’ve always known I could do. Despite what you may think, I do not delight in the hideous flaws of me and mine. But as much as I don’t like it, even if I bite my tongue until it bleeds and never say another cruel word as long as I live, my clan rage is a part of who I am. It is woven into me and I will not lie and say that it is not there. 

And yet, even despite my attempts at tempered words, you cry defeat and run in retreat. You wave your paper cut and claim that it’s fatal in a pout of petty anger and I am left standing alone inside a conversation that you declared a battlefield. I stand here, holding my own bleeding heart and wondering if it was the ragged, oozing hole in my chest that frightened you away, or the guilt you feel for being the one who put it there. You ran when you should have said, “I’m sorry.” You blustered and accused when you should have said, “I didn’t mean to cause you harm.” You never looked back when all I wanted you to say is, “I still love you.”

And now, just like that, you are nothing. You choose to be nothing to me. After years of sweet laughter and confiding our hearts in one another, my life is filled with the physical evidence of you. But where it once filled me with soft smiles and warm memories, I am left with only the icy ghost of a love I no longer possess. You won’t respond to me. What I meant to be a dialogue you made a wall. What I had hoped would prove that my feelings were hurt over nothing, showed me the nothing that is already surrounding me as I grasped blindly for the love of a sister that I no longer have.  

~~~~

Until next time,

Adieu

Wilson and Lauren's Love Story (so far)

Dear Readership,

This is not my story, but I got to have the immense pleasure and honor of writing it down on someone else’s behalf because it is a story that deserves to be told. For those of you who are lucky enough to know them (and for the rest of you who are missing out) — enjoy!

From the perspective of an outside onlooker, there is something that has always seemed inevitable about Wilson and Lauren. They fit — like two pieces in one of the many puzzles they have completed together during their dating relationship (because they are both secretly 90 years old), they are natural and obvious together. They’re both witty and sarcastic and can take as good as they give, so a conversation with the two of them often sparks and crackles with lighthearted jabs and banter. They compliment each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses, they lift each other up and adore one another. They enrich each other’s lives, but also the lives of everyone around them as they each become better versions of themselves when they are together. If you know them as they are now, it makes sense that they would be together, but it wasn’t always so obvious — certainly not to the two of them. 

Wilson and Lauren first met at Hickory Cove Bible camp seven years ago, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that buds of something more began to bloom between them. Wilson remembers first taking a more serious interest in Lauren in May before the camp season had properly begun. They were both helping at the open house for camp and he was excited to see her even though they weren’t particularly good friends at the time. He heard that she wasn’t planning to work over the summer, which was disappointing because Wilson was really rooting for her to come back to camp. By his own admittance, he liked her as a person and thought she was cute. He also admits that it took him a lot longer than it should have to realize that he didn’t just think she was cute, he actually really like liked her because growing up, Wilson was always like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz — he didn’t have a heart. He never had crushes because they were “illogical” and “pointless.” He could easily talk himself out of feelings for someone and never bothered with dating. I’m not sure he would have owned up to his feelings for Lauren if he hadn’t been able to see and talk to her every day over an entire summer.  

But fortunately for our heartless hero, Caleb — the camp director at the time — convinced Lauren to come on as full-time staff over the summer and set the stage for Act One of our little love story (thank you, Caleb, for putting everything in motion). Lauren, by her own admittance is a very friendly and flirty person. She and Wilson had always had a flirtatious bantering relationship, but that summer it intensified. They found little ways to seek one another out, they texted and talked all the time, and they even kept in touch over the weekends (something they had never done before). 

One of the things that facilitated this connection was the activity that summer known as “The Quest”a role playing game that sent campers (with adult supervision) deep into the woods to find a hidden treasure. Along the way they encountered many challenges and zany characters (all bursting with Christian allegory), two of whom were played by our lovebirds. 

Wilson’s character, The Wanderer, was a mysterious and benevolent fellow who would appear when beckoned by the children and aid them in their mission whenever they asked for his help. Much to the campers’ eternal frustration, Wilson remained rigidly in character and would never admit to playing a role. As far as he was concerned, Wilson and The Wanderer were two separate people. Lauren was a counselor for most of the summer, but because of a terrible tendinitis flare up in her knee, she couldn’t walk around with the kids. Instead, she was posted as a guard, blocking the path unless her demands were met (mostly she just stood around waiting for the kids to show up). Boredom is quick to find anyone posted in the woods with nothing else to do, and Wilson would often use it as an excuse to find his way over to Lauren’s part of the forest to keep her company. All summer he insisted that he, as The Wanderer, was charming and mysterious. Later in the summer when they started to catch feelings for one other, Lauren would text Wilson to tease him and tell him that she was flirting with the Wanderer and that she was going to ask him out. Wilson would play along and pretend to be jealous, although he didn’t always have to pretend. 

Lauren, affectionate though she always is, never really touched Wilson. Being huggy with friends was one thing in her mind, but he was a cute boy she actually liked so hugging him felt weird. What if he didn’t like her back and hated being hugged by her? This lack of touch wasn’t lost on Wilson and even though they often flirted, it made him a little less sure that she liked him. In fact, it was a hug that — in classic rom-com style — confirmed to Lauren that they were supposed to date while simultaneously convincing Wilson that Lauren had no interest in him. 

You see, Lauren had gone into the summer determined not to enter any kind of relationship. She was focusing on God and building up her self-confidence and her sense of identity in her relationship with Him rather than with a boyfriend.  But Wilson was such a solid friend who made her feel like a good person. He saw value in her that she didn’t even see in herself. His compliments were always about her as an individual of worth — about her ideas and thoughts and personality and strengths, not her physical appearance. She realized that despite her decision to not pursue a relationship, she was starting to really be interested in Wilson so she prayed for a really long time about it. She could see herself with him, but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship. Finally, she decided to ask God for a clear sign. Like Gideon with his sheepskin before the Lord, she laid out the impossible and asked God to make it possible if it was His will. She thought, “You know what, God, Wilson never hugs me. So a hug would be weird and unprecedented. If Wilson hugs me before the end of the day tomorrow, I’ll take that as a sign that it’s okay to date him.” And that’s where she left it, sure that nothing would come of it.

That night Wilson and Josh were sent to build a fire for the campers and Lauren went along to help. The three of them had palled around together for much of the summer so it was nothing out of the ordinary for the three of them to be working together like that (shout out to Josh, btw, for being the third wheel that made Wilson and Lauren hanging out together “camp appropriate” and facilitated the foundation for their impending wedding. Go you). Once the fire was lit, Wilson, very true to his nature, started playing with the lighter. Lauren told him to stop before he lit himself on fire and tried to grab it from him. He play wrestled her for it then put his arms around her and pretended to light her hair on fire (Side note: Wilson’s brand of affection is very… unique. Luckily “pretend to light you on fire”  works for Lauren. It’s part of why they’re so good together). 

But wait. Here it was, within the time frame that Lauren had laid out before God and WAS THIS A HUG??? His arms were certainly around her. She freaked out. She was shocked and surprised and overwhelmed by what felt like the clarity she had asked for — she was supposed to date Wilson. 

Meanwhile, Wilson had finally gotten up the nerve to initiate physical contact with someone he had feelings for, even in just a playful manner (again, something wildly out of the ordinary for him) and was met with dismay. She violently recoiled. He recalls thinking, Wow. Okay, so Lauren very badly doesn’t want to be touched by me. “It kind of broke my heart” he later said.

So now Lauren was sure about Wilson and he had became far less certain about her, but there was still time left in the summer. They kept texting, the kept flirting, they kept stealing little moments talking together that rode the line of being against camp policy (sorry, Caleb). One night, they texted late into the night even though they both had to get up early for a camp meeting the next day. Lauren was staying in the girl’s dorm and would have to walk by the dining hall on her way to the meeting. She offered to bring him a cup of coffee the next day. He said he would love that, and finally, they agreed to go to sleep. 

The next morning Lauren started to get cold feet. Was it weird to only bring coffee for Wilson? Would it be like making a public declaration of her feelings in front of the whole staff? She texted him: “Still want that coffee?” 

No response. 

Little did she know Wilson didn’t have any cell reception where he and the other male staff were staying in the gym. In order to text with her the night before, he had been standing by the window and holding his phone in the air at an awkward angle for service. So he didn’t see her text about the coffee until it was too late. 

When he didn’t respond she assumed it was because he felt weird, he didn’t want the coffee. So she brought only a cup for herself. He proceeded to give her a hard time in the weeks that followed, but it also gave him an idea on how to ask her out.  

He had decided to ask her out on Sunday during the registration period to go on a date the following Saturday. But registration day got crazy and the day quickly passed by without a clear opportunity presenting itself. Before they knew it, it was already 10:30 – 10:45 at night. All the staff were hanging out in the gym together, and Wilson had all but given up hope on getting to ask Lauren out. They were sitting in a group of six or seven people when miraculously they all jumped up and ran out of the gym to go to the kitchen to look for pizza (dear friend Alec led the charge that unknowingly opened a window — thanks, Alec). Suddenly Wilson was on the spot to ask her — the clock was ticking, he felt rushed. Everyone would be back soon so it was now or never. He had planned for it to be smooth, but ended up just sort of blurting his line, “You said you were going to bring me coffee last week and you never did so I think you owe me a cup of coffee still. Do you want to go out with me and get a cup next Saturday?” 

She said yes!  

But it was a little bit awkward. They kind of just sat there after that until everyone came back. 

Later that night, Wilson felt like it hadn’t gone the way he wanted because he had felt rushed to ask her. He started to worry that he hadn’t been clear that it was a date. That week they miraculously decided to leave the wifi on in the gym so (unlike during the coffee debacle the week prior) he had service. Wilson snapped Lauren and after talking for a bit he said,
“Hey, I just wanted to clarify that getting coffee means a date. I want to go on a date with you”   

They admitted to liking each other and wanting to talk more in depth about the nature of their relationship. Finally it was set. 

The day before the date, however, things didn’t go to plan. All of the full-time staffers were really close that summer, so they would all hang out together. They planned to go on a kayaking trip and then to dinner on Friday after cleanup. Wilson went to go move his car and pack up before they left, but his car wouldn’t start. Lauren said she had jumper cables he could use so she drove her car over to where his was parked. She tried to help him charge his battery, but it wasn’t working so they called AAA. It took the technician an hour and forty-five minutes to get there so Wilson and Lauren missed the kayaking trip. Wilson had tried to send her ahead, but she wouldn’t leave him (because let’s be honest, nobody goes kayaking with friends when they can sit alone with their crush instead). They would still be able to go out to dinner with everyone, at least. But then one by one everyone else bailed on dinner plans. They decided that they would still get dinner — they were hungry and discouraged after their long day. The AAA technician told Wilson that he needed to replace his battery, so he went to do that while Lauren went home and changed. When asked, Wilson still describes her as looking stunning when she showed up to dinner later.  Wilson — the automaton — in his own words, was overwhelmed by her beauty. At dinner they talked about how she hadn’t seen Rogue One so they went back to her house and watched the movie. If you were to ask Lauren, that was their first date. It was dinner and a movie after all. If you were to ask Wilson, however, he very admittedly insists it was NOT a date. He had worked really hard to plan and get up the nerve to ask her out for their date on Saturday, so no matter how date-ish it may appear, Friday night they were just hanging out as friends. 

The next day they got the coffee (for over three hours) and then Wilson took her to Glenn C. Hilton park where they did the boardwalk and fed the ducks. They wandered through the park for five or six hours and finally talked about what they were to each other. They agreed that they liked and wanted to date each other, but there were a lot of dating obstacles– Lauren was graduating in December, Wilson had several more years of school, and they would have to long distance. They decided that obstacles aside, they were going to try it. At that point it was approaching 6pm so they decided to get dinner. After dinner they still were not ready to stop hanging out so they went back to the park to walk around and look at the stars. In the end, it was a full on twelve hour date (breaking the world record for longest first-ish date ever). What they both distinctly remember about the day is that there wasn’t a single minute when they were unhappy or bored or ready for the date to be over. Even during the times when they sat in silence — there was no awkwardness or need to break the silence. They were content to be together. 

The other distinct memory that lingers from the date for them both is that Wilson opened the car door handle for Lauren and there was a big fat hairy spider underneath. It fell down its web just long enough for them to see the bushy monstrosity before it quickly scurried back up under the handle. Wilson fearlessly (but also screaming like a little girl) grabbed the handle again, knowing what was underneath, and knocked it to the ground where it was violently stomped to death — both remain traumatized to this day.

The next day they both went back to camp and could no longer be “dating” because it was against the rules. They had to spend the rest of the summer playing it cool and keep their now brand new baby romance on the down-low. By the time the camp season ended and they could announce their relationship, it was time for them both to head back to school and begin the long-distance leg of their journey. Over the past year and half of doing long distance, Wilson and Lauren have faithfully traveled back and forth to see one another, or at least made time to meet in the middle for dates. One such place they often met was Amélie’s French Bakery & Café. Their most notable date at the cafe was also their  first date after Wilson had gone back to school.

They got coffee and macaroons to share as they sat down to answer The New York Times’ 30 questions that Lead to Love. The questions were based on a study Lauren had been learning about in school that postulated that two total strangers could ask each other these questions and by the end would “fall in love” or at least feel closer. The participants are supposed to take turns asking and answering first, and the whole thing is supposed to take 45 minutes. True to their nature, they spent 5 hours on it as they went into crazy depth to get to know each other. Close to the end, there was a question that said, “If you died today, what is something you would regret not having told someone?”  It was Lauren’s turn to answer first. She really wanted to say “I love you” but she was worried Wilson would think it was too soon and that it would freak him out. She deliberated on and off for a long time before deflecting and somewhat lamely picking a quaint platitude she would want to tell a friend. Wilson thought it was a bit of a weird answer and that it took her a long time to get to it, but didn’t mention it. 

When Lauren asked him the question in return he answered, “I think I’m in love with you and I would regret not telling you that.” 

Lauren was shocked.  “No way!” She said, ”That’s what I was going to say too!”

 Wilson, somewhat saucily, replied, “No, too late. You had your chance. You totally chickened and I said it first.” Rather like the incident with the coffee, it has remained a point of well meant, but rather merciless teasing to this day. 

Their dating relationship continued on in a similar way — each driving to visit the other — as their love and devotion for one another deepened. It wasn’t long before they began to discuss the idea of marriage somewhat in earnest. Wilson spent hours looking for the perfect ring for Lauren, finally finding it online with a Ukrainian jewler. He ordered the ring in time for it to arrive by Thanksgiving break — when he hoped to propose. Only, the ring didn’t come. Slightly annoyed, he figured over Christmas break would be just as fine. Only, the last day of exams came and went and the ring still didn’t come. 

He came home from school in something of a panic. Where was the ring? Finally, finally, he got a notification letting him know the ring had been delivered — to his school mailbox — three hours away. He found the phone number of the woman who worked in the mail office and apologized for the intrusion on her privacy but explained his situation and his need for the ring. She happily agreed to help him. On December 23rd he asked Lauren if she would like to roadtrip with him to pick up one of her Christmas presents that had been delivered late and ended up at school. They made a day of the journey — stopping in Rock Hill at one of their favorite restaurants and doing some last minute shopping. All the while, Lauren secretly wondered if this could be her ring (she had teasingly asked Wilson one too many times when he was going to propose and he had snapped at her that he would when the ring came). Wilson, not remembering he had let that detail slip, kept weaving the lie that it was a Christmas present. When they got to CIU Wilson told her to wait in the car while he got the package. Much to his dismay, the box was damningly ring sized. He hunted around the empty student union until he found a bigger box he could hide the smaller box inside of before bringing it out to the car. 

Lauren’s confidence wavered only slightly on seeing the size of the box before asking if she could open it early. Wilson replied that she could not open it early because it was something for her to use at the beach (where they were heading Christmas afternoon to spend the rest of the holiday with Lauren’s family). Now her certainty was really beginning to waver, but she kept it to herself as they made their way back to Lauren’s apartment, tired from their six hour drive. 

Wilson had decided that to propose he would recreate a moment from early in their relationship. Back when they had first started discussing marriage Lauren had told him that she wouldn’t appreciate subtlety in a proposal — she needed it to be clear. The parameters she laid out for him were this: he had to have a ring, he had to say her full name, and he had to get on one knee. Being the cheeky fool he is, he immediately started looking for loopholes. While they were laying on the bed talking, he rolled over so that he was laying on one knee, he took his own ring off his finger, and he asked her, “Lauren Beth Rudisill, will you marry me?” To which she (obviously) responded, “Um, no.” Wilson often teased that he wouldn’t propose again because he had been so rudely rejected the first time and it became an ongoing joke in their relationship (at this point you may have noticed that ongoing teasing is a staple of both of their love languages).  

But now with an actual ring, it was time to recreate the moment. Wilson told Lauren that he left his phone in the car and went down to retrieve it. While down at the car, he pulled the ring from the box inside the box and slipped it into his pocket. He went back upstairs, laid on Lauren’s bed, and — as nonchalantly as possible — asked her to come lay down and cuddle with him. 

“Let’s take pictures in our new matching pajama pants first,” she said, “If we lay down now we won’t want to get back up.” 

Wilson thought about the ring in his pocket and about the pocketless pajama pants she wanted him to put on, “Uuuuhh, just, just come cuddle me first” he insisted. 

Finally she agreed. They cuddled for a minute before Wilson rolled over onto onto one knee, and whispered, “I tried this once before but you rejected me so I thought I’d give it a second shot,” he pulled the ring from his pocket, “Lauren Beth Rudisill, will you marry me?” To which she (obviously) responded, “Yes!” 

And the rest, of course, is history! That which seemed fated, happened. On May 16th they will make their eternal vows to one another and they will live jokingly, lovingly, devotedly, and happily ever after. 

I hope you enjoyed this I much as I do.

Until Next Time,

Adieu

Opinion Piece: I Did Not Ask for Your Opinion on My Ex Fiancé

Dear Readership,

The following post is meant mostly in jest. By that I mean I am deadly serious about the content, but want you to imagine it delivered in a humorous tone since tone doesn’t always come across in writing.

Let’s play a game. I’m going to give you four sentences and you have to tell me what they have in common:

“Don’t you think you spend too much time together?”

“I think it would be better if you guys had some space from each other.”

“Won’t it be weird to explain when you start dating other people?”

“Your breakup would be easier if you just stopped talking to each other and moved on.”

Is it:
A) Crappy, entirely unsolicited things people have said about mine and Bryce’s relationship since we called off our engagement
B) Busybodies staying busy
C) Frankly none of anyone’s business
OR
D) All of the frickin’ above!

Now I know what you might be saying right now, “Wowie, Gosh almighty, Jeez Oh Pete, Sierra. Looks like someone took too many passive aggressive pills with breakfast today and is coming on a little strong. Tell us how you really feel, crazy.”

To which I’d say, “Fair enough.”

But to those of you who have wondered (be it rudely, directly, to our faces, behind out backs, with good intentions, as a means of looking for fresh new gossip, out of genuine love and concern, or anywhere in between) HERE is exactly how I really feel – wonder no longer.

I love Bryce. I care about him. He’s important to me and, as a general rule, I like to keep the things I care about close at hand and in my heart. Also let me just go ahead and take a moment to emphasize that I am not concerned about what the the mythical feelings of a currently non-existent future S.O. might be, and I will not let how they may or may not some day feel about mine and Bryce’s relationship dictate my behavior (because, damn! That was exhausting to type, much less live by. Life is too short for that mess).

Further, let it be known that Bryce and I didn’t fall out of love. I say that mostly because I don’t think falling out of love is even possible. If anything, people fade out of love. But as it happens, our love hadn’t faded when we called off our engagement. As previously stated, I still love him. Very much.

But over the last four or five months of our engagement, some fairly serious issues cropped up. We sat down and looked long and hard at the trajectory of our relationship and we didn’t like where it was headed. There were certain things that had to change and certain other things that had to be emotionally dealt with in order for us to have a happy, healthy, marriage and it wasn’t immediately clear that either of those were guaranteed to happen. Could we change? I don’t know, maybe. Could we emotionally process the stuff that needed dealt with? Again, unclear. But both of those things had to happen for us to feel comfortable getting married and both were going to take time.

So we were then faced with a decision — do we postpone our wedding but stay engaged and hope that we can fix what is broken? Or do we break up?

We chose to break up.

We broke up to get clarity and space and remove the time constraint of fixing our problems before a new wedding date. We broke up because we thought it would be the emotionally healthier way to move forward.

We did not break up because we hated each other, or because we wanted to move on from each other, or because we were unhappy. And we did not break up because we wanted to see less of each other.

Bryce didn’t stop being my best friend when we broke up. I didn’t stop wanting to call him whenever something frustrating or funny or exciting or sad happened to me. I didn’t stop wanting to hear his thoughts on the world or stop wanting to lay around and watch TV with him. I didn’t stop missing him when we were apart.

I did, however, stop caring what people thought. Calling off an engagement is agonizingly embarrassing — and that’s coming from someone who has experienced a remarkable amount of social discomfort over the course of her short, awkward, life. Have you ever walked around at work with your skirt tucked in your underwear so that your butt hangs out for god only knows how long before your boss finally tells you? I have. Pretty recently, actually. It was mortifying. NOT as mortifying, however, as having to recontact all of the people who I had just asked for addresses from so I could send them wedding invitations only to then say, “JK! Never mind. We called it off.” I cried from embarrassment. More than once. But it was what was best for us, just like staying an active part of each others’ lives is best for us.

Will we get back together? Um, none of your business. That’s for us to work on and figure out. Maybe. If we can. If we ever reach a point of believing that that is what is the best for both of us and our friendship in the long run. In the meantime, I want him in my life as much as possible.

I broke up with Bryce because I didn’t want to lose him to a bitter marriage. If I cared what people thought, I would have just quietly married him to save face and endured the consequences. Instead, I did the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done because I wanted to fight for continued access to a person that I deeply adore. Now, rather than attempt to understand something they haven’t seen before, so many people have had the audacity to criticize it because it doesn’t follow a “traditional breakup narrative” and what they believe is “right” or “normal.”

My goal in life is not to behave in a way that makes sense to people. My goal is to live a life that is full, fulfilled, wild, beautiful, authentic, joyful and uniquely mine. I know without a doubt that Bryce is an integral part of achieving that for me, even if the exact nature of his role is still unclear. Our journey for answers is messy, but it is our own and I cherish that.

Let’s return now then to our original four sentences from the beginning and respond to them the way they deserve to be responded to:

“Don’t you think you spend too much time together?”
On the contrary, we don’t spend nearly enough time together. He gives my life purpose and direction and I can never have enough of that.

“I think it would be better if you guys had some space from each other.” Oh, do you? The day that space from Bryce is better for me is the day that one of us stops breathing… Because, you know, hanging out with a corpse is never good for you, really.

“Won’t it be weird to explain when you start dating other people?” Idk, but that influences literally 0% of my decisions. And we did try to start dating other people. It didn’t really take. For now, we’re happy to work on ourselves and enjoy each other’s company.

“Your breakup would be easier if you just stopped talking to each other and moved on.”
I’m not really looking to do what’s easier, I’m looking to do what’s best for me and Bryce. And as it turns out, we’re actually the best qualifed people to make that decision for ourselves.

I guess what I’m trying to say to the people who have felt inclined to judge what they don’t understand or tried to force us to behave in a way that fits a small minded perspective — in the most loving and gracious way that I can manage — get bent.

Until next time,

Adieu

A Likely Concussion and A Study in Toxic Masculinity

Dear Readership,

I recently had the interesting experience of being hit very hard in the head while also simultaneously witnessing some of the most refreshing displays of healthy masculinity that I’ve ever encountered (and yes, those are related).

Allow me to back up — last weekend a most beloved friend of mine got married (this is not related. I am just giving too much context like the oversharer I was born to be). Because I was the bridesmaid with the most flexible schedule, I helped with wedding prep and cleanup which made for three very long (and very joy-filled days) that I wouldn’t give up for the world. My feet, however, may never recover. They were swollen, aching, and blistered from adorable but merciless shoes. After it was all over, I sat on the floor of my mom’s house and massaged them pitifully while exchanging pleasantries with the parents of some longtime family friends who were in town for the wedding.

The youngest son of these friends approached me at around 10:30 (a mere 10 minutes after I had arrived home post-wedding cleanup) and asked ever so sweetly if I would consider playing a game called King’s Base with him and the other young siblings (think a mixture of capture the flag/tag played in the dark). Now, as dearly as I cherish the older siblings, I hardly know this youngest child at all and I was completely taken aback by both his forwardness and politeness in asking me to join their game. I looked around me at the semicircle of pleading eyes (my three youngest siblings and the brother who is only slightly older than him having joined him in the asking) and I caved. How could I say no to such sweet faces? “You can say no” my step-dad reassured me. Nevertheless, I agreed to play.

Now, for further context, I’m not sporty. I mean really not sporty. My whole life I have been the klutzy girl (see title of blog). It doesn’t matter how hard I try, how many times I am shown, or how earnestly people try to engage me in sports or group games — I can’t do it.

And it doesn’t matter what the sport is: disc golf, basketball, baseball, kickball, soccer, ping-pong, tennis, croquet, jump rope, volley ball, running, even quidditch — yes, quidditch for a semester in college — I really can’t do it. And yet, as a child that was raised to play outdoors in a community of friends who had limited access to the internet or TV, I was often forced to participate in group games and sports over the course of my life. As a result, my childhood is littered with memories of not measuring up, of always feeling like I was disappointing my teammates, and of feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

I’ll never forget being held back in my summer swim lessons as a very young child and having to repeat the guppy level (you know, where you swim on paddle boards and blow bubbles on the side of the pool) because I had the swimming ability of a literal rock. I’ll never forget the day in middle school when I got picked last for kickball — after the kid in a cast. He couldn’t even play half the game and my friends still considered him a better option than me. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face in early high school when, after showing me the proper way to throw a disc for the millionth time, I spiked it off the ground four feet in front of me. He was so utterly disappointed that I hadn’t inherited even a shred of his athletic skills. And I’ll certainly never forget the years of playing capture the flag with my friend and her older brothers and the many times they argued over who would be stuck having chubby, slow, and easily distracted Sierra on their team. Even now, these memories kind of sting and they are just a sampling of thousands of others just like them.

Big whoop you might say. Lots of people weren’t good at sports growing up but you don’t see them crying about it online in their mid 20s. And to your point, fair. But I think what made it especially poignant for me was growing up in a community that emphasized gender roles to a very extreme degree. I was constantly being told that my role in life was an inferior one. The Biblical idea of wives submitting to their husbands got lost in translation somewhere and began to mean women submit to all men. One time my friend and I were called into her kitchen to help prepare lunch for her brother who would be home soon because “it would bless him” to have lunch ready for him when he got there. I remember thinking, “Let him make his own damn lunch. I’m not his maid.” To this day I stand by that. If I had already been making lunch for myself that day I obviously would have made enough to share with him. But being called away from what I was doing to specifically attend to the task of making his lunch infuriated me.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing wasn’t even an unusual occurrence. As it was, us girls were already allowed to do less, our parents came down on us harder, and we often had to yield to the boys in matters of play. When our parents were around the boys were often forced to display acts of gallantry towards us and we were forced to let them as a way for them to (begrudgingly) practice the proper way to treat a woman. But being young and immature as well as given differential treatment, many of the guys I grew up with began to form something of a god complex and would take it out on us girls when left to our own devices. They made sure we knew that we were beneath them and an easy way to express it was to dominate us in play.

The angry feminist inside of me — the one I think I must have been born in possession of because she has always been there — would always feel the extra searing heat of shame in the face of defeat. She screamed inside my chest each time I lost or was picked last or didn’t run fast enough because I knew I was mired smack dab in the middle of a stereotype about girls and there was nothing in my power I could do to thwart it. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, when the boys taunted that I was just a girl and could never beat them it hurt because they were right and I knew it. I could never beat them. But, being children, they were always monstrous about it and the standards of our community let them — even encouraged them to be. Knowing that my hands were tied by my own inadequacy and that my mouth was gagged by the harsh gender roles that had been meticulously stacked against me, a seed of self-loathing wrapped tightly in bitterness began to form inside of me.

As a result, I spent years of my life and hundreds of hours in therapy trying to prove my worth to myself in the face of having been measured so harshly by my community. I fiercely and faithfully refuse to play team sports to this day to avoid putting myself in the kind of situation again where I can be so degraded because I know what it does to me. I end up in a depressive funk where I mull over every mistake and disappointment. I take every taunt to heart and learn all over again how it feels to hate myself and project that loathing onto the people around me (whether or not they actually feel it). I have to spend weeks all over again reminding myself that I am happy, that I am worthy, that I live a fulfilled life that I am proud of, and that I don’t measure myself by the same metric that I fell so short of during my childhood.

So back to the story at hand. After all that very long interlude you may be asking, why, Sierra, did you agree to play King’s Base at all with a history like that? Well, because I thought I was playing against a bunch of kids ranging in age from 10-15. I figured my 15 year old brother could be on one team and I could be on the other and we would be about evenly matched. And because they asked so nicely, let’s not forget.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when both of the college-aged sons of my parent’s friends stood up to go outside and play with us. My heart sank to my toes — suddenly my fears bubbled up and grabbed me by the throat: loser, not good enough, klutz — all echoed in my head. But I had already agreed to play and I had vocally and consistently refused the outs that my step-father had given me. I had to play. But I also suddenly feared the ridicule of my peers in a way that I hadn’t for years. If I had known that they were going to play, I never would have agreed.

I tried to tell myself that this time would be different because this time I would hold my own (why? Literally no reason. I haven’t become faster or stronger or more coordinated so I had no reason to believe anything of the sort beyond the fact that I am super good at lying to myself). And let me tell you — it was a big, fat, steamy lie. I did absolutely horribly. In the first round of the game my ten year old sister and I (teammates, I might add) both ran to tag the same guy and cracked heads so hard my teeth slammed together and I saw a burst of light. I hugged her to my chest and apologized (to her for headbutting her and to everyone else because our team lost when she and I went down). I kept seeing spots in my vision and felt the curling finger of nausea in my stomach for a good thirty minutes after impact, but I was determined to keep playing because I wanted to prove that I was better. I needed to prove that a little mild brain trauma wouldn’t stand in my way.

Honestly I should have quit while I was ahead though (or rather, less behind). A few rounds later I was chasing someone and ran headlong into one of the college-aged guys (again, he was my teammate. Only this time we cracked knees, not heads, so it was an easier pain to shake off). Then just a few rounds later we switched teammates and, confused, I very aggressively tagged several people who had previously been my opponents but were now on my team. With one exception, these “friendly fire” tags remained the only people I tagged throughout the five or six rounds that we played.

To put it simply, I made an utter fool of myself through and through. Later that night I sat in the shower (literally sat, too sore to stand) and surrendered myself to the shame and self-loathing that I expected to wash over me. I braced myself for the play by play of every dumb move in agonizing slow motion to grind my self-confidence into a powder as the angry part of my feminist spirit roared in self-defense. I expected to grapple with that anger for weeks before I tamped her back down and reminded myself that anger is not an appropriate response to pain, before I reminded myself that the feminism I want to maintain is driven by a longing for mutual respect, that just because I had embarrassed myself didn’t make me less of an equal to my male counterparts who had beaten me so thoroughly in a game of speed and agility.

And yet, despite my openness to it, the shame didn’t come. I was shocked. Instead, the playback that hovered in my mind’s eye was centered on the number of times my teammates had high fived me and congratulated me for my little successes. I remembered how every time I hurt myself they stopped the game to make sure I was really and truly okay (the guy I plowed into even unnecessarily took the blame for our collision when it was calculably my fault). I remembered how that despite all of the smack talk and competitive airs, no one had ever targeted me. I hadn’t been made to feel small and useless, but had been verbally confirmed as a valuable part of the team. Now, for the record, that could not be more untrue and I know it. All I had functionally done to “help” was make the teams even, but even so, I had been graciously and lovingly included. Any smack talk that was directed towards me was in good spirit and tactfully dodged the subjects of my clear inferiority or any mention of my gender as a possible cause.

And that’s when it hit me: competition in team sports that is driven by gender shaming, by pointing women out as the “lesser” sex, by excluding, or by hassling is a picture of broken manhood. A real man (be he 11 or be he 21) is a man who high fives his klutzy teammate and tells her he’s glad she decided to play. I’m not saying coddle me or lie and tell me I’m good, but be made to feel like I was accepted — warts and all — literally saved me from a month long emotional spiral.

Now, I know that my revelation that sexism exists in sports is hardly new — professional athletes deal with that kind of crap all the time, so why do I feel like I should be exempt from the heckling? I guess the difference in my mind is that unlike Serena Williams or Megan Rapinoe, or Billie Jean King before them, I can’t just win the crap out of my sport to shut the haters up. I fit all of the stereotypes about females in sports that every knuckle-dragging misogynist has ever wielded to try to delegitimize a queen and I really hate that about myself. I want, like in so many other areas of my life, to be able to rise above the criticism through hard work and excellence.

So to then be graciously included in the face of my deficiencies reminded me that there are real men with a real understanding of masculinity who don’t feel the need to shame me when they win or blame me when they lose. That those who fall short of grace are themselves the deficient ones. It was a very liberating realization (albeit not a terribly profound one on the large scale of social insight).

Now, will I start engaging in more team sports with my new enlightened perspective? Probably not. I’m still a hazard and a general embarrassment to myself. But I do like to think I can start to gently let go of the barbs of my childhood and have grace for myself in the face of that embarrassment because someone finally set an example of healthy manhood in competition that I can look to as a litmus. I will never be good at sports, but somehow it took 23 years before a guy outside of my immediate family made me feel like I didn’t have to be — that I could play for fun and the company I provided is what made my presence desirable. Basically, it took 23 years for me to experience what it felt like to be treated like a human being in a sports environment and that long overdue contrast freed me from the binds of toxicity. I hope it will liberate others as well.

Until next time,

Adieu

Why I Don’t Believe In The ‘Thank You Note’ (And Why You Should Never Expect to Receive One From Me)

Dear Readership,

I realize that what I am proposing (especially as someone who has lived in the South for most of her life) is rather inflammatory. My stand against the thank you note may be taken personally by those who love to abide by and perpetuate long-standing traditions, of which the thank you note is certainly one. To you, I am sorry. I know you must think of me as the embodiment of abandoned decorum or as someone who is utterly without manners. I am, “what is wrong with the world these days” as some would say, but be that as it may, it does not change my mind.

Let me say too before you are really ready to crucify me, I am not anti-gratitude in the slightest. I think being able to feel and express thankfulness is one of the greatest aspects of humanity. Gratitude is a feeling that strikes you low in the gut and wells up inside of you until it fills your body. When deeply felt, it climbs out of your throat, burns through your arms, shines (and even sometimes pours) from your eyes so that it is seen and heard and known simply because you cannot contain it. Gratitude is knowing that someone has changed your life in some way — saved it or made it better — and you feel overwhelmingly compelled to express that truth. Sometimes, too, gratitude comes mixed with other emotions — humility, joy, awe, excitement, even sometimes shame (like when you’re given forgiveness you know you don’t deserve).

But one emotion that gratitude should never be paired with is resentment. It’s an oxymoron. If I resent having to show you my gratitude, I am not really grateful. And if you insist that my gratitude be shown to you in a certain way (say, in the form of a thank you note) then you are stealing my gratitude from me.

I want it to be said and now be known that I resent–I mean truly from the bottom of my heart–resent having to write thank you notes. I think if everyone was being honest with themselves, most people do. It’s a chore that people have to make themselves sit down and do. Or it’s something that they keep offering up apologies and excuses for having not done yet. I can think of tons of times when I have seen a post or received a text or had someone say, “Sorry I haven’t sent you your thank you note, yet. I’m behind, but I’m working on it.”

Don’t apologize to me for not sending me a piece of mail that was likely written in template form so you could get through it faster and that I will definitely throw away. Just tell me right now that you’re grateful I came to your party. Tell me that you enjoy my company and my friendship — better yet, hug me at the party and tell me then. Or best of all — keep inviting me. Keep texting me and loving me by being present in my life. That is gratitude in action and the only thank you card I ever need or ever plan to send.

“But what about people who expect you to send Thank You’s? What if they are offended if you don’t?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago when I told her I wasn’t planning to send thank you notes after my wedding. “Then I hope they don’t come” I said.

That sounds a little harsh, but to me it is simple. If the only reason you would come to my wedding or give me a gift is because you expect to be formally thanked, I’m asking you now — do not come and do not send a gift. And this applies to all future parties, baby showers, anniversaries, etc. I want to fill my life with gifts that were given to me in love from people who don’t keep a running tally. I don’t want my life cluttered up by fake generosity.

I think the heart of this sentiment may stem from an experience I had in high school. One summer a church that I didn’t even go to raised money for me to be able to attend a Bible camp. My family didn’t ever have the funds to send us away in the summer so this was the first time I had ever gone to camp. I was elated! I couldn’t believe their generosity and was grateful beyond words. I made sure I told the pastor (who was a friend of my mom’s) how thankful I was. That week I had a ton of incredible experiences — I made lots of friends, but one in particular that was such an amazing kindred spirit he and I would continue to be friends for years (and still are). I also heard the Holy Spirit speak for the first time as I was dragged out of my comfort zone in ways I hadn’t known I could be. God’s message for me that week was to live boldly for Him — He called me to dance like David before Him and not care who saw me (something that was very hard for me at the time, but was an important first step in a long journey to liberate me from my crippling social anxiety). It was life changing in all of the ways that Bible camp really should be.

But fast forward a few weeks and I received an unsettling message from the pastor of that church. Sheepishly he implored me to write a thank you letter to his congregation because some of the members who had helped pay for me to attend the camp were upset, angry even, that I had not formally thanked them. I was shocked. I had said thank you. And I was thankful! Enormously. But why were they angry? Because it wasn’t on paper? Because I hadn’t groveled enough? It would be different if they had asked for an update — if they had said they wanted to hear from me about what God had done for me that week. But to demand that I thank them more? My shock became resentment as I penned a letter totally numbed by obligation.

It took me a long time and a lot of prayer to forgive the members of that church for shaming me for my “lack of gratitude.” It took a lot of effort to not let my joy be stolen and to remind myself that the actions of fallible humans don’t represent the heart of a perfect God. God still used that week to work in my life, regardless of the motivations of the people who sent me.

But I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be made small, to be scolded, to be the target of anger and judgment for not writing a thank you note. And since then I have been quite sure that I would not ever waste my time saying thank you’s that I didn’t mean, or force myself to write thank you’s that would make the sentiment disingenuous. People who are angered by this are merely identifying themselves as people I can happily prune from my life.

I guess you could say that this post is my official warning to all of those who are ever invited to future events that I host to not expect a card in the mail from me. Specifically those of you who do attend my wedding, if you find that you can get over my impropriety, I want you to know that I am thankful. If you give me a blender, know that I will be thankful every morning when I make a smoothie for breakfast; I will be thankful for my sheets every time I crawl into bed; I will be thankful for my measuring cups when I bake cookies; and I will be thankful for my dishes at literally every meal. I love the tradition of filling the house of a newly married couple with the things they need from the people they love (I personally have always enjoyed blessing my own friends in that way). And whether or not it is ever said, I know that they are always thankful.

And if you want a thank you — a real and proper thank you — listen for it. Our unspoken thank you echos in all of the trips and concerts and nights out that Bryce and I skipped in order to save money to make our wedding fun for our guests. Our thank you will be there in the delicious food we’ve paid for you to be able to eat and it will be there in the decorations. You’ll hear our thank you in the music, you’ll feel it in the hugs we give you and you’ll likely see it in our eyes and even hear it from our own mouths as we delight in having the people we love share in our joy.

I love to be thankful, it’s my favorite way to live. But not on paper. Not in a uniform stack of identical cards that I will try to race through to get over and done with. That’s simply not what thankfulness means to me.

Until next time,

Adieu

Love in the High Country: In Which Two of the World’s Most Awkward People Stumbled Their Way Into an Epic Romance

Dear Readership,

This is a saga — I’ll apologize in advance for the length. I have shortened it in every way I can, but like any story worth telling, our lives and love were formed in the details. Our story is one of repeated near misses, bad timing, and conveniently crossed paths that could give any decent Rom-Com a run for its money. So buckle up and enjoy!

Bryce and I first met when we were little Freshman babies at Appalachian State University back in the fall of 2014. He started talking to this girl who lived on my dorm floor, and once they began officially dating, he became a regular “lobby kid” (which is what those of us who bummed in the public space on the 5th floor of Coltrane unofficially called ourselves). I very vividly remember the day Bryce asked my floormate out because I bumped into him in the elevator just before he did it. He had bought her a box of gourmet cookies and written an adorable pun in the lid of the box. My friend and I wished him good luck and went on our way. Once Bryce was out of earshot I told her, “Man, if someone asked me out with a pun like that I would say yes in a heartbeat!” 

This, of course, was some pretty crazy cosmic foreshadowing.

Fast forward a little and Bryce and I happened to join the same campus ministry (he joined because a friend from high school was already a part of CCF and had spoken highly of it. I joined about a semester later because this girl who lived on my floor — and would later become my roommate, one of my best friends, and eventually a bridesmaid — kept nagging me about trying it and I wanted her to leave me alone).

Through the mutual space of our campus ministry, he and I kept in touch and began to become friends. When Bryce returned Sophomore year freshly single, my interest was officially piqued. I didn’t realize it though until he started talking to someone else and I became outrageously jealous. Not being much of a seductress, I settled into the comfortable distance of casual friendship and continued to admire the man of character that he is from afar.

Then, in the spring of Sophomore year, fate threw me a bone by sending me Hannah (Bryce’s sister) who transferred from ECU. When Bryce first told us his sister was transferring to App, I decided I wasn’t going to like her on principle (aren’t I evil? I had grown up with a dear friend who got regularly befriended by girls who were crushing on her older brothers. I knew how much it hurt her to be a tactical vantage point instead of a person with friends, and since I am nothing if not a woman of delusions and extremes, I decided to spare Hannah that fate by simply not liking her at all).

This, of course, went very poorly. I think I managed to dislike Hannah for roughly 2 hours? Maybe less… Her vivacious personality and raw endearing humor quickly flagged her as a kindred spirit and someone who I was incapable of avoiding. As our friendship blossomed, I remained determined to never ask about Bryce or bring him into our friendship. And yet, there he was. She would mention an endearing detail about him from their childhood, or would invite me over to his apartment where she was hanging out with him (since I lived across town and she still lived in a dorm with a somewhat weird and unnerving roommate, his place was the easiest meeting point). I found out from her that he was once again single and I tried to not get excited about it. But the more time I spent with her, the more time I seemed to end up spending with him, and the harder I fell.

I started to send out flirtatious probes (yes, probes. What an un-sexy word… once again, seduction is not my strong suit). I pulled out all the stops that my sheltered self could think of: the occasional brushed arm or bumped knee, regular texting, teasing, deliberate eye contact… I even tried the age old eye contact bounce between his eyes and lips when he spoke. Nothing. I couldn’t tell if he was picking up on any of it.

Then, at the end of Sophomore year, I drove him back to his apartment on the last day before the summer. It was just the two of us in the car and I thought maybe this would be the moment something finally happened. All my hopes were dashed in one cruel moment, however, when he reached out and gave me a goodbye fist-bump (not even an awkward in-the-car side hug). It was then that I was sure he didn’t like me.

Momma didn’t raise no quitter though, so I gave it another try over the summer when I texted him to see how he was doing. Despite my best efforts to keep it alive, the conversation quickly died. It was the final nail in my fragile ego’s coffin. Now I was sure that not only did he not like me, but maybe he didn’t even want to be my friend. I was Hannah’s friend who was around sometimes. That was all.

So I started dating someone else.

Little did I know, Hannah had been name dropping for me over the summer (even though Bryce had never picked up on my interest in him, she certainly did). She even went so far as to ask him if he would consider me as someone viable to date. That off-handed question managed to plant a seed in his head that all of my best attempts at flirting had never been able to do: Bryce started to notice me, to think about me, and to consider me as an option. As the summer wound to a close and we headed back to Boone for Junior year, Bryce began, for the first time, to really like me.

Just a few days into the fall semester, Bryce and I both volunteered to work the CCF table for the club expo (where new students could learn about/join clubs) and we found out that we had been assigned to work the same shift at our ministry’s table — just the two of us. He was elated when he found out. This would be the perfect chance to spend some time one-on-one with me. I, on the other hand, was devastated — I hadn’t stopped liking Bryce, I had just given up on being liked back. I couldn’t spend time with him like that. It would be awkward, not to mention unfair to my new boyfriend.

I told myself to put on my big girl panties and do it — we were in the same small ministry. It’s not like I could avoid him. Besides, we were there to do a job. I went in planning to be cordial but distant and instead ended up having a wonderful time. Our table had been placed in a back corner that didn’t get a ton of foot traffic so we spent most of the time talking, and Bryce proved to be a wonderful conversationalist.

He went home and told Hannah (his now roommate) that he was going to ask me on a date — and she told him that I had a boyfriend. Crushed, he resigned himself to our sudden role reversal and decided to continue to be my friend and like me from afar as I had done the year prior. With these intentions, he and Hannah invited me over a few nights later to see their new apartment and watch a movie. Once again I had a lovely time so naturally I decided by the end of the night that I would need to avoid Bryce in order to remain emotionally faithful to the guy that I was dating.

Despite my best efforts, he and I kept getting thrown in together — we joined the same support group, ended up at the same table for our campus ministry’s Thanksgiving (it was the first and only year they enforced assigned seating for the meal and I bet you can just guess who I got seated next to), and we often times ended up in our friend group’s hangout spots on campus at the same time. Even with all of our elbow bumping, we spent very little meaningful time together that semester and he was far removed from my mind when I ended my relationship during finals week that fall.

In fact, I really didn’t give Bryce a ton of thought at all until I returned to school for my spring semester Junior year and we started chatting at our campus ministry’s kick-off meeting. The conversation spilled over into text and we began to banter flirtatiously. All of my feelings from the last several years came rushing back out of the deep dark corner that I had hidden them in, and for the first time in a long time, I started to have hope that maybe he liked me. It all came to a screeching halt (again) when I jokingly threatened to hold him to a promise that he was making and he responded with, 

“10-4, good buddy.”

I died on the inside. Absolutely died. Good buddy?? The stinging shame of being blatantly friend zoned burned so hot in my chest that I couldn’t stand to bear it alone. I took a screenshot of it, blacked out his name, and sent the picture to several of my nearest and dearest friends (one of whom was obviously Hannah). I captioned the image with something along the lines of, “When you’re trying to flirt and you get friend-zoned so hard you get whiplash.”

In a matter of minutes she responded with, “who friend-zoned you?”

This was a question I wasn’t ready for (because I’m an idiot) so I said the most incriminating thing possible — “Don’t worry about it.”

She then did the most low-down dirty thing that I will forever be grateful for: she screenshotted my message and asked Bryce, “Did you recently tell Sierra ’10-4, good buddy’?” He admitted that he had and she showed him the message in which I confessed to feeling friend-zoned. He insisted that that wasn’t his intention, that he had been joking.

Sometimes I wonder how long Bryce and I would have been trapped in our cycle of missed opportunities and bad communication if Hannah had never intervened. Because even though I didn’t know at the time that she had shown my text to him, it changed Bryce’s intentions. He had confirmation that I did, in fact, like him. That I had been flirting with him. It gave him the final push he needed to make his first move — he invited me over to watch Futurama. After a few episodes we switched to Stranger Things (because I had said that I was too afraid to watch it by myself and he kindly offered to watch it with me and protect me from the scary bits). This, of course, led to some low-key cuddling which led to another planned date to finish the show later that week, and this time some unashamed high-key cuddling.

Then, on February 13th, 2017 I asked him if he would like to join me at the library where I was writing a paper. To my surprise, he said yes! It was already pretty late and Bryce didn’t tend to prefer the library as a study space, but he said he had a test to study for and could use somewhere quiet to work on it. Unbeknownst to me, at the time of my invitation, he was furiously drawing a Stranger Things themed Valentine’s Day card to give me. On the front was a drawing of Eleven holding a box of Eggo waffles along with the pun, “Leggo out?” written above it. Inside the card were several more ST-themed puns asking me to be his girlfriend. He brought it with him to the library and as the clock struck midnight he slid it across the table and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Naturally, finally, inevitably, I said yes! Or rather, I nodded yes to being his girlfriend. I had, unfortunately, not known I was going to be asked out that night and had set up to study on the “no talking” floor in the library (my favorite place to get work done). So, having lots of things to say to one another in a space where we weren’t allowed to talk (and me still having a paper due in 6 hours), we continued to work in silence. However, I could barely stop smiling and I can say with confidence that that was probably the worst paper I have ever turned in.

As it got late, Bryce finally stood up to go. It had been my intention to stay later than him to finish, so I figured I would walk out to the car with him so I could finally say something and kiss him goodnight. Much to my surprise, he hugged me goodbye and before I could think to say anything, he walked away. I stood there torn for almost 30 seconds before frantically texting him not to leave yet because he had forgotten something and then raced down the stairs after him. I caught him in the lobby and (before I could have time to think through how much I hate PDA) I reached up and planted a big, breathless kiss on his mouth right there in front of God and the library staff and every procrastinating student on the first floor. “There” I said, “You forgot to kiss me.”

And from there, things were always pretty simple. Our relationship style has always been quirky and a little out of sync, but I have learned to love us that way.

The first time we said “I love you” I sat in silence for a long time trying to build up the courage to get the words out. Finally, feeling like I would burst, I managed to force out the question, “Guess what?” as an awkward transition from silence to professing my undying love for him. Instead of responding with your conventional “What?” my precious man didn’t miss a beat before replying “Chicken butt!” I spluttered for a minute, my brain unsure how to proceed before sheepishly saying, “Noooo… I love you.” Shocked, he hugged me fiercely and whispered in my ear, “OH! I love you too!”

Our off-beat style continued through the ups and downs of dating and almost a year after our first “I love you” we began to discuss marriage in earnest. We had talked about a lot of different timelines to get engaged, but never set something in stone. Unfortunately, I’m not a terribly patient person, so when each of the mile markers I had suggested came and went without a ring, I bought an engagement ring of my own. It was a simple wooden ring (because Bryce has such a deep love for all things rustic and wood grain) and I began to lay plans to ask him to marry me. He and I planned a picnic for the weekend after I got home from my study abroad and I figured that would be the perfect time to ask him. I’ll never forget telling my brother my plans and him cutting me off, “Wait, did you plan the picnic or did he?” he demanded.

I thought for a second, “Well, he did” I finally said.

“You stupid idiot!” he shouted, “He’s planning to propose to you that day!

“Not if I beat him to it” I said.

But as the picnic drew nearer, I decided to give Bryce the chance to ask first — it was his picnic after all. Then, if by the end of the day, he didn’t ask me, I would give him my ring instead. 

On the day of the picnic we drove up to Boone and headed for Howard’s Knob — an overlook of the mountains that also gives a stunning view of App’s campus. We set up our blanket on a nearby rock and enjoyed a delicious lunch (unsubtle plug — it was from Kindly Kitchen on King Street. It is one of my all-time favorite restaurants and everyone should go eat there). The day was gorgeous so there were a lot of people around us, also enjoying the view. Bryce kept commenting how he wished everyone would go away. Finally, they did.

“Everyone’s finally gone,” he said, “Let’s go look at the view from closer up while it’s just us.”

“Okay” I said, pretty sure I knew what was going to follow, but giddy nonetheless. We walked over to the edge and surveyed the little kingdom that had contained the entire length of our love story so far.

“Look,” he said, “You can see Coltrane from here. I can’t believe we met there four years ago. It’s so cool how we’ve come full circle becau–” he cut himself short. Just behind us a hiker had come over the ridge and was making his way down to the edge of the overlook where we were standing. Bryce let out a nervous and exasperated sigh. He turned back to me and reached into his pocket, “Before that guy gets over here” he said, pulling out the ring box, “Will you marry me?”

“YES!” I gushed as he put the most beautiful ring I have ever seen on my finger. “As it happens” I chuckled, reaching into my own pocket and producing the ring, “I have a ring for you too.”

He agreed to marry me back.

“I hope it’s okay that I didn’t kneel” he said, as we stood admiring our new bling and all the promises they held, “I wanted to ask you to marry me while I was standing beside you. You know, to ask you as my equal.”

This, of course, earned him a kiss. If I hadn’t been sure that I wanted to marry him before that statement, I was now. And I continue to be. Every day since then — good, bad, and ugly (and there have been some very ugly days) I have become more and more certain that despite our rocky start, Bryce is my perfect match. I continue to realize that I could never have asked for or even imagined a better happily ever after than the one I’m living with him. And in 144 days, I get to become his wife.

Until next time,

Adieu

Give Me The Same Cover Charge Or Give Me Death: A Rant

Dear Readership,

I have wrestled with knowing how exactly to write this post or what direction I want to take it (and have even written it 3 times over), but have ultimately decided that the best way to begin is with the most condensed version of the truth: last Friday night I went to a club in Asheville with some friends and proceeded to get the angriest I have been in a very long time. Angry enough to yell “I AM A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” in a very crowded room. Angry enough to confront an employee of the establishment, and angry enough to part unnecessarily with my money — something I would never otherwise do — because I came face to face with a sneaky form of sexism that had snaked its way into my otherwise pleasant evening, and I was not going to stand for it.

Allow me to explain a little further.

Like I said, some friends and I went to Asheville last weekend and I really had a grand old time; they are some of my absolute favorite travel buddies and I love that we’ve started to form the habit of vacationing together. Friday night when we all got into town we went to Wicked Weed for a few drinks which was simply fantastic. Then some of the members of our group got that deep-down-in-your-brain energy itch that only dancing can ever properly scratch (obviously I was not among their number because I have about as many dance moves as a sock puppet and had not yet had enough to drink to make me forget my inhibitions…so far that limit does not exist). Fortunately, drunk people make for some of the best people watching, so I was happy to go along.

Someone looked up where the nearest nightclub was and we all braced ourselves to step out into the cold mountain wind that our flimsy “Winter in Raleigh” clothes were doing little to protect us from. Now, I’ve probably only been to 2 or 3 clubs in my life — none of which were in the U.S. — but I figured I knew the drill pretty well: pay the cover fee, buy one absurdly priced drink, complain about how expensive the drink is, hold my friends purses while they dance, and try not to get stepped on, creeped on, or puked on in the meantime — easy peasy.

So there we were, standing in line, whipped into the kind of obnoxious frenzy that stems from trying to follow the bouncer’s instructions (about handing over IDs, signing in, and getting checked for weapons) while also trying to maintain our own conversations in disjointed and breathless bursts. Eventually one of the girls in our group who was in the front of the line called back to the rest of us,

“Hey, the guys have to pay a cover of $10 but girls get in free. Do y’all still want to go in?”

We stood there in a confused cluster and clogged the doorway for a minute before ultimately deciding to go in. The guys begrudgingly fished the money out of their pockets and wallets while the girls stood on the sideline watching the transaction go down. My first thought was to be relieved and a little giddy: I didn’t have to pay! Yay me! But that thought was quickly overtaken by a flood of skeptical and angry thoughts: why not me?

Of course, to fully understand why excitement was my first reaction (but not my strongest reaction), you have to know that the part of my brain that was happy has been shaped and strengthened by being lifelong bedfellows with poverty. I like to think that I have never been entirely destitute despite always being poor, but financial ruin has been looming just behind me and breathing down my neck for as long as I can remember — one poorly timed late fee or car repair or lost cell phone would be all it took to send me into an uncontrolled spiral. Living with that constant threat has established in me certain “thrifty” behaviors that collectively formed a barrier against the threat of ruin. It’s a barrier I find I need less and less these days, but one that is hard to dismantle.

I still do things that a normal, thriving person doesn’t do — like accepting anything someone offers to give me (clothes, furniture, dishes, etc.) regardless of whether or not I need them because someday I might. Things like eating all of my food (and even other people’s if they offer their leftovers) if I go out to eat — regardless of whether or not I enjoyed the meal or even whether or not I’m still hungry, because anything that is paid for cannot be wasted. Things like cutting mold off of expired food and eating it anyway; like shopping with a calculator to factor for sales tax on a budget that has no margin of error; like always walking with my head down to pick up loose coins; like not correcting a mistake on a receipt if I’m being undercharged (which morally I have a problem with, but I’m not proud to say I’ve done anyway). Things like religiously shopping with coupons/sales; like bumming rides to save on gas even though I have a car; like sitting in the cold and dark to save on the heating and electric bill; like generously tasting every food sample in a grocery store because walking past free food is stupid and short-sighted; and on and on and on.

Being constantly forced to make choices to keep yourself financially afloat (like whether you should leave your insurance info on a car no one saw you hit or be able to make rent that month) brings out the ugly, animalistic survivor in everyone (which is why I hate and will always have a problem with the saying “poverty builds character” because it honestly, truly, really doesn’t. But that’s a soapbox for another time).

All that to say, that’s the part of me whose knee-jerk reaction was to feel a little smug and excited to not have to pay the cover fee. I knew I could afford the $10, but old pinchfist habits die hard. And under my initial celebration, feminist alarm bells began to sound in my head. Why would they only charge the men? My mind started to race.

On first glance, it seemed unfair to the guys — why should they have to pay when we didn’t have to? If you looked at it from the angle that women were being treated like VIPs who were granted free and immediate access, it did seem like the guys drew the short straw on this one. But I think anyone who knows anything about how we as a society place value on things would find it difficult to defend that position in earnest.

We live in a modern age that is driven by consumerism, where we often buy membership or the right to belong, and where the customer is always right. VIP access is never given out for free because preferential treatment goes to the highest paying customer (think about the difference between flying coach and flying first class — you know I’m right).

And what were the customers (men) of Room Nine paying for? Certainly not the environment — a small dark room, hot bad-smelling air, sticky floors, a so-so DJ — no, they were paying (whether they thought of it this way or not) for access to dance partners. For access to us. We weren’t customers at all, we were commodities that added to the package deal that the men were paying to use, and because we were free, we were also replaceable.

I know that may sound like a bit of an extreme interpretation, but hear me out — financially, what could the club hope to gain from only charging half of their patrons to come in? Wouldn’t they make more money if they charged everyone a cover fee? Yes, but only if they were creating an environment that encouraged repeat patronage for all of their customers. It occurred to me after we left to look the club up on Yelp and I was not surprised to find that most of their bad reviews came from women. Many of the reviews read the same — she was having a good time, but complained that some guy was dancing on her or wouldn’t leave her alone and the bouncers did nothing to stop it. And why would they? If she and her friends never came back they could easily be replaced with the next wave of women who had invested nothing to be there. Meanwhile, people who paid would insist on getting their money’s worth.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. the men were being offered a type of citizenship — albeit one they didn’t ask for — when they paid for entrance. And the rights of that citizenship (the bouncer ensuring your protection, for one) were being denied me because I was not the club’s target clientele. Rather I was the bait in the trap to bring them in. The club had lots of women — women that men would pay to come dance with.

I just couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t paying for goods, I was the goods.

“This is bullshit!” I said, “I’m not here to make the club experience better for some random guy. I’M A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” I marched my way back through the crowds of people to the front desk where a woman sat. I slammed a $20 down on the counter in front of her.

“I would like to pay the cover fee for myself” I said.

She blinked at me.

“I would like to pay the $10 cover fee for myself, please” I said, nicer but still firm.

“Why?” she asked, still taken aback.

“Because it’s dehumanizing. If the men have to pay for the right to be here, then I have to pay for the right to be here. I’m a person, just like them.”

She stared at me for a minute more. “Okay,” she said, “I respect that.” She opened the register and gave me my change.

“Thank you” I said, putting it in my purse and making my way back to my group.

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful: I bought my overpriced drink, I complained about it, and I held my friends’ purses while they danced. I felt a certain amount of satisfaction — both in having spoken my peace and in knowing that I had grown enough as a person to choose moral principle over fear-driven frugality, but part of me was still upset. Just because I personally paid the cover fee didn’t mean that the club was going to change their policy. I had taken a stand, but what about all the women who wouldn’t, or who didn’t realize that they should? What about all the women who would ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the back of their minds when they accepted the free admission, who would leave bad reviews for the club when they didn’t feel safe, and who would let the cycle continue? How could I stop that?

I don’t actually know if I can. But I do know that the experience solidified even more for me my own definition of the equality I will continue to fight for — I don’t just want equal social perks with men (things like voting and salaries and being CEOs) I want equal access to be able to pay the price for those benefits — from nightclub cover fees to registering for Selective Service. I truly believe that women won’t be able to reap the same social benefits as men until we suffer all the same costs, because that’s what it means to be equal.

Until next time,

Adieu