“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”—Marilyn Monroe
I don’t know if Marilyn Monroe really said the above words, which have been attributed to her so many times over that they’ve become a Facebook meme. But whether she did or not, they ring true and honest. I guarantee every woman has felt them in some form, if not said them, unless she’s led a blessed life, in which case: You go, girl! (I’m jealous.) And how I wish men could relate. Because women spend a lifetime handling men at their worst. We’re raised learning how. We see our mothers doing it—often we ourselves are doing it as girls, accepting our fathers and brothers at their worst—and figure it’s our role in life to accept men as they offer themselves to us. Sure, there are the times we try to change men in aesthetic ways, like encouraging them not to fart in bed or not to wear socks with sandals (or maybe to see a Broadway musical now and then). But for the most part we don’t insult their taste in sports (other than offering a sigh and asking them not to listen to games while we’re having sex, which is sometimes even seen as a burden), don’t question their need for going to the gym or getting to the office early or being competitive in ways we find baffling, and try to find endearing their little home-organization peccadilloes. We accept that after a certain age they will need medication in order to have an erection and that their waistlines will expand and their butts will flatten. We ignore the sounds from the bathroom and thinning hairlines. We put up with discussions about taxes and political columnists and hide our love of pop culture and boy bands for fear of being taken less seriously (even though we damn well can carry on conversations about hedge funds and the federal reserve if we wanted to… but some of us just don’t want to spend our Saturday nights talking shop).
When I was in graduate school I read a study (a few, actually) about how language was gendered. This is no surprise, actually. We know this. What most people don’t realize is how “gossip” is characterized. “Gossip” tends to be seen as meaningless conversation. About what? you may ask. Good question. It turns out that the data from surveys about what people say gossip is indicate that it is the things women talk about in their casual day-to-day conversations: what the neighbors are doing, who is dating whom, what’s going on behind the scenes at the office. It’s generally relational information involving people (sometimes behind their backs). It’s almost never men’s language. Men’s language is just as superficial and meaningless in terms of information being conveyed, at least in terms of the direct relationship to the individual person’s life. The No. 1 topic men, in casual one-on-one conversation, talk about is sports. Unless a man is a professional athlete or the owner of a sports team, chances are slim that he has a direct interest in the outcome of a sporting event. Yet sports consumes a very high percentage of male conversation when men get together. Can anyone really say that sports conversation is any more meaningful than the relational information women convey when women get together? In fact, a lot of people have argued that talking about sports is more trivial than talking about relationships, even behind someone’s back. Yet because it’s men talking about a topic, it’s typically seen as more important than “that stuff women talk about.”
The past few months have been extremely difficult for me. I’ve been left out in the cold by my psychiatrist, my freelance work has dried up, I’ve had troubles with my insurance company (who has dropped me twice for inexplicable reasons, so I’ve had to reapply twice), my boyfriend broke up with me and then we reconciled (after he made promised to do things, which he failed to live up to, but that’s a different story), and then I had to detox from medications due to being between psychiatrists, requiring a hospitalization that did not go well, by any stretch of the imagination.
At my best, which has been 95% of the past 8-1/2 years, I am an amazing person. I am loving, fun, exuberant, intelligent, exciting, adventurous, active, outgoing, daring, sexual, productive, creative, and probably one of the more unique people you’ll ever meet. I adore the life I’ve curated (yes, curated) for myself, and I am protective of it. I don’t invite people into this life willy-nilly. You have to earn your way into it.
At my worst, which unfortunately has been most of my life since mid-December, when my meds started to be tinkered with without my permission, I am horrible to be around. I am anxious and have outbursts of paranoia and cry a lot. A whole lot. I need to feel loved and cared for and remembered. Sometimes I need other people to do things for me that I don’t remember to do myself, like make sure I eat. Sometimes I fall asleep in the bathroom because I pass out from vomiting all night. Sometimes I can’t wash my hair because it causes me to have a panic attack. Sometimes it hurts to be alive, and I need someone to notice that and to tell me it’s okay, I’m not actually losing my mind.
But when I am at my worst, I am not (as they say in recovery) a bad person who wants to be good. I am a very, very sick person who desperately wants to be well again. I want to be my best again. And the last thing I need is someone berating me because I am not at my best. The last thing I need is someone reminding me that I am not the person I used to be. I damn well know that. But it would be just as easy for me to—snap my fingers, abracadabra!—become that other person again as it would be for me to change into a gorilla by blinking my eyes. In other words, impossible.
I know it isn’t easy. I know it’s scary. I’ve walked in on a man I loved after he’d relapsed and found him naked like a beached whale in his living room, surrounded by empty vodka bottles, and had to help him to the bathroom to vomit, half all over me and half in the toilet. I’ve sat on the other end of the phone line crying while a man I loved screamed at me about how much he hated how I didn’t change my shower curtain more often while he was drunk out of his mind, and I just listened while he said what he needed to say. I’ve lain quietly in bed with men and their limp dicks, understanding that they had physical problems that had nothing to do with me. I’ve stopped riding my bike after only three blocks because the man I loved, riding next to me, could go no farther. I’ve walked more slowly when the man I loved couldn’t walk more quickly.
I’ve done all of these things out of love. It was difficult. It was a long process to learn how to do them without resentment, without realizing it wasn’t about me but about respecting another person’s limitations. I didn’t hold their inability over their heads. I didn’t ever, not even once, act like a martyr for what I’d done for them. Because if you act like a martyr after doing something like that for someone, it cancels out what you’ve done. It defeats the purpose of the gesture.
What hurts is that, when the time came, I got stuck with a person who couldn’t do the same for me, with someone who couldn’t see that I have an illness and instead took everything as a personal attack. Did I do things that were hurtful? Yes. Did I apologize? Profusely. But I’ve been sick, just as sick as if I’d had surgery, or cancer, or something else more or less visible and discrete. I guess I’m sorry I didn’t go ahead and come down with something more definite.
I know the things that ail me at the moment are temporary. I know that one day, soon, I will be back to my normal self, at which point the person who couldn’t handle me at my worst may or may not regret not having access to my world at my best. He may think that it’s not worth the effort of the 5/95 split, but I happen to know that it is. He’s only known my six months. I’ve been with myself for my entire life. (And some of you have been with me for nearly 10 years, so you know how far I’ve come for about 1/4 of my life.) All I can do is push aside people who can’t (or won’t) follow through with their promises and support me when I’m ill, and move on ahead. I told this person that one day he would push me away and I would stay there. I’m pretty sure this is that day, and while I feel foolish that I even went back the first time, and I put myself in a position where I could be made to feel selfish for expecting to be loved and cared for when I was sick and suffering, it’s okay now. He wasn’t good for me. Someone else is out there who will be. The end.