Sunday, January 11, 2015

I Was A Teenage Conservative

Feminist, outspoken, childfree CHALSEE? A teenage conservative, you say? It can't be!


20-year old me on September 6, 2003, on the day I was baptized. In that pool. Let the chlorine wash away your sins and get up your nose. There are sins in there.

Spooky, scary!

Over the past couple years, I've emerged from political apathy and come to accept and embrace the fact that I was no longer the conservative (or increasingly moderate) Christian I saw myself as from about age 12 to age 30. By that I mean I now pay attention to political issues and even voted for the first time in my life, on anything, ever, in 2014. A little embarrassing perhaps seeing as I spent my entire existence up to that point convinced that voting was pointless, ineffective, and therefore futile to engage in, but I guess also a good thing in that I didn't leave a Republican voting record in my wake. Yay?

Unfortunately it took some major personal trauma to shake me out of the bubble of privilege I'd been comfortably occupying up to that point and develop some understanding and empathy for people hailing from different walks of life. But 18 years of trying and failing to live up to whatever gilded Christian ideal I (and others) had set up for myself, in a misguided endeavor to be righteous and pure and a super beacon of holiness or whatever the hell I was going for, was never going to be traded away easily. And as a person who currently tries to advocate for progressive and feminist issues, I try to remember where the other side is coming from, because I can't just pretend I didn't spend a giant chunk of my life in that exact same mental space. And it's a surprisingly difficult cognitive dissonance nightmare sometimes. More on that later.

So how did all of that come about? Becoming a follower of 7 lb 5 oz baby Jesus, and then pulling some big ol' take-backsies. There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Most people guessed I was simply raised in a Christian family. Yeah, no. I wasn't instilled with any particular religious beliefs, or lack thereof, growing up. Was never hauled to church or given a family Bible, purity ring, or chastity belt and accompanying crushing guilt/shame accessory. If anything, going to church was the most rebellious thing I ever did as a child, because my parents didn't really approve, if that gives you an idea of how lame I was. I just decided, somewhere in the mix of bullying and frustration of junior high, that I didn't want to be like the other kids who gave me endless flak for being a natural born "prude", "goody two-shoes", "teacher's pet" and whatever other projections of rage you're subjected to when you excel at school and don't act like a huge asshole to teachers and other authority figures. Yes, I hated kids when I myself was a kid. Being a prude never earned me any popularity points among my peers, but I scored black belt teacher's pet status on the regular. Oh, you thought you were a teacher's pet? Check this action out:

In my junior high health class, we had gone through several teachers, replacement teachers, and replacements for those teachers, because the entire class thought it was hilarious to be intentionally difficult, not follow directions, and harass the teacher to the point of actual tears as much as possible every day. Except for dorklord 14-year old me, of course. And I wasn't spared their wrath either, being called anorexic ten times a day as per usual at that point in my life (when the teacher put on a video about eating disorders, one kid just turned around, stared at me and guffawed), and finding myself laughed at by other girls because I was the only one in the class who didn't bully and make fun of the socially awkward homeschooled kid. "Do you LIKE him?!", they'd ask me incredulously, predictably mistaking my politeness for flirting and just generally being offended by my insufferable niceness. I couldn't possibly tell you why the entire class wasn't given detention or sent to the office and/or directly to hell; my only real goal in junior high health was to talk as little as possible so as not to draw attention to myself. Anyway, I got this cool note from the teacher for basically not being a big fat turd.

So my natural predilection for prudery (I wasn't into underage drinking or getting teen pregnant so any faint hopes of being cool were dashed), combined with my inability to rationalize how the universe could have come from nothing (see: appeal to complexity), made Christianity appealing to my beleaguered child brain. Not only that, but finally, here was a group of people who didn't say I was wrong or weird for not going full raspberry-blowing heathen. In fact, they said it was great to not be a jerk, to not imbibe of the libations or do the sexing. Also, Jesus said to accept everyone, so they pretty much couldn't give me the regular nerd-shun treatment. Ha! Suck on that.

And so began my journey with the Lord, and that is why you see only one set of footprints, for it was then that Jesus went to the beach while I was all up on his shoulders like SPRIIING BREEEAAAK (Amen). But where did it all go wrong? Lots of little things accumulated over time, which weren't enough individually to make Miss Truebeliever stray from the righteous path of righteousness. But treated as a whole, it was the straw that broke the camel's back so it couldn't go through the eye of a needle anymore, as the saying goes (gross).

Like when I attended a girls' youth group in college at the tender age of 18. One of the girls was married, and mentioned this frequently. "Ohhh, you're already maaaaarriiiieeed," the other girls swooned. "You're so luuuuucky." Yes, fresh out of high school she had already checked off the grandest achievement of all for any God-fearing female. Nevermind the fact that younger age at first marriage is consistently correlated with higher divorce rates. The good Lord ordained that thou shalt cleave to thy wife rather than burn in lust, and these ladies had, uh... cleavage on the brain. Even at 18 and in a relationship at the time, everyone's utter awe and marvel at this alleged miraculous feat evoked some subconscious internal eye-rolling.

Then there was my women's Bible study group. For a while I attended a Bible study at some lady's house with several other ladies a couple years into college. I don't remember much about the whole experience other than I fell asleep during our meetings at least once, and one time when everyone was discussing what books they were reading, the host posed this query: "I always forget. Is fiction the one that's NOT true?" Wowee wow wow, and you're the leader of this group? After hearing that I couldn't bring myself to attend women's Bible study at her house ever again. And trust me, the sad reality of a Bible study leader not being able to tell fiction from non-fiction wasn't lost on me.

And who could forget the, oh I don't know, raging homophobia, procreation worship, abortion hatred, proud ignorance of science, utterly fragile sensibilities, and all the other cringe-inducing attitudes I regularly encountered at church and among Christ's loving followers. Even though I hated almost everything about the actual teachings of Christianity for quite some time, all the average believer needed to accept it was "because God said so", like a lazy parent who can't be bothered to answer their kid's 500 questions -- and mostly because they don't even have a good answer; they just want you to act a certain way and shut the hell up about it. After sitting in church and thinking "What on earth am I even doing here?", one day I left and never came back.

Prayer is a truly bizarre concept as well, looking back. Be sure to pray about everything, and the Bible says that God will answer your prayers. Except for when he doesn't, but God works in mysterious ways, or something. And pray by yourself so you don't show off, like Matthew 6:6 tells you. But then act like celebrities and athletes are heroes for thanking God as loudly and publicly as possible for everything they get. Here's a really cool back-and-forth that happened: "I prayed about it, and I think God wants me to do this." "Well I prayed about it, and I think God wants you to do the opposite of that." That shit's enough to make anyone ragequit their religion. In all my years of trying to be a Level 100 Super Christian, I really didn't feel any connection to the divine or feel like any prayers were answered. Which is probably because there wasn't and they weren't. Occam's Razor, you say? No dummy, PRAY HARDER.

But perhaps the most obnoxious issue of all came in the form of something I like to call "out-pruding". Which is when other Christians try to make you feel bad about your current level of prudishness, and suggest that if you were a better Christian you would try way harder to be an even bigger prude. Given that at this time, I never swore, never drank, never smoked or did any drugs whatsoever, and decided I was going to wait until marriage, I thought I had this prude business down. How could you possibly complain about someone who never did anything traditionally considered "naughty", I reasoned? I had checked off every prude column to the nth degree, and nobody but nobody could out-prude me. LOL WRONG!

You see, in the Christian world, I encountered plenty of people who always thought that no matter what you're doing, you're not doing enough. You go to church? You should be tithing more money to the church. You don't do sex things with your boyfriend? You shouldn't even hug your boyfriend in front of other people. Or be in a room alone together. You don't swear, aren't violent, and don't sleep around? You had better not even watch movies with swearing, violence, or sex in them. All of these and more were actual complaints I received from my ever helpful then-boyfriend and his relentlessly judgmental family. Nothing like the endless love of the Lord.

I never dated a Christian again. Which was also in no small part because even self-identifying "Christian" men regularly rolled their eyes at my above-and-beyond prude level. Even among supposed fellow Christians I was the fucking weirdo who couldn't do anything right, apparently.

These days, I have toned down my prudish tendencies. I started swearing so I could sing more songs at karaoke with f-words in them (weeee!), and it felt goddamn amazing. I no longer believe it's even remotely wrong to be living in a "den of iniquity" (lolol) with your partner before marriage. At this point, I don't think legal marriage is even necessary at all. And given all that... I am STILL the biggest freaking prude my age that I know. To this day, I have never consumed alcohol, smoked or done drugs. If I really wanted to endlessly scrutinize others the way I was put under a microscope for all those years, I could sit here feeling super smug about out-pruding everyone around me, appoint myself to the ranks of the Fun Police and tell everyone how wrong they are for watching any movie with a rating higher than PG, having a beer now and then, or smoking some weeds. But I don't, because engaging in various allegedly horrific behaviors I was warned against in hushed tones has not destroyed my life. At all. And it's also none of my business what other people do, unless they specifically request my opinion about something they would like help with.

But I'm sure the problem was that 18 years of being failed by my beliefs wasn't enough. If I had read more Bibley stuff, donated more money to the church so they could spend more time indoctrinating people with outdated, impractical admonitions, or stopped hugging my boyfriend like a brazen hussy, things would've worked out. Pray for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Radical self-care, or how to lose friends and alienate people

2013 was rife with physical and emotional challenges for me. After struggling to manage endometriosis pain, a major violation of trust, and half a year of ensuing depression, I worked to find solutions as best I could, resorting to medical treatment and ultimately surgery to try to prevent the worst kind of pain I'd dealt with up to this point from recurring in the future. During that time I encountered a great deal of psychological and physical trauma, and have found various ways of coping with the resulting anger and pain. In addition to all the usual self-care practices that everyone recommends (good diet, activity, R&R, and confiding in trusted friends), I took to writing for what I felt was a controlled and positive release of my feelings on various subjects. I would also voraciously consume online articles about my depression and its causes, as well as partake in online support forums, often on a daily basis. It's an ongoing process; I was and currently am still hashing out my wants, needs, and boundaries every day.

I realize that while it felt like a positive experience for me, a lot of what I write comes across in a characteristically negative or angry tone, because I've received plenty of feedback stating as much. And it comes across that way because I have what I feel is justified residual anger about those experiences. It sounds angry because it is angry. I haven't tried to disguise it, nor should I feel I have to. Then occasionally I retreat from online interaction on subjects that are important to me, or I don't feel particularly bloggy for weeks on end, because discussing these topics is emotionally exhausting and sometimes I need to step back and regroup. But that doesn't make it any less important or necessary for me to sort through those feelings in writing. I take breaks when I start to feel overwhelmed, which is what self-care is about.

What I feel the need to communicate lately is that the net result of bringing those issues to light was positive for me. I'm not just trying to piss people off with polarizing content, nor do I expect to change the universe. I write and discuss my issues because I personally benefit from it. If other people get something out of it, that is 12 kinds of wonderful, but it's also not my primary goal. When other people tell me I'm being too negative, I would like to emphasize that what you construe as negativity, I believe is healthy skepticism and a compulsion to educate others about the various conditions I've faced. I say "compulsion" rather than "desire" because it won't be ignored. In order to avoid negative situations, I need to ensure my feelings and boundaries are clearly communicated at all times. If that's a little crunchier than some are used to dealing with from me, it's intentional. And again, the overall result has been positive.

Living life suppressing my feelings, internalizing anger, and overlooking slights caused or perpetuated a lot of problems in my life. I suppose I tend to adopt extreme and somewhat cynical scorched earth policies as a direct reaction. But when people say I need to be less negative or keep it all to myself, I must object, because that's exactly how those problems started. When I feel disrespected, slighted, or hurt, I don't sit on it anymore. I advocate for myself and others where possible, and take whatever action is required to resolve the problem immediately. Adopting a cynical attitude may have upset older friends who aren't accustomed to seeing me so outspoken. However, it hasn't pushed everyone away as they suggested it would. Being cynical and skeptical attracts like-minded cynics and skeptics, and repels those who cannot accept a female (or a version of myself) with strong boundaries and unwavering stipulations of mutual respect. This can only be a positive thing for me. So far, the results have accomplished exactly what I set out to do for myself when I decided to engage in radical self-care: my needs no longer go untended, and people who disrespect me are no longer in my life (or even gain a foothold to start with), which was the entire point.

Today I read back through a lot of my writing. Some of it I feel more or less strongly about. My opinions, however harsh and seemingly uncompromising, are evolving and I am always trying to learn more about what is the best way to create an atmosphere of happiness and respect in all of my relationships, while also maintaining my integrity and pursuing my goals. Regardless, I voiced a lot of hard line feelings and personal changes, such as stating that I wasn't dating anymore (for my own reasons, namely to protect myself directly after an extremely trying year). Everything I said at that time was true, and as far as I'm concerned, since all my dating profiles stayed deleted and I never tried or expected to meet anyone for romantic purposes, I stuck with it. I spent the next half a year sorting through my feelings, trying to determine what I was capable of accepting in my life in the way of male companionship.

Ultimately I decided that exactly as long as my boundaries were honored and I felt respected at all times, I could actually manage to accept affection. By raising my standards and refusing to spend time with anyone who insults me, makes me cry, is dishonest, or doesn't improve my life in every way, I accomplished what everyone told me my negativity ensured I couldn't have. I had created a series of walls and hurdles so challenging that all the unsuitables and ne'er-do-wells took a quick once over, muttered "nevermind" and hastily retreated. You would have to be the most patient, caring, genuine and overall impressive dude in the galaxy to make that cut. And why would I want less than that to begin with?

These days, I pay extremely close attention to how I feel about my interactions with friends. Some of my new boundaries have drawn people in, and others felt pushed away or have grown noticeably distant. It's unfortunate but absolutely imperative for my own happiness and health that I continue down this path. I immediately address anything that doesn't feel right and embrace the things that do, even if that meant allegedly contradicting my previous proclamations and dialing back my Nuclear Winter approach to the concept of love and companionship. For the first time in my life, I am more interested in meeting my needs than in what others will think or how it will look. I am engaging in radical self-care and I hope that those in my life who've known me for some time will recognize how much I've grown from it. I've already reaped the benefits in my life and am enjoying them every day. My snark and ragey venting sessions may not sound inviting all the time but every step has been crucial for my progress and I wouldn't take it back. My life is changing these days, often strangely but always positively. Hope you'll still be there when I'm exactly where I want to be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Men, women, cats, and especially non-feminists all need feminism.

Which is worse: a man who states outright he is not a feminist, as if not supporting women's rights is just another viable opinion like enjoying sports, or a man who lies about being a feminist in a pathetically transparent attempt to score points with womenfolk?

Trick question! You're both trash and you go in the fucking trash can.

And as for the women who smugly assert they "don't need feminism". Brava, ladies. Way to use that freedom of speech that you now get to take for granted because of the hard-won efforts of your ancestors and use it to collectively shit on all your sisters still suffering from human rights violations worldwide. Victims of rape and domestic violence (and yes, women are disproportionately more often on the receiving end of this type of violence), child brides, women cut off from needed reproductive health care, women who aren't allowed to go out in public or drive a car unaccompanied, women being paid 77 cents on the dollar -- they all need feminism. Even if you just so happen to be extravagantly privileged enough to think you specifically don't, they do. "Women Against Feminism"? Could there be a more self-undermining philosophy? I mean besides taking back some jerk after he dumps you.

It's 2014. Just being kind of racist isn't an option. Just not liking LGBT people isn't an option. And just not giving a damn about an entire gender unless they're subservient supermodels bringing you your slippers and a brandy isn't an option.

"But I do give a damn! I just don't like the word feminism." Or insert other generic male auto-response here. I guarantee every objection you have to feminism has been asked and answered. 1000 times (probably in the last 10 minutes alone by increasingly frustrated women on Facebook who shouldn't have to spend their time regurgitating readily available information). The answers are out there if one would care to avail themselves of The Google. So essentially, there is no excuse. Cool, glad we've got that out of the way then.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The three biggest lies about love we need to stop spreading and believing

Everyone and their mom has a theory about what love looks like and how one should go about acquiring it. Especially their mom, because "you're not getting any younger and what about that nice boy at the farmer's market? I could totally set you up." Unfortunately, the majority of what passes for "wisdom" on love strikes me as irresponsible, incredibly harmful and counterproductive. You'll probably recognize these because most of us have heard them (or maybe helped spread them around) at some point in our lives. I've had wave after wave of the following useless rhetoric crash over me in the wake of every breakup or extended stint of singleness I've ever had. But breaking down what these suggestions are really saying reveals they simply do not hold up and actually prolong people's suffering instead of ending it. Following this advice has never brought me anywhere I wanted to be. Doing the exact opposite of these recommendations and throwing out everything I'd been told about romantic endeavors was the only thing that actually helped me.

Also, because misinterpreting my writing as a series of misandrist manifestos appears to be some people's favorite pastimes, let me clarify that this is not an anti-dating, anti-men, or anti-love post in any way, shape, or form. The only thing I'm actually railing against is the kind of needless pain that these widely accepted yet wholly misguided dating practices encourage. If healthy, fulfilling, and lasting love is possible, it won't be found by adhering to any of these hippy-dippy principles.

1. Love hurts. Love is a struggle. Love is endless pain, fighting, and sacrifice, and if you give up or walk away when the going gets rough, you're just a quitter and that's why you don't have someone.


For many people, love (and for many of those, parenting) is the primary focus, goal, and sign of success in life. However, a disturbing amount of those people treat both love and parenting as opportunities to go through life as a martyr. I'm sure we all know that person who talks about their significant other or their children with phrases like this:

"Look at how much I've given up for you."
"The more I suffer, the more it shows I really care."
"It's whatever they want that matters. It's not all about ME."
"I'll take them back no matter how much they make me cry, because that's what love is."
"Everybody breaks up and makes up. If they keep coming back it means they truly love me."

See that? See how they try to make martyrdom and endless (deliberate and chosen) sacrifice actually sound preferable to having relationships that are just stable, happy and mutually fulfilling? Or project their own crappy experience onto the universe and pretend that's what everyone does (as if that makes it OK)? Why would anyone do such a thing or continue accepting that kind of misery in their lives?

Several reasons, more than likely. It makes them feel important and wanted, because they believe that bad attention is better than no attention. They think it makes them look noble and long-suffering, like champions of forgiveness. They might be a narcissist and get off on making people feel guilty by showcasing how much they've gone through or given up for that person. Maybe they've invested many years with this individual and feel like it's too late to back out now (sunk cost fallacy gets its hooks in everyone at some point). Or they mistakenly believe that constant, long-term acceptance of pain and mistreatment is what loyalty looks like. And they've bought into the lie that their own single precious life is about everyone else on the planet except them.

I'm not going to assert that every close relationship should be free of disagreements or occasional issues. Even the most compatible couple in the world won't see eye to eye on 100% of situations all the time. But I will absolutely, unequivocally posit that this ridiculous notion that love is an endless parade of pain and melodrama is exactly why people return to and remain in abusive, lackluster, and miserable relationships longer than they should (which, ideally, is not at all). People come forward suffering and hurting, and here's Facebook ready with a giant stamp of approval. "Good work. If it hurts, you're exactly where you should be. After all, love is pain and sacrifice. OBEY MY DOG!"

I also refuse to accept that any relationship is worth crying over. "That's totally unrealistic!" Maybe with that attitude. Believe what you will, but tolerating horrible treatment from men who made me cry and were careless with my feelings didn't do me any favors. It didn't demonstrate my commitment or make them want to treat me better; it only let them know they could take me for granted and I'd just sit there and take it. I have nothing to show for it but anger and regret. My life only started getting better the moment I decided I would not waste another second of my time with any man who tries to normalize or justify the pain they inflicted.

People who are hurting shouldn't be shamed for making their health and happiness a priority and walking away from someone who constantly hurts them, nor do they need to be applauded for going back to the same jerkass who made them feel like garbage and dumped them a couple weeks ago. Facebook has a tendency to award +500 likes and a million congrats to every relationship merger, and respond with wailing and gnashing of teeth whenever one is torn asunder, no matter what the circumstances. Pay attention to what's really happening and don't blindly support or decry either of these events unless it's truly in that person's best interest and they're not just jumping back on the bullshit carousel. As Trent Shelton says, "Love doesn't hurt. It heals."

"But she was drunk!" "But he's changed!" Nah, not buying it. It doesn't matter if "they didn't do it on purpose". It doesn't matter if "they're the best I've ever had". That's not good enough. The bottom line is that they allowed you to be extremely hurt, and if you're still being hurt on a regular basis, that person does not know how to love you (and if it were me they'd be gone the first time because I have a zero tolerance policy on this shit anymore).

They may say those words and they may even genuinely mean them. But they don't know what it means to treat someone with respect and guard their feelings. Love doesn't hit you, ignore your feelings, yell at you, deceive you, cheat on you, manipulate you into doing things you don't want to do, take you for granted, and it sure as hell does not break up with you for being who you are and always were. People who love you should hurt you the least, not the most. Otherwise, what's the point? Do you really believe you were put on this planet to spend your life miserable so someone else can be happy? And if they're so happy, why are they still making you feel terrible all the time? Saying "love is pain" is just a cover-up lie we delude ourselves with to make a lousy relationship easier to cope with.

Lana Del Rey cops to receiving this backwards advice herself, and has a sound response for readers in this interview with Complex. Love is supposed to improve your life and make it more enjoyable. It's not supposed to feel like work, or worse yet, some deranged war of attrition where the goal is to be the biggest loser who's sacrificed the most, hurt the most, overlooked the most. Sure, a lot of people live their life that way. I can only assume they've never known any better and honestly believe this is just how relationships work. And some people will go their entire lives never meeting someone who knows how to treat them with respect, truthfulness and dignity. That doesn't mean it's better than nothing. Which leads me to the next BS bullet point that won't die...

2. Settling for something is better than dying alone.

This is a real book. Do you feel inspired yet?

I almost can't believe that people really recommend this, but they apparently write entire self-help books advocating that people stop holding out for what they really want, and it's not like I haven't been on the receiving end of this utterly deflating poop nugget of wisdom myself.

I say deflating because when people said "stop being so picky", all I heard is "you're not as great as you think you are and you can't attract your actual ideal man." Well then. With this vote of confidence I will boldly march forth into the dating world, apologize for being so terribly insufficient, and fawn over the pathetic scraps thrown my way since it's all I deserve.

But some people really are too picky, I hear you protesting in italicized print. Well, of course they are. Not denying that. There are endless hordes of people who have no realistic concept whatsoever of what they bring to the table and what they could reasonably expect of a mate that wasn't ordered from a love pillow or RealDoll catalog. See: Nice Guys®, delusional optimists, and this classic neckbeard staple of the internet:

Now, let it be known that I spent the vast majority of my life with extremely low self-esteem. I thought I was physically unattractive and too much of a quirky eccentric to attract much of anyone because that's what I was told by the opposite sex; as such I thought I should be grateful for just about any attention I got. In the past few years I've made significant progress in improving the way I see myself by making positive steps to change the things that made me insecure, and be proud of the quirks that define who I am. Because of taking those steps, I can look in the mirror and finally say that I am truly happy with who I am, not the fake-happy I told myself I was when someone would take a shot at my looks or my lifestyle (when really I let it get to me and made me feel excluded and unwanted).

HAVING SAID THAT. Not once did I ever say, "I demand a millionaire supermodel astrophysicist and nothing less will do," which is definitely over-reaching. Not once did I even suggest, "I want someone who'll pay for everything all the time so I never have to work again," which some women actually pursue without a hint of irony. All I ever dared to request was that I wanted someone who was my equal. I felt it was entirely fair and within reason to only ask for things that I myself could bring to the table: sense of humor, financial solvency, and other qualities that others have recognized in me so I'm relatively sure they're not a figment of my imagination. Yet time and time again I was woefully informed that this was just way too much to ask. They would occasionally try to temper this revelation by saying that the problem was just that I'm clearly so awesome that there was just no one out there who could get on my level and actually meet my expectations. But the intended takeaway was the same: lower your standards or die alone, sweetheart. Up to you.

It is not productive to tell someone to settle for less than they're worth. It is not helpful or encouraging to say "You're SO fantastic. You're the absolute best. That's why I think you should end up with some schlub who isn't what you had in mind at all." By definition, you cannot be passionate about anything you settled for. You cannot feel genuinely fulfilled by it. Yeah, it might satisfy some temporary emotional or physical need, act as a stopgap relationship to fend off your nosy relatives, and give you a warm body to binge watch Orange Is The New Black with on Netflix. But every second you waste with someone you know you're settling for is a second you aren't spending being available and open to someone who actually possesses the qualities you'd go crazy for if you ever gave yourself a chance to find them.

And before anyone accuses me of thinking I'm above settling, I'm not. It's what I did my entire life from 1982-2013. That's a lot of goddamn settling. And the reason my life played out like a giant game of Settlers of Catan was that other people, or myself, kept telling me I wasn't good enough. And I believed it. You're too ugly, too skinny, too nerdy, too opinionated, too intimidating, too feminist, too prudish, too nontraditional, too whatever-the-fuck. Why would I believe I was worthy of passionate and meaningful love, or believe that it was even possible, with all that noise coming at me at the speed of bullshit? Talk about setting someone up to fail.

If someone wants a great relationship, can't find one, and you genuinely think they're a wonderful person deserving of love who has plenty to offer, just say that. Stop there. Don't tell them they're being picky by expecting someone exactly as great as they are. Don't add credence to this deranged cult of settling, motivated by some paranoid fear of loneliness or not passing on one's genes. There are fates much worse than dying alone. Like explaining to your kids one day that you ended up with their father because you read a book called "Settling For Mr. Good Enough".


3. You have to keep looking, put yourself out there, and never give up on finding someone.

Fun fact I'm gonna let you in on. You don't have to do anything. You can give up on whatever you want, for as long or as short as you want. Lord knows I did! And it was spectacular!

In the middle of last year, I decided I was done trying to date anymore. All dating profiles were taken down. Any man who requested my number or asked to take me out was flatly rejected. When my friends asked to set me up with their friends, they were met with a resounding "no thanks". Then when my friends said I can't give up on trying to find someone, I was puzzled and rather bemused, as I clearly had already done that. This was not a pending decision. Are you suggesting I'm a Timelord?

And this is the part where you might think I'm going to try to pawn off that other sad chestnut: "IT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP LOOKING." I'm not going to patronize anyone with that crap. Maybe it will. Usually it doesn't. Fact is, there are simply no guarantees in life and they're just saying that to get your hopes up, because spreading false hope is a thing some people think needs to happen. People said that to me when I became single at age 23, and that was followed by a seven year single streak. Seven YEARS. I stopped looking for a dog's age and absolutely nothing of lasting romantic import happened at all. Staying single even after you stop looking is a definite possibility and there's nothing wrong with that.

The cool thing for me was this time around when I stopped trying, something better than I've ever known came to me anyway. So everyone who told me I could never give up on dating or that I needed to go out of my way to try to find someone was wrong. And I'm glad it happened that way. I always hated singles mixers and set-up dates anyway. It all felt so contrived. Everyone knew the pretense and there was nothing happenstance or organic about it, really. "What brings you here?" "Oh, just wondering if you're someone I'd like to have relations with. And you?" "The same! Imagine that."

What I did by refusing to participate in the shitty dating world I've grown so wearily familiar with was doing what was right for me. I didn't want to wake up every morning to another slew of misspelled love (or hate) letters from trolls and illiterates on OKCupid. I didn't want to feel like it was my duty to go out every night and advertise myself to men whose approval I couldn't care less about at that point in my life. And the more people told me I was wrong or tried to change my mind, the more I dug in my heels and reveled in my freedom and self-determination. Dating was a non-issue to me and I ignored it for as long as worked for me. It's what made me the most comfortable based on my emotional and psychological needs at that point and I don't regret it in the slightest.

The reality is that my self-imposed dating exile filtered out any guys presenting themselves as "friends" who really only wanted to see what they could get out of me with the usual minimal effort (spoiler alert: nothing). The only guys who stuck around in my life were those who could handle a woman being intentionally single (horror of horrors!) for her own purposes and for as long as she felt it served those purposes. The not so great friends called me a manhater and lambasted me for not being flattered by shitty, unwanted male advances. The real friends stood by me and let me know they enjoyed my company even if there wasn't something else in it for them (be it validation of their own relationship, or any potential datey-stuff with me). Either way I made myself exactly as vulnerable as I wanted to (not very) and learned exactly what I needed to know about all of my male friends.


I'm not saying there is a universal formula that will work for everyone. And I'm sure there are plenty of couples out there who would love nothing more than to fling a pitchfork through my blackened heart for suggesting their relationship sucks because they make each other cry sometimes. Hey, if that's what you want, only you can choose to accept it. No one can tell you if you're happy or if it's worth it. We all have to decide for ourselves if that's a worthwhile use of our time. All I know after many years of buying into the crappy love lies I've dissected here is it's not for me and it's not what I'd want for anyone I care about. And after all, love is all you need. Just kidding, that's stupid. You need money and cats, yes, but love is optional. No one needs love just to exist, but whatever you choose to accept and define as love, I hope it's at least something that brings more good to your life than bad.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

4 effortless ways to save money doing things you already do

When it comes to cash money, there are a couple things I happen to really enjoy doing:

a) Saving money on things I was going to buy anyway without actually changing anything I do.
b) Generating passive income.

So here are a few nice "set it and forget it", virtually effortless ideas I've come across to accomplish exactly that.

1. Allstate Drivewise
In order to try the Drivewise program, you obviously have to be going through Allstate as your insurance provider. I wouldn't say it's necessarily worth switching to Allstate just for Drivewise (I was already with Allstate because I get discounts for bundling my homeowners and car insurance), but if you do happen to be with them already or are insurance-hunting at the moment, Drivewise is worth considering.

The idea behind Drivewise is that it rewards you for being what Allstate defines as a safe driver. When you sign up for the program, they send you a free device which plugs into your car's On-Board Diagnostics port (OBD-II) and monitors your speed and braking, which you can then review in your live report online. If that sounds too Big Brother-esque to you, worry not because you cannot be punished or have your premiums increased because of your activity recorded by Drivewise, no matter how you drive; it can only help you if you abide by the program's four interesting limitations.

In essence, they want you to:

- Not drive over 80 MPH (easy as long as you don't drive like you're playing Mario Kart)
- Not have "hard" or "extreme" braking events (slightly more difficult due to unavoidable braking events such as suicidal animals darting out in front of you, so this factor is not weighted as much into your final discount. Also harder to determine what Drivewise arbitrarily considers to be "hard" vs. "extreme". Did you push that brake? Or push it real good? Only your doctor knows for sure.)
- Not drive during "higher risk" times of day (very hard to do because they define 12 PM - 11 PM weekdays as "moderate risk", and 11 PM - 4 AM weekdays + 11 PM - 5 AM weekends as "high risk". So basically if you have a job and/or a social life, then as the Canadians say, you're hooped)
- Not accumulate much mileage in general (also very hard to do, as this is the most heavily weighted factor in your Drivewise discount, and unless you deliberately stop driving your car when you need to and cut out all pleasure cruises, this will be downright impossible. I have a 5 minute commute to work, never go on pointless drives, and still have a "C" grade for mileage. I knew you never loved me, Allstate, because you're not my real dad!)

Here are some screenshots of my Drivewise report so you can see how great I am at driving below Mach 3, but doing plenty of it. Despite kicking ass at the only factors I can truly control without quitting my job and living in a van down by the river (speed and braking), Drivewise is highly displeased and currently calculates my discount at a meager 4%. However, this is just a predicted rate; I could change the final discount rate if I improve my "lacking" areas before my next policy period.

Despite my above griping, saving some money is preferable to saving no money, and is better than a kick in the head. If you already have low mileage or don't drive during the busiest hours, you apparently can save up to 30% by maxing out all four factors. Drive wise, indeed.

2. PSE HomePrint
This is another somewhat exclusive option which is only available if you live in an area serviced by Puget Sound Energy in Washington state. I happen to live in Thurston county, noticed the advert for HomePrint in one of my PSE mailings, and noted its appealing qualities as one of those rare, actual "get something for nothing" opportunities that generally don't happen in life.

HomePrint is a free assessment service provided by PSE. They send a contractor to your house who evaluates your home, identifies potential money-saving areas or problems, generates an online report with all the results... oh and they give you up to 20 high-efficiency LED light bulbs, 1-2 high performance showerheads, and depending on whether the offer is available, you can get up to 10 CFL bulbs for indoor/outdoor use as well. As I always say, "free" is a price point that works for me as a consumer.

When I had the contractor come by, it was near the end of his schedule for the day so he didn't have as many bulbs available. However, I did get several efficient LED light bulbs out of the deal (received and installed), as well as a free showerhead (which you need to install yourself, but I'm sorry did I mention that it's FWEEEEE?). He had some interesting tidbits for me, such as pointing out that my cloudy gas fireplace cover probably was overdue to be professionally cleaned, and letting me know I could save money by turning off the gas for the summer. They make contractor referrals if you're interested and tell you about Energy Star appliances you can get but aren't pushy about it.

Here's a screenshot of the online report, indicating my overall energy efficiency compared to others in my neighborhood, and including a summary of PSE's recommendations for additional ways I can save on my energy bill. TUBULAR.

3. Mint free credit score check
So I use Mint regularly and have sung its praises before. From what I've seen, it lives up to its claim as the best free budgeting web app out there. And today I noticed that they launched a new feature that caught my eye: a free credit score check. According to Mint, it costs nothing and does not count as a credit inquiry or affect your score in any way. They also have options for a paid credit monitoring service, but the score check is free and should remain that way in the future. By inputting my name, address, and secure SSN information, I got immediate sexy results. Not only that, but it will update for me again automatically for the same low price of zero dollars on 11/25/2014. Nice. (Below is a partial screenshot of my results)

The credit score results also included some brief but important details about how the score is calculated and makes suggestions for how you can improve each of these aspects, which is a nice credit 101 intro or refresher for anyone who might be wondering. Namely, they highlight that your score is derived from:

- Credit card usage (high impact)
- Payment history (high impact)
- Age of credit (medium impact)
- Total accounts (low impact)
- Credit inquiries (low impact)
- Derogatory marks (high impact)

Being aware of and actively managing the various components that comprise your credit score is important for getting the best rates on major purchases and thereby saving money. And since this credit check and a account are free, you have nothing to lose by finding out where you stand. Except your mortal soul!

4. Wells Fargo rewards
There are a lot of credit cards with rewards programs out there. Currently all three of my credit cards have such a program. My CitiBank card earns points which are not directly redeemable for cash and therefore is trash which should be thrown in the trash can where trash belongs. My Bank of America card accumulates something called "WorldPoints" with every single purchase, which can indeed be exchanged for cash. However, the points don't reach their full value for cash redemption until you go over a certain very high threshold, which in my experience was roughly in the ballpark of freaking eternity. In the past I might get $50-100 after years on end of saving points, and then have to wait several days or weeks for the money to appear in my account.

So far, my Wells Fargo rewards program is the best of the bunch. My WF credit card also earns points with every purchase. However, unlike BoA, the points instantly have their full value regardless of how many points I've earned. I can also set it to auto-redeem for $25 cash rewards, which is deposited quickly into my checking account. So far, just making my normal purchases and living life like a boss (I always buy all my groceries, gas, and everything else I can via my card, and then just immediately pay it off to earn points), I've earned a $25 cash reward about every other month.

I switched to Wells Fargo and started using the credit card on 11/4/2013. According to my Wells Fargo Rewards online summary, in the roughly 10 months since then I've earned five $25 cash rewards. So $125 for essentially nothing I wasn't doing already. If there's a better rewards program out there I'd love to hear about it, but since I care about cash redemption (not travel miles or discounts off online mall purchases), I've yet to see better rates or quicker turnaround for that purpose.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The magical thing that happens when you say how you really feel all the time

This year I've become a lot more open in sharing my opinions on topics I felt were not only important to me, but should have been relatively non-controversial in the year 20-freaking-14. You know.... racism, rape, serial killing, CF-shaming, and other such archaic practices that no sane person would seriously endeavor to defend. You would think. And you would be wrong.

I noticed a big difference in the way people treat me when I speak out against terrible, inhumane, discriminatory, and outdated practices. Which is to say, I've found out who they really are and how much (or little) they actually care about my comfort level and feelings. Valuable information and hard to come by, so allow me to share these highly effective techniques.

Saying that Elliot Rodger (the serial killer who wrote an entire damn manifesto about how much he hated women) hated women earned me the coveted title of "bitch". Which I'm pretty sure qualifies as irony upon irony. Ironyception!

Saying that Donald Sterling was a racist who deserved to be punished for his horrific statements about the Clippers and people of color in general (and pointing out the bothersome indisputable fact that the NBA was well within their legal rights to do so because they are a private organization, not a court of law) apparently made me "immature" and was indicative of my sad, pathetic need to "get the last word". I mean, my refusal to let a racist off the hook because he's a rich white man was disturbing enough, but this trend of inexplicably upsetting others with factual statements continues unabated as well. CAN I EVER BE STOPPED?

Saying that I did not wish to be hit on by a man who was in my home strictly because I needed a business service meant that I deserve scorn and ridicule heaped all over me for daring not to be flattered by the unwanted, unprofessional advances of someone abusing their chosen line of employment to hit on women inside their own homes. After all, a man's home is his castle, but a woman's home is just another place where she should expect to field wonky come ons from strangers all the time, be grateful for their untoward advances, and be told how to feel by people on Facebook who don't pay rent there.

Saying that I disagree with the notion that a man should not do anything to change himself but a woman should always suppress anything she does or says that offends his delicate sensibilities allowed me to be enlightened to the revelation that my radical feminist views (lol) would not attract anyone but effeminate sissy men. I guess they're right though. Any man who isn't constantly telling women what to do and how to feel is clearly surrendering his masculinity and definitely not suffering from painfully obvious insecurity and control issues. If there's anything that demonstrates a man's confidence in himself, it's when he deliberately arranges his entire life so that no one is allowed to defy him.

Saying that Marilyn Monroe was a prostitute, in that she accepted money for sex and is another of those obnoxious factual statements, revealed the little known fact that somehow I am a "slut-shamer" (even though it was the man in the thread who called Marilyn Monroe a "whore", but I was a woman making factual statements and was therefore in dire need of correction). That's right, everyone: it's possible to be both a crazy, manhating, radical feminist AND an out-of-touch, woman-hating slut-shamer at the same time. Jealous much? I don't know how I pull off this balancing act so well, honestly, but when you're this big of a bitch and so super wrong and uneducated about women's issues, I guess it comes naturally.

Saying that I was not trying to date anymore, didn't want to get legally married and was not on the prowl for a S.O. like everyone else I know constantly trolling for tail and not bothering to come to my birthday if there weren't going to be any "hot single chicks" in attendance was a huge indication that I must be a manhater. In fact, it was so obvious that I had to be reminded of my clinically diagnosed misandry numerous times by several different people, just in case I forgot how much I hate all men ever, especially all my male friends that I've enjoyed spending time with for years, my beloved male family members who I must have forgotten were in possession of a dreaded X and Y chromosome, and definitely the man who ended up becoming my best friend and showing me that I was capable of caring about someone again even when I genuinely believed I couldn't, because he was and is the only man I've ever met in my life who doesn't tell me what to do or try to change my mind about how I feel. I think I hate him most of all ♥

So there it is. Look at how much I've learned!

Sound tragic? Not really. The fallout of these ridiculous exchanges is as follows:

- I found out which among my friends are actually emotionally safe to talk to about events in my life that made me uncomfortable, such as rape culture and street harassment, and who reacts with victim-blaming, #notAllMen, and overall dismissal of my experiences, as though my reactions are not warranted and my experiences are invalid because they are men and #notAllMen, QED.
- I don't have to waste my time sharing such experiences with people who do not respect my feelings.
- I deleted and/or blocked about 20 people who contributed nothing positive to my life, inserted misogynist diatribes into discussions, and were incapable of rational, civil discussion. I don't miss them at all and have realized how much easier life is when I refuse to engage people who are caught in a 1950s timewarp.
- I have found and strengthened bonds between friends who just freaking get it and understand that racists, misogynists, and rabid pronatalists are on the wrong side of history.
- I spoke my mind and nobody died.
- Deal with it.

It's been an educational year, to say the least. And I expect to learn so much more. I learned a lot every time some "friend" quietly deleted me whenever I'd speak out against rape culture or society's animosity toward CF people. I learned even more from all the crybaby boys who threw hissy fits because I said women are human beings or racism is wrong, and told me I would never be wanted by "real men" like them, as if I ever could bear the thought of attracting attention from such cretins in the first place. Thanks for the lesson in true friendship, my dears. I'll keep on revealing how I truly feel and I'm sure the rest of the world will reveal itself in kind.

If you can handle all this jelly, that is.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

As a childfree woman with endometriosis, it is my sincerely held belief that Hobby Lobby can toss off

I've spent the past couple days fuming in response to the utterly unconscionable SCOTUS decision to allow Hobby Lobby and other such businesses to arbitrarily deny coverage of certain forms of birth control to women, because a corporation can apparently have personal religious beliefs now and I guess that somehow precludes a woman's right to medical treatment and reproductive health. Then I got to endure my own friends sharing ignorant memes on FB and defending this ass backwards medieval bullshit, and have struggled with if or how to address it in my own words and whether that would even be a worthwhile endeavor.

Even though there's been plenty in the way of stunningly kickass responses to this unfathomably stupid event, I concluded that given my own personal history, my contribution to the backlash on this topic might have some value. For those who don't know, I have endometriosis, a chronically painful condition occurring in about 6-10% of the female population. I was a late bloomer so my life wasn't affected until I was 16, and since I had nothing but my own experience to compare my pain to, I assumed that the horrific gut-wrenching agony I experienced must be the monthly cramps I'd been warned about in health class.

Most people I've spoken to about my condition didn't know what it entailed or had never even heard of it before. As such, I feel like it's important to spell out for the world at large what my life looked like for 15 years, and what exactly people are writing off when they say women with endo and their need for prescription birth control don't matter.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in high school and college writhing on the ground in complete misery a few days out of the month. Back then I believed in G-d; I didn't pray often or really ask for anything as I felt it was silly to pray for a good grade or for some guy to like me or whatever people generally seek divine assistance with. But as my body was doubled over and contorted in debilitating pain for hours, in my despair I begged for G-d to take it away. He did not.

I can remember a few occasions where I woke up laying on the floor after passing out from pain. One of those times was in the ladies' room in my freshman dorm as I was either waiting for or returning from the showers. I stared at the ceiling, realized where I was, felt extremely embarrassed and hoped no one saw me collapsed and sprawled all over the tile. Either they didn't or they ignored me as I was unconscious.

While the intensity of my endo cramps seemed to lessen as the years went on, it still regularly caused me to back out of events, waste leave and miss work, leaving me confined to my bed even with the assistance of painkillers. I also found myself throwing up from the pain as recently as 2012.

The unpredictability and uncontrollable intensity of my pain and symptoms made it extremely difficult to manage. And to make matters worse, the first time I was prescribed birth control pills as a medical treatment at the age of 18, I didn't take them. The stigma surrounding the appearance of birth control pills, as well as my self-appointed religious inclinations at that point in my life, deterred me from even trying hormonal management of my condition, because I didn't want to be seen as some bad girl. After all, I could always suffer in silence instead of tarnishing my prudish reputation, pure as the driven snow, by taking birth control pills, which as we all know are always for controlling birth (as if there's anything wrong with that), even when you're not sexually active and are suffering from a related medical condition.

In 2007, one day I suddenly could no longer walk because of my cramps, threw up at work, collapsed on the floor and had to be taken to the hospital via ambulance. It was then that I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis. At that time I also had to have laparoscopic surgery to remove one of the ovarian cysts that frequently co-occurs with endo. Here's a fond memory of that ordeal, taken at home a couple days after the surgery:

Despite suffering from a diagnosed condition that I had no control over, the bills rolled in. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford the co-pays, prescription pain medications, ambulance cost, and birth control pills (for the short time I took BC pills in a mostly fruitless attempt to manage my pain). Not everyone can afford these things out of pocket or has access to them through their health care coverage like I did. And whether someone suffers from endo, PCOS, or any other number of conditions which frequently necessitate the use of hormonal BC pills to regulate pain, the bottom line is that no female -- adult or not, employed or not, or aligned with her employer's religious views or not -- should be denied access to whatever form of birth control and/or reproductive service she wants for whatever reason she deems fit.

I don't have to justify not wanting children to anyone.

I don't have to justify not wanting to be in horrific pain, or wanting the option to discover which reproductive services work best for me, to anyone.

Women who aren't ready to have children, or are done having them, do not have to justify this decision to anyone.

Reproductive health takes precedence over you and your company's religious views. Always.

Both men and women should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their health and fertility, which is between them and their doctor alone.

I am absolutely incensed, outraged and disgusted that anyone would have the audacity to suggest that their ancient holy book of choice has anything to do with my real medical condition, and my real decision not to let anyone tell me what to do with my internal organs ever again.

If you are a female or know one and are still inexplicably defending Hobby Lobby, I suggest you educate yourself about the far-reaching medical implications this decision could have on millions of women who depend on various birth control methods as medical treatment and/or to prevent unwanted pregnancies. A reasonable person would not be opposed to these things. And if you're not a reasonable person and are so devoid of empathy and compassion that you feel nothing for women like myself who have been punished first by my own body and second by a society that told me I was selfish and wrong for not wanting children, you have no business weighing in on the subject.