In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend, Harold. It’s a little hard to explain Harold to the uninitiated. I guess technically he was a colleague of mine - I met him in my work on the opioid crisis. But in the year and a half we worked together, Harold became one of my dearest friends. We talked every day. Sometimes several times a day. And when he got sick, I took care of him (as much as he’d let me, anyway). Our friendship was precious and sacred to me, and I guarded it jealously - I didn’t want to share it with anyone else in the world. In retrospect, our friendship was probably one of the greatest romances of my life, although we were never romantic.
(It’s hard to explain the romance of non-romantic love, isn’t it? It makes me sad that there’s no socially acceptable way to express those feelings, even to the people we share them with. But that is a different blog post for a different day . . .)
Harold would say the same things about me. Harold loved me. That I believe Harold loved me made him a very special man. I struggle to believe that people care about me, but Harold beat me over the head with it until it sunk in. I’m noticing that people in my life like to explain me as tough and independent . . . and maybe I can be. But Harold knew that I am also quite sensitive, and that I need a lot of encouragement and tenderness to feel accepted. He was gentle with me, and generous with his encouragement. He would joke with me, but he didn’t pick at me like people tend to do. I felt safe around him, and I knew he’d always be there for me.
Which may be why this I have a distinct memory this conversation - why it stands out so much in my mind. I remember that I called Harold one night about a year ago for guidance on a man problem. We chatted for a while, and then this:
Harold: You know Kelly, you are a lot. Sometimes too much. Men don’t like women who are too much.
Hearing this from Harold cut me deeply. It hurt so badly. Still does. What did he mean? Was Harold saying he doesn’t like me? Was he saying I’d be alone for the rest of my life? Normally, I’d make a snarky remark or a joke. But I was tired, and I was particularly comfortable with Harold. So I had a moment of honesty.
Me: I know, Harold. I don’t want to be too much. I’d really like men to like me. What do you think I should do? Should I be less?
Harold paused. A long pause. And then he chuckled. You could hear his grin through the phone.
Harold: Naw. Give him hell, Kelly. Give ‘em all hell.
It stuck, and it’s a story I like to tell on Harold. It keeps coming up, over and over again. See, I live in a world of conflicting messages. On one hand, I should be authentic. I should lean in. I should play hard. I should GO BIG OR GO HOME, KELLY! But when I do that, I’m a lot. Too much, even. I’m hard to manage. I’m not nice. People don’t like me - even worse, MEN don’t like me. Men don’t like women who are too much.
I don’t know what to do with all that. I know it’s super uncool to say these days, but I want people to like me. I’ve been judged and rejected so many times in the past 21 years - I don’t like that feeling. I don’t want to be unlovable. I don’t want to be alone. I honestly would really like it if men liked me - especially good looking ones who are funny!!! I would like to have relationships (romantic and otherwise) with people who think I’m just right.
I don’t want to be too much. But I also want to be myself. And it seems that my self is a lot. I just want to be myself and have somebody think it’s okay. Shit, I’m not really sure if I think it’s okay! If I’m honest, some days my self is too much for me!
When I can remove myself from the noise around me, I am fine. I know who I am. But the noise can be so loud, and my desire to be loved and accepted is real. I get pulled every which way, and it hurts. I go on dates and wonder how honest I can be, I write and erase text messages wondering if my friends think I’m needy or annoying, I avoid asking questions in conversations because I don’t want to seem intrusive, and I literally chew holes on the insides of my mouth in meetings because I’m not sure if I can say the thing out loud. DEAR LORD WHAT IS THE POINT OF A MEETING IF PEOPLE AREN’T SAYING THE ACTUAL THINGS OUT LOUD?!
Then I think about Harold . . .
Give ‘em all hell, Kelly.
Was he on to something? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with it. The trying not to give hell isn’t working. Would giving hell work better? I’m not sure how it gets resolved inside of me, or out there in the world. It sure is a lot.