I was seven years old playing with my cousin, Claire, on the dock with the boats and the night sky over the harbor.
We were playing chase with our laughter consuming and the smell of sea salt in the air. Our parents and family just inside enjoying drinks and the celebration of the winter holidays. I'll always remember this particular game of chase, not because we found danger or got hurt, but because of how I looked to others watching. Chasing Claire, I was taking large strides to catch her. As I almost touched victory, the slippery dock intercepted my play and I fell backwards landing on the hard wooden slats. A man cleaning his boat had been watching us play and just as I fell I remember him shouting at me,
"Hey kids come on, don't be stupid. Be careful."
I distinctly remember jumping right back to my feet, glaring at him for calling me stupid and began sprinting away just to prove that I was fully capable of keeping myself out of danger. As I defiantly ran away I remember him yelling,
"Dumb kids, you never learn."
I knew he was right but I didn't appreciate the way he spoke to me. Even to this day I still remember him and think about how he just wanted me to be safe. Yet I still despise how he felt it was necessary to speak to me with such a lack of respect. The only other thing I remember from that night was that I never fell twice.
How is it that the words that are spoken to us as children can make such an impact on us as adults?
Fast forward twenty-five years later, I found myself sitting with my close friends at a restaurant waterfront to the same dock that kept Claire and I entertained as children. At dinner, I sat next to my friend Emily and as everyone talked, shared stories and laughed, Emily and I couldn't help but continue our side conversation throughout. I met Emily about a year ago through my co-worker, Jaimie, and throughout this year the three of us have become close friends. The more I get to know Emily the more I'm beginning to think that she and I are the same person. Once music majors in college who played in a band - then moved to live in Paris for a year - then deciding to reside in Southern California for work - our lives are so identical. Sitting next to her at dinner and hearing her explain the struggles she encounters within her romantic relationships I was, yet again, baffled at our similarities. My biggest bewilderment came from the fact that she admitted how she feels comfortable in relationships with the wrong men only because it feels familiar. Of course I relate but how could someone as strong and confident, beautiful and smart as Emily lower her standards to idiot douchebags? I literally asked her this question. She laughed and said,
"But I think the same thing about you!"
It's how we were treated and shaped as children that guide our decisions as adults. For me, my fear of healthy relationships with men are not entirely stemmed from the man I encountered on the dock when I was seven. Rather it was countless comments and treatment from men throughout my life such as this moment that made me feel as though I have something to prove. To prove that I am smart, strong and capable. That I don't need validation from men to remind me of how powerful I am on my own. It's this attitude that has provided my independence. But it's this attitude that has made me feel comfortable having bad relationships because I know they won't last and my independence won't be threatened. Cue my favorite revelation - I will always be able to walk away. Without surprise, Emily completely related.
If we really take a step back and evaluate ourselves and why we choose the type of relationships we obtain, what can we uncover for ourselves?
What do our relationships say about us? It's for us to know if we dare to look.
My past is filled with narcissist men who barked their opinions at me constantly disinterested in ever hearing mine. The biggest hypocrisy of my existence is that I allowed for this to happen within previous relationships despite my undyingly strong will and confidence. I only prevailed time after time because it all felt so comfortable to me as this was all I saw from men growing up.
In between the years from playing with Claire on the docks in the harbor and the waterfront table where my friends and I sat with our laughter surrounding, I can look deep within myself and understand why and how I've become the person I am today. Many of it good while some of it needs work - the main step within progress is identification and implementation.
It's impossible to get through life without the projection of negativity from someone onto us - without hearing some kind of sexism, some kind of racism and some kind of slander. Sadly, I don't know why, it seems as though it's common human behavior to project personal insecurities onto others. To find ways we don't relate and then project a negative attitude toward someone different. The most impressive attribute a person can obtain within their life is to rise above the experiencing of scrutiny and pain from adversity. To be unfazed and more loving and accepting than before.
As the check came to the table where I sat with my friends I turned to Emily one last time to conclude our conversation.
"The fact that we can recognize these traits in ourselves and understand how our past has curated and impacted us as adults is the most important step in breaking our bad habits. We can only become stronger from here." I said.
Emily's bright red lipstick and bright white smile glistened so happily as she replied,
If we're running when others think we should be walking, it really isn't their business if we happen to fall. Even after all this time, no matter who might be watching, when we fall we have to spring to our feet and just keep running.