I am a card-carrying member of the worry club. But I’m showing up in relationships as my whole self, flaws and all.
What is a mistake? The act of poor decision-making? A sure sign of immaturity? When babies make mistakes, parents take all the blame. A spill can’t be a baby’s mistake, as they haven’t lived long enough to know better. But, as they get older and their mistakes repeat themselves, they’re expected to know better. And when you become an adult, well, all bets are off. Making a mistake could reap the kind of consequences that cost someone their life.
A poor decision could land you in prison.
By a certain age, we’re expected to know better, about damn near everything. People expect adults to manage money, a home, a car, a family, maintain a job, and get everywhere on time. And we’re expected to take care of ourselves. Because, if we get a fatal disease, because of poor decision making, all that other stuff we’re supposed to manage and take care of turns to shit. All of this accountability to ourselves leads to tremendous worry.
I am a card-carrying member of the worry club. I worry to the point of extreme anxiety, and stress eating. My ass and thighs shame me every day for the amount of time I spend worrying. And worry is a crazy nonsensical cycle. I don’t want to make poor decisions and worry that my insurmountable responsibilities will result in a mistake, so I make a poor decision and eat a bag of chips and two hot dogs.
I’m also a member of the Ms. Fix It club, but I have yet to figure out how to fix mistakes. I’ve learned from them, yes, but they’re still out there, unfixed. Broken relationships over things I didn’t mean to say, or ways I didn’t mean to react, are not fixed. And I’ve settled into the idea that those relationships may never be fixed, but the part of me that’s uncomfortable with unfixed mistakes never goes away. Growth doesn’t fix it. It only changes my perspective on who I was at the time, and how it all went down.
Growing up, Fiona Apple was one of my favorite singers. Her songs were poetic and personal. They made me think about my life in a different way. She often wrote about love from a painful perspective. She had been hurt, and in turn, hurt others. But, there was also a strength behind her fiery lyrics. It was like she knew who she was, fully. When I was still trying to figure out my place in the world, Fiona created a much-needed thinking space.
In my Freshman year of college, I dated this guy I truly adored. He was sweet in a way I had never experienced. Maybe it was the New York in him, or the Jamaican in him. But, he adored me too and found ways to show me. I was stumped on how to express my feelings to him. I knew the things I wanted to say, but my words didn’t feel deep and significant at nineteen. So, I turned to Fiona. “Slow Like Honey,” from her debut album Tidal, said everything I wanted to express.
Early, every morning, I wrote a line from the song on a piece of paper and taped it to his dorm room door. I never put my name on the notes, just the words. He knew it was me, and looked forward to his daily reminder of my affection for him. When I ran out of lyrics, I mustered the courage to tell him I loved him.
On her deeply emotional 1999 album, When the Pawn…, the song “A Mistake” stuck with me. It’s a very vulnerable reflection on flaws. It’s about laying flaws completely bare, and admitting to yourself and others that you fuck up sometimes. Admitting you’re not perfect. I pulled the title of this piece from the first line of the song because mistakes and how often we make them is something I’m constantly thinking about. There’s a section later in the song that made me think about a certain freedom in mistakes. In my youth, I longed for this kind of agency.
And when the day is done and I look back
And the fact is I had fun
All the advice I shunned and ran
Where they told me not to run
But I sure had fun
So I’m gonna fuck it up again
I’m gonna do another detour
Unpave my path
And if you wanna make sense
Whatcha lookin’ at me for?
I’m no good at math
There are times in my life where I tried to correct mistakes to the point of exhaustion. I was crazy intent on not disappointing people. I was obsessively intent on being as perfect as possible, so romantic partners wouldn’t leave me. That excessive, obsessive perfection obviously wasn’t the key to successful coupling, as I sit here writing this piece, still single.
As I matured into the woman I’d always wanted to be, I decided to be like that guy in Risky Business and just say, “What the fuck.” I stopped trying to be perfect, stopped my obsession with winning, and just decided to be myself, flaws and all, as Queen Bey said.
Over the past forty-one years, I’ve made big, huge, monumental mistakes. Mistakes that damaged romantic relationships, friendships, job opportunities, and my own well-being. There’s beauty in owning these mistakes and giving myself grace. A mistake is a learning opportunity. Of course, it doesn’t feel that way in the moment, but I certainly learned so much from fucking up. There’s one big mistake I no longer make, and that’s owning my truth. The truth of who I am, the truth of what I want, the truth about what moves me and what I enjoy. Owning these truths as facts of my being means I’ll never again make the mistake of being someone I’m not.
- I’m not a great cook and would rather not have to do it. AND I’m not super interested in learning how to cook.
- I never really tried to be great at school because I didn’t really like school.
- I’m honestly not sure how I graduated, I skipped so many classes in high school. I only consistently showed up for my arts and writing classes, and that lack of interest rolled over into college. If I wasn’t writing, acting, dancing, singing, or behind a camera, I could care less. How I’m sitting here with an MFA is a mystery of the universe.
- I have cheated. On tests and people. On purpose.
- I don’t feel like I own my kid. I had her, but she’s not mine, so my parenting looks somewhat unconventional to some. And I’m okay with that. Ours is a relationship of mutual respect and understanding that we have to make our world work together because we’re all we’ve got. So, we talk openly about our emotions, our wants, and needs. And if I make a mistake, I apologize and admit my fault. I want my kid to understand that I’m not just her mom, I’m a person.
- I’ll never be the girlfriend or wife that wants to go camping or hiking. I have no desire to be in a kayak or climb a mountain. As odd as outdoorsy types have made it seem, I’m actually okay being a city girl. I love walking down Pennsylvania Avenue early in the morning, and West 57th Street in the middle of a bustling day. I love biking around Lakeshore Drive, and stepping off the tube in the chaos of Piccadilly Square.
- I am not a good girlfriend, and I was not a good wife. Good, in the sense that I was able to do right all the time. All that obsessive perfectionism actually led to major mistakes.
A big part of maturing into our mistakes is forgiveness. We HAVE to forgive ourselves. We have to take the time to reconcile the error and give ourselves the same amount of grace we give to others.
One of my biggest mistakes resulted in something tremendously beautiful. I didn’t intend to get pregnant. Was I actively participating in a reckless relationship? Yes. But, in my naïveté, I thought my lady parts didn’t work the same after my fibroid surgery. The hell I went through with my fibroids really broke me. So, the fact that I was finally healthy again, and could make love, free of pain and embarrassment, wrapped me in this unconscious bliss.
The unprotected sex was a poor decision, but having my kid was not. I stare at her sometimes, in awe of what my mistake created. This lively, smart, funny person — with all her fingers and toes — is the embodiment of forgiveness and grace. Through her, I’ve come to understand that making mistakes is a part of real living, as a real person. Not a perfect person, but a real person. And a real person is all I’ve ever wanted to be.