I have a confession to make: I’m always a little shocked when I hear rumours about myself.

It’s not that there aren’t reasons for rumours to circulate about me, because there are. Most of them are crap, and those don’t bother me much. But others involve some aspect of my past or my personal life, and that another person has labeled me a “bad person” or someone not worth knowing because of a mistake I’ve made in my life, or a way of life I used to embrace.

Last night, after the book release party, I was sitting around with a group of friends, and the topic of mean people we used to know came up. One of them is someone who would almost compulsively tell lies and spread rumours, always commenting on the lives of others, in addition to making up extraordinary claims about his own that clearly were not true. After laughingly telling some friends what this person had been saying about them (ridiculous speculation that wasn’t true, and would be none of this guy’s business, even if it was), a friend of mine told me what this guy had said about me.

At first, he was too embarrassed to even relate the gossip. When he did, I was absolutely shocked. The long and short of the gossip was “Stay away from Alayna, because she’s bad news.”. Some of the reasons he gave were absolutely true, some were ridiculously false, and others were assumptions that might make sense if you’re trying to piece together a mystery, but actually not what happened in the story of my life.

The surprising part was not that this ex-acquaintance was into gossip and rumours and lies, or that I should somehow be exempt from that when nobody else was, but that there were enough elements of truth in there that someone might actually believe the gossip. It also shocked me to realise the friend who heard the gossip had just kept it to himself, perhaps for a year or two or three.

It shocks me how utterly non-confrontational people are. For instance, if I hear a rumour that years ago, someone I think of as a good friend was a drug dealer, hung out with a rough crowd, and got arrested, I’m probably going to ask my friend about it. (no, that’s not the rumour I heard about me. :P ) I’m not just going to speculate, try to find information on Google, or run a background check on them. I’m also not going to suddenly stop talking to them, stop inviting them to things, or tell all my friends about this story behind the person’s back.

If it turns out the rumours are all true, I’m also not going to give a shit. I realise that people have past histories, have made mistakes, have all traveled a rough road in life, and not everything is fodder for public consumption. Some things, you only tell your very best friends. Some things, you don’t *even* tell your best friends.

I don’t judge people based on their past choices, nor on their future paths and how that might be incompatible with my own. If I care about someone, it’s based on who they are now, the ways that knowing that person makes my life better, and simple love, respect, friendship, and admiration. I do not assume that because someone behaved a certain way at one point in life, he or she is at the same stage of life. I also don’t dismiss people, whether in close friendships or romantic relationships, because our futures aren’t “heading in the same direction” or because someone “isn’t the right kind of person for me”. You just never know what the future will hold, and while you can’t ever erase the past, you can learn and grow from it.

What I’ve learned is that people are really hung up on the idea of the past, as well as preconceptions of the future, in such a way that it leads to missing out on people and experiences in the present. Every time you’d rather judge and gossip and think yourself somehow superior to another person because of something they’ve done in life, a choice they’ve made, a tough experience they’ve survived, or even a rumour you’ve heard, you’re missing out on knowing someone who might teach you about the world, open your eyes to a new perspective. Every time you turn down the opportunity to let someone new into your life because you ultimately want different things, are at different places in your lives, have very different personalities or goals or ambitions, or simply because you’re afraid that person won’t be there at some point in life or will affect you in a way that leaves you hurt and vulnerable, you’re potentially missing out on a soulmate, or an experience that will significantly touch your life.

Life isn’t static, and people are always changing and evolving. Yes, sometimes people don’t learn from their life experiences, and they are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes people are selfish and don’t mature, don’t evolve, don’t find a higher level of meaning in life and connection in relationships. I’d like to think most people do…and the person you judge today may just be the person who will teach you the most about yourself. The person you dismiss as never being the kind of person that would fit into your future life plan may actually be the one to lead you to your true future life plan. Everything is constantly changing, and the only thing you can really know about another person is who they are, how they affect you, how you feel about them, and what they bring to your life today. Even the most harshly judgmental of people can’t claim to be affected by what another person did before ever even meeting that person. Even the most intuitive of people can’t claim to know how someone is destined to fit into any sort of future life path in six months, or a year, or five. Most people aren’t who they were a decade ago, and will not be the same person a decade from now.

Perhaps what a person makes you feel now is negative, and it’s not rooted in any sense of judgment about the past or assumptions about the future. That’s perfectly valid. People aren’t meant to like every person they encounter, and even the most open-minded people aren’t designed to tolerate every person they encounter. However, I firmly believe that unless someone has wronged you personally, spreading rumours and digging up dirt and whispering about someone, is uncalled for. Even when someone has wronged you, doing this rarely accomplishes much—even though we all do it. In my experience, it doesn’t make you feel any less hurt or angry about the situation, and you may just get a taste of your own medicine where Karma is involved.

Sometimes, the best thing to do with rumours is to put them out on the table, to confront the person you’ve heard something about and ask them what the story is. As in the situation last night, where we all sat and admitted to the rumours we’d heard about one another via this one person, we found out that people we’ve been friends with for years had never found it appropriate to bring up “Oh, I heard something negative about you”. Here in Atlanta, confronting someone about a rumour or a disagreement is seen as aggressive and not the way someone should behave, giving people even more reason to talk. However, telling others a rumour or discussing why you don’t like someone else, while refusing to talk to that person or acknowledge them in public beyond frosty civility, is perfectly normal. Perhaps people think that if everyone just confronted everyone else about gossip, rumour, and “why I don’t like you”, it would turn into Jerry Springer or an episode of the Real Housewives Of Whatever.

In my personal experience, this rarely happens. It is possible to learn from people and understand people, even people you don’t like—or somehow *think* you don’t like. It is possible that the person who seems so opposite of you and has traveled a much different road in life isn’t all that different. Yet, you only discover this when you truly get to know people, when you let go of the judgment attached to what you know of someone’s past, or how you see someone’s future.

Gossip and rumour and exaggerated stories will never die. It’s human nature for people to talk about one another. However, it is almost always true that every story you hear consists of “What Person A said, what Person B said, and a truth that lies somewhere in the middle.” It’s also human nature to judge someone as being “too different to be friends” or “not the type of person I’m looking for in my life” before ever really knowing that person.

What I’ve learned over the past year, what the world seems for me to want to learn, is how much of a disservice that does, not only to another person, but to yourself. I’ve made some really valuable friendships in 2012 with people I wouldn’t have seen myself wanting to connect with, even a year ago. At the same time, I’ve seen people I thought were friends for quite some time drift out of my life, as if we never really knew one another. I’ve learned that the person who just “isn’t my type” not only might be, but is more like me than expected. I’ve learned that the person I judge at face value as representing a lifestyle or set of values I don’t share might not only become one of my favourite people with whom to spend time, but someone I easily understand and relate to. I’ve learned the value of one-on-one conversation, and what “real” friendship means. I’ve learned that some people aren’t going to just walk away, even if they’re the type that’s wired to do so, simply because they care about you. I’ve also learned that people aren’t going to take down walls and let you into their lives just because you have fun going out and being social. You really have to invest time and effort into other people, if you want the favour returned. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out for the best, and that hurts. But more often than not, it’s an investment that more than improves your life.

I’ve also learned that old rumours never die, and the past doesn’t disappear. Sometimes, I think I’d have an easier time of it if I didn’t live in a city that functions like a small town, where everyone seems to be connected to everyone else, somehow, and talking about others is a social pastime. However, I also know that if you have a social circle anywhere, even in the biggest cities, you’ll still run into people you’d rather forget you once knew—and those people aren’t always going to be kind or forgiving or shy about sharing everything negative they know about you (while often omitting the positive.) Sometimes, those people will be. A friend reminded me recently that there were two options when people can’t seem to get over gossiping about you or judging you or speculating about you: you can either feel hurt and humiliated and hide yourself away because you can’t cope with the idea that others just don’t like you, or you can own everything about you, and continue to put yourself out there–which is often why people don’t like you in the first place.

It’s difficult, but I choose the second. I’ve never been one to disappear and back down. Yet, for someone as sensitive as I am, the things I hear are hurtful, the things others have said are brutal. It’s not high school, it’s real life, and it may be something I have to cope with throughout my life, and I do really hope I’m strong enough to live in a world where there are people who dislike me, sometimes to the point where they *want* to see me hurt and make me feel unwelcome. If someone confronts me about a rumour, I tell the truth, and if someone cares to judge me for the truth, I have to put that back on them. If someone decides I’m not the sort of person they’d like to spend time with, I have to respect that, even if it hurts.

All that being said, I could never be a celebrity. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have people talking about you and judging you incessantly. What I have learned is that the comments regarding the truth hit harder than the comments about things that are blatantly false, and passive-aggressiveness really gets under my skin. I’ve also come to realise that apparently, everyone talks about everyone else, and that’s just part of how the world works. Yet, it never fails to shock me when what I hear is about me.

At the beginning of this month, I decided that I was going to follow up on some pretty cool advice, and schedule the 12 Dates Of December! Of course, I don’t actually mean going on 12 dates (not only would The Guy I Am Currently Dating probably not appreciate that, I think my habit of telling people I don’t sleep with anyone on the first date (no matter how many martinis and compliments I receive) makes me seem more trouble than I’m worth. Getting old and having standards complicates things…*laughs*

Even for an extroverted person, finding 12 things to do in 31 days that are more out-of-the-ordinary than having dinner, going for coffee, or seeing a movie seems like a bit of a tall order—either that, or it turns out my life isn’t all that interesting. (something I’ve been saying for years, but nobody ever believes me.). Since there’s only 11 days left in which to pack interesting events, I’ll update you on my progress.

Date #1: A party at a furniture store. Yes, that’s right. For some reason, Atlanta has decided that the swanky new venue for classy parties involves high-end furniture, because I’ve literally been invited to three of them. One gave me free tickets for myself and a guest, so my friend and I headed out to participate in a wine tasting, browse jewelry, and eat from a food truck. It was an interesting experience, drinking pink Moscato on a $2,000 couch, while eating $4 grilled cheese and turkey bacon sandwiches from a food truck. We both agreed, “This is the weirdest party I’ve ever been to.”, but it was a good time. Everything was a benefit for Toys For Tots, as well, so it’s good to see the socialites of Atlanta giving back…even at a furniture store.

Date #2: A housewarming evening for a friend who just moved to Atlanta. She recently moved here from St. Louis, although prior to that, lived in NYC, where she was friendly with a dear friend of mine and his long-term girlfriend. We knew one another through FB, but honestly, had no idea if we’d like one another when she arrived here in Atlanta. Fortunately, we just seem to “click” and have a great time hanging out together, so I’m thrilled to have a new addition to my social circle. We planned a “swanky” evening for her, since she’s a classy kind of girl (she looked like she was on the set of “Mad Men”, with her black dress and jewelry and not a hair out of place), and somehow, our little party had a blast. After checking out her new place and having dinner at an Italian restaurant, we headed to Whiskey Blue. Between her “Mad Men” vibe, and my gothic-Lolita-with-fascinator ensemble, I’m pretty sure people mistakenly thought we were important. Strangers bought us shots (at a place where the average drink is $15, that’s a nice gesture), asked us to pose for pictures, and gave us their “Reserved VIP” table when they left. I suppose if you’re not famous, you might as well just look like you might be. :P

Date #3: Attending a pretty unconventional wedding at the Masquerade. Two pretty special people that I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been in Atlanta, and am connected to via a number of social circles, finally decided to make it official. It’s probably the first wedding I’ve been to where drink tickets were issued at the door, people wore costumes and utilikilts, and the entertainment included belly dancers, a photobooth, and aerialists. All in all, it was a pretty special day for two special people…and I got to dig out an awesome dress I just haven’t had occasion to wear in a long while.

Date #4: Celebrating birthdays at trivia! Yes, I know, trivia shouldn’t count as a new and exciting date, because it’s something we do virtually every Saturday. However, as it happens, about 6 people in the group of people with whom we’ve become friends over the years have December birthdays. We typically do a cake and a card for everyone when it’s birthday time, but because there were so many, we decided to have “Early December birthday” and “Late December Birthday” celebrations. The early December birthday cake was extremely cute, because it was decorated like a package. And, even though my birthday is at the end of the month, our friends decided to give me my Xmas/birthday gift early, because they thought I might want to use it throughout December. It was a new camera (my old one was 3 years old and starting to see better days, with the 3,000 pictures a year I take.),and so far, it has indeed been put to good use!

Date #5: Thursday night drinks in Vinings Jubilee. I used to live over in a part of town called Vinings, and while I don’t care for the suburbs, I like that area about 10 times more than where I live now. Not only is it more walkable, but it’s close to a little shopping center called Vinings Jubilee. Particularly in the winter, it resembles a Christmas village more than a shopping area, from the small white buildings and old-fashioned signs, to the train tracks and holiday decorations that light up the whole area. Because they refused to host my birthday party (or rather, I refused to sign a contract and pay a deposit_), we went to a restaurant called SOHO. It’s a little on the expensive side, but they make good drinks, and my friend had never been to that area. Afterwards, I took her to my old neighbourhood “Cheers”, a pub called Garrison’s, which has old-school oak *everything* and plays Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. I’m kind of an old-school girl, so I really enjoy the atmosphere. We had martinis and shots called “fireballs”, which taste a lot like cinnamon schnapps. The entire time, a 50 year old guy visibly eavesdropped on our conversation, which was pretty funny.

Date #6: Putting up the Xmas tree. Although I’ve not been in the most holiday-spirited of moods this year—I’m broke, not visiting my family, the country seems to be suffering one hardship and loss after another, and I realise so many people I care about live elsewhere, rather than in this city that has never felt like home to me or been too accepting of me—-skipping the tree was simply not optional. Unfortunately, the old pre-lit tree died after 5 years, having fallen over when I was in North Carolina in October. Further investigation proved it must have been an electrical surge, because everything plugged into the wall no longer lights up. Fortunately, Big Lots had 50% off on Xmas stuff, and I now have a 7 foot tree ready for decorating. We also plan to take the broken lights off the old tree, and string it with new lights, and put it in my Zen room. I plan to decorate it with pink and purple ornaments, which rocks, and will make the Zen room even happier. Later in the evening, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I watched “Catfish”, a movie that reminded me of the ups, the downs, the intensity, and the wistfulness involved with online/long-distance relationships. It’s been panned a little for inauthenticity, but as someone who ended up in Atlanta because of falling in love online, I highly enjoyed it.

Date #7: Swanky Midtown Club Night. One of my closest friends in Atlanta has a best friend who lives in Savannah, and every time this girl is in town, it’s a good time. We planned a party for her, and whenever I plan an event for someone who lives out of town, I always ask what they’d like to do. This girl wanted to go somewhere hip and trendy, so we ended up at Shout!, a restaurant in Atlanta that’s trendy but has always treated us well. This night was no exception; they gave us a private cabana on the second level, complete with its own bar (since the other two cabanas were empty until it was time for us to leave), and usually protected by the requisite red velvet rope. I brought my new camera, and everyone took turns taking funny pictures. After dinner, we all went out to the rooftop area, which has one of the best views around, before heading off to a club called Opera. I don’t typically like Opera…it’s a bit overpriced and pretentious to be my scene, and yuppies don’t typically attract me much…but the company is what matters, and we had a blast. We met up with some other old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and our friend from Savannah actually ended up on a quasi-date with someone she met online. (he seemed nice enough, and entertaining.) I was pretty hungover the next day, so it was fortunate that the 1 PM brunch I had on the calendar included a Bloody Mary. I definitely can’t party like I used to. :P

There are 11 more days in the month, and 5 more special/memorable outings to go, so I’m going to have to store up all my energy to make it through. However, I kind of like the challenge of not just getting out and doing stuff more often, but doing different and more memorable things. A friend from North Carolina mentioned he might pay a visit in January, and although we speak pretty regularly, there really is no comparison for face-to-face time with people whom you truly enjoy, so I’m hoping he does indeed find time to book Atlanta on his itinerary. Likewise, I’m hoping to visit friends and family in March/April of 2013, and catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in too long. The 12 Dates Of Christmas makes me realise that when my focus is on friendships and relationships and new experiences, I am at my happiest. I always though I loved to travel because being in a new place was exciting, but it’s really the memorable experiences and people in those places that I value. Being reminded that I can do the same thing in my own city, if I put out the effort and convince others to do the same, is kind of an eye-opener.

That being said, I’m still thinking I’m not going to live in Atlanta for the rest of my days. *laughs*

Hi, I’m Alayna, and I’m a victim of bullying.

No, I’m not a teenager. I’m an independent, vivacious woman who realises high school was literally half a lifetime ago, and should have more important things to worry about than who says what and why. Also, the perpetrator of these disruptive acts isn’t a person, place, or thing, but a mindset. I’m being bullied by a way of looking at the world that too many people agree with, and for most of my adult life, I’ve suffered because of that.

I didn’t have many experiences as a little kid or an adolescent that involved bullying, either being bullied by someone, or bullying someone else. I was always fairly popular, amiable enough, and the worst things I ever had to worry about were “mean girl” rumours, the kind of nonsense I both helped create, and received. Despite living my life in one very large city or another until the time I was 27 and found myself in the suburbs, the only physical confrontation I’ve ever had with another person is when a drunk girl from my university found me at a bar, accused me of messing with her boyfriend, and punched me square in the face. I hit her with a bottle, and we all got kicked out of the bar, because nobody was going to call the cops on two suburban-looking Caucasian females with a combined body weight and stature that still doesn’t equal the average bouncer.

In fact, I don’t think I’d recognise bullying if it came up and introduced itself, because I guess I’m just the product of a slightly different generation and mindset than the world has today. I’m not very judgmental. I proudly call myself a liberal. I’m a little weird, a little unconventional, and accept everyone else is too. Granted, I might at some point say something behind your back. However, it’s never anything I wouldn’t say to your face. If someone has heard something that’s the type of remark I just wouldn’t ever make to you or in your presence, it’s a good indicator I didn’t say it. I’ve always been a “What you see is what you get” kind of person, and while I have my share of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and things about me that are just nobody’s business, I can also be very open and approachable once we’ve become friends. Sadly, I repeatedly get myself hurt by stuff that is whispered behind my back, people choosing to ostracize me, or other passive-aggressive types of behaviour.

The other day, The Guy I Am Currently Dating mentioned that some of these things I’ve dealt with—and am still dealing with—are a lot like the bullying that goes on in high school. It’s just somehow a more grown-up version. And, while I’m not really the kind of person who would ever say “Life is picking on me and it’s not fair”, I certainly do feel that way sometimes. Part of the reason I share everything with everyone, and approach conflict in a way that seems “aggressive” to some people, and make a big deal about making sure even the most minor thing has no ill-intention is that I’m remarkably thin-skinned. I don’t know how to defend myself against people who hate me, judge me, and refuse to forgive me for transgressions, or prefer to form an opinion of me at face value, or through the rumour mill. Those things all affect me more than they affect the average person, and they always have. I’ve been told I need to grow up, become less sensitive, take things less seriously, grow a thicker skin…so, like everyone, I have some well-defined defense mechanisms against being hurt. These typically include keeping people at arm’s length until I feel I can trust them, snarky remarks that are sometimes disguised as humour but have a grain of truth, and asking people if and why they have a problem with me, rather than just assuming one way or the other. I don’t excel at brushing things off or letting things go.

“Karma Is A Bitch, And Sometimes You Deserve What You Get.”

While this is true, I think there are limits. When I was 26, I went through a very tough experience in my life where all my dirty little secrets were outed and judged, courtesy of people I thought were my friends. While what happened to me is never behaviour I will understand or forgive, I’ve had to acknowledge my role in the situation. I didn’t treat my so-called “friends” any better than they treated me. I was making choices that might potentially cause hurt feelings or destroy the emotional stability of people I didn’t even know, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was largely going through life with an “I can say and do whatever I want” attitude designed not to let anyone get too close, and at the same time, enjoyed being popular and the center of a social circle.

The fallout from all my dirty laundry being aired was huge. People I didn’t really know in other cities heard gossip and stories. Some of them never met me, but hated me. Some of them never met me, but suddenly wanted to. I got kicked out of my apartment, lost almost all of my friends, and had absolutely nothing. When I entered a room, someone was whispering somewhere. I got e-mails that, more than once, made me wonder if life was even worth living. I didn’t really socialise with anyone or consider anyone a friend for three months.

Of course, life goes on, and every time you get knocked down, you rebuild. However, when you say things like that, when you say “Whatever, I’m a survivor. I’m strong.”, it implies that you’re less emotionally affected by life than you really are. I’ve been devastated, and my heart has been fractured so many times, it will probably never be capable of the kind of love and innocence I once believed in.

I had to take responsibility for my own behaviour, and realise I’d invited some of the bad karma and bullying into my life. I did, and I figured it was time to move on. Every time I felt hurt and “bullied”, I rationalised that I probably deserved it, even if not for the reasons others thought.

Statute Of Limitations

The problem is that karma may balance eventually. However, bullying like that doesn’t end. Six years have passed, and just recently, I happened to hear that someone was choosing not to be friends with me because of things they’d heard about me. Coincidentally, at the same time, I learned that someone from my past was now living in the city, socializing with some of the same people I know.

When I was 21, I made some bad life choices. I treated people badly. I treated someone badly even though I loved him immensely, and moving on from a relationship never hurt like that before, or since. I behaved in a selfish and callous way in order to survive and get what I thought I wanted and needed. I hurt people. There were consequences to all of that, including having to learn what the inside of a jail cell looked like, and that I was nowhere near as tough as I thought I was. I was just a scared girl out of her element who made some bad choices, ignoring the negative consequences to herself or anyone else.

I’ll always have to live with that year of my life that ruined everything. I could blame it on the ways in which the world hurt me, the need to survive on my own in a world that just didn’t care about me, on life not being fair…but I don’t. I admit to being young and stupid, and doing selfish, hurtful things. There were consequences. I had to accept those and live with those.

Over a decade later, I am not the same person. Who is? Who hasn’t changed and grown since their 21st birthday? Yet, there are still people who assume I am, that my past mistakes define me always and forever, and that my character is irredeemable.

The choices that I made later in my 20′s, while I regret the fallout from many of them and that I was so self-centred I forgot to feel empathy for others, or to ever really connect with others—I don’t apologise for the unconventional life path I traveled upon. And when all that unconventionality was “outed”, and I was constantly confronted and expected to feel shame, or move out of the city, or never dare to show my face in a social circle anywhere again, it seems my greatest crime was that I didn’t. I was not ashamed enough, I did not dislike myself enough, I had the audacity to keep on going with my life and rebuild.

Guess what, people? I didn’t always dislike myself. Since that period of my life, I struggle to find any semblance of self-esteem and self-acceptance in a world I believe will never understand my present, forgive my past, or want to be a part of my journey in the future. Your “bullying” tore me down more than you’ll ever know. I’m even more cautious and distrustful about letting others into my life. On my worst days, I probably see myself exactly as you see me. I just have too much pride to let you see me cry. It doesn’t mean there are wounds that just won’t heal, because every time I get there, someone shows up to re-open them.

Being “Reserved” Is Not The Same As “Betrayal”

I didn’t choose the life that most people would choose. I chose a way of life that varies between “unconventional” and “hopelessly immoral”, depending who you are. But I never asked for judgment on my life path. It shocks me when, many years later, I hear gossip and cruel words that have to do with things that were always intended to be a part of my private life. It is not my fault that others could not forgive my choices, and felt I was so worthy of judgment that my private life should become public business. In fact, I think those who chose to do that to me should be judged as harshly as they judge me. I would never open someone’s closet, let the skeletons fall out, and then circulate all the gory details for public consumption.

Doing that isn’t a minor thing. It isn’t revenge for being hurt or not liking someone. It isn’t an acceptable way of saying “People like you don’t belong in our world”. Those actions destroy lives. People have committed suicide over similar issues with gossip and scandal and ostracism. In my viewpoint, it’s one of the worst things you could ever do to someone.

Some of the rationale I’ve received is that people felt betrayed by me because I had secrets. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has a private life. The reason we’re so into melodramas like “Desperate Housewives” and reality TV shows is because, behind closed doors, most of us live lives that wouldn’t withstand public scrutiny and the harsh, unreasonable judgment that goes along with it. Ask almost every politician and his/her family.

We live in a world where “freedom of information” means everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone else, and if you’re not going to open up about that time you got arrested, the kinky sex club you went to, the affair you’re having, that time you stole something from someone, or lied to someone to get your way, or manipulated something out of greed or jealousy or ambition, you’re the kind of person who deserves to be judged…and frequently, and harshly. And for the rest of your life.

I am sorry, but there are some things I don’t feel you are entitled to know. Despite this blog, despite my openness as a person, I actually have a very private and vulnerable side few people see. I am, in many ways, more traditional than you might expect. I am, in many ways, more loving and more compassionate than you might expect. If you judged me solely via the stories you’ve heard and the notoriety my less-than-diminuitive personality has brought about, you’d likely be surprised when you got to know me as a real person, one-on-one. It is a pity that because of judgments and stories and rumours, so many people will never have the interest or the opportunity in knowing that person.

There is a point when that relentless judgment, cruelty, and ostracism will break a person, and sometimes, I think the only reason it hasn’t broken me is because I have too much pride. I am too special to be broken that easily, and I’m sorry if the world doesn’t agree. But there’s also a point where the attempts to do so becomes a form of bullying.

When The Guy I Am Currently Dating gets anonymous e-mails alluding to my past, or someone actively tries to destroy my relationships because they judge me not worthy of love, that is bullying. When The Guy I Am Currently Dating’s mother leaves me abusive telephone messages and letters telling me I’m white trash and Casey Anthony and deserve to die, that’s bullying. When some girl I don’t even know calls me fat and arrogant and a liar, that’s bullying. When someone who is supposed to be my friend tells me they’re tired of hearing me whine about being sick to others on FB, because it’s presumptuous of me to think everyone cares, that’s bullying. When the neighbour gets an attitude and goes all ghetto on me about my dog pooping on the sidewalk and refuses to back down until I clean up the entire front yard, even though my dog didn’t do it, that’s bullying. When I can’t hang out with people whose company I enjoy because their group of friends won’t tolerate my presence, that’s bullying…and particularly hurtful when I don’t even know why. But most of all, when people bring up dirt about me from five or ten years ago and share it with people they barely know, people who then refuse to give me the time of day, that’s bullying.

Have I made mistakes in my life? Sure. Did I do stupid and destructive things as a kid? Absolutely. Did I take a life path in my 20′s that was largely self-centred and something other people may not agree with? Definitely. But I’ve paid the consequences for my mistakes, I’ve gotten my own karma, I’ve had to grow up and move on.

My question is, when is it time for everyone else to do the same?

Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty decent person. I stopped hating the world, got over my self-destructive bullshit, learned to have healthy relationships with other human beings, admitted to my mistakes and took the lumps that were coming to me, and grew as a human being. So, why do I still deserve the gossip and the ostracism and the “I just don’t like you?” and the judgment from people I barely know?

I Am Not Perfect

Nope, I am not perfect. Far from it. I may be the most complex, fucked-up human being on the planet. I may also be one of the most loving, caring, empathetic, life-loving, experience-embracing people you’ll ever meet. I am overly sensitive, overly insecure, and having to be strong in the face of so much meant to tear down anything I might value about myself has taken a decade-long toll on me.

No excuses, though. I still do things I shouldn’t, say things I shouldn’t. I still could do some work on being a more tactful, amiable human being. I still could learn the world doesn’t revolve around me and there are times to keep my damn mouth shut. I still could learn that words don’t just hurt me, so I need to own what comes out of my own mouth.

I have a friend I’ve known for at least 5 years…at least, we’re social friends, and I always considered us as such. We had some good times together. Last time I saw her, I got a vibe that she didn’t much care for my presence. In fact, I felt deliberately ignored, and while most people would let that go, I’m pretty intuitive.

I mentioned it to a mutual friend, who said she’d ask if this friend was mad at me. I declined the offer, because I don’t want to be that confrontational, oversensitive person who thinks the world is always out to get her. However, it’s not paranoia if something’s really going on, and I’m usually right.

So, when I saw this friend in person, I asked her. I give her credit for being a straight-shooter who doesn’t mince words or behave passive-aggressively. So, I asked her if I did something, and if so, what it was. It turns out, I did. I had made snarky comments that weren’t appreciated, and she said it wasn’t worth being mad about, she was just over it.

During the time I’ve known her, she’s always been the type to make her own share of snarky comments, and when one of them happens to be at my expense, I put on an exaggerated sad face and ask why she’s mean to me. I’ve never taken any of it seriously, seen it as drama or passive-aggressive behavior. I thought it was just how we agreed to relate to each other. I kind of started to see it as an inside joke. I mean, when people attend your birthday parties, and you visit their house, and you amicably travel in the same social circle, you know someone isn’t really mean to you…and you assume they know your snarky comments are similarly meant to be drama-free.

As it turns out, that was not the case. She told me she never appreciated it, never thought it was funny, and was over it. I appreciated her candour, and did the right thing. I apologised for my snarky remarks, and for being unaware for literally years that they weren’t coming across the way I thought they were. What I saw as just the odd way we related, she found irritating and emotionally tiring.

I never would have known if I hadn’t bothered to ask her how she was feeling, and what changed between us. I didn’t turn the tables on her, and say, “You say snarky things, too…are they serious, or have they always been a joke?” My behaviour was not enjoyable for her to be around, and when that’s the case, you have to be an adult and own it. So, I apologised. I apologised to her husband for any unintentional rudeness he may have also picked up from me. Apologies were accepted, and life goes on.

Nobody’s perfect, and just because sometimes, you feel bullied by life and treated obnoxiously by your fellow human beings doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to be equally obnoxious, rude, or tiresome. Sometimes, people change and grow, and something that used to be funny just seems immature and a waste of time. Sometimes, how you behave isn’t as cute or endearing as you think that it is.

That’s why I ask people if something’s wrong when I perceive a change in how they’re acting around me. While that can be a little exhausting if you’re an introvert who’s chosen to date me or is a really close friend, and I firmly acknowledge that, for everyone else, it has a 90% success rate. If I sense something is up, it usually is. Where I have a problem is accepting that someone doesn’t want to tell me, or is only willing to tell others behind my back.

When I am wrong, I apologise. I don’t go through other people. I don’t gossip or send someone else to ask if you’re mad or why I don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings. I don’t create a scene. I just want to sit and talk about it, and if I owe someone an apology, they’ll get it.

It is hard for me to understand why more people don’t approach things that way. Instead, I know people who have stopped speaking to me and refuse to acknowledge my existence, and I only ever have hints of “why” through the rumour mill. And, somehow, finding things out that way catches me off-guard, makes me feel shocked and vulnerable, and truly hurts.

Nobody likes to be blindsided, and nobody likes to be judged or a popular punching bag, or topic of discussion. Especially since, when it comes down to it, nobody is perfect.

I try really hard to like who I am, and be content with that person. The last thing I want is people in my Universe who want to make it harder for me to do so. It’s tough to realise your personality and your lifestyle and your past history makes you as objectionable to many as it makes you feel loved by others.

It’s a pill I’ve been trying to swallow for 10 years, and this weekend, I still felt sad and overwhelmed by it. Perhaps human nature is just a force bigger than me, and it is always going to win, or perhaps I just live in the wrong place for me. I wonder, had I been a better person, had I followed the conventional route, made the same choices as most other people, would I be more well-liked? Would I be happier? Would I be more open, and feel less like it’s necessary to guard myself with sarcasm and one-liners, and only talk about certain pieces of my life journey? Would I be the kind of girl that Southern mothers want their sons to end up with, or would they still think me a loud, trashy bitch?

Or would I just have led a more sheltered existence that denied me the ability to look at the world and people in it a little differently than others?

I’ve been dealing with the consequences of hurting others as a stupid 21 year old for a decade. Even when the worst thing I did was choose an unconventional and wild life path, my penance was years of harsh and unforgiving judgment. I don’t consider myself strong, but I know I must be in some way, because I’ve somehow survived and never backed down.

When will I be strong enough that words don’t hurt, that whispers mean nothing, that silent judgment doesn’t affect my life? Am I lacking something everyone else naturally has, or is life just asking a little much from me?

Although I’m in a relationship and not actively looking to meet new people, I still have my profile up on OK Cupid, which was sadly acquired by Match.com a while back. It hasn’t been seriously updated in years, and I never reply to anyone or initiate contact with anyone, because I would not really like The Guy I Am Currently Dating spending his time doing that. However, every now and then, I log into my OK Cupid profile to see what people have sent me, because it is an endless source of amusement. If someone seems intelligent or has put thought into what they’ve written me, I’ll click on their profile. One person who wrote to me and introduced himself in a way that included his Meyers-Briggs type, convinced me I should click on his profile. The guy would never be my type, even were I single, but I loved his profile. Under “You should message me if….”, he wrote:

“You know what polyamory means.
You know where Venezuela is.
You want to start a polka-metal band with me”

I’m hoping he’s willing to settle for someone who fits into any one of those three categories, because the likelihood of finding someone who fits into all of them is probably up there with being struck by lightning.

In all seriousness, I’ve had some people I know recently go off on “Why do people keep up their profiles on OK Cupid if they’re not really single?” rants. It isn’t as if it’s just one person complaining about it; I’ve heard it from maybe three or four different people in the span of a few weeks.

Since I’m that person everyone is bitching about, even if they don’t know it, I feel compelled to answer.

I actually like OK Cupid. It is the ONLY dating website from back in my single days where I met people who weren’t complete douchebags (I met “The Worst Guy In Atlanta” via E-Harmony), married or living with someone (I met someone whose girlfriend answered the phone and yelled at me, after 3 months of communication with a guy I really quite liked, via Match.com), someone who was just looking for no-strings attached sex (a short-lived stint on FriendFinder), or a serial cheater (I started getting e-mails from an angry wife of someone I’d started communicating with via LiveJournal, of all places.). I never found love or romance on OK Cupid, but I’m intrigued by psychology, and their fairly extensive online personality testing/comparison drew me in. I made two really close friends via OK Cupid, both of whom lived nowhere near me, but I took a chance on meeting in person, and didn’t find a romantic connection, but found something perhaps more meaningful. Through those people, I met friends-of-friends through OK Cupid, and found out that one’s circle could be so small that when my ex-boyfriend was cheating on me and made the mistake of hitting on my friend’s roommate, I found out about it in no time. So, I’m not in any hurry to delete or deactivate my profile. There’s a lot of nostalgia there, good and bad.

Second of all, my profile kind of rocks. There’s a reason I still get e-mails there, and while my friends are telling me “I only meet people who send me e-mails they obviously send to everyone, say “Hey”, or commit some sexual harassment violation”, I get e-mails from people who make an effort to talk to me about books, psychology, philosophy, politics, music, and other things I’ve indicated as being of interest to me. I’ve gotten some e-mails that are extremely flattering and sincere, and make me think “That’s the kind of guy I’d want to fix my friend up with”. My profile may also be the longest profile on OK Cupid. That’s not an accident. While I am indeed a loquacious human being, I am aware I made my profile longer and more revealing than necessary. Why? Because it takes a lot to really get to know me, much less date me. If your attention span/interest in me doesn’t even warrant reading a full page of text, you’re definitely not right for me.

Numerous friends who use online dating sites have asked me why my profile seems to work for me, and attracts mostly the “right” kind of attention…and if I’d help them improve theirs. I think having a good profile is key. I have two friends who met via OK Cupid, and they are happily married, and comprise a third of our trivia team. One of them, like me, crafted a lengthy and slightly arrogant profile to attract the kind of girl he was seeking. It worked. In the future, I plan to post another blog called “Why Your Dating Profile Sucks, And How To Fix It“.

Finally, I do not delete my profile because OK Cupid was never founded strictly as a dating site. Yes, yes, Match.com bought it out and screwed everything up, and now those of us who aren’t looking to date feel pressured to not be there—although, ironically, it’s become a gathering place for members of the poly community looking to meet new partners, which I might have appreciated five years ago. The reason there are all the options for your relationship status is because they wanted it to be something akin to Facebook for strangers, where you could meet like-minded individuals based on personality testing.

It isn’t that site anymore, and eventually, I’m sure I’ll delete my account. But I still find some sort of amusement via some of the e-mails I receive, and some of them are genuinely touching and restore my faith in the idea that I still have more soulmates floating around the Universe, some of whom I may encounter someday.

I don’t understand, however, the ire of single friends who believe those who are not single shouldn’t be on the site. After all, there’s no “cap” on the number of people who can be on the site, so it’s not as if my never-updated profile is drawing attention away from someone who actively wants to meet others. And just because I’m not going to be interested in dating you—well, how is that different from seeing the profile of an available person who isn’t interested in dating you?

I specify that I no longer do online dating, I’m in a relationship, and not looking to meet people…and if I do, it’s a strictly friendship-thing. Frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with the friends who occupy space in my life and my heart, and I don’t have too much room for meeting new people. But, perhaps one day, I’ll be at a different phase in my life and new friendships will be more important to me, or I’ll remember how some of the closest relationships in my life came about online and turned my life upside-down, and feel compelled to explore that again. In the meantime, though, I’m intending to leave my non-dating oriented profile up, and I don’t see why anyone should take issue with that.

Let’s face it, it’s not as if the world will be heartbroken that I’m unavailable…especially when the site will show you a string of pictures of women similar to me, and say, “You may want to meet these people instead”.

Oh, OK Cupid. You’re so fickle and do nothing for a girl’s ego. That must be why I stay with you, even when others tell me to go.

(P.S. It’s amazing the number of people I know from my “real life” that OK Cupid suggests I meet. I want to write back and tell them, “I met all these people who are totally not my type on my own, but thanks!” It reminds me of an incident a few years ago where my then-roommate was recently divorced, and signed up for E-Harmony. One of her “matches” was the fiance of one of our close friends, and the two are nothing alike. *laughs*)

It doesn’t necessarily have to be Christmas; it can be your favourite December holiday, or absolutely nothing at all, that decides it’s time for you to brave the cold (or, if you live here, the slightly unwelcome chill that doesn’t make “Winter Wonderland” seem really relevant.) and get out there in the world.

Last week, Gala Darling posted a day-to-day plan of action for December survival. While I found the article interesting, let’s be realistic. I’m not going to be motivated enough to do something cool, fun, or creative every single day of the month. Some days, I’m going to spend my evening in bed watching the Real Housewives of Something and eating pizza, because I like reality TV and junk food and don’t really want to do something with every moment of my life. I appreciate time spent doing nothing.

One of the suggestions, however, caught my attention: 12 Dates Of December. The premise is easy, of course. This month, schedule 12 dates to do something fun and interesting.

Gala’s list implied that you should schedule 12 dates to do something fun and interesting with your significant other or spouse, but again, I’m not really that kind of girl. I may *see* The Guy I Am Currently Dating 12 times a month, but if there were always the pressure to do something interesting or romantic or different, I’d quickly exhaust myself. Some of the best times we spend together involve decompressing from everything else, not planning even more shit to do on the calendar.:P Also, no matter how much I like a person, there is no one person in the history of my life that’s ever made me feel like “Hanging out together is so cool, we don’t ever need to hang out with other people”. I know some people experience this, but I think I’m just not wired that way. I’ve never been one to be part of the couple who falls off the radar, because they’re spending every night at home. After a week or two of that, I get incredibly bored. Additionally, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I do not live together, so I’d be even more over the introversion factor.

However, I totally support the idea that you should make the effort to put 12 interesting, adventurous, fun, or sociable events on your calendar for December. Being an event planner, this isn’t too difficult for me. I like to go out, I like people, and I like events that are a little out of the ordinary. When you think about it, though, 12 social outings that are not just a trip to the movies or the coffee shop can seem a bit daunting. Particularly for introverts, spending over one-third of your free time socializing with your fellow human beings can take some effort and commitment. Also, during a season where everything seems focused on the need to spend money, going out all the time can seem overwhelming for the average person feeling the pressure to buy expensive gifts for everyone.

I don’t really want or need much in the gift department. I like my clothes and my jewelry and my perfumes, but for the most part, I’m more likely to spend my money on experiences. It’s OK with me if I show up in pictures at different events with different people, and I’m wearing the same outfit, as long as all the photos look like I’m having a great time. I’d much rather have a friend take me out to do something new and interesting than buy me a scarf or an Amazon gift card, because in my world, sharing experiences with other people is what it’s all about.

I personally am going to try to focus on spending time with those important to me, rather than stress about spending money I don’t have in order to celebrate the holiday season. I’m not traveling this December, I’m not buying anyone a new flat-screen TV, and I’m not putting undue pressure on myself to find a new job before January 1st, or to make the holiday season the most perfect one ever. I’m not buying a $300 dress for New Year’s Eve, or looking to score tickets to the hottest event in town. I’m not even baking cookies. Strangely, I’m feeling pretty happy and relaxed about all of those things. It’s as if I’ve realised how much anxiety is really behind all our holiday traditions, and behind that is the desire to please other people, especially our families. Often, this is at the cost of our own peace of mind or emotional stability. Anyone who has ever seen Chevy Chase freak out because one of the two million lights he’s put on his house to impress his kids burned out and the thing won’t light up, only to discover the power supply in the basement was disconnected, knows that this pressure can be pretty great.

That’s why I like the 12 Dates Of Christmas. I am going to try to create 12 different, fun, memorable experiences with some of the people in my life who are important to me. (alas, many live at a distance, and while I really want to see them and spend time with them, I know it’s not feasible…and I may end up also having 12 Dates Of March to catch up with all my Northeastern friends and family.) Whether you’re in a relationship and want to schedule 12 dates with the same person, you’re actively looking for someone and want to amp up your dating life, or you’re like me and want to make time to really connect with those who hold true value in your life, it’s a really rewarding idea.

I rang in December 1st with my first date of Christmas, sitting outside on a rooftop bar in Buckhead, drinking overpriced cocktails and sharing stories with good friends while being silly with strangers.

I’ve recently become friends with a girl who moved to Atlanta and I’d known on FB via an old friend of mine in New York, but never met in person. I had no idea whether or not we’d hit it off; we’re the same age and have a few things in common, but also a few huge differences in our personalities. Since I don’t really tend to click with other women all that often, I wasn’t particularly expecting us to become friends, but I’ve been surprised how much fun I’ve had getting to know her. I wish we’d lived up in NYC at the same time!

Alas, we’re here in Atlanta now, and I wanted to make her feel welcome by throwing a housewarming party to celebrate her new apartment, and inviting out a few friends who have been in my life for many of the years I’ve been in Atlanta. I don’t think there was anyone in attendance I’ve known for less than four years, which was kind of cool. Since she’s the kind of girl who likes places, people, and things that are both fun and classy, we decided to do dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in the area that actually holds the honour of being the first restaurant I ever visited in Atlanta. That was followed by a cocktail at a bar known more for ambiance than for anything else, Whiskey Blue.

I remember the place having a nicer view of the city than it actually does. Although it’s a rooftop bar, the sides are obscured by plastic dividers that keep drunken patrons from accidentally falling off the building, and lots of fake trees with Christmas lights. We managed to not only make some friends who bought us tequila shots, but to steal their table when they left 15 minutes later, ending up with a good location to chill out, talk, and spend time with friends.

I also found myself in extroverted mode for the evening, and wore a fascinator in my hair that others seemed to find—well, fascinating. This resulted in free drinks, pictures, and friendly hellos from strangers, a vibe you don’t always get at bars where everyone is there with their own group of friends, or looking to hit on single people. We’d only intended to stay and have a drink before heading to a bar with a different type of scene, but before we knew it, it was 2:45 AM and the city was closing for the evening.

So, I have to give due thanks to Whiskey Blue for being more entertaining and providing a better atmosphere than expected, even if they did charge $10 for parking. It was a good way to ring in December, all captured with some fun photos. I hope, also, my new friend is starting to feel more at home in Atlanta. It’s not NYC, but you can definitely have fun and meet cool people if you try hard enough. :)

I have 11 more interesting Dates Of Christmas to go, and am not sure what sorts of shenanigans that might lead to, but I’ll certainly blog about them. I was born in December, so between that and the holidays, it’s always been one of my favourite times of year. However, it’s historically been defined by travel. (For some time, I was insistent on celebrating NYE in a different city each year, and I did.) This year, I’ll be going out of my way to have a great time in my own city. Advice and suggestions are always accepted!! :)