Photo: Courtesy of Leigh Newman
1. The Time They Didn't Love You (and You Stuck Around to Make Sure)
It's one of life's little horrible hangnails that gets infected and gives just about all of us gangrene of the soul. And yet it's inevitable: Not everybody is going to love us. It won't just be the lacrosse player we swooned over in eighth grade who didn't know we were alive, or the soul mate in our 40s whom we dated and thought we'd marry until he explained—ugh, kindly—that he was interested in "something easier." There'll also be all those less-obvious others: the boss who doesn't return our adoration, or the cool, funny mother in the mommy-and-me music class who never asked us to coffee even though we already asked her three times.
There's no sense to a lopsided affection, and I'm certainly not going to say that the pain created is worthwhile in some cosmic way. It just sucks, but it also just is. The far bigger and more damaging heartache occurs afterward, when you hang around the non-adorers on Facebook, outside their houses, at the cafés they frequent—to find out if they really, truly don't love you or if they'll change their mind, which, unfortunately, they almost never do. They, in fact, will waltz on to new adventures, made uncomfortable by your expectant gazes. But this is an agony you must experience, because while you can't keep your heart from getting broken, you can stop breaking your own heart—over and over into little black bits—once you realize the difference between what you can control and what you can't, and that it's far, far more fun to lavish all that attention on your own self-worth.
2. The Time You Cast Yourself as the Rock
Most of life is really just a school play: a bunch of creative, hopeful, almost mature people standing alone, waiting to be told who to be and what to do by a commanding voice in the distant dark of the theater. At least once, most of us will skip the horrors of that audition and cast ourselves as the rock in the background. This decision may be made due to fear ("I'd rather be safe and not-stared-at back here in my cardboard rock costume by the papier-mâché palm tree) or it may be made due to doubt ("I'm not a good enough singer to do a solo"), but either way, it lands you in the same place—crouched in a ball, wearing all gray and watching as somebody else dances and sings under the glory of the stage lights. Worse, the real pain is the understanding that it wasn't the talent of the other kids or the favoritism of the director that put you back there. It was you: You didn't raise your hand and try out.
Why, God, why is this moment necessary? I'd love to say that it's because we'll remember it when we're later faced with the job-of-a-lifetime interview or the ridiculously handsome (single!) stranger or the coveted nomination for class parent—and thus put ourselves out there this time, boldly and unafraid. That may be true, but it's not the reason why this horrible moment is so wonderfully crucial. When we're crouching there, frozen and unseen, we start naming all the qualities that should have made us a star, and this is the list we must keep with us for the rest of our lives, a list that only comes to us in that moment of self-imposed invisibility. Because paradoxically enough, when we do become the leading lady or man (and we will, eventually, in one kind of situation or another), and after we've been feted and applauded, what usually comes to mind is the list of reasons we should have been stuck back in the background. At that moment, you will have the previous list. Recite it loudly, believe it fully—and take a bow.
Next: The time you talked out of your tuchis