The Childless Choice

“Your biological clock is ticking…”

Yes, thanks.  I’m nearing 30, and there’s no possible way I could have ever been told that before.  The choice to have children is a discussion that I believe is far more complicated than simply, “she doesn’t want children” or “she can’t have children,” which seem to be the only two avenues society can conceive for the milestone of procreation.  I can only speak about the former, because I don’t pretend to have any expertise or view for the kind of emotional wracking that wanting children, but not being able to conceive your own, must bring.  Have you ever considered, perhaps, that it is permissible for a woman to not know if she wants children?  No one seems to be willing to consider the major factors and consequences into that choice, instead condensing the argument into a variety of blister-packed judgments.  The inevitable: “Oh, you’ll change your mind some day.”  The threat: “You’ll regret it.”  The pushiness-disguised-as-encouragement: “But you’d be such a great Mom!”

Here’s the thing: I am not the only thing standing in my way.  Men have to — not “should,” not “it would be nice if,” not “as long as they pay child support” — have to have equal stock in the parenting game.  The largest concern that many single women have these days is not whether or not they will have children, but whether or not they will be able to find a man who will support them in that endeavor.  So before you ask me again if I’m ever going to have children, or why I don’t want them, or what makes me hate them so much, or suggest that I’m just scared of the pain of childbirth — consider these factors first.

 

The Example

I need a man who is supportive and committed to me, first, in order to prove that he will be a good father.  It would not be difficult for me to find a man who has the proper equipment required to make a child.  But it requires a much more particular process to find someone who would cherish me first, and then our children.  In the dating world, I have come across absolute hordes of men who say they’re excited to have children one day, and that they like kids, and will teach them to fish, and camp, and scrutinize the game of football.  And yet, these men are unable to make plans farther than 6 hours out from the present moment.  Some of them make a habit of showing up to dinner 45 minutes late, just as I’m gathering my things to leave.  Some of them are fine with being punctual, but have such drastic emotional insecurity that they’re unable to have a conversation about anything that’s not video games, or the shelves of Star Wars memorabilia that adorn their bachelor pads.  Some of that emotional insecurity throws them into a pit of people-pleasing behavior, or into child-like tantrums, or sometimes they just shut down entirely.  Some of them are perfectly confident, and funny, and wonderful — but require any plans to be at the mercy of their work schedule, causing 4 out of 6 dates to be “rain checked.”  I just recently went on a few dates with a man who is very kind and intelligent, but extremely aloof in conversation, causing me to have to “manufacture” any fun that was had for the both of us.  He would laugh at my jokes and stories, and then the table would go silent until I either came up with another funny something to say, or a conversation topic he was comfortable with.  If we can’t even have a normal conversation in a quiet restaurant, how could we have a normal conversation with a child shouting Barney songs at the dinner table?

Quite frankly, the relationship/marriage comes first, both chronologically and in priority.  If a man is not able to communicate with me, respect me, have fun with me, and maintain a healthy emotional state for himself, what kind of message is he going to send impressionable children?  I don’t want my children growing up with constant disappointment because “Daddy can’t make it to your dance recital/baseball game…again.”  Or, “Daddy doesn’t really mean to yell and call people names — why don’t you go play in your room for a while?”  Or, “Daddy isn’t ignoring everyone else, he’s just a little shy.”  The other kicker about having children with a man who isn’t stable is that I am automatically everyone’s Mom/therapist.  I am forced to “have conversations” or “nag” or any other tactic to try and get the father of my children to set a good example.  That, on top of trying to explain my husband’s behavior to my children in a tactful way that doesn’t include the actual truth.  No thanks.  “Having children” isn’t the real question for many women who are getting older and haven’t taken the plunge yet.  It’s “mutual parenting” that becomes the larger worry.  I will not agree to have children unless I marry a man who I trust to fully respect and care for me first, who is able to care for our children when I’m not around, and will fill in the holes in their development that I can’t.  I’ve been told by many to just “give him a chance,” or assured that he’ll grow up or change, as though the Menopause Train is bearing down on me and I should really just get on with it, lest I be run over.  Really?  Is that a gamble you would make with your children?

 Kids Kind of Suck

My best friend has two kids.  They’re awesome, loving, funny little people.  But they’re gross, and needy, and socially tactless, too.  All children kind of suck in a lot of ways, and I require a partner who is going to jump into the fray, and tired-laugh with me as we clean poop off the walls.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would be willing to launder vomit-covered bedsheets so I could take a shower and get the barf out of my hair after caring for a sick child.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would walk up and down the hallway with a screaming infant for 4 hours, without being prompted or begged, so that his wife could have a break or a nap.  I also find that many men begrudge having to spend time alone with their children, and go so far as to consider it “babysitting.”

You want to have kids?  Great.  Then you are signing up for the ride of a lifetime, and your contract states that you do not get to hide in your mancave when Little Timmy has the runs.  Too bad.

 The Ultimate Label of “Mom”

Next time you see a Mom, ask her when was the last time she got to do something for herself.  Her response will probably be something like, “Oh, I got to have a cup of tea last Wednesday — it was lovely.”  It will be said playfully, but for many women, there’s a deep amount of pain attached to those jokes.  I fully realize that having children is a massive sacrifice, but many women find themselves in a situation where it becomes a sacrifice of who they are as a person, an individual.  Many women go years without a break, without a weekend, without even an afternoon to themselves to do whatever they want.  They feel they no longer have that kind of intangible “permission” to have hobbies, and to want to see new things.  Women are not good at saying, “I would like to go do this for myself.”  We need a partner who is going to recognize when we need a break, and offer it to us willingly, without making us wait until we’re at the breaking point of our sanity.  Many women carry an intense, crippling level of guilt when it comes to asking for things they know are necessary for their own health.  I don’t know why, but we do.  And without a husband who will pay a little attention to our state of mind, and remember who we were before the kids came into play, it’s a slippery slope that will lead many women directly into a bog of depression and complete depletion of self-worth.  We become consumed by the label of “Mom.”  We’re no longer “Laura, ” or “Charlotte,” or “the woman who double majored in biochem and engineering,” or “the woman who loved to go to Sunday brunch once a month,” or “the woman who really hates restaurants that allow you to throw peanut shells on the floor,” or “the woman who’s actually an incredible dancer,” or “the woman who hopped 5 countries in two weeks, ” or “the woman who fell in love with you.”  We are the mother of our children, and are seen as nothing else, and we allow it because we feel guilty.

Some of us are terrified of the idea of having children, yes — but not because we don’t think we’d be good mothers or because we’re scared the pain and nausea.  We’re scared of not having a support system, having to beg our husbands for help because we haven’t slept in two days, being looked at differently by our husbands because our bodies are no longer as attractive as they once were.  We are terrified of becoming just another frumpy Mom who gave her soul for the sake of her children, whose past accomplishments now mean nothing, and whose future accomplishments will be saving enough money to send the kids to college.  And we know that without support from our husbands, that’s exactly what we will become as we slowly forget who we once were.

 He Doesn’t Want Kids…

…but I love him.  It’s fully possible that I might find a man who is my perfect match in every way, but who does not want children.  As mentioned before, the relationship and the marriage come first.  If we’re happy and it’s a conversation that we’ve had, I see no reason to kick him to the curb.  I realize that some women want children badly, and that’s great — that can be a very specific criterion in her dating life.  But I do not believe in hoping my prince will someday change his mind, and am open to the possibility of a very happy life that does not involve children.  It’s possible, I promise.  Oh, but you’ll regret not having children! they say.  Fine, maybe we will.  But do you regret not seeing the world’s wonders, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, walking through the tulip fields of Holland, seeing the Pyramids, or SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean with your husband?  Maybe you do.  Do you regret not joining a book club, or learning a new language or how to ski, having quiet nights next to a fireplace, or going on road trips with your husband?  Maybe you do.

 

So when a woman answers your questions about children with some trepidation or uncertainty — cool your jets.  We are not dumb.  We are not ignorant.  More than likely, the woman you’re interrogating is far smarter and more mature than you realize, and she is considering whether or not her world is a good one to bring children into.  We’re ok biding our time until the right situation presents itself to make a decision.  And until that happens, we’re not going to have an answer for you.

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Pop Quiz

I consider myself a seasoned veteran in the realm of online dating.  I have tried all of the major sites, written and re-written my “self-summary,” and waded through years of doubt and guilt, constantly questioning my own standards and the motives of others.  It’s a complicated task, dating — and like most people, I’ve tried to streamline the process as much as possible, weeding out those who I will not be compatible with before I invest much time into them.  Some people make calm, well-considered additions to their profiles, such as, “I DONT DO DRAMA SO IF UR A HO WHO DO DRAMA DONT GET NEAR ME.”  Others might add preferences to the multiple choice questions asked, such as only marking “Athletic,” “Hot,” and “Slim” as their preferred body types for a partner.  But I, never one to follow the general traffic pattern, have taken a separate approach.  It is inflammatory and offensive to some — but it is precisely those people whom I wish to avoid.  In practice, it has worked flawlessly for my purposes.  If I find someone on the Internet that I think I would like to have a date with, my method comes in two parts:

1) I must speak with the person on the phone before meeting.

2) They must take my 3-question quiz.

The Phone Conversation

Why do many people choose online dating?  Because they’re not stellar with social interaction or live conversation.  The kicker is that (in theory) you’ll eventually have to participate.  These are skills that are difficult, yes, but unavoidable if you’re looking for someone to spend time with.  It is frequent that someone is quite eloquent while typing or texting, but have absolutely nothing to say when speech is required.  You can try and make your case for “people who are just shy” and “well what’s wrong with that,” and my answer to all of your arguments will be that that’s not what I want.  That’s not what most people want.  If I’m going to spend a significant amount of time with someone, I need them to be on a similar level of communication skill.  You can be shy and a little reserved at first — but you’re not allowed to be silent and continue to hide behind the Internet’s skirt.  The phone conversation ensures that they are capable of relaying thoughts and opinions via vibration of the vocal chords, which, in my book, is required.

In addition, people these days don’t seem to understand that dating is not really about common interests.  I don’t care if you love football, or build and paint miniatures.  What I care about are the facts and potential implications behind those interests.  I need information about you as an individual, and what you need from me, as an individual.  Since the idea of dating (for most) is to find someone with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life with, living in the same general space, and talking to each other every single day, I need deeper, more concrete information.

If you really like football, it might mean that you used to play and really enjoy a physical challenge, and respect the athletes who play professionally.  Or, it could mean that you’re extremely competitive, and you get a buzz from Your Team winning over Their Team 4,006 points to 12.  Or, it could mean that you’re really concerned with maintaining an image or a status in a group of people, and you participate in watching and talking about sports with them because you’re nervous that they won’t like you if you don’t.   All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

If you really like to build and paint miniatures, it could mean that you might be a person who needs a lot of alone time to feel balanced.  It could also mean that you’re really artistic, and need someone who can really appreciate the creations you put time into.  It could also mean that you’re rather antisocial, and prefer the company of yourself to others, and only want a woman around when you’re bored.  All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

As an adult, you need to be able to recognize these things in your own personality and then articulate them to people you want to date.  If you cannot do that, it will show in grand and terrifying ways during our phone call when I ask you, “so, what do you enjoy so much about Korean horror movies?”

The Quiz

Is quizzing people unconventional?  Yes.  Is it potentially scary or frustrating for the quizzee?  Sure.  Does it give me a wealth of information about that person’s personality, attitude, and abilities?  Absolutely.  I am not going to divulge the three questions that I ask here.  But I will tell you that they are general intelligence questions, set to a fair benchmark of life experience and knowledge.  They are not obscure questions about 1940’s noir films, nor are they calculus equations.  Also, potential suitors are told well in advance of even speaking to me for the first time that there are questions involved before the first date, so there is no surprise.  If you agree to the phone call, you have also already agreed to the quiz, which serves two different purposes.

-It weeds out the insecure ones.  This is by far the most helpful benefit of the quiz.  The quiz, in the grand scheme of things, is nearly meaningless.  It’s a silly little thing, and one of the questions doesn’t even have a right/wrong answer.  Really, none of them do if you’re creative enough.  But the pressure to perform and impress can be overwhelming for some guys, and the risk of failure too great.  One gentleman who took the quiz became angry after I asked the second question (he had answered the first with no problem), and began berating me for being a man-hating bitch, and accused me of solely wanting to make him look foolish.  Another gentleman answered the first two questions and told me that the quiz was pretty fun.  I then asked him the third, and after over-thinking it for a few minutes, he became highly emotional, and explained to me for 10 minutes about how he had been bullied in 4th grade by a kid named Lance.

Only one gentleman has ever said, “you know what, that’s a little too peculiar for me.  No thanks.”  I greatly respected him for making his choice based on his own comfort level, and I wished him luck in his future dating endeavors.  Less than ten minutes later, he wrote me online again and said, “due to the fact we’ve written this off, I’m curious what the questions are anyway?”  I explained to him that unfortunately, the questions were for potential dates only.  He then proceeded to condescend me, saying, “Just as a heads up, for us level headed and confident people, it comes off as a red flag. … You may be doing it to avoid bad dates, but may lose out on other great dates because of it.”  Among a few other things he said, the oh-so-subtle implication of “what you’re doing is stupid, all the smart people think so,” was enough for me to bid him a permanent adieu.  Although I was tempted to ask, “if you’re so level-headed and confident, why dodge the quiz?”

Insecurities are a part of life; everyone has them.  But I believe adults should be able to prioritize which threats are real, and which are constructed in our own minds.  Answering three normal questions from some girl you’ve never met, and who you have no obligation to meet anyway, should not be a threat large enough to induce a temper tantrum, tears, or passive-aggression.

-It weeds out the less intelligent ones.  “How dare you assume some people are less intelligent than others!  For shame!  I’m never reading your blog again!”  Ok.  Now that that’s addressed, let’s move on.

If you’ve ever worked with the general public, you know that some people either don’t pay as much attention as others, or seem to exist in a constant haze of ignorance.  If you haven’t worked with the general public, just go peruse any hashtag on Twitter.  Some of these people are good at concealing their true mentality online.  There are plenty of services that will write your online dating profile for you, so that you make a better impression.  If someone chooses to use one of those services, that’s no problem — but this is why I have a quiz.  I have wasted too much time explaining ridiculous things on first dates to people who just don’t bother to look around, or who are incapable of absorbing outside information.  I have explained that coffee comes from a plant.  I have explained what the little tab is for on your rear-view mirror.  I have explained that a different city hosts the Olympics every round.  I have explained that you have to hold a compass parallel to the ground in order for it to function.

annoyeddog

I fully understand and appreciate that these are not qualities that everyone looks for in a partner — but they are important to me, and I find it highly unlikely that I’m the only one.  My methods may be overly formulaic and rigid, and many consider my standards to be “too high.”  But after a hundred dates with the wrong guys, what do I really have to lose now by using an out-of-the-box method?  A date with the guy who promises me that I’ll regret not dating him?  Thanks, I’ll make a note of that.

Straddling the Fence

I just recently told someone that dating him wasn’t going to work out, and that he wasn’t able to give me what I needed.  Why?  Because he was incapable of conversing and answering questions in a clear, non-passive-aggressive way.  When I informed him of what he was doing, he told me that yes, he does have those problems… “But it’s possible that lots of people do that.  Well, maybe I don’t really have those problems even though I already said I did, and well, ok, MAYBE I do that, but maybe I don’t.  Maybe only sometimes.  I’ll try harder to do better, but you need to monitor how I’m speaking to you and tell me when I’m doing things wrong — even though I might maybe possibly perhaps sometimes deny that I’m doing anything.  And then it’s possible that I will change my mind again and admit to things just to get you to be quiet.” *throws self into the lashing sea* So, in light of this inspiration, I would like to talk about non-answers.  Akin to “non-apologies,” non-answers often are composed of an impressive amount of words, all of which are not really related to the situation or question at hand, or which give no actual information and often make no sense in context.  It’s like gibberish that still adheres to the rules of grammar and syntax.  It’s a method of purposeful, although likely subconscious obfuscation, so that the passive aggressor can “respond,” without actually giving an answer.  If you ask them to explain their answer, they can’t, and will continue to ride their delusional carousel around and around, whooping in faux delight, driving you closer and closer to a prescription for diazepam.  They’re presented in a number of different fashions, but my personal bane is the “middle of the road” response, which aims to cover any and all sides of an argument in one fell swoop.

barbieambiguity

Why This Sucks:

Because you’re manipulating the other person.  You’re not trusting the other person to respond in a way that’s comfortable for you.  You might be worried that they will be offended or upset by your real opinion of something, or it might be a topic that you feel very strongly about, so you’re not prepared to handle any strong opposition to your stance.  Therefore, you’re trying to control their emotions and response by only giving perfectly neutral answers.  If you don’t give a definitive answer, they can’t take the opposing side.  Additionally, they can’t be angry with you, because you didn’t actually say anything.  This is a direct attempt to control the entire conversation, including anything the other person might want to say. “Do you think that there should be stricter regulation on unicorn hunting?” “Maybe.  I mean, we should try to preserve the unicorns, but they’re also a really important magical commodity.” …AND?  You just stated two sides of the argument.  You did not take one, nor did you explain any alternate opinion you might have.  You did not answer the question — you squeezed through the sliver of space in the middle to avoid confrontation. 

Because you are lying.  There’s a reason that lying by omission is considered a crime.  Not that you’ll be arrested for being passive aggressive, but that should give you a hint that it really is an issue, and it really is, in fact, lying, contrary to many defenses.  By not giving an answer, you’re not giving truthful information.  Yes, yes, I know: you’re not giving untruthful information either, but I can’t even describe to you how weak of an argument that is. You are hiding the truth behind a musty, heavy velvet curtain of insecurity and distrust, while expecting the other person to be completely honest about everything they say.  If you’re not secure enough in the situation to talk about your own thoughts and handle the situation well if someone disagrees…then what’s the point?  What are you even trying to do?  Are you just trying to gather information about that person, while concealing everything about yourself from them?  What a terrible way to build a solid relationship.

Calvin_And_Hobbes-Report

Because you’re already blaming and judging the other person in your head — and we know it.  You’re fully prepared for someone to unleash a torrent of brimstone and rage at you for your opinion, when there’s likely no evidence that they’re going to do so.  By defending yourself from something that hasn’t happened yet, you’re indirectly, but by default, blaming the other person for what you think they might do.  People are not stupid, and can pick up on these cues very well.  You’re confused about why your partner is so upset when you’re “just having a conversation?”  It’s likely because you’re deploying an unspoken line of defense which stands ready to attack at any flinch or wiggle in the other person’s story.  You’re ready to be attacked and have drawn your sword, and in doing so, the other person feels they must follow suit, although they have no idea why they’re being threatened. Even if you have good reason to believe that the other person will attack you for your opinion or belief, it does not excuse being a passive aggressive coward.  You need to either speak up and tell them how you’re feeling, or leave.  If you’re interested in a more in-depth explanation of this confusing defense-against-the-offense-that-doesn’t-exist business, you can read about a related issue here. If you’re not going to give people the courtesy of honest conversation, then you’re probably not ready to date.  If you’ve been hurt in the past by someone who belittled you, or if you’ve had a relationship which left you feeling smaller than you should, it’s understandable to take some time to build yourself back up.  What is not understandable or acceptable, is allowing yourself to stay small, and pretending as though other people are going to kick you for it.  It’s also important to note that passive aggression is considered to be emotional abuse — it’s not something to take lightly, as it can have crippling effects.  Learn to communicate respectfully, and honestly.  It’s not that hard.

The Emerald Isle: Part 5

My vacation was coming to a close, and I had some hefty decisions to make as I pointed Seamus to the East in preparation for the drive back to Dublin.  Should I swing south and visit Cork?  Do I try to make it all the way to Waterford in one day?  Or do I go inland to see Kilkenny Castle?  There were several other options at my disposal; hundreds, actually, because Ireland is absolutely teeming with things to see and experience.  It was at this moment in my trip that I realized how much I still had yet to see in Ireland, and that I would most certainly need a return trip in the future.  Considering the Waterford Crystal factory no longer functions in Ireland, it seemed silly to make the longer drive to Waterford just to shop and read a few placards about the crystal making process I wouldn’t get to see.  As for Cork, I was advised not to go unless I had a lot of time to spend there, and I only had an afternoon.  Also, I was a little wary of running into my ex-boyfriend’s family, considering they are from, and still currently reside in Cork…haha…  Kilkenny it was!

I would have moved to Kilkenny in a heartbeat.  It is an adorable gem of a city that has just a touch of modern flair, and boasts history, culture, comedy, art, and great food.  I was deeply torn that I couldn’t spend more time there to see all the other attractions that were nearby, but ended up taking a lovely stroll to Kilkenny Castle and touring it in its entirety.  I’ve seen a few luxurious castles in my time, one of which was the Palace of Versailles, which is grand and ornate — bordering on ridiculous, really.  But Kilkenny Castle has a lovely, more down-to-earth vibe, nearly devoid of extreme narcissism.  I would dare even to call it “homey.”  It is grand, absolutely, and of course dripping in finery, but still holds onto the traditional Irish charm, and makes you feel as though the nobles would still have invited you to place your peasant ass on their gilded couch and share in a shot of whiskey.  Its architecture is more modest than some, given that its original purpose was to serve as more of a control fortress than a fancy noble dwelling.  There is a section of the castle in which the floor is see-through, through which you can view the original stonework for the moat, which ups the level of badassery considerably.  If you ever have the opportunity to tour Kilkenny Castle, I will warn you not to stare through the floor for too long, particularly when about to exit into the next section of the tour.  Directly at the end of the see-through-floor hallway, there is a menacing 7-foot tall suit of armor that seems to be strategically placed to scare the pants off of unsuspecting visitors who are too involved in what’s below them (I was one of them).  Aside from the real live history beneath your feet, Kilkenny Castle also boasts an impressive exhibit of one of the sections of Morpeth’s Roll, essentially a GIANT “farewell” letter to Lord Viscount Morpeth (a.k.a. George Howard) in 1841 after he left his position of Chief Secretary of Ireland.  Somewhere around 300,000 people hand signed the document, which has been digitized thanks to modern technology.  The history and circumstances surrounding this event are fascinating all in themselves, but particularly so if you believe you may have familial roots in Ireland.  After roaming the great halls and cozy rooms of Kilkenny Castle, I strolled through the masterful rose garden.  The drizzly, grey-clouded day seemed only to serve as a perfectly neutral background to some of the most amazing roses I’ve ever seen.

kilkennyrose

I departed from Kilkenny begrudgingly and headed for my last B&B of the trip, located in Rathcoole.  In the morning, I would depart begrudgingly from Ireland, land of good beer, good people, and gorgeous landscapes, and hop back across the Pond to Florida, land of rednecks who swear they’re not Southerners, suffocating humidity, and dirty diapers on beaches plagued with sand gnats.  Rather than mope for the last day of my trip, however, I decided to simply breathe as deeply as possible and really enjoy my last 18 hours in such a lovely country.  Having arrived in Rathcoole and checked into my B&B, I asked my hostess if she had a recommendation for where I could have dinner.  She informed me that aside from fast food, there was really only one pub within reasonable driving distance, and that it was quite good.  She said it was called Anposhunil.  What?  I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.  What’s it called?  Aumprashientail.  Aoanprasteentel.  Einpreshinshtil.  I asked her to say it probably twelve times, and each time it was as though she either said it faster or changed the pronunciation for her own amusement.  I am a linguist.  I have a 4-year degree in linguistics, with a focus in phonetics, and I had no idea what this woman was saying.  She finally wrote it down for me, and I said, “oh! Of course!  How silly of me,” although I still had no idea how to pronounce An Poitin Stil (and frankly, still don’t).

Regardless of my feeble American pronunciation of such robust Gaelic words, I found Aiprawshenteel with no trouble, and was engaged by a waiter who was terribly friendly.  *ahem*  Extraordinarily friendly.  It was truly some of the smoothest flirting I’ve ever experienced, and I thought to myself, “ah, this must be that ‘Irish charm’ everyone warned me about.”  His brazen overconfidence aside, he was very nice and quite pleasant to talk to, and happened to introduce me to what is still the best whiskey I’ve had to date.  Friends, if you are whiskey lovers, I beg of you to try Midleton Very Rare.  You won’t regret it.  A big thanks to the amiable bloke in the pub who allowed me to taste it, although I suspect he’s still disappointed that I didn’t join him for a nightcap.

The next morning I arrived at the airport and bid adieu to Seamus, my trusty steed.  Having slogged through two security checkpoints and customs, I settled aboard my flight to watch the patches of hunter green, fern green, and shamrock green fade away through the mist.  It was an exquisite trip, more than I could have hoped for, and I will absolutely return to Ireland one day.  But until the day that I can again experience the overt friendliness, the rugged green hills, the sheep, the thin places, the meat pies, the hurling, and the whiskey, I will simply encourage whoever reads this to go in my stead, where I’m sure you will receive céad míle fáilte.

 

 

The Emerald Isle: Part 4

Perhaps a tiny bit hungover and loath to leave my gaggle of new puppy friends, leaving Killarney was challenging.  After a few fits and starts getting out of bed and putting my feet firmly on the floor, I persevered and managed to get on the road after a most-reviving breakfast provided by the Muckross B&B.  Headed for the westernmost point of all Europe, I came across a fellow driver who taught me a valuable lesson in humility.

I stopped for gas before I reached Dingle, and was engaged in garbled conversation by the station attendant, who was, as many people seem to be, enthusiastically supportive of a young woman traveling the world, and also of my choice of road snacks.  From what I gathered, my Irish country friend enjoys Jaffa Cakes as much as I do, and has a cousin that I look similar to.  Or perhaps it was that there was “a mutton that I should look into”…I’m uncertain.

The town of Dingle not only has a name that makes me chuckle, but is as charming a tourist town as you’ll ever find.  While there’s a definite element of “shabbiness” to Dingle, it is absolutely homey and its inhabitants are impressively patient with the constant stream of tourist folly. Having no idea what I was doing (as usual), I drove in erratic zig-zags around Dingle until I saw a sign reading “Slea Head Drive.”  I reasoned that no matter which route I chose I would find something beautiful, so I followed its direction and ended up in precisely the place I was looking for, easily one of the most invigorating places on earth.

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The one thing I was not expecting about Slea Head Drive was the steep drop-offs that would plunge any overly confident driver directly into the Atlantic Ocean.  Guard rails?  Nah, no need for those here.  Apparently the Irish believe that the best way to keep drivers from careening off the road and piercing themselves on a jagged shoal is to foster pure, uninhibited terror.  Don’t want to die?  Don’t go over the edge.  Having experienced and analyzed this concept first-hand, I can attest to its effectiveness.  Really, that mindset seems far more rational than to try and protect the world’s population of imbeciles from their own ignorance, but I digress.

I eventually got the hang of driving a foot away from a cliff edge and started to feel more like a Bond Girl in a daring Maserati car chase than a freaked out tourist in a Fiat.  But then…then came the sheep.  A gentleman came along with his flock of adorable little spray-painted sheep and was herding them with his car, which I thought was both lazy and brilliant.  However, this farmer was herding his sheep in the opposite direction of traffic, which I had assumed only flowed in one direction up until this point.  I was fortunate enough to have a small gravel median to my left, but I can’t imagine what I would have done if I hadn’t.  I edged Seamus over to about 4 inches from the side of the cliff, and prayed that it would give the flock and the herdsman’s car enough clearance.  It did, and the farmer gave me a nonchalant wave of thanks, while the sheep glanced at me with something akin to suffocating British politeness and normal sheep panic.  As they slid past Seamus, I held my breath, certain that any exhalation would cause the precipice on which my car was parked to crumble and I would become a glorious sacrifice to Poseidon.  But I survived my encounter with the fleecy road plow and continued onward, finding a few places along the road later on that did have a guard rail of sorts.

slearoad

To say I enjoyed my time on Dingle Peninsula would be inaccurate.  Slea Head has a certain kind of flavor to it, one that is both Irish and distinct in its own right.  It’s as though the land is really just a sleeping dragon which holds countless ancient secrets that it is unwilling to share with the silly, mortal passers-by that traipse over its hills and roads each day.  As a visitor, I was painfully aware that I was precisely that: a visitor.  The land seems to own itself, and isn’t exactly a “destination” or a “place” so much as it is a perception-altering experience — one which I would recommend a thousand times over.

I left Dingle Peninsula and was so lost in my thoughts  and memories of it that I suddenly found myself very near Cork, and didn’t really remember much of the drive.  I arrived to my next scheduled B&B and opened my car door to be greeted by yet another new bestest friend, Lily.

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I had already been aware of Lily from the many mentions of her sweetness in the online reviews of the Bridgeview Farmhouse B&B.  As I stepped out of my car, I exclaimed, “Oh, you must be Lily!”  A surprised voice behind me said, “you know my dog?”  And that is how I met the incredible Marion of Kilbrittain.

Marion is one of the kindest and most exuberant people I have met in my time traveling the world.  She exudes a traditional Irish charm, infused with a natural curiosity and love for people.  After settling in my room, Marion, a wonderful couple from Seattle (I think), and I sat in the parlor and shared tea and stories before parting ways for dinner.  Marion recommended two excellent restaurants and I foolishly ignored her advice for the sake of not having to drive for too long again.  I drove into the tiny village of Ballinspittle and opted for a simple pub-style dinner.  If you’ve ever been to Ballinspittle, you know exactly which pub I went to…because I’m pretty sure it’s the only one.

While eating, I was approached by a man named Gerard, who seemed to have some sort of cognitive disability, and he asked if I was happy.  I informed him that yes, I was very happy.  He nodded and left.  1.5 minutes later, he came around again to ensure that I was still happy, and informed me that he too was quite happy.  I ended up speaking to Gerard at length and we had a splendid conversation about America, traveling, how Gerard was born and raised in Ballinspittle, how Willie Nelson is from Texas, and how Texas is larger than the whole of Ireland.  Gerard was excellent company, but just as I was about to pay my bill, a family member of his showed up in the bar with a baby.  The baby turned out to be his niece, and Gerard insisted that I hold her.

Anyone who knows me at all likely knows that children are not my forte.  I have been chastised in the past for referring to babies as an “it,” so I would like to point out to a certain person (you know who you are) that here I was careful to include the appropriate gendered pronoun for the child.  In general, I don’t mind or dislike children, I just don’t know what to do with them.  I am neither skilled nor comfortable in dealing with a human that can neither communicate effectively nor walk a straight line without falling on his/her ass and crying about it.  To be clear, I am not discriminatory: I do not tolerate such behavior in adults either.  But honestly, if your child hands me a toy telephone, my first instinct is not to pick it up and say, “hello?”  My first instinct is to dump a truckload of complex information about telephones on the child and run away.  “Yeah, that’s a phone.  You see, there are buttons here, and each telephone has a series of numbers, seven digits long, that directs a call to that particular unit.  But those numbers are divided by geographic region, as well as country, which in all will add another four digits to the routing sequence.  K, bye!”

 It was clear that Gerard was simply very proud of his niece and wanted to share his joy with me.  That, combined with my confusion and reluctance, led to a small standoff in the pub. Gerard held his niece out to me to receive, and like the terrible person I am, I just sort of let her float there for a second before crushing guilt and social obligation broke me and I took her from him.  So I’m in a foreign country, in a bar, holding someone’s child that I don’t know, who was given to me by her mentally handicapped uncle, and she’s staring at me, and I’m staring at her, and everyone involved is weirded out except for Gerard, who’s thrilled.  The child’s mother had left her with Gerard and was no where to be seen, and I started to worry that she might think I was trying to steal her or something.  In America, you can’t even tell someone else’s kid to stop climbing on a grocery store display without getting rounded on by the mother, and I’m unfamiliar with the proper protocol for passing a baby around a room.  I understand that it’s a somewhat common practice, but…in a bar?  With strangers?  Does everyone get a turn?  Is there a special order for passing her?  Who’s supposed to get her next?   How long do I have to hold her before someone really believes “my arms are just tired?”

To add to the situation, the child in my arms just…stared.  She didn’t do any of the things normal babies do.  No flailing arms, no grabbing for my jewelry, no looking around the room, no babbling.  She and I were supernaturally connected through intense, unwavering, awkward-as-hell eye contact, and neither of us was going to break first.  She then started to lean forward, slowly, and got closer and closer to my face, as I withdrew at an equal rate.  Creepy Baby only broke eye contact when her mother appeared at my side and said cheerfully, “Hello!  Oh, be careful, she’ll bite you.”

What?!  Does she even have teeth?  I would almost rather be bitten than gummed, but that’s beside the point.  I forced a (hopefully) believable chuckle at the apparent flesh-eating hobby of the baby that was clearly making its move.  Oh, how silly the wee ones can be!  Haha...here’s your kid.

While I’m no good with children, I can say confidently that I’m a great actress.  I gracefully rid myself of the Zombie Baby, paid my bill, and said farewell to my friend Gerard, who insisted on giving me a bear hug.  With a sparkling American smile on my face, I thanked Gerard’s sister (I assume) for letting me hold her adorable offspring, picked up my bag and ran the hell away.

Back at Bridgeview B&B, the weirdness of the evening’s events melted away.  Marion served up glasses of some kind of fabulous liquor, and I stayed up with Marion and the other guests until well past 1:00am chatting, laughing hysterically, and sharing our best travel stories.  That evening was one of the most affecting moments I’ve experienced in all my travels.  It was a few perfect hours of genuine camaraderie, respect of differences, and intelligent, fascinating conversation between strangers.  If it somehow comes to pass that anyone who was in that parlor reads this, you should know it was a pleasure to meet you.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this series, in which I tour a castle and am introduced to how whiskey is supposed to taste.

The Emerald Isle, Pt. 3

After inadequate sleep, an awkward breakfast (the Gremlins and their parents joined my table), and a few helpful tips from a lovely Australian couple, I departed for County Clare.  There was a distinct difference in driving conditions in County Clare, and “two-lane roads” became a mere 7-8 feet wide, and were often flanked by seemingly harmless bushes.  I came to discover through second-hand experience that those bushes are really just unkempt decoration for the SOLID STONE WALLS that line the country roads.  Suddenly the zip ties on Seamus’ passenger-side hubcaps made more sense.

I did my best to stay on my side of the road, not that there seemed to be “sides,” really, and eventually came across a small sign that read, “Burren Perfumery.”  It sounded interesting, and considering my nerves and the numbness of my ass from sitting for a few hours already, I made a snap decision and followed the arrow.  It turned out that the roads in County Clare could get even smaller, who knew?  Toss in some blind corners and hairpin turns, and you’ve got one hell of a ride.  I spent at least 20 minutes following sign after sign, hunting through the Burren for some dinky perfumery, just waiting for the moment in which some Irish farmer would come tearing around a corner at 80km/hour and headbutt me into Heaven.  Half lost, I constantly wondered, “what do you do if you meet another car on the road?”  Part of me was optimistic enough to believe that I might get through the Burren and back to the highway without having to answer that question, but it was wrong.  The moment of truth came when I whipped around a half-circle turn and slammed on my brakes as a car appeared out of thin air.  My tires ground into the gravel and my adrenal glands prepared me for impact, but I opened my eyes and saw that the other car had seen me and stopped.  There was a moment where I thought, “oh god, what if this is just the longest one-way road ever, and I’m the asshole American who missed a sign.”  But in true Irish fashion, the other driver was very kind, and he gave an emphatic “go ahead” gesture.  He then proceeded to stuff 1/4 of his car into the bushes, which scratched and squealed against the metal and windows.  Not wanting to seem rude (or stupid), I slammed the car into gear and smashed Seamus into the bushes on the opposite side of the road, barely slipping past as my Farmer Friend waved goodbye with a huge smile.

He disappeared in my rearview mirror, and I was left to ponder what the hell had just happened.  The more I thought about it, the more the answers became clear to me: What happens when there are two cars passing on a teensy road?  You drive through the damn bushes, duh.  But what if there’s a stone wall underneath the bushes?  Zip ties, duh.  In that moment, I realized how much of an uptight American I was being, and proceeded through the Burren with a newfound love of Irish simplicity.

I found the perfumery, watched a video about flowers that I would not see in bloom, poked at some old-looking bottles, and toured a garden the size of my living room at home.  Huzzah, perfumery.  The woman who owns the Burren Perfumery was wonderful and very informative, but it was clear that I was not a member of the usual demographic she served.  I encountered a few more cars on my way back to the main highway, and had perhaps a little too much fun driving through the bushes (sorry, Seamus).  It really is liberating, you should try it.

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The Burren Perfumery

The Burren Perfumery

Seamus really took a beating that day.  Not only was he whipped with branches on several occasions, but he was forced to chug up mountain switchbacks for a better part of the day.  I drove a significant part of the way to the Cliffs of Moher in 1st gear, solely because that was the only gear that kept us moving forward and up.  There’s a great little restaurant at the Cliffs of Moher, with stunning views and really decent food, and also a few little crap-trap tourist shops of no consequence.  But the Cliffs themselves are stunning, and 100% worth the arduous drive.  I’m not going to bother posting my pictures of the Cliffs of Moher because they’re completely worthless.  Every picture I’ve ever seen, including mine, make them look like they’re a part of a Polly Pocket scene compared to their actual scale.  “Majestic” is a word I heard often from people who had seen them before me, and that’s precisely what they are.  I have included below, however, a picture of O’Brien’s Tower, shot from on top of the Cliffs themselves.  There’s also a picture of another buddy of mine who thought my coat was delectable.

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County Clare

County Clare

I left the Cliffs of Moher and took the car ferry from Killimer to Tarbert, and continued on until I reached my next destination, Killarney.  Upon arriving, I checked into the Muckross Farm B&B, a working farm with a wonderful family who were excellent hosts.  I was shown to my room and then told that I was welcome to go see the horses in the barn.  Horses?!  Hell yeah!  Turns out there were not only horses, but also bunnies, goats, sheep, chickens, and THESE GUYS:

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After satiating my intense need for puppy snuggles, I set off in search of dinner and landed at Molly Darcy’s restaurant/pub.  Having consumed half of the most amazing meat pie I’ve ever had, I became aware that there was apparently a very important sports event occurring, and many of the patrons in the bar were engrossed.  There was a group of gentlemen to my left, who were kind enough to say hello and briefly explain the Irish national sport of hurling to me.  I also learned from them that I should root for County Clare to win the game, solely because County Cork people suck.  Having dated a Cork man in the past, I was inclined to agree with them, and we had a great time watching County Clare become champions.  Once the game ended, the gents informed me that they were actually at the hotel next door for a wedding, and would need to return now that the game was over.  They also invited me to join them, so I did.  I was introduced to many people as, “Kaylynn, the American,” and promptly had a Guinness shoved into my hand.  I had a fantastic time meeting the guests of the wedding, including the lovely girlfriends of my newfound pub friends, and left the event in the wee hours of the morning feeling very privileged to have been included in the celebration.  I also learned that the traditional wedding cake for the Irish is fruit cake, which, as an American, I thought was highly entertaining.

Stay tuned for Part 4, in which I’m nearly run off the road by sheep, and have an unsettling encounter with someone’s baby in a pub.

The Emerald Isle, Pt. 1

Ok ok, I know.  I was in Ireland in September, and it’s now March, and “where’s the blog about your trip?!”  Here it is, so you gibbons can quit your whooping.  I took some (poor quality) videos on my phone throughout my trip, mostly as proof to my Mother that I was still alive and the messages I sent her weren’t actually from my captors/murderers/pimps.  I hope you enjoy  my falderal.

Ireland was everything I expected it to be and more.  It’s a fascinating place, largely because it’s one where individual perceptions rarely vary too far.  With most locations in the world, everyone is eager to give their opinions and stories, perceptions and favorites; but all of those experiences differ between people.  When I went to France, many told me that going up into the Eiffel Tower wasn’t worth the wait or the money, and that the real splendor was seeing it from the ground all around the city.  I decided against their judgement and clamored up the metal staircase behind a group of 20 raucous French 3rd-graders and didn’t regret a moment of it.  If you were to ask me if the diving is good in Belize, I would advise against it: a few rays, a few fish, a few rocks, but nothing you haven’t seen before.  However, I met a couple on the dive boat who said they travel to Belize to dive every year because it’s their favorite location.  In Ireland, however, everyone seems to have remarkably similar experiences.  I’ve heard tales of people who were rained on for a solid two weeks in the middle of summer and still had the time of their lives.  I met a couple in a B&B who said it was their 22nd trip back to the Emerald Isle, and they had never once been disappointed.  While I’m sure there are people who have had less than stellar experiences in Ireland, I can’t seem to find them.  Perhaps it’s just the novelty of being away from regular life or the thrill of a new place, but I was able to think more clearly, breathe more freely, and really absorb my experience, rather than just traveling from landmark to landmark and checking them off the list.

My adventures in Ireland began when I touched down in Dublin and couldn’t see a damn thing.  Fog.  There was so much fog it felt as though it was raining.  I hopped in a shuttle van to the rental car lot with 6 other strange travelers, most of them American.  Within 2 minutes of our 12 minute ride, the driver had somehow conducted introductions of everyone in the car, given a few basic tips on driving on the left-hand side of the road, explained the difference between black and white pudding, passed out maps of Dublin, and was deeply into a hilarious Q&A with the backseat when we arrived.  There was a collective, “aw,” but we all exited the van and said our goodbyes and well-wishes to each other.  If you allow it to, Ireland will turn you into a nicer person than you were before.

My brain kicked into problem-solving mode as I hunted out my rental car in the lot.  I have driven a manual transmission car for years, but never with my left hand on the gear shift and never on the other side of the road.  My travel method can be generally described as: buy a language book, be aware of major threats, figure out the rest when you get there.  I located my tiny red Fiat, with its wimpy engine and many zip ties that fastened the passenger’s side hub cabs to the wheels.  Wimpy as it was, I developed an anthropomorphic fondness for it, and I named it Seamus.


So I survived the rental car parking lot and successfully navigated the Irish highway system into Dublin proper.  The driving itself is not at all scary or difficult.  The new spacial awareness, however, is downright terrifying.  Coming from the US, I was unaccustomed to allowing my car to come so close to other cars, walls, cliffs, etc., and there were many times I was shocked not to hear the screeching of metal against a pole or other obstacle.  I could have sworn I just hit that pole, but nope – I had just never experienced maneuvering a vehicle with only a 2-inch margin of error.  I was forced to find my courage in a parking garage.

And yes, I was instinctively reaching for the gear shift with my right hand.  It was my first day, alright?!  I finally checked in at the Croke Park Hotel*, and took a 45 minute nap, and then a shower to try and shake off the jetlag.  I spent the rest of the day walking through Dublin.  I somehow joined a small group of retirees and explored with them for a short while.  By explored, I mean we compared maps and tried to orient ourselves for a solid 20 minutes.  They were lovely, good-natured people and together we found our way into the heart of Dublin.  I branched off and headed straight for the one thing I was determined to see in Dublin: Trinity College Library.  Oh, friends.  I can’t express how glorious and reverent this place is.  If you’re a book lover or history/anthropology buff, I highly recommend it.  To get to the library, you’ll pass through the The Book of Kells exhibit, which is well-done and very informative, although be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there.  It’s very possible to flit through to the library, but the historical and culturally significant information there is worth taking the time.  Below are a few images I took while in the library when I wasn’t standing still, slack-jawed and drooling.

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I spent the rest of the day wandering Dublin, eating fish and chips, and generally being a tourist.  Dublin is a very interesting city, and I enjoyed my time there, although it was no highlight of the trip.  Out of the European cities I’ve been too, Dublin is the dirtiest, hands down.  The smell of urine meanders boldly down most streets, and the buildings and walls are covered with a special kind of seemingly permanent grime.  While listening to the radio in my car the next day, there was an entire segment of listeners calling in to discuss the issue of public urination in Dublin, and many contributors were of the opinion that it’s just a fact of life.  So while Dublin is teeming with culture and history and good times to be had by all…wash your hands.

I left Dublin the next morning and headed to Belfast with little-to-no idea of where I was going except “north.”  Throughout the entire trip, I was very surprised at how easy it is to navigate the roundabout-laden highway systems in Ireland.  I found myself many times without a map or a functioning GPS, and still never got lost once.   If you have to, you can get around Ireland just fine with a brain, a functioning pair of eyes, and a few tidbits of local advice.

Adventures in Belfast and the remainder of my time in Northern Ireland will be continued soon.

*Hotel and B&B reviews will be written soon. Eventually. I’ll get to it, I swear.

Earwigs and You: Personal Discovery through Metaphorical Dermaptera

Earwigs.  Pinchies.  Forficula auricularia.  Grey Matter Manglers.  We all hate them, right?  Those nasty, skittery insects with mammoth butt-pincers who seem intent on chasing you, and burrowing through to their new home in your corpus callosum by way of your ear canal.  They are nasty, terrifying, and will now likely haunt your peripheral vision for a few days.

OMG, what’s that on your neck?!  Just kidding.

What if I told you that you might be keeping these guys as pets?  Not only that, but you may be dropping them into your ear yourself.  Ok, so not literally, but you may be metaphorically allowing your head-pudding to be violated by subconscious earwig-like mental items.  Not only will you freak people out and eventually lose all your friends, but your mind will become more and more infested with pinchy mofo’s who control your actions and your words.  What in Hell’s blazes am I talking about, you ask?  I’m talking about “just.”

Such a seemingly simple word, but along with his older brother, “only,” they are capable of destroying your relationships and your self-esteem.  When used in a certain context, “just” and “only” create a castle, indomitable and fierce, from which you will launch volleys of flaming arrows at the people around you, and where you will sit comfortably “safe” on your Throne of Passive Aggression, with the glittering Crown of Self-Victimization digging deep grooves into your forehead.

“I was just trying to help.”

“I’m only trying to be honest.”

These words are far more complex than most realize, and are simultaneously offensive and defensive, which puts your conversation partner in an uncomfortable position.  These words automatically assume and suggest that you are under attack, and that you must defend your position.  They also wrongfully assume and suggest that whoever is speaking to you is the attacker, and is therefore the, “bad guy.”   So both you and your conversation partner are forced into a position of trying to protect yourselves from insult and hurt (you by assuming the other person intends to hurt you, and he by trying to defend against the intangible label of, “assailant”), and making sure that your point is understood…without hurting the other person…while still communicating effectively…but not insultingly…

How does this destroy relationships?  In reality, you (the Earwig Charmer) have positioned yourself to be mostly in control of the situation in a couple of ways:

1. You have attempted, and likely succeeded at making the other person feel guilty.  For what, exactly?  Nothing.  You have made that person feel guilty for disagreeing, or giving you constructive criticism, or having an idea that differs from yours.  By manipulating their emotions, you have created an environment in which you have restricted the actions and words they are comfortable using.  Example:

Boss: “Hey, Team Member.  I see you stacked the boxes of things over to the NNW.  I think they would be more out of the way if we stacked them farther to the SSE.”

Team Member: “Oh, well I was just trying to unpack them as quickly as possible.”

You see, rather than just accepting direction from The Boss, our Team Member friend has already taken offense to the alternate suggestion, and assumes that The Boss is belittling him for his choice of location for the boxes of things.  It’s oh-so-freaking-subtle, but that’s what makes this mindset so dangerous; people who make impersonal requests or comments manifest as nightmare marionettes within the passive-aggressor’s mind.  Over time, if you use this tactic with the same person many times, they will eventually become frightened to speak to you, because every time they do they will feel horrible and wrongfully accused and under attack, and there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves.

2. Why can’t they defend themselves?  Because you’ve already made yourself the victim.  It sounds a little bass-ackwards, but self-victimization is a defense mechanism.  Someone can’t hurt you if you’re already hurt.  They can’t power-play over you because you’re already the victim.  By degrading yourself and lowering your own self-esteem (putting imaginary earwigs in your own ear), you have tried to avoid more emotional damage by emotionally damaging yourself first.  You have made yourself seem weak in an effort to control how much someone is capable of hurting you.  The most difficult part about this entire situation is that we develop these passive aggressive defense mechanisms because we have been hurt before – so we hurt other people in order to avoid being hurt.  By other people.

3.  Although the underlying fodder is still emotional defense, “just” and “only” can also be used in a more malicious method.  It can be used to degrade and invalidate another’s opinion or feeling with swift and crushing force.

Person: “I feel very angry that you got hammered at my birthday party and threw up on my bed.”

Other Person: “I was just trying to have fun.”

This power-grab insinuates that Person’s feelings of anger are less important than Other Person’s desire for and goal of having fun.  It’s a sneaky, hurtful way to avoid responsibility for one’s actions, and will likely cause Person’s self-esteem to take a nose dive.  Because language is so volatile and creative, Other Person could even change his response to displace even stronger blame, perhaps with something like, “I was just trying to celebrate with you.”  This implies that not only is Other Person innocent, but Person is an ungrateful hack who does not appreciate the effort put into an event that was all for him.  This is obviously an extreme example, and it should be mentioned that the most hurtful method of employing this evasive tactic comes in small, gradual doses over a long period of time.  Almost imperceptible to most people, insinuation is the ninja of defense mechanisms.  It slithers in through the attic of your soul and quietly peppers your confidence and self-worth with shuriken.  The consistent invalidation of someone’s feelings, particularly in extremely small doses that are difficult to detect, can wreck souls.

Passive aggressive behavior is meant to punish and hurt the other people who may have hurt you in the past, or who may hurt you in the future (read: EVERYONE).  That is its purpose and function, and yes, that is what you are doing.  You are hurting people.  They may be authority figures, they may be your parents, they may be people that you love and adore, or they may be total strangers, but by “just trying to protect yourself,” you are causing similar emotional damage to what someone once caused you.

I most often see instances of “just” and “only” in situations where no one is making jabs at anyone.  They are innocuous circumstances that quickly become hostile via one party’s insecurity and inability to deal with pre-existing emotional baggage.  Whether or not you have actually been insulted does not matter, there is never an excuse or an appropriate time for passive aggressive behavior.  If you feel hurt, betrayed, disrespected, condescended, made fun of, wrongfully criticized, whatever, it is your responsibility to acknowledge those feelings and deal with them in a respectful, clear manner.

Now that I have a nosebleed from trying to explain this very important topic, here’s the bottom line: Getting hurt or offended sucks.  But hurting yourself because you’re afraid of other people hurting and offending you, which hurts and offends other people is just as creepy and disgusting as earwigs.

Don’t Want Yo’ Shit

Stop buying me stuff.  I don’t want your concert tickets, or some “stylish” piece of knitted cloth, or some piece of shiny metal with shinier rocks attached to it, or the latest tech gadgets that will be irrelevant in 6 months, or any other material object that does nothing for my SOUL.  Each time you offer me something or ask me what I want for Christmas, my heart breaks.  There is no value in these shallow offerings of tangible crap, and if you think I’ve been ignorant to your game, you are gravely mistaken.  The sad likelihood is that you don’t even notice or understand your own game, and will continue hunting for love and acceptance through something that lives in a bank account or was made in Taiwan.

You ask me what I want–the answer will always be, again and again, your time.  Don’t you dare get me something that fits in a box of specific dimension; I want your attention.  Your conversation, your eye contact, your engagement, and temporary, exclusive access to your Wernicke’s.

I realize that your “gifts” make it easy and painless to connect with another human being.  With a gift, the cognitive stress of listening and responding is eliminated.  With a gift, your most-important life remains basically unaltered, with the exception of the 9 minutes you wasted shopping online.  Gifts are a perfect, socially acceptable response to nearly every situation, so you can never be blamed for being inattentive.  They’re an ideal replacement for any messy apology, as well–you can mop up any indiscretion with the lick of an envelope or a click of the “Place Order” button on FTD.com.  If you’re feeling inadequate, a gift can easily express your message when words are too difficult to find.  Need a good distraction? A gift can easily divert from those silly little secrets in life that are best left unnoticed.

When it comes down to it, gifts are a lovely way to degrade and ignore someone.  When someone isn’t worth your time, effort, love or honesty: send a gift.  Send a teddy bear, or a card, or a check.  They come in all forms: everything from Tiffany’s boxes to “favors.”

But there’s another perk to gift-giving, isn’t there?  That heady element of control and obligation, the scot-free condescension, the unbridled power over those who are less wealthy.

I paid for dinner (you owe me).

Here, let me help you out of a bind (you owe me).

Surprise! I bought you that {item} you had your eye on (you owe me).

I support you financially (you owe me).

You somehow believe that gifts don’t always have to be free for the recipient, although you’ll never state the terms.  Maybe you’ll expect a direct payback, or perhaps you’ll just hold onto your emotional collateral for the future.  This method not only allows you an investment with high expected ROI whenever you wish it, but also allows for the immediate dismissal of the previously mentioned ignorance and degradation.  “How ungrateful! After everything I’ve done for you.”

Minimal effort to maintain relationships, the illusion of authority and a limitless Get Out Of Jail Free card? No wonder you’re so generous!

Call me an ingrate, call me ignorant, call me poor.  Call me benighted, call me ridiculous, call me rude.  Call me whatever you wish but know that without the depth and humanity of a real relationship, you will not continue to own the title of friend, companion, father, mother.  Your gifts do not excuse you from honest interaction.  Your gifts do not garner you automatic respect.  You gifts do not replace your presence in my life, and are unacceptable as such.