Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"I'm okay, right?"

“We are okay, we are all right/We sing very loud…we shut our eyes through fear and doubt.”
--Joshua Radin, We are Okay

"Go away. I'm all right."
--H.G. Wells, last words


“I’m OK, right?”

This is the question that I have asked people of influence to me at every critical point in my life. Every time but one, the answer has been yes. That time, when the answer was "you're not okay, you need to get healthy again," I crumpled under the weight of it at the foot of a trail over a good-sized wilderness of doubts, fears and changes that needed courage and support of (very patient) friends and family in order to navigate it.

Here’s the thing about that question; every negative answer outweighs all of the answers in the affirmative. Because at gut level, that question really is “am I love-able? Am I worth it?” And if I get mixed reviews on that answer, I’m suddenly thrown into a vortex of doubts.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that everyone at some point in their lives will struggle with this question. But especially it comes up where love is involved. This is the question I and my single friends ask at the end of every potential relationship, on the evenings when we watch movies and eat ice cream after hearing about the engagement of the guy one of us was never really over, after attending the office Christmas party alone. We ask it when plunging into yet another long expedition into the world of bridesmaid dresses and shower-planning. We ask it after answering a multitude of "why not?" questions from family or friends about a guy who happens to --funnily enough--be single, too! A perfect match, obviously. We have so much in common. Let's just say we ask that question a lot.

I think we all need to know we’re okay when the life we’re living doesn’t match what we expected in any sense. You know this if you’ve changed careers, too. When your major in Videography at a liberal arts university appears to lead to Starbucks…with some pro bono youth group video work on the side, you need to hear that. Perhaps the only quantifiable payoff from that major will be the cheers of sweaty seventh graders, but it does at least lend a whisper of the idea that you might be okay.

I know I need a good amount of affirmation in different ways to make it through a day. One of my lifelong struggles will be with that tendency to people-please, so it's possible this question might be a bigger deal for me than for some. But with regard to singleness, I suspect that a lot of people have a finely-tuned radar when it comes to being okay. What we get, instead of reassurance that we are okay, is a lot of questions, a few implications (subtle or otherwise), and a whole lot of well-meant wishes for "the real thing to come along". Facing that kind of chronic doubt is typical when you're facing it from yourself (Anne LaMott refers to it as that radio station inside your head "KFKD"). When you're facing that faint doubt from everyone else, it gets to be a constant tension, something that creates a defensive sensitivity. What I have to watch out for is when the question becomes this one:

"I AM okay, all right? Leave me alone!"

It's when I start hearing the echo of this statement in my thoughts that I'm getting far away from a healthy perspective. But more on this in the next post.

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