As I’ve gotten older, I've continued to lose. I’ve lost relationships, I’ve lost pieces of my self-image, and I’ve lost the need to please people around me. Who I thought I'd be by 25 was lost in college. Losing can be a winning game.
I used to dream of being married, having at least one kid, and living in a big Atlanta home surrounded by my black boujee neighbors by 24. Like many of us, I used achievement as the only mark of growth. Oh she’s got a new job? Oh she got married? Oh she bought a house? She’s grown. While these may be measures of growth, I failed to imagine the growth that would come from lessons I would learn in hardships, from loss. Losing has been one of my greatest teachers. And not just failure, but losing a layer of the veil so many of us wear as we imagine our futures, and who we think we should become.
I was a late bloomer. Not physically: I pretty much have all of the same physical assets of my 9 year old self. But I carried a certain naïveté due to my sheltered upbringing in the church. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the covering of my parents and the faith they instilled in me. But I’ve found something about super Christian culture, perhaps even black culture, tells us that we should shield our youth from lessons they will inevitably learn - "grown folks business." The shell shock of learning that everything was not simply solved by mustard seed faith was, to me, a loss. No one really told me to expect discord as an adult - at least not the kind I experienced - not financially, not romantically, not personally. No one spoke to me about the internal questions I would have about who I was when I made the wrong decision. Self disappointment was an uncomfortable experience I would repress for a lot of my time growing up, it later manifested as self deprecation. I would blame myself, pity myself, shame myself, instead of working through what I’d done. This was my loss of innocence - not only in what I learned about the world and experiences, but what I learned about being human. When I realized I would fail my own expectations of myself, I had the choice to either lower those expectations or manage them with an understanding of failure as a teacher. I’m still working to manage.
My loss of innocence also involved the late discovery of my parents as people. The day you learn that your parents are flawed is a milestone. Seeing my parents hurt each other emotionally, whether unintentionally or not, brought into question the false notion I’d grown up with that love, and simply that, could solve every relationship problem. My heroes were *dunh dunh dunh* human, and that meant sometimes I could see “right” more clearly than they could. Wondering about who my parents would have been, if they had the same opportunities they gave to me, erased the idea of “legacy” I once had. Parents cannot live out their dreams through their children without burdening someone. In fact, my parents had to let go of their dreams to make room for mine. With that realization, I no longer felt like their child. I felt responsible. In losing my innocence, I gained perspective, drive, and empathy.
Is losing friendships the mark of adulthood? The subject matter is in almost every online women's magazine. And to my surprise, it was a marker in my latest season of growth. Let me preface everything I say with this: You must learn the difference between turbulence and toxicity. Turbulence is but for a season, and people deserve loyalty through a difficult stretch. Toxicity should not be tolerated because it requires devotion to habits that devour your emotional health and stability.
I grew up a closeted people pleaser. This manifested in my relationships with people as it related to setting boundaries and defining what friendship meant to me. I'll just put this out there: I never experienced someone flat out saying "I don't like you." I attributed that to my adaptability. I could adjust who I was to fit what another person needed, every time. If you needed my time, I could give more of that; if you needed space, I could back off. If you needed an ear, I would listen; If you needed to laugh, I would be funny. But being adaptable only has it's benefits for so long. Eventually you lose sight of who you actually are and what you actually need. By trying to keep everyone happy, I would forsake the tugs at my spirit that tried to remind me to replenish, or to step away, or to say no. My closeted desire to keep everyone happy fostered resentment in me and a constant questioning of whether or not people would still like me if I couldn't adapt.
The crux of loss came after my first serious relationship. Again, I was a late bloomer, so I didn't learn first hand about commitment, hurt and partnership until I was 23. Who you think you'll be while dating is often different than how you manifest, well, at least the first time around and especially in a toxic relationship. Through the course of and end of that relationship, who I was changed. I retreated. I needed more space. I didn't have much, if anything, to give, I was just trying to manage being. It was more than not being adaptable. When you try to hide a toxic relationship, you have to create distance. With that distance, a lot of my relationships changed. And even when the relationship ended and I learned my lessons, I would never be the same. At first, I was critically concerned about how to adjust who I was becoming to who everyone in my life was. But eventually I realized that some people would just no longer like the person I’d become, and that was okay. I had lost parts of my identity, and some of those identity pieces were what connected me to others. So, there was loss. Sometimes when we lose people in our life we judge ourselves harshly. We blame ourselves for the turbulence. And sometimes it can actually be our fault. Regardless, you have to decide to accept and still love who you are in that season, so long as you aren't toxic and aren't intentionally hurting people.
Instead of following the trail of dislike, and trying to reconcile every negative word I had spoken or heard spoken about me, I let it go and trusted that all things would work together. To be clear, this did not absolve me from the responsibility to apologize. You should always apologize where you know you did wrong, but you must rid yourself of the need to be affirmed when you change. Losing my need for identity affirmation was probably one of my greatest points of growth thus far. Some people sign up for who you are, knowing that you will change, others sign up for how you present. Learning to discern the difference is crucial. And finding the maturity to acknowledge who you are and who someone is to you can be one of your greatest points of growth. People deserve your honesty. If you cannot commit to being an old version of you, be honest. Share the "good news" and allow people the space to subscribe or not. If we take care of our spiritual health, things inevitably unfold as they are meant to. A friendship lost today does not mean a friendship lost forever. But if it does, you’ll likely find it was meant to be.
Where You Lose, You Gain
Losing is shedding the old to make room for where you are going and who you are becoming. Lose your self image that is dependent on anyone but you and God. Create a standard for who want to be, but base it in love for your personal evolution. What the world sees as a loss can often be a personal gain. And when you commit to self acceptance, you will suddenly notice rejection. Not everyone is meant to like who you are. Embrace it. It signifies that you are coming home to yourself.
“be easy. take your time. you are coming home. to yourself. — the becoming” Nayyirah Waheed