Latent Lollygagger: My Embarrassing Moments

I’ve been thinking a lot about past mistakes recently. Odd dreams, both at night and during the day, mostly around relationships in my life. Times I’ve threatened or neglected friendships, times I’ve made a fool of myself, times I’ve made questionable moral choices, or all of the above. Responding to texts from a married man. Lying to friends. Letting someone get away with lying to me. Not accepting help. 

Once, I drunkenly called a boy I was hooking up with like 20 times in a row, when he’d left a party early, and he wrote me an email the next day calling things off. My cheeks burn just thinking about it.

I’m pretty sure I prevented a redeveloping friendship after I moved to San Francisco because I was heartbroken and drinking too much and probably didn’t really make eye contact. 

Once, I reached out to a friend for help but instead got a lecture from someone whose definition of tough love was to tell me I was wrong and she couldn’t support me. 

I almost ruined one of my best friendships by lying to her and the only reason I didn’t is because she is a better person than most and I will love her forever for that.

Oh, talk about embarrassing moments. These are a far cry from those embarrassing moments of childhood: my swimsuit bottoms slipping down to my knees when I dove into the pool, or whiffing a throw from right field to first base for an easy out. Adult embarrassing moments are gut-wrenching, skin-crawling, heat-rising kind of memories, in which something stupid I did actually affected another person, not just me. 

I wonder, is there something my brain is trying to do, by bringing back all these memories? I wish it could be a little quieter, to be honest. But. What is it doing? Perhaps, it is trying to convince me that what I need towards those past versions of myself, is not embarrassment, but compassion. I can now see only in retrospect how much I was struggling or going through a low point at each of these moments. What would I say to her (other than, hey, maybe lay off the pints of Stoli Raz and sodas)?

Woman holds head in her hands, covering her face
Photo by Julia Taubitz on Unsplash

One of the best things I’ve learned, that I’ve taught myself, is that taking things personally is never a good use of my time and energy. Taking things personally means I am taking someone else’s opinion of me, which can never be based on a complete set of information, to be more important than my opinion of myself.

This isn’t to say, that feedback from others isn’t important or just rolls off my back. You’d better believe that I cut back drinking after that night of phone calls. What it doesn’t mean, is that I’m inherently a horrible person. 

What does taking things personally have to do with being embarrassed? 

All these moments have in common, someone else’s opinion of me. Maybe not enough to change my mind at the time, but that I look back on and cringe at how they must have thought of me. Think of me. And I still, somewhere, care about it. Like somehow the younger versions of me that are still stacked inside me, like nesting dolls, care. Feel like they need to explain themselves, to defend themselves. The embarrassment is like proof, like, “Yeah, I know, it was pretty horrible, wasn’t it?”

Why do these nested versions of me feel like they need to defend themselves? It’s like they’re taking what I think about them—myself—personally. This meta situation where I’m forgetting that the younger me didn’t have all the information I have now, and that she did the best she could with what she had. 

Not taking things personally requires so much compassion. In both directions. Yes, compassion for the other person, maybe they’re having a hard day so that’s why they yelled or made a mistake.  Compassion that they have a perspective I can’t see, I can’t possibly have all the information about. But also, compassion for myself. Compassion that making choices in a world filled with other people is really hard, and fraught, and sometimes I’ll step on someone’s toes, and sometimes I’ll make a choice that I wouldn’t make again.

Compassion that mistakes don’t make me a horrible person, that I can learn from them and become a truer version of myself. Compassion that holding a grudge against myself doesn’t do anyone any good. 

I don’t need a grudge to move myself onward. 

I need to forgive myself with compassion to move myself onward.

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