Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Survivor's Guilt, or Something

I don't know how to say what I'm feeling, which is why I'm here, saying something. It might sound arrogant and obnoxious and insensitive, like a scrawny person complaining to an obese one that they can't gain weight (which is a real issue, and not one that I'm trying to hate on, but you get what I mean). I will be the first to admit that I struggle with arrogance, obnoxiousness, and insensitivity. But here's the thing:

I got good grades in college and graduated with honors. I found the love of my life and got married and moved into an apartment. I got a job that actually fits my college major and I love it. All the main things in my life are going pretty great.

And a lot of times, I'm made to feel guilty about that.

In college, I studied and made flashcards and outlined and wrote. (I also watched Netflix, had movie nights, and ate dinner with my friends, just the Reader's Digest versions.) I worked really hard because I wanted A's. And my friends who strove for Cs made me feel like such an erudite brat for being sad if I got a B, like it was personally offensive to them that I thought I could do better.

So I stopped talking specifics about my grades or study habits, almost ashamed that I could pull off all A's some semesters.

When Gabe and I started planning the wedding, time became even more of a commodity. Now, if I wasn't studying or writing papers, I had wedding stuff to figure out. Venue hunting, dress shopping, taste testing, and decoration hunting swallowed up nearly every weekend. And my friends got mad about that too. I still hung out with people (though mostly my roommates), but the fact that I had a wedding to plan seemed to cloud conversations with derisive refrains of Oh, right, the wedding.

Now there are all these circulating lists and open letters about how it's perfectly fine that 20-somethings don't know how to boil water and how hard it is to find a job and yourself at the same time.

(First of all, I only recently learned to boil water, and second of all, I have a job and it is still hard to find myself.

And guess what? I got good grades and it gave me gray hair. I planned a wedding and shed more tears in six months than in the collective college years before engagement. I had a wedding and experienced the drastic drop in fitness motivation that follows. I got married and discovered just how damn much there is to fight about in a family of two. I got a job and realized that what I learned in college is only the tip of the iceberg of skills I need to succeed. I got an apartment and learned how much daily attention it takes to live above "slovenly at best.")

I have a lot of friends with whom theses lists and letters resonate. I have a lot of beautiful, funny friends who are still single. I have a lot of intelligent, hard-working friends who are still jobless. It makes me frustrated and sad on their behalves that they haven't yet hit the stride they're searching for. It seems unfair. To break my fast-forming rule about the F word, I feel for them.

But it also seems like the increasingly-popular reassurance lists and letters are aimed, in part, at people like me. At erudite brats who just got lucky and should feel guilty for flaunting our "success"--and "success" is in quotations because how successful are we really gonna feel when in ten years we realize that we didn't even know what we wanted back then and we got on a career path that isn't making us happy and don't we wish we'd taken the time to travel and make mistakes and find ourselves first? It seems like culture/social media is reassuring one group by giving another group the middle finger and saying "Well, GOOD FOR YOU" with as much sarcasm as an Odyssey Online keyboard can muster.

I am sorry that you're single and jobless. But I refuse to apologize for being married and employed. I still have real problems in my life. But I also feel blessed beyond what I deserve.

I guess that's really what it boils down to. Not the fact that I still have legitimate problems, but the fact that I'm made to feel guilty for liking my life. Half the time, I feel like I'm not allowed to voice my problems, and the other half I feel obligated to voice them just to avoid making other people jealous or depressed.

So, keep sharing the aforementioned Lists and Letters if they inspire and encourage you. We all need more inspiration and encouragement in our lives. But I really do mean in "all" our lives, even people who look like they've got it together. Don't throw shade at people who get mostly A's. Don't get passive aggressive toward people who find wedding plans stressful. Don't make people who love their jobs afraid to say so.