Edition #109: Red Card, Green Card
Plus, everybody's sorry, a dating Zine, and accidental renaissance
A Note From the Editor
A few weeks ago I spent the long weekend showing my mother, my little sister, and my niece around New York City. I’d been looking forward to their visit for weeks, especially because two out of the three of them had never seen the city. Compared to my regular daily life here—quiet weekdays spent at home, at the library, or occasionally at a coffee shop, living alone and working in mostly solitude as a freelance writer—it was utter chaos. Surprisingly, it didn't derail me in any way. I tend to veer toward OCD-esque tendencies when it comes to my space, but I was intentional about keeping things tidy on the front end and my guests respected the few rules I’d put in place to mitigate some of the mess. Four people shoved into a small, one-bedroom NYC apartment for five days is no joke. At night, as I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I'd hear the unfamiliar sounds of life wafting in from the living room: the dull murmur of comfortable conversation, the hum of the TV—Full House reruns—which I rarely turn on myself. It sounded nice, like life was happening here, and it gave me a sweet, warm feeling. I thought, “I could get used to this.”
It was this space of warmth and unexpected appreciation that set the stage for the one hiccup during the visit, a spat with my mother on the morning she was leaving. I had felt the start of my sadness begin to bud in anticipation for a few days leading up to their imminent departure, though I tried to shove it down and remain present in the moment. The morning they were to leave was a rainy one. They were packing up and I was checking my email for the first time in a few days, having given myself the time off while they were visiting. During this quiet moment of mundanity, my mom said something to me she's said many times before: "Don't you get lonely, being here by yourself all the time?"
She had no malicious intent, this I know, for we'd had this conversation a few times over. It was something habitual, a call-and-response between mother and daughter, a game that enabled us to solidify our roles in relation to one another. She would ask some version of, “How do you manage to be alone so much/to live alone/don’t you get lonely?” And my line was, "No, I like being alone!" To that, she would reply, "I could never do it.”
She didn't need to tell me that much, I knew it already. She'd never been alone for a prolonged period of time in her entire life—raised as one of seven kids in a small, crowded home full of people and chaos and laughter, then straight into marriage, of which she had seven kids of her own. I was raised in a similar environment; a loud home full of sparks and people, laughter and mayhem. By the time my mother was my age, she was already four kids deep. I imagine loneliness, to her, would look like a void, a gaping black hole, utterly sad. She couldn't fathom how, or why, anyone would choose solitude. While our “are you lonely” conversation was a horse-and-pony show, I also sensed something below the surface of her words. A genuine worry, which as a (single) daughter nearing 30, feels eerily akin to motherly disappointment. You’re still alone?
On this particular day, I could not play my preordained role as strong, independent daughter. I was sad. I didn't want them to leave, I didn't want to be alone in the quiet. Already, I missed them, and in this frame of mind, her playful comment felt cruel. I snapped at her, saying of course I got lonely, and did that make her feel good, to constantly remind me? I regretted the comment as soon as it left my mouth, particularly for its sharp delivery time just before our goodbye. She had nothing to say back because of course, she didn't mean to hurt me. A tense silence filled the room and I worked hard to hold in my tears. I saved them for much later, when my family was gone, when I had spent an hour attempting to assuage my tumultuous mind with yoga, when I was once again, alone, in the quiet of my little apartment.
I remember a friend of mine once recounting a conversation she'd had with a co-worker. He wished he could sign a contract, he’d said, with everyone he was having a conversation with, that way he would be assured, with proof, the person wanted to be talking to him. At the time, the comment struck me as charming and a little self-effacing, the idea that he was constantly worried that the people he was speaking with might not willingly be engaged in the conversation. But after the encounter with my mother, I was immediately brought back to his contract comment and I have begun to see it in a new light.
While I do not feel particularly compelled to know whether everyone I'm speaking to wants to be in a conversation with me—and I don't think everyone I'm speaking to wants to know whether I want to be a part of the conversation, either—I do wish there was a mechanism for communicating what you might need from a conversation at any given time. So often we fall into conversational patterns that mirror the dynamics we uphold in our relationships, whether or not they are healthy for us and whether or not they feel true to who we are in the present day. Certain relationships give us more leeway to explore larger terrain within ourselves—friendships we've made as adults, for example, where the confines of who we've been in the past are less relevant—but in many other, more familiar relationships, we tend to meld ourselves to fit what we know the person needs from us. At least I do.
And I’ll say this: it's exhausting. Being the Supportive Sibling, the Friend You Go To For Advice, the Friend Who Always Makes Plans. Those roles naturally bleed into conversational dynamics—you say this, I say that, this is the level of support we give each other, these are the topics we typically cover—and suddenly, you find yourself with little space to explore anything outside of those limiting roles. The Supportive Sibling does not get to say that she's worried, too, about turning 30 and about how tired she feels and about whether or not she has the stamina for all of it, for freelancing and dating and everything her life requires. The Friend Who Always Makes Plans might find particular difficulty saying, “You know what? I’m really, deeply tired because my mom pointed out how alone I am and it made me feel like shit and I need support right now. It would be really nice if you took the initiative to make plans to see me this time.”
If there were a mechanism, easy and painless, for communicating where we were at, what we could withstand in a conversation at any given time, or what we needed from a conversation, I imagine collective loneliness would be lessened. At the very least, we would learn how to communicate with more attention and empathy. I imagine this mechanism as a little card on the table, like those red and green cards they give you at a Brazilian steakhouse, except we would have the cards stuck on the backs of our cellphones, where everyone could see them, or we’d find a way to wear them as a subtle accessory. Green means go—yes, please, bring me more meat and I’m having a good day, I have all the space in the world for you, for your problems, let’s be silly and talk about what we watched on Netflix last night and the person we know from high school who got divorced and other things that don’t matter, let’s dance. Red means stop—I cannot possibly ingest another bite of greasy steak, I need you, I have something I’d really like to talk about at some point, eventually, I hope you have space to listen. If I were on red that morning, my mother would have never made the comment about me being alone. Instead, she would’ve hugged me a moment longer, and I wouldn’t have snapped at her right before our goodbye.
Of course, there is a way to communicate this (“this'' being your needs), and it is the most basic mechanism known to man: with words. So simple, yet supremely difficult and nuanced. I've begun to practice this “asking for what you need/sharing what you can handle '' conversation tactic with a few of my closest friends. "Do you have space for this right now?" We'll ask each other before dumping something that is emotionally heavy. "Do you want advice, or do you just want me to listen?" I always appreciate these sorts of disclaimers, and I admittedly do not use them as frequently as I’d like to. Maybe it’s because that level of honest communication requires a pre-existing trust and a frequency of communication. For those whom I don't see in person as often, family, friends outside the city or in the city, whom I speak to only here and there, I find that level of intimacy nearly impossible.
But imagine if it wasn't. Imagine if someone could ask me how I was doing and I could answer honestly? Imagine if we could manage to let other people see us, to communicate our needs, and to be receptive to the needs of others? A large, perhaps naive part of me believes that everyone has a baseline of kindness at their core. But also, everyone wants to feel seen and understood. Until the green card/red card method becomes socially acceptable, all we can do is continue to mine for the right words, and for the courage required to say what we mean and what the need.
Cheers, my dears, and as always, thanks for reading! If you’re new here, welcome, I’m happy to have you. If you liked what you read today, or if you’ve been reading along for some time now, it would mean the world if you’d consider optioning for a paid subscription, Paid subscribers buy me the time needed to write, read, and edit this newsletter each week—time I don’t spend taking on other freelance writing projects. I hope you’ll consider it!
And as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the green card / red card idea, or on any other ways you’ve managed to communicate your needs to those you love.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
Human Bodies Change Through Life. So Does Our Sexuality. If there's one thing you read from today's ediiton, make it this. While the author's points aren't always perfectly linear, I appreciate the general line of questions about the ways we identify sexuality as a society (i.e. by our gender object choice, otherwise known as by the gender of the type of person we most commonly want to engage in sexual intercourse with). From this rigid definition of sexuality comes our understanding of the “fixed” nature of sexual identity—teenage years being seen as an "exploration" phase, whereas partnered, often heteronormative years later in life are regarded as the more "adult" phase. The author argues that sexuality, like our bodies, is constantly evolving, and that expanding our definition of sexuality would make for a happier, more inclusive future.
Self-Portrait With Woman On The Subway. I couldn’t find this poem in print anywhere, but you should most definitely listen to it being read. Anyone who takes public transportation will relate, or anyone who pays close attention to those around them and has considered comforting a visibly sad stranger in the past.
He’s Sorry, She’s Sorry, Everybody’s Sorry. Does it Matter? Like many things in the emtpy forum of the internet, apologies have slowly but surely taken on a strangely performative quality, especially lately. We seem to be stuck in a cycle: someone does/says something wrong, an impossible to avoid feat in the hypersensitive, virtue-signaling echo chamber of the internet, said person suffers consequences, said person apologizes, whether they mean it or not, because an apology is required to continue to exist in the world. People expect, and demand, apologies more frequently than ever, but even the "best" apologies are now swept under the angry rug. It all begs the quesiton... what's the point?
Perhaps You Should… Make a Dating Zine?
Oh, dating in 2022! People are fatigued with dating apps—proof, a popular dating newsletter. This nifty little dating Zine is hilarious and right in line with the outstanding level of attempting-to-date-in-this-century-in-a-way-that-feels-good creativity I’ve been loving lately.
**Bonus Content** (Accidental Renaissance)
Have you heard of Accidental Renaissance before? I recently got a crash course on Reddit (LOL) and someone introduced me to this gem of a corner of the internet.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“But she has gathered that Americans, in spite of their public declarations of affection, in spite of their miniskirts and bikinis, in spite of their hand-holding on the street and lying on top of each other on the Cambridge Common, prefer their privacy.”
-The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.