“Why don’t you go out with him?” My mom asked me over breakfast.
I replied without hesitation. “He’s way too vanilla.”
“What exactly does that mean?” She looked confused.
I straightened, confident. “It means he’s too boring, settled, and plain. You know, like vanilla.”
My mom tried to suppress a chuckle. “So it has absolutely nothing to do with his ice cream flavor preferences? It’s a judgment about who he is?”
I nodded my head as she gave me a look. You know, one of those looks that screams, I’m-your-mom-so-I-love-you-but-sometimes-you-drive-me-crazy. “You’re ridiculous,” she said, and turned back to her breakfast.
Our brief conversation alluded to a deep flaw that I have: I tend to view matters black or white or, in this case, chocolate or vanilla. Analogies aside, I’m learning something new. Each of us has a Choose Your Own Adventure book of life, which contains vanilla fragments on different pages, in various settings and disguises. What is vanilla for me might be a flashy flavor for someone else or vice versa. Life is not black or white. There is beauty in the mundane and disappointment in the seemingly perfect. It’s all mixed up and in, and I cannot categorize everything.
Unfortunately, my categorizing has affected my friendships. A few weeks ago I attended church with my friend, Bekah. She’s my shopping cohort, neighborhood walking partner, bantering buddy, and happy hour comrade. It also helps (or *doesn’t* help) that we both enjoy binge-watching “Jane the Virgin”–you just don’t let friendships like that fade. As we exited the church service together, I posed a question:
“Can we talk about something?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Of course,” Bekah replied.
I kicked an unruly pebble, wishing that I could punt it across the parking lot. “I feel like you’re frustrated with me. True or false?”
“What? I thought you were frustrated with me!”
We stopped, looked at each other momentarily, and then laughed. A few minutes later we had unraveled misunderstandings, poor communication, and harmful assumptions. She confessed that she thought that I was disappointed in her “because she’s getting married” and “buying a house in Grand Rapids.” Essentially, she assumed that I thought she’s settling, boring, life over, i.e. too vanilla.
Aghast, I had to convince her that this isn’t true. I am giddy for her wedding and proud of her commitment to her awesome fiancé. “You’re starting a new adventure that no one has embarked on before,” I pointed out. “No one has married Matt–at least, not that we know of.” I winked, and the conversation ended. But my thoughts didn’t.
I felt uneasy that one of my best friends believed I am disappointed in her. Just because I am choosing differently from her (I am returning to Mercy Ships) doesn’t mean that her journey is less valuable.
The thing is, we feel strengthened and supported when people choose the same as us (this is how peer pressure works, yea?). So how do we go about our own business confidently and boldly without feeling insecure when no one strives for the same?
I wish for a simple, easy answer but at least for me, it’s not. When I embark on a unique path I suddenly think that no one can relate to me or no one is bold enough to try. This mentality manifested itself recently.
Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays of the year. My extended family spends the weekend at my family’s cottage, which entails 25-30 humans living in a small house for four days, sharing meals and jokes, playing volleyball game after card game after board game. This year, though, I dedicated nearly eight solitary hours to a 1,000 piece puzzle. EIGHT. HOURS. Am I an introvert now? I wondered. God, help me. I played one or two games but mostly I kept to my puzzle and Sudoku book.
While it’s true living on the Africa Mercy has influenced my personality, it is more true that I felt (and still feel) dissociated from people in my hometown. I can’t relate to how the emergency department is functioning because I haven’t been there in eight months. I can’t understand the significance of which paint color to choose for the living room or which school to send my children to because (surprise!) I don’t have children to educate or a living room to decorate. I don’t even have a dog to care for. My heart is stretched and divided across the world; between blood and non-blood families; among African, mariner, Catholic and Protestant communities. My heart and brain are worldwide, so I feel exhausted if I try to share my thoughts and feelings.
But it’s important to keep trying. When I feel I can’t relate to others, I withdraw from social interaction. Instead of investing energy into conversations, I seek isolation. But guess what isolation does: it makes you feel isolated, which is not helpful. I am about to leave for ten months. Isn’t this the time to laugh, build experiences and memories with my loved ones?
I’m sorry if you tried to spend time with me and I withdrew. I hope I didn’t make you feel uninteresting or unimportant. I’m sorry if I made you feel like your life choices are less significant. They’re not. Raising a child appears overwhelming. Marrying your significant other is courageous. Buying a house is bold. Applying to a new job is ambitious. Enrolling in graduate school is admirable. And just being yourself is enough.
You are enough. I am enough. Vanilla ice cream is delicious, especially with sprinkles.