I went to a friend’s house on the spur of the moment on Saturday. We’ve been down like four flats since my freshman year of college—I’ve known this dude since I had Poetic Justice braids and he had an S-Curl and used to make emergency runs to the local Dollar General for Pro-Style gel—so we go way, way back. We just don’t see each other as often as we used to and, rather than subject myself to a curse-out for being the culprit behind another missed get-together, I trekked from DC to Jersey to have dinner with him and his husband. He steamed some shrimp and relished in the company. He clearly loves playing host.
Barring the dreaded S-Curl, he’s always been a bit more high-brow than I am, so when he looked over and asked me if I wanted a ramekin, I looked back at him with an expression of pure confusion.
“What’s that?” I furrowed, peeling back what could’ve very well been my 822nd shrimp.
“A small bowl. You know, for the garlic butter,” he explained.
“Oh. Sure,” I said, totally unaffected.
My social refinement deficit had once again reared its ugly head. In another time and place, I would’ve experienced a rare moment of embarrassment at my lack of home training. Maybe even breaking a sweat like Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, silently obsessing to the point of distraction about where my napkin should go, which direction I should pass the food and other fine points of table etiquette that I’m too ig’nant to even realize I don’t know.
But I’m not that worldly kind of girl. And I’m OK with that now. I can talk to you rather intelligently about Harlem Renaissance literature but I can never, ever remember the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork. Oh well. So sue me. Or don’t invite me over to dinner.
This time of year generally calls for some obligatory self-reflection which, unfortunately for some of us, dissolves into an excuse to pick ourselves apart. It’s a bad habit shrouded by all of the hoorah that goes along with crossing the threshold into a fresh set of 365 days and with them, a bounty of new opportunities to become you and me 4.0—thinner! smarter! wealthier! healthier! more organized! more accomplished! just better overall! In that pursuit of personal reinvention, goal-setting can dissolve into fault-finding, what with Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers volleying seven or eight commercials on the hour, every hour, and self-help gurus pushing the products they claim will help us become the people we’re striving to be.
Self-improvement is good. Self-improvement is necessary. But there’s also something to be said for being happy where you are, with who you are, without feeling like a complete personal overhaul is in order for the new year, a birthday, a fresh relationship, a career change, whatever. That fixer-upper spirit can be emotionally and psychologically draining, especially if you consistently fall short of your own expectations which we, as women, tend to set astronomically high for ourselves. If we’re never going to be perfect, is there ever a point where we’re satisfied with who we are, sans a little fine-tuning here and there to accommodate the ebbs and flows of life?
After you’ve weathered the vicissitudes of your you-ness, navigated the ups and downs of the dating experience and survived a gauntlet of humbling moments in the professional world, you learn just as much about who you aren’t as who you are. What you’ll stand your ground for. What makes you feel insecure. What really excites and interests you. What pisses you off.
Nestled comfortably in my 30s, I feel like I’m finally starting to know me for real. I’m not the woman who finds great joy in working all day and then mustering up the enthusiasm to cook dinner. I’ll do it because I have to, but it’s usually pretty far from what I want to be doing after eight or nine hours of chasing deadlines and filing stories. I used to chastise myself for not loving it because my mama and her mama used to serve these elaborate meals on weekdays but baby, that just ain’t what fulfills me.
I’m not the woman who loves sports, try as I have. I’d much rather watch a documentary or a rerun of Sex and the City than sit courtside at a basketball game. I can follow what’s going on, but in all honestly, I only selectively care.
I’m not the woman who can curb too many feelings before I have to vent to a friend or hit a bathroom stall and pray myself into check. I’m not a poker face. I’m an open book. I’m complex and overly analytical and emotional and brash and sometimes self-righteous and quite evidently under-refined. That’s me. I have things to work on, and I will, but my only resolution this year is to be the best me I can be, though that reads terribly clichéd much more than it did in my head before I typed it out. I have learned, without apology, how to celebrate the woman I’m not as much as I celebrate the woman that I already am.