More than that, I'm realizing exactly how much I've grown as a person since I started this blog at 19. I wouldn't exactly call myself "naive" as a 19-year-old -- largely because of my travels, I was very independent and had a fair amount of experience with the ways of the world -- but emotionally I was still pretty "flat", if that makes any sense. By that I mean that I rarely felt true, strong happiness or sadness (I'd cry maybe one or two times a year), and that I tended to float through my daily life without really being touched by it, always looking forward to the next big thing that was (supposedly) going to make me happy, without really trying to "live in the moment". In reading back over these entries, I can see a few instances where that wasn't the case -- for example, the time right after my LASIK surgery when I realized that I was driving by myself, no glasses or contacts, and couldn't stop grinning with the joy of it... or when Princess Diana died (I was in eighth grade) and I felt actual grief for several weeks (which actually made me think something was wrong with me, for feeling so strongly about someone I'd never even really known existed before her death). But most of the time, I was less focused on my immediate experiences than on my plans for FUTURE experiences. A certain amount of that is good, I suppose -- it makes people refer to you as 'driven' and 'motivated' and 'determined', all of which I guess I am -- but I feel like I kind of missed out on some things because of it, because the balance was off between present and future.
L is a very emotional person -- not in the stereotypical 'female' way, but in the sense that she is extremely intuitive as to others' emotions; she can walk into a room and immediately know what everyone there is feeling. She is also the queen of living in the moment; every once in a while, when she sees a beautiful pink sunset or when the sunlit leaves of an autumn tree flutter in a particular way, she sighs in pleasure, breathes, "Look at that," and stands still for three or four minutes, just drinking it in, thinking about nothing except the beauty before her. That's not something I ever knew how to do before I met her. I used to stand there in confusion when she had one of those moments; now, I'm learning how to happily join in.
She's also one of the kindest people I know, especially when animals are involved. In the past three years, we've rescued two kittens and a puppy (all of which now have permanent loving homes), a turtle, and a baby squirrel. And when it comes to people, she's similarly compassionate, but without being naive. Early in our relationship, when she saw a homeless man in Chapel Hill begging for money, holding a sign that said 'Hungry', she ducked into a Starbucks and bought him a muffin. Note that she didn't simply give him the money -- because goodness knows where it would have gone -- "but if you're hungry, I'll feed ya," she said to me with a shrug, by way of explanation as I stared at her in confusion and wonder.
Purely by example, she has taught me a lot about appreciating what I have, learning to enjoy each individual day, and truly caring about other people and things. In a social situation, I used to ask questions "just to be polite," smiling and nodding but not really caring about the answers. Now, I'm learning to truly care about what's going on in the lives of my friends. And yesterday, I was coming back from a run and saw an earthworm squirming helplessly on the hot sidewalk; without thinking twice, I picked him up and put him in the dirt under a shady tree. As I walked on, I started thinking. When I first started this blog, I don't think I would have been the type of person to do that. In fact, I think I would have internally rolled my eyes at the person who did something like that. Funny how our priorities change.
I spent most of my first year in the Netherlands feeling like I had a void in my life, and -- unable to come up with any other way to deal with the situation -- responding like a typical teenage girl and looking for some guy to fill it. It never felt right, not with any of them -- but by meeting people online (thus being able to mentally shape them into whatever I wanted, since I didn't really have to deal with them face-to-face very often) and by getting involved with only Dutch guys (so that I had a linguistic challenge to keep me excited about being with the other person), I was able to continue lying to myself. I did eventually get frustrated and reach the point where I said, "No more -- if I'm meant to be with someone, that person's just going to have to find me, because I'm done looking!" and was happily single for two full years, but I still never made the conscious leap of admitting an attraction to women. I have always been very good at mentally 'blocking out' things that I don't want to think about or acknowledge (thus the emotional 'flatness'), so I managed to lie to myself about my sexuality until I was 22 and met L. Looking back through the lens of adulthood, there were so many clues -- the Shania Twain obsession, the constant feelings of being 'different', the lack of interest in guys, my multiple crushes on camp counselors and female teachers that I convinced myself were pure 'admiration' -- but as a college sophomore, at the time, 'swinging the other way' was so clearly NOT an option that I didn't even acknowledge it as a possibility. Although there are several posts from the early days of this site where I vehemently defended gay rights with the casual argument of "who cares who you want to love?", I still had a mental blindfold on as to that option for my own life. I spent a large part of my adolescence metaphorically crouched down in a corner, with my eyes squeezed shut and my hands over my ears, rocking back and forth chanting, "I hope I'm not, I hope I'm not." On the rare occasions that I had a guy in my life, there was strong relief mixed in with the awkwardness -- "Oh, thank goodness, I must be straight, because I'm holding a guy's hand!"
I am so much happier now -- and so very, very grateful that I figured this out at 22 and not at 32, or 42, or 92.
L isn't the only thing that has led me on this emotional journey, of course. I'm still growing up (I hope I never completely grow up!), and we all know that people don't stop changing and maturing just because they've passed a certain age. But knowing and loving her has helped me see possibilities that weren't really there for me before, like shifting from black-and-white TV into color. She has opened me up, so to speak, and I can't wait to see what the rest of our lives -- and my life as an individual -- will be like. This blog has been a great tool for me to appreciate how far I've come in the past six years... and I'm already anticipating what I'll be thinking at age 30, as I reread today's post. :)