Thursday, October 8, 2009

Noodles. (Revisited)

I had a strange coincidence happen tonight. The coincidence involves self esteem and noodles in a cup.

The last time I ate Noodles in a Cup was a Friday night, February 20, 2009. I know this because I wrote about it in a post called Friday Night Noodles In A Cup. In this post I poked fun at myself and my single life. I compared myself to my married brother who was going to Mexico with his wife. I pretty much summed up my feelings of inadequacy in the fact that I was eating convenient store noodles alone while watching the movie Ray in my dark messy apartment on a Friday night.

Fast forward eight months to this evening. I got home late to Uptown tonight after conducting an ethnographic interview way out in the suburbs. I interviewed a 29-year-old guy who owned a house and was in a three year committed relationship. This interview represented the same pattern that several of the interviews from this project have followed: I keep meeting these people who are my age or younger and they have opposite lives from me. They are married, they own homes, and they are almost boringly confident about what lies ahead in life.

One of the things I like about my job is that I get to see inside the lives of strangers and I am allowed the privilege of knowing their private thoughts, dreams, and challenges. One of the things I dread about my job is that I get to compare myself to the lives of strangers and I analyze my own life against their private thoughts, dreams, and challenges.

I cringe when people use this technique in writing because it should be saved for sixth grade essays and high school speeches, but let's roll with it: The definition of compare is: To examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences. However, if used as an intransitive verb, one definition of compare is:

To be equal or alike.

Hmm. This definition is oddly fitting for the activity I am referring to here which is comparing myself to others.

Without sounding like a braggart, I am a master at comparing myself to others and then kicking the shit out of my self-esteem when I inevitably do not appear equal or like them.

If my job does not offer enough ammunition for comparing myself to others, there is always Facebook ready and willing, 24/7 to complete the task. A constant, real-time stream of photos and 'status' updates, where someone out there is always guaranteed to be getting pregnant, becoming engaged, or wrapping up their graduate degree. But that someone somewhere is never me.

Somehow my life becomes a blank void as I scroll through pages of so-called friends at happy baseball games. Digital photographs reveal people out for drunk nights on the town, brand-new crusty babies with awkward joyful moms, and reunions with enormous groups of former high school buddies. I mindlessly click my mouse through entire albums titled "Other People's Weddings" and I gasp with shame over not having attended a single friend wedding in over five years.

Did I not make enough friends along the way? How do these other people have 15 weddings to attend this summer? Why don't I own a house yet? How did she get so skinny? How did he get an advertising job in Seattle? How come I wasn't invited to that Thanksgiving gathering? When did all these people become grown-ups? Where did all these people meet their fucking mates? How come they knew what to do and I didn't! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME!?


Stop, stop.

Stop it.

This is the sound of the inside of my skull. This voice that just berates my self-esteem. If at these berating moments, my self-esteem had a Facebook profile picture, it would be of an awkward overweight Dachshund with a pink frilly collar. The image would be shameful and sad.

Last night I had a long talk with an out-of-town friend and I put words to the root of my problem for the first time. I told him that, "The reason I get so overwhelmed when I meet others and their lives are different from mine is because I feel like I missed some information somewhere. And I believe that the reason I missed this information along the way is because I used to think that I was special. Then, somewhere when I had my back turned and was too busy being "special", others caught up to me and left me behind in the dust."

I have held this belief this for a long time, but the elitist nature of the thought felt too embarrassing to discuss.

Today when I got home from my long day of interviewing and, [...ahem...], comparing myself to others, I was too tired to make dinner, so I randomly made a cheapo cup of noodles from the convenient store. I hadn't thought of the fact that the last time I ate the noodles was when I wrote about my life as a single person eating noodles alone on a Friday night back in February.

As my noodles marinated in boiling water for the suggested three minutes, I sat down to check emails. I had an unexpected email from my friend who I had spoken to the night before. I had to read the email three times just to make sure that it sunk in.

The meaning of it was to remind me that I should not forget that I have just as interesting and meaningful a life as those who I compare myself to. It is just that my life is different from theirs. In fact, a married young mom might feel envious of my footloose, jet-setting and haphazard freestyle living. My friend reminded me not only of this grass is always greener concept, but also that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing right now. I got a tingle of unexpected serenity when I read a sentence in the last paragraph of this email.

"We cannot let our judgement of ourselves, or the 'where we should be' factor strangle us. We are always EXACTLY where we should be, as uncomfortable and as unwanted those places sometimes are. We are there because we were meant to be there."

It made me dizzy with relief to be able to begin to consider the notion that I might actually (lonely Cup Of Noodles and all) not be behind, not be a failure, not be a soon-to-be-spinster, but simply just right where I am supposed to be.


  1. Beautiful, and so true!! I am happy about many things in life, but always see something I like that someone else has... it's human to strive in that way.
    Love you girl!

  2. Hey Susan! I've been reading your blog for a few months now but haven't commented. This post, however, deserves a comment! Beautifully written. You are an amazing woman with so many gifts. Keep writing girl. This world needs you right where you are. xo

  3. I still feel like this, I might be a total loser. I'm not sure though.