I felt so liberating to just type these three words into the title box for this post. I Don’t Care. (It’s so fun! Let’s do it again!)
I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!
Just press play. Here is a semi-tongue-in-cheek musical accompaniment for the following words.
OK, before you get your knickers in a bundle about this topic – here is what it’s not. This is not a high school rant. This is not a screw you diatribe. This is not apathy or giving up on life. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s full of ‘caring’, the shift is just in my attachment to it.
These words have been tumbling out of my mouth a bit lately. “I don’t care.” It’s more like “…but, I don’t care, so it’s OK.” I know exactly the shorthand this phrase serves, but often my conversation partners are in the dark. I see a smidge of worry appear in his or her brow.
Translation: I am no longer going to be attached to how another person responds to this action, or inaction, of mine.
It does not mean I am escaping or negating or slacking on my responsibilities. I am not evading or withdrawing or crumpling. More than anything, it just means that I am living up to, and owning, my own best, honest self. Simply, I’m not going to let worry about another’s response get in the way of my honesty – and my clear(ish) and direct(ish) expression of it.
Here’s the root. Lately I had this epiphany. I can stand in front of a room of 200 people and talk, at length, about anything. This scenario triggers my underutilized ‘used car salesman’ self. (This makes me giggle, as I am guessing no one else would think of me this way. This description bears weight to no one but me, and most likely conveys the wrong message to any reader, so stick with me.) I don’t get slimy or slippery or schmarmy, and I don’t don a plaid polyester suit. I just get free. I sweet talk. I kill time. My inner ebullience explodes because in this scenario, 1) I usually have a captive audience, 2) I usually talk about job-job facts that I can narrate in my sleep and because 3) I don’t care what my audience thinks of me. I don’t care if I flub a line or a statistic or a detail or if my slides are out of order or if the mic stops working or any of it. Why? Because it’s not life or death. Because I am citing straight up national statistics or sweet anecdotes about kids in school gardens – not the kind of stuff people usually want to pick a fight about. Because, in the big picture of LIFE – it just doesn’t matter.
And this room of people, they don’t love me, and I don’t love them. I am not attached to what they think of me. I don’t care if they like me, or dislike me. It all just is. And it’s freeing, this lack of attachment. (But let’s be honest, it sure is nice to get positive feedback when I’m done). Here’s what I mean: I can stand up, know my content, know what I want, and talk with freedom and confidence. (Mmmm. I didn’t realize how big confidence was to this puzzle until it just appeared on my screen). I don’t feel nervous, I don’t get worried, because in this scenario there is absolutely (in the galaxy way of thinking) nothing on the line.
However, let’s say you put me on a sofa next to, or at a dinner table across from, someone I deeply love and someone who loves me. Someone I am intimately intertwined with and deeply, deeply care about. Not just that I care about her (or him), but I care about the outcome of whatever-it-is between us. I care about what she thinks of me. I care about the thoughts and the future and the opinions and judgement and potential conflict and the heavy clouds threatening with a storm of potential disappointment. My used car salesman disappears to the staff room for a donut break and I am left with someone who has a heck of a hard time being honest and frank.
Let me tell you a story. A short story. In college, I dated a boy who was on the hockey team. I was on the volleyball team. We were both injured and on ‘modified training schedules’ which meant we saw a lot of each other in the weight room. He was a nice guy. A very nice guy. We hung out, we probably ate pizza, I possibly spent the night in his dorm room. He was everything a girl should have liked, but I didn’t particularly. It came time for some sort of dance, some sort of occasion for him to invite me to something. I knew I shouldn’t accept his invitation, and that I should put the kibosh on whatever this was. And this is what I did, or attempted to do. I made a stumbling, erroneous, foggy metaphor. My response to his invitation went something like this:
So, Dan, you know a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? You put the peanut butter on one piece of bread, and you put the jelly on the other slice of bread?
At which point, most people are probably thinking: peanut butter and jelly sandwich – best sandwich ever! Best complimentary food items to slap on bread and combine. Of course, my brain that is afraid of being direct and hurting people and delivering information that is not in line with what I think other people want followed with this.
Well, you know how when you put the peanut butter slice and the jelly slice together, and then you pull the slices apart, how the peanut butter stays on its slice, and the jelly stays on its slice, how they don’t really mix? That’s sort of how I feel about us.
Hello? Even in typing this I am embarrassed and stupefied at my 19 year old self. What? The obvious choice here would have been, maybe, a salad dressing metaphor with the effective, if not overused, oil and vinegar metaphor. But really, what metaphor using tasty food is effective when you are trying to say that a relationship really just isn’t very savory. None, I tell you. None.
Here’s the thing. I cared. I cared a lot. I knew that I would have to see this guy five days a week. That my teammates and his teammates would all know about what happened. That he liked me, but that I wasn’t so hot on him. And that it had taken me the investment of a few weeks to figure that out. That my fear of not meeting him where he was, my fear of disappointing him guided me down a trail of anything but direct communication.
And I paid the price. I was joshingly teased my Dan. His teammates. My teammates. The weight room staff. Everyone. This story still lives today.
And this, my friends, is a theme. I am afraid of either 1) disappointing people or 2) being judged by people (which really is just another form of letting them down, no?). Therefore, I do anything possible to soften or mask or metaphor my way out of being purely direct and honest.
There is an important piece of the puzzle to be laid out on the table here. It’s not just the audience and the caring that puts me off, it’s the content. Let’s say I were having a conversation, a friendly (or not-so-friendly) debate about my job-job topics on that same sofa or at the same dinner table. I’d be conversing about facts and work and things that can be proven and firmly stood by. I would be confident because I could back myself up with census data and citations and academic research. Because I am the expert! Are you following me so far?
But let’s imagine we get into anything involving the murky territory of, say, feelings or emotions or opinions. Yikes. I get a little tight-lower-belly-feeling-forgetting-to-inhale-or-exhale just thinking about it. I should be the expert on my own self, my own feelings – and yet, even though I am the first author in the citation, it is to hard to own what I feel and share it with confidence. Out of fear I won’t be validated. Out of fear my feelings will be ‘wrong’. Out of anxiety that I will have to justify and explain, which will still somehow be insufficient. That somehow, maybe, my opinions are not sufficient, that I am not sufficient. And, poof, my confidence floats off, etherial, like the smoke of the wood stove out the chimney.
And so, scared off by all this caring and all this fear my used car salesman self is content to eat donuts in the break room, leaving a sorta timid, sorta shy, sort of afraid-of-conflict Vanessa to fend for herself.
Hmmm. That’s deep.
So really, all this “I don’t care” is a good thing. It’s a brazen dose of confidence that I (as in my thoughts and emotions and feelings, no matter how confusing or contradictory) are enough, and that the big-bad-old-world is going to have to deal with me just the way I am. So, consider this an advance apology for any stings that may come your way. I’m just figuring out how to wander this world full of honesty, even if it makes things feel more difficult or complicated at the outset.
So, I don’t care. (But, truthfully, I really, really care – a lot).