Can anyone be trusted?

I wish I weren’t going through life learning this lesson over and over again.

Lack of trust is a deal breaker for me. I either trust you or I don’t. Similarly, if you don’t think I’m trustworthy, you clearly don’t have a good read on me, so what’s the point of maintaining a friendship?

I once ended a 23-year friendship for that very reason. She had always been the one to fly out to visit me, because I was poor and she was a lot less so. (That, and she also visited other people in the area.) It was purely a case of economics and convenience. At least that’s what I had always assumed.

Then one day I got the bright idea to surprise my best friend. I saved my money for nearly a year so that, for once, I could visit her. Of course I didn’t just show up at her door without any warning. I would never do that. When I finally had enough for the plane ticket, I called her up and shared the news that I’d like to visit for a few days in about two months, based on her availability.

I thought she’d be as excited as I always was when she came to see me. My guest room was always open to her. Always. But apparently that particular street only went one way.

My best friend for 23 years (who, by the way, never called me her best friend, even though we spent about 5 hours a day talking on the phone. No one ever has.) informed me that I couldn’t stay with her, because she couldn’t trust me in her house.

And just like that, I realized that I had been operating under the illusion that she knew what kind of person I was. Discovering that her assessment of me was that I was someone who couldn’t be trusted around her personal possessions left me completely and utterly speechless. Like I’d… what? Root through her file cabinet and write down her Social Security Number for future use? Read her diary? Steal her silverware? Really?

I was disgusted. At myself. For thinking she knew me for 23 years. For not realizing that she had such a low opinion of me.

It’s too simplistic to say that that was the only reason I ended that friendship. But once the scales fell from my eyes, I saw just how much I had been overlooking for all those years, and this was just a bridge too far. That was a bitter lesson to learn.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take that lesson and apply it to others. To this day, I walk through life thinking that I actually know people. I assume decency. I am too trusting. And it bites me in the butt all the time.

Picture this. Fast forward seven years. I thought I’d finally made my first friend after having moved across the country to Seattle. She was a climate activist and a therapist, and she lived only about a mile away from me. We’d hang out once or twice a week, go to dinner, play cards, watch Trump get elected and feel sick together… you know. Friend stuff.  She even had me over for Thanksgiving.

Then one day we were hanging out at my house, something we rarely did because she didn’t like my dog (and that should have been a red flag in and of itself.) She had to use the bathroom, which of course was no problem. I was in the kitchen, making lunch. But the walls in that place were thin, and my medicine cabinet made a distinctive squeak when it opened. I could also hear the pills rattling around in the bottles as she took the time to examine one after another.

I went into the living room and sat down, facing the bathroom door. She spent quite some time in there, nosing around, and I was at a loss as to what to do about it. It felt like such a violation. And what nerve. (To her credit, I never detected that any meds were missing, but still.) It was as if she were saying that I had no right to privacy, I should not expect to be respected, and I had no agency over my own things in my own home.

When she came out and saw me sitting right there, I could tell she was taken by surprise. I looked her square in the eye, and she looked down. I wish I could tell you I confronted her about it, but the truth is, I hate confrontation. And I kind of thought I had made my point anyway. We had an awkward lunch and she left.

Once again, I was shocked to learn that someone’s character was a lot less admirable than I had assumed. It just goes to show that therapists can be every bit as f***ed up as the rest of us are.  I kind of feel sorry for her patients. Here they think that they’re telling all their intimate secrets to someone with a moral compass who wants to help them, when in fact she’s probably just getting off on rooting around in the medicine cabinets of their minds.

Shortly after that lovely insight into her moral makeup, she got herself a boyfriend and completely dropped off the face of the earth for about two months. To say I was relieved would be putting it mildly. But of course, that relationship didn’t last. She didn’t like the way he loaded the dishwasher. Suddenly she wanted to hang out again.

I didn’t completely eject her from my life. Friends are entirely too thin on the ground out here in the Pacific Northwest for that. But things were never the same. My fundamental opinion of her had shifted too much.

Then later, when I got married and moved 25 miles away, she told me we weren’t friends anymore because I wasn’t willing or able to drop everything to hang out with her at a moment’s notice like I used to. (I think it had more to do with the fact that I had managed to find someone who “loads the dishwasher” to my satisfaction, and that’s something she has never been able to achieve, but I digress.)

Having someone who snooped around in my medicine cabinet turn around and tell me I was a bad friend for paying too much attention to my husband was, and will always be, more than a little bit amusing to me. She may even believe the words that came out of her mouth. I have no idea. But I really believe I’m a good friend to have and she doesn’t get to have that.

I’m making more of an effort to remind myself that I can’t figure most people out. It’s a moot point, though. She moved to another city and made it quite clear that there was no point remaining in contact.

Did I judge her too harshly? I suppose I do expect the same level of integrity from others that I do from myself. To do otherwise might put me in a scary situation.

Apparently, many people can’t resist sticking their noses where they don’t belong. According to a survey by the makers of Quilted Northern toilet tissue, 39 percent of Americans peek in other people’s medicine cabinets. Even worse: Twenty-five percent have helped themselves to something inside.

Of course, those surveys only measure those who are willing to admit their transgressions. I bet that figure is actually higher. But it would never have occurred to me to wonder before I had it happen to me. I hope 39 percent of my readers don’t pull this caper. I’d be profoundly disappointed.

These statistics blow my mind. It would never, ever occur to me to violate someone’s privacy like that. I once endured a throbbing hangnail for 4 hours because I wouldn’t go into someone’s medicine cabinet on my own and they were so justifiably busy that they couldn’t stop long enough to get me a nail clipper and a band aid.

If I need an aspirin, I ask for one. If someone asks me for an aspirin, I don’t hesitate to provide it. I really don’t have anything to hide. I’m an open medicine cabinet. I just would like you to grant me the courtesy of asking me before opening said cabinet, just as I would do for you. That seems fairly straightforward to me.

I can’t believe how rude people can be, with apparently no remorse whatsoever. Maybe the fundamentalists are right and there’s no such thing as evolution, at least from the perspective that we never truly emotionally evolved as a species. We certainly behave like monkeys a lot of the time. We’re only a few genetic sequences away from throwing our feces at one another when we get agitated.

Maybe I need to lower my expectations. Maybe I should assume that I’m viewed as untrustworthy, and will be no matter what I do, and I should hold a similar opinion of others. That would certainly simplify things, because I’d lose all desire to interact with anyone but my dog.

Human beings are inherently flawed. I realize that. Maybe I just have to learn that, in addition, nothing is sacred. I just wish I weren’t going through life learning that lesson over and over and over again. It’s exhausting, disappointing, and it makes me very sad.

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Hawaii Surprises

The Hawaii I got was not the Hawaii I expected. Yay!

After 50 years of dreaming about it, I finally got to take a vacation in Hawaii. Predictably, it was an amazing experience, and I’ll be blogging about it quite a bit in the coming month or so. But today, to ease myself gently into writing this blog again, I want to just talk about the things that surprised me about Hawaii.

I was really shocked at how many of my preconceived notions of this state, which I had been carrying around since childhood, were completely off base. And, of course, there were a lot of things to learn, and in fact there is still much that I don’t know. I can hardly declare myself an expert on all things Hawaiian after two short weeks.

Since I never thought I’d actually get to visit the Aloha State, I never had cause to closely examine my beliefs thereof. It amuses me, in retrospect, how childish my notions were. For example, I thought there would be parrots everywhere I looked, and the heady scent of orchids would fill the air. In fact, according to this article, while you will see the occasional feral parrot, none of them are native to the islands. And while many Hawaiian nurseries raise orchids for sale to the wider world, according to this article, only three species are actually native to the state, and those grow in such remote areas that you won’t likely see them. With the exception of orchids drawn on murals and swimwear, I didn’t spot any of these flowers at all.

I also expected to see leis everywhere, along with hula dancers, and I imagined that most people walked around barefoot. How silly. In elementary school, I had a teacher who used to greet people arriving in Hawaii by plane and give them leis, but that was a simpler time. If there was a lei for every tourist these days, the islands would be plucked free of vegetation by now. In 1975, less than 3 million tourists a year descended upon the island. In modern times, pre-pandemic, 10.4 million people overwhelmed the state in 2019. Hawaii has no time for leis anymore.

As for hula dancers and folks without shoes, I didn’t even glimpse one blade of a grass skirt in all my travels. Hula dancers seem to have relegated themselves to luaus these days, and when we discovered that the cheapest luau in our area was $175.00 per person, we decided to pass on the poi and watch the hula dancers on Youtube. And to be perfectly frank, anyone who wanders around barefoot in Hawaii is a fool. There is lava rock everywhere, and it’s sharp. Your feet would be cut to ribbons. I didn’t even see many people at the beach without swim shoes. The coral comes right up to the shore in many places.

I also expected to always have the ocean in sight. In fact, even on the tiny island of Kauai, it’s easy to get lost in the bush. Sometimes there were farmlands or rain forests or mountains as far as the eye could see, and it was hard to remember that you were even on an island. I don’t know why, but I never thought of that state as so substantial before visiting. In my mind, it was a series of tiny dots in the middle of the pacific. That’s also true, if you zoom out enough on Google Earth, I suppose. Perspective.

Another fact I hadn’t even considered is that Hawaii has governmental entities. Well, duh. They’d have to, wouldn’t they? But Hawaii, for me, has always been about the leisure, not the actual day to day living. According to Wikipedia, Hawaii has 5 counties, and these counties mostly constitute an entire island. Some include tinier islands that are within their orbit. But these counties are where the buck stops, so to speak. They don’t have city governments or city councils or school board districts. Kalawao County is sort of an outlier, in that it was only created for the leper colony that used to be on the Kalaupapa peninsula on Moloakai. That county only has 82 residents, and they don’t even bother with elections. Most of their services come from the county of Maui. It kind of seems as though the government is as laid back as the people.

And here I go, making sweeping statements based on my two-week stay, but I have to say that I was very surprised and delighted by all the Hawaiians I met. Having spent most of my life in Florida, I know how irritating tourists can be, and because of that, I was expecting Hawaiians to give off a vibe of impatience and irritation like residents do in the tourist towns in Florida. But in fact, I was in awe of what seemed to me to be an overwhelmingly easygoing philosophy and lifestyle. Yes, they were often late, but they also seemed unconcerned. And I loved their dry and subtle yet corny humor and their sense of calm and their ability to accept whatever comes their way. And all this despite the fact that their land has been stolen from them by large corporations and rich white men. It would be impossible to blame them if their main personality traits were bitterness and resentment, but I didn’t sense that at all.  They were kind, friendly, and welcoming. I want to be just like them when I grow up.

Having said that, though, I was startled to see a notice in our hotel room as to what to do in case of a nuclear attack. And yes, they are a lot closer to Russia and China and North Korea than most Americans are, so their sense of calm is even more admirable. Still, the advice about finding shelter and not looking at the bright flashes of light seemed rather optimistic. If disaster strikes on an island, there’s really not much you could do except kiss your behind goodbye. I wonder how much Hawaiians think about this.

Moving past my profiling, I have to say that weather blew me away, sometimes literally. It was late April and early May. The wind was unrelenting on both Kauai and the Big Island. I don’t know if we just happened to visit during a windy season, or the fact that we seemed to spend more time on the windward sides of islands rather than the leeward sides skewed my impressions, but yeah, the background sound was often the howling, unstoppable wind. I think I’d go insane if I lived there. But the wind did help with the humidity, and for that I welcomed it. We mostly slept with our hotel room windows open rather than locking ourselves in with air conditioning. I had forgotten how easy it is to sleep with the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

It rained nearly every day of our trip. But it was a warm rain that was a lot more tolerable that the bone-chilling, raw rain we get in Seattle. Mostly we just ignored it as we reveled in the fact that we were able to wear shorts for the first time this year, and wet or not, that was a gift. But the clouds also meant we only got to see one tropical sunset. Granted, it was a doozy, and made it well worth the trip. I’ll tease you with a few photos below.

Suffice it to say that the Hawaii I got was not the Hawaii I expected, but in retrospect I’m grateful for that, because I truly loved the Hawaii I experienced. We had many adventures in this beautiful state, and I learned a great deal about myself while there. I plan to write about a lot of these events and epiphanies in the near future, so watch this space.

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Expectations of Opportunity

It would never have occurred to me to ask.

I know a young man who was offered a job. He hadn’t been job hunting, mind you. He already had a job. No, he was approached. And when they told him the salary, he said, “I think I should get 10 grand more a year.” And they gave it to him. He works there still.

What blows me away is that it would have never occurred to me to tell a potential employer that I was worth 10 grand more a year. Even if I believed I deserved it, the thought of asking would never have crossed my mind. I was never taught that such a possibility existed.

I think that is what separates the wheat from the chaff of humanity. Some people are taught to expect, even demand, opportunities. The rest of us are taught to keep our heads down and be grateful for whatever it is we happen to get.

Women, minorities, the underprivileged, none of us are taught to ask for 10 grand more out of life. None of us are taught that we have negotiable value. And most of us don’t even realize that there’s another way to be.

It kind of makes you wonder what other opportunities never get presented to us, simply because we don’t think to ask.

Opportunity

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The Cultural Iceberg

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down.

I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.

  • Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.

  • Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.

  • Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.

  • Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.

  • Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.

  • Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.

  • More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.

Cultural Iceberg

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Lowering My Expectations

Where did this notion of perfection come from?

The vast majority of the time when I’m really annoyed, the situation fits into one category. People are not behaving as I feel they should.

I have really high expectations. I think everyone should act with integrity. Everyone should tell the truth. Everyone’s motivations should be pure. Everyone should have everyone else’s best interests at heart. Everyone should be kind and respectful. Everyone should be reliable. Everyone should say what they mean and mean what they say.

“Should” is the most insidious word in the English language. Here’s the question. Where did my notion of perfection come from? Heaven knows I have not seen many examples of this behavior. This rulebook of mine is something I seem to have conjured up in my own mind. In fact, it’s been my experience that a lot of people behave quite abominably (see also: Washington D.C.).

If most of the crows I’ve seen in my life take flight, why would I expect them to suddenly do the breaststroke? If I know it to be true that dogs bark, why would I expect them to start singing showtunes? If your habit is to be a jerk, why would I imagine that you’d behave otherwise?

And yet I follow this pattern consistently. People don’t fit into my arrogant little box of perfection, and it drives me up a wall. It’s just so freaking frustrating!

Do I derive any benefit from my irritation? Does it serve me well? Does it change anything? No, no, and no.

I have no magical power to change people. I’m not the behavior police. The only thing I can do is work on myself.

Logic dictates that I lower my expectations of people. I need to stop measuring them by a yardstick that is clearly not of their choosing. I have got to loosen my grip on the steering wheel of life.

It would be so liberating to be pleasantly surprised when someone does something good rather than be irritated when he or she basically acts like he or she always does. It would be a relief to direct my energies toward those things over which I actually have control. It would be wonderful to just do me. I’d love to be less disappointed by others, not because they’ve straightened up, but because I realize it’s not my place to sit in judgment, and because I’ve come to accept the fact that people, as a general rule, don’t change.

Now, the trick will be to figure out how to lower my expectations without crossing that fine line into the land of no faith in humanity whatsoever.

Pardon my dust. I’m still under construction.

Expectations

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Those Pesky Pedestals

What right do I have to expect perfection?

I’ve always admired the Dalai Lama. For me, he seemed like the epitome of enlightenment. He’s dignified. He’s compassionate. He remains calm in the face of grave injustice in the form of China stealing Tibet. He doesn’t even seem bitter about the fact that no country is willing to step in to correct this outrage. He’s all about love and acceptance. He doesn’t judge.

But it seems that he’s also just a man of his generation. And that breaks my heart. Because as a man, he’s inherently flawed.

According to this article, he has said on more than one occasion that if a woman succeeds him, she should be attractive. Because if she’s not, no one will want to look at that face. Even when he is told that this comment offends people, he sticks by it.

This enlightened man just doesn’t get it.

You’d think that someone who has seen his country go through what it has gone through would understand that it’s wrong to require that someone’s most important quality be something that is so completely out of her control. It’s wrong to place hurdles in front of one group of people that you don’t place in front of another. It’s an incredible waste to completely overlook someone’s vast inner value based upon the arbitrary yardstick that you use to give a seal of approval to their outer shell.

It makes me sad to now see the Dalai Lama as an old man with occasionally outmoded, wrong-headed ideas.

But perhaps that has more to do with the rickety pedestal I have placed him upon than it has to do with the man himself. What right do I have to expect perfection? Just because he has failed to meet my standards, that doesn’t mean his inherent value as a public figure has changed.

Let’s try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as he seems so willing to do. But give me a minute to mourn the fact that I am having to lower my expectations, here. I, too, am only human.

Dalai Lama

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The Holiday Spirit

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me.

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Encountering Fame

I always walk away ever-so-slightly disappointed.

I’ve crossed paths with several famous people in my lifetime. Each encounter was different, of course, but they all had one thing in common: I always walked away ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Part of that is due to my own expectations, I’m sure. If you watch a person enough, you feel like you know them. So when you talk to them and they don’t act as if they know you, it feels weird. What’s your problem? We hang out every Thursday night! Oh… that’s right. You’re on TV.

And it’s always a mild shock when someone’s public persona does not match their private one. But of course, it wouldn’t, would it? I’m sure you have to hold parts of yourself back for sanity’s sake.

Even in those encounters I’ve had in which the person was very gracious and kind, I’ve gotten the sense that they wanted to hurry me along, and get it over with. I’m sure I’d feel the same way, if I were in their shoes. But I’m in the shoes of someone who is meeting a personal hero for the first time, so I don’t want to be shuffled out of the way, politely or otherwise.

But let’s face it. Everything I say, they’ve probably heard a million times before. And there’s this unremitting wave of people coming at them. That’s got to be exhausting, and a bit scary.

I think it’s probably better not to meet your heroes. But if given the opportunity, I don’t see how I could resist taking it. Because, I mean, maybe one time there will be this connection. We could be pen pals. Yeah! Not.

Some of the famous people I’ve met with varying levels of success: Jacques Cousteau, Arlo Guthrie, Hillary Clinton, Rick Steves, Glynn Washington, David Sedaris, Tom Cruise, and one of the Harlem Globe Trotters (and he was rude as hell, so I won’t name him.)

Fame

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Hallucinations

Reality and the perception thereof.

I’ve written a lot about reality and the perception thereof. I used to think of reality as a solid entity. I thought there was one reality, and all of us had varying abilities to see it. Now I’m not so sure. Reality seems much more fluid these days.

I know that the things I see out of the corners of my eyes when I’m severely sleep deprived aren’t real, but they sure seem like they are at the time. More than once, I’d swear I’ve heard someone call my name, only to look up and see no one who knows me, or, worse yet, no one at all.

When my mother died, I missed her so much that I swore I saw her several times in a mall, or in a train station, or rounding the corner on a crowded city street. Apparently that’s a very common part of grief. But it sure gives you a jolt when it happens.

I’ve had entire conversations with someone only to realize that due to a misunderstanding, we were talking about two separate things. That can be hilarious. But surely there have been times when we’ve both walked away without realizing we were not only not on the same page, but in completely different books. And there’s no way to know how often that happens.

According to this article from the Atlantic, entitled Hallucinations Are Everywhere, a lot of hallucinations come about because your brain anticipates what is about to happen, and that can make you believe it is so. It’s a fascinating read. But it leaves me wondering how much of my reality is crafted by my brain out of whole cloth. That’s a little scary.

Another thing the article says is that a lot of hallucinations are harmless. Whew. That’s a load off.

So much about the world these days seems to be built upon a fragile, shifting foundation. I can’t really blame my brain for trying to fill in the blanks to make sense of it all. But I long for something solid. Something logical. Something I can count on.

Hallucinations

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Don’t Give Away Your Keys

The only one who gets to hold the key to my happiness is me.

Oh, this was going to be good! I was going to surprise someone. She was going to be happy. She was going to be ecstatic and excited. That, in turn, was going to make me happy.

Only, that’s not how it went down. My big surprise was met with awkward silence. Things were not going as I planned. Not at all. And instead of being happy, I cried myself to sleep. Two nights in a row. But not three. No, not three. And never again.

The mistake I made was assuming I could accurately predict the behavior, priorities, and thought processes of another human being. I had imagined myself in that person’s place, and I assumed that she would react in the exact same way that I would. I was genuinely shocked and hurt when she did not.

It actually has me reevaluating my entire world view. What can I count on? Whom can I rely on? How much of my conclusions are drawn on pure assumption, therefore rendering them invalid?

It is going to take me a long time to digest all of this. It will be uncomfortable, learning to lower my expectations. But I know, on some level, I had been giving away the keys to my happiness to someone else. How absolutely silly of me to build my joy on such unpredictable foundations! Everyone has different priorities and different criteria for their behavior. And guess what? That is each person’s right.

Here are the only things I know for sure: I can rely on myself. I can count on my own behavior. That’s my bedrock.

From now on, the only one who gets to hold the key to my happiness is me. No one can “make” me happy. My happiness lies within me. I can certainly share it, and I delight in doing so, but I can’t leech it off of someone else as if I’m some sort of happiness vampire.

Bottom line: It’s my key. You don’t get to have it. Go get your own.

Key

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