I’ve probably learned more in the first four months of this year than I did in the entirety of the the last four years. Most of what I’ve learned is a direct result of my own failure, most of what I’ve gleaned has come from fucking up, sifting through the broken pieces, and sweeping the rest into the trash. It’s so tempting to dig back through the trash and look for ways these fragments might be salvageable. But what I’ve been forced to learn in 2016 is that this stuff belongs in the past. I’ve learned to stop blaming other people or circumstances for my mistakes and choices. I’ve learned to own them, apologize, and move on. I’ve learned to forgive and be kind to myself first. If I can’t do this for me, who else will? I’ve learned that no one expects me to be perfect, they never did.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done is learn to accept that whatever shit I’m currently in is usually my own fault. It’s Occam’s Razor, the clearest and most evident answer, the obvious choice. Admitting that you fucked up takes the serpentine guesswork out of untangling the situation. It lets you breathe easier and learn whatever lesson the universe wanted to teach you in the situation. For so long I thought the only way anyone would ever love me is if I was perfect, so I fought to appear that way at all times. But it’s perfection that is cold and terrifying, not failure. Part of what make us lovable is our flaws and our ability to accept them. It’s a relief to own your Mars, accept your difficulties and flaws, and love yourself anyway.
These five essays all deal with that process in varying degrees–one even addresses a time when the author internalized what really wasn’t her fault–and they’re honest assessments of the ways we hide from the truth. The goal of this series is to stop hiding and confront these difficult truths, even if that means swallowing some pride, eating some dirt, taking the L. I’m really proud of all the writing in I Was Wrong, not because it is life-changing but because it deals in the bravery of the mundane. Not all epiphanies come to us on mountaintops, not all courage is found on a battlefield. Some days waking up and texting that one person “Hey, I was wrong” is the bravest thing you can do. Even if they don’t respond, you did your part.
Gina Florio: Mastering My Biracial Identity
“I didn’t shy away from the uncomfortable conversations about multicultural and multiracial identities, knowing that at least one person would benefit from it. However, I’ve never said a word to my relatives when their racism washes over me, even though theirs is the one that causes me the most heartache. It’s a funny thing; being brutally honest with the people you’re related to can be infinitely more difficult than telling your neighbor that his use of Oriental is unacceptable. So I always ran in the opposite direction, leaving the burden on them to learn for themselves. Little did I know that this was the very thing separating me from them. Maybe I need to become as invested in breaking this pattern in my own family as I am with the outside world. Maybe this is my part in loving them.”
Ella Ceron: It’s OK To Want To Be Instagram-Official
“Instead of doing this, I dwelled in the moments my ex and I shared. I magpied them. And it wasn’t just photos, either. It was everything. I hoarded his small tokens affection, knowing that he’d never Instagram me or change his Facebook status, so I had to settle for other things, things that arguably felt more real but still weren’t the validation I wanted. The nickname he called me in the morning, when he was too tired to use my already easy name, became the thing I signed my emails with. The afternoon when someone put on “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on the jukebox at the bar and we danced as if it was the most natural thing to do in the middle of June, made it hard to listen to the song in December, when we were broken up. Do you know how many stores play Mariah Carey in December? All of them.”
Caitie Delaney: It Actually Wasn’t My Fault
I’m happy to have had time to consider what really happened in my early life. Now that I’m the age my parents were when they had me, I can only imagine what it must have been like to try to stay in a marriage, raise kids, and not screw it up. At 28, I live with anxiety all the time–uncertainty about my job and restless pseudo-profound nights of yelling what the fuck am I even doing? at the heavens. To imagine that my parents were experiencing those kinds of realizations and stressors helped me come to terms with a truly shocking fact: My parents are people too. And even more scandalizing: They can also be wrong? Like, as much as they want?”
Caroline Cox: I Couldn’t Change Him So I Changed Me Instead
“After the requisite ‘refusing to shower for days and crying into a bag of white cheddar popcorn in bed watching Netflix and frantically checking his Twitter account’ phase subsided (to everyone’s relief), I had a revelation. This was the kind of revelation that stopped me in my tracks and appeared like an actual light bulb over my head: No more. No more talkers. No more promises that were empty, delayed or otherwise not carried out. No more surrounding myself with people who couldn’t follow through with that they wanted. No more self-sabotagers. This wasn’t just about him–it was about everyone in my life who was always complaining about their city, their job, their significant other, what have you, but refusing to make any moves to change their situation. Life’s too short, and I was just so damn over it. No more standing still.”
Jennifer R. Bernstein: Friendship With My Ex Held Us Both Back From Love
“Weird friendship, I learned, is a brutal in-between, a way of having and not-having someone all at once. The only way to escape this brutality is to say yes or no, submit the relationship to up-or-down vote. If you say no–and weird friendship is always a way of saying no–then you must enact a sort of purposeful losing. To hold a person close in order to soothe your loneliness and anxieties, and not because you want to be with them, in all their particularity, is to hold them back. Did I want to be with John, or did he represent an affirmation, after a history of denials, that love awaited me, the final, until-death kind that rewards our suffering in its pursuit? The fact that I have to ask is answer enough.”
All illustrations by Paige Vickers.