Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My F*** You Boots

Last year I bought myself a pair of tall black boots. When I wear them, I feel fabulously powerful, like Batman or Beyoncé. Also, just about every time I wear them I get comments on them. The comments are pretty evenly divided between "Ben, I f***ing love your boots!" and "Ben, I love you, but what the f*** are you thinking with those boots?" Many people I love and respect happen to share my aesthetic sensibilities in this particular case, and many people I love and respect do not. At first I felt self-conscious about making such a controversial fashion choice, but over time I have come to love the boots even more because so many people hate them. So much, in fact, that I have decided that henceforth the boots shall be known as my f*** you boots.

If these boots had a theme song, it would be performed by Cee-Lo Green.

For context, you should understand that I have always been a people pleaser, often to an unhealthy extreme. I thrive on positive feedback. When people tell me I'm good at my job, I glow. When I get compliments on being a good dad, I eat them up even though I know I'm being complimented for basic things moms do every day without fanfare. On the flipside, when my high school English teacher scolded me for making an inconsiderate joke, I could barely hold back the tears. When I receive critical feedback on my writing, even though I'm the one who asked for it, I struggle to convince my brain that the criticism doesn't mean people don't like me. Hell, when a friend tells me they just aren't feeling one of my favorite songs, my knee-jerk reaction is to feel like there's something wrong with me. The people-pleasing impulse is so strong that sometimes I'm not even sure whether I think something or if I just think that's what people want me to think. 

Much of my adult life, particularly the past five years, has been spent learning to be myself rather than being whatever the people around me want me to be. I struggle with this largely because I've seen people who, tired of being doormats, swing all the way to the other side and become narcissists. No, I don't want to neglect my needs in favor of others' needs, but I also don't want to prioritize my needs to the point that I'm harming others. In the wise, drunken words of Tina Fey's character on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, "Happy people value their needs as much as others’s." The key is to find that balance. 

With this in mind, it brings me joy to find things that please me but displease other people without actually harming them. It's an ethically safe zone for me to practice authentic self-building. "Ben, I f***ing hate your boots," someone might say, and I can respond (in my head, usually), "F*** you, it's my body and I get to choose what I put on it." The fact that family, friends, and colleagues regularly question my decision to wear these boots is a nice reminder that this is one thing I'm doing for me, not for anyone else. It's a very empowering feeling, especially because I know I'm not in danger of hurting anyone with my choice of footwear. There are times when it's difficult to find the healthy boundary between my needs and others' needs, but thankfully this is not one of them. So if you have a problem with my f*** you boots, you are welcome to say so, and when I silently smile at you in response, you'll know exactly what I'm thinking.

EDIT: I lied. My boots do have a theme song, and this is it:

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