I think everything in South Florida agrees that night time is the best time to go outside. I mean it doesn’t change the fact that it is still stupidly hot and humid, but it is better than daytime. E and I take walks then too, with the slugs, and the frogs, and the opossums.
I was feeling pretty worked up about some writing things I had learned and spent the first portion of our walk telling E about the exciting world of sentence structure. God bless him, he listened. Then I asked about his day.
“I don’t know,” He offered, slapping a palm bush as we passed. “I was feeling kind of rutty, but it got me thinking.”
“Yeah, so, I was heading to drop off my order for work, coming out of the parking lot. You know how you can go left coming out of that store… and so I looked and saw a line of cars.”
I did know. That store was off a crowded road that was a prime example of the everyday traffic congesting the area. I nodded that I had heard, but he didn’t see. He had his eyes down, thinking.
“Well, I didn’t want to go that way,” He said. We bumped shoulders as we passed between two cars parked on the sidewalk. He continued, “But I remembered the way I came in, the opposite side of the parking lot. So I decided to go that way, cuz’ it seemed less trafficy.”
I commended his ingenuity.
He shrugged, “Well I didn’t realize until I got out there that that way out didn’t have a light. So I was going to have to wait for the cars anyway… to pass to get out.”
He paused, a slight smile on his face. I knew his smile was ironic but I smiled at the image of him sitting in traffic. It wasn’t like I wanted him to be in traffic, I just smiled whenever I thought of him.
He made an off-hand gesture and said “I had an unchecked thought I guess that it didn’t matter that I went that other way because the cars still beat me. And then I was like, beat me to what? I realized, unintentionally I was competing with these other cars!”
His voice was raised now, passion over the ridiculousness of the idea elevating his tone. “Generally, I mean unless you were drag racing, you shouldn’t compete with other cars. It not like we are going to the same place. I mean I was going to my shop and they were going… probably- to their houses. And it got me thinking about comparisons and competition and how we compete with others in our own heads… just in general in life.”
I pointed to a slug in our path. I considered his words. I wasn’t a competitive person naturally but even then, I still had this idea that I had to ‘win’ somehow at traffic, like if I could make it through the light before it turned I was having a better life than the car behind me who was forced to stop.
E gently explained why I shouldn’t touch the slug, then he continued. “I have been listening to a book by one of the Multiamory podcast authors and in the book she was talking about comparing oneself to one’s Metas and how that’s not the healthiest road to go down-”
“I don’t have any Metas currently but I do find myself competing with others on the regular, mostly with myself. At our poly group in Indiana we broke down the relationship escalator and how your relationship doesn’t have to be on a specific path but we never really talk about, like, the life escalator we have for ourselves.”
He listed off the things that he thought would be on the life escalator: education, job, marriage, retirement. None of it was surprising. As he pronounced the elements of the life escalator, his voice expressing his annoyance with the discreteness of the stops along the way, I considered what was along my own escalator. Beating someone in traffic wasn’t on the list but I could almost hear the subconsciousness of people screaming “my escalator is going faster than yours,” at each other.
As he kicked a rock out of his flip flop E continued, “And it’s how we measure success, like how with jobs or career you measure your success as a person, or how you build your career or how much you make. The first question people ask is what do you do for a living – that’s all I got asked at the wedding with L!”
He tossed his hands up, wide and high to emphasize his words. I stumbled a bit trying to avoid being hit by his impassioned gesture. He looked adamant and urgent. Then he flapped his hands back to his sides and said, “Back to the point. I thought about this in the context of my own life because I haven’t been feeling good about myself-”
My heart squeezed a little. I had known his mood throughout the day and it made me sad when he was hurting. I didn’t interrupt though.
“I feel like a lot of it has to do with my career. I work for the apps, delivering groceries or food and give people rides. I mean, my degree is in wildlife biology- and before that I was a science teacher, before that I worked at camps and collected data on animals. I am not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t own a house,.”
He laughed ruefully. I don’t think I have ever really seen someone laugh ruefully but he did it. “I barely have a savings let alone a retirement.”
I half expected him to say that he didn’t even beat the traffic coming out of the store.
Sadly, he said, “Some times I get caught up that I am almost 30 and these are the things about my life. I feel like my point is that if I compare myself to what I think the average 30 year old is I can get bogged down and depressed.”
He seemed to run out of steam on the subject. We walked a little in silence. I didn’t want to press him since sometimes he just needed to spew. We rounded on our block, I got excited again and started talking about a lot of things. I was excited about E’s business and was rattling on about marketing.
As the house came into view he looked at me. He said “But I am not depressed every day. Most days I can look around and see some pretty cool things. And you remind me of those things. I have lived in 3 different states since college, I taught myself how to sew, how to cook, and I just started -STARTED!- a small business. I also have two really awesome partners. And we have a really great family. I really love the family we built together. And we all feel supported in what we want to do- Its probably pretty rare to have been with one partner for nine years at the age of 30, let alone have two partners who also get along and have a great friendship.”
I am glad I am too brown to blush.
“I enjoy a lot of flexibility in the jobs that I do. I use my free time to work on my business and other skills and things that I enjoy. And when I look at myself from a couple years ago I see a lot of improvements in terms of my mental health and my communication skills.”
We were home again, and he let me lead him to the door.
“I think it’s important to have goals in life but I don’t think putting ourselves in competition with others it the best way to accomplish our goals.”
D and E.