Given Florida’s lengthy north-to-south stretch, the changing latitudes also mark changing climates, cultures and accents. Funnily enough, one has to go north for at least 7 hours from West Palm Beach to end up in the South.
So, as I headed to the Panhandle for a couple of days, I found myself smack in the middle of “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir” and thousands of rowdy college students cavorting at what MTV once termed “Official Spring Break Headquarters.” Let’s say it led to a heap of self-reflection on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
It was a completely different Florida than what I have seen in West Palm Beach. The accents were so strong and ubiquitous that I kept slipping into a Southern one myself. This was even more amusing considering I was trying to keep up my English accent for Thursday’s performance of The Unexpected Guest. So, I kept jumping from Southern to British to Californian.
Watching spring breakers—especially as someone who has never been one—was a whole separate can of over-stimulation. What an odd combination of girls that couldn’t have been older than sixteen, cowboy boots and Sperry Topsiders, and a white sandy beach that is obviously quite stunning but presently overflowing with empty cans of Bud Light.
Watching this debauchery made me quite reflective (surprised?). I chose not to have this experience while in college. I graduated quickly then joined Peace Corps at twenty. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of recklessness, but it seemed to happen before and after college, rather than during. In fact, I’d say I’m coming out of another version of it at the moment. However, reckless at 25 feels better than reckless at 15, and I find that my most recent recklessness has, in itself, become a different type of responsible. But I can’t help but wonder a little, “What if?” Then I smile and roll my eyes at myself.
If there is any environment that so ideally contrasts my own continual change, it is this one. For example, while I understand the eagerness of two certain, attractive young females to spend time worrying about a certain pragmatic college boy with a playboy reputation, I’m glad I’m not in their shoes anymore. In fact, I’d say the biggest effort I’ve made lately is in learning how to walk away from similar things.
I can say “no.” I can cut ties. I can buy my own drinks. And I can draw my own lines. Mind you, as I mentioned to the undergrads who surveyed two of us thinking we were college students, my personal spiritual conviction is based partially on previous bad decisions. So are my “lines.” And I have no shame in saying that these are moveable lines. It doesn’t mean drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and avoiding it like the plague. It means having enough experience (both joyful and painful) to know when I am uncomfortable and then—and this is the most important part—to say it. How many of these girls won’t do that this week? (And how many have the advanced maturity that they will? There are undoubtedly some. I just wasn’t one of them at seventeen.) It is equally as important, though, to recognize other people’s lines, to respect them truly, and to appreciate that they’ve laid it out for you clearly.
This change also means I am now willing to be forgotten. I have absolutely no idea how many of the inevitable Panama City hookups will be between two people who will never see each other again and how many will be between two people who go to the same college. However, I can imagine that there will be a good amount of hookups that will end with one person trying to keep something going while the other person won’t.
Most of us have been on both sides: we’ve kept the hook in someone and we’ve also been hooked. We keep the hook in for a variety of reasons. Perhaps we like the attention, we don’t want to hurt anyone, we don’t want to be forgotten, or because we kind of, sort of, maybe like the other person. I just don’t want to be the one that keeps people around just because I want to be wanted. As a result, it means I have to be able to genuinely let people go without expectation that they will still want me, think of me, or miss me. Of course expectation isn’t the same thing as desire.
Please don’t misunderstand me: Walking away and cutting ties are each still a work in progress. On top of that, when I have done it, I haven’t necessarily done it in a way I’m proud of. I’d actually say that my “disaster” score is probably higher than my “well done” score at the moment. There are those who have criticized my sometimes aloofness, termed me a Runaway Bride afraid of commitment, and interpreted my urge to “cut and run” as a fear of vulnerability. The assessment is fair enough and almost certainly based in some truth, but, as my first entry explained, I have loved and I have bled. I, too, feel loneliness; I just don’t want to be afraid of it. When I walk away from someone, it doesn’t mean I do so comfortably or even without sadness, tears, or longing. Sometimes it still takes a metaphorical slap in the face before I actually cut the cord, too. So while I am still nowhere near where I want to be, there was a certain relief in being an outsider on that overcrowded beach and realizing that I’m at least heading in the right direction: away.