Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky

If you’re a respectable American patriot like me then you’re addicted to the convenience of Amazon Prime. Why suffer through the emotionally overwhelming, very public procedure of sifting through a wall of options in the grocery store, discerning between this dish soap or that one, when the entire process could take place discreetly from your couch? No eye contact; no small talk; no juggling one-too-many flimsy paper bags into the passenger seat of a hatchback. Just click, click, and two days later there’s brown box on the doorstep.

It’s not just the antisocial convenience of online shopping with 48-hour guaranteed delivery that people love: it’s the boxes. That’s how we like our dish soap and that’s how we like our people. We thrive on our highly evolved brains’ habit of sorting, separating, and surmising a person’s worth with a split-second “ocular pat down.” Stamped and sent. Person defined and decided about.

The trouble with having an itchy finger on the trigger of my moral compass is that that metaphor is mixed and illogical. Anyway, the older I get – and I’m a couple years from 30, so I’m brimming with wisdom at this point in my life – the more I realize that boxes aren’t as great for people as they are for tampons and cleaning products.

Checking off criteria to quickly package up everyone I meet and neatly stack them in a preliminary “worth it” or “not even a chance” pile has negative effects for both judge and judged because determining who a person is based on a set of loosely founded assumptions not only bars the sorter from potentially meeting interesting, surprising new people; it projects onto that person an expectation of who she’s expected to be.

Turning those tables, I know that I’ve manipulated how I’m perceived in order to avoid fitting into this box or that one only to find myself snugly taped into its opposite. When the flaps of Bitch have started to close over me, I’ve burst through and fled instead to Passive; when it was clear I was leaning toward Lush I’ve jumped into Ascetic; to avoid being labeled with Slut, I’ve carefully made sure to meet the criteria of Prude.

My best friends and family know that I’m a slutty, passive, lush, prude, bitch who defaults to asceticism when I feel bad about how I’ve been behaving, so landing in any of those boxes isn’t being untrue to who I am. There’s a time to be assertive and a time to step aside; a time to let myself go and a time to hold myself back. I’m comfortable with that.

What I’m not comfortable with is being expected – and expecting myself – to be consistent with any one epithet. It’s two-dimensional and unrealistic. My bitchy self isn’t my most pleasant one and my passive self isn’t always a treat, either; but when I’m able to be assertive and collaborative, I’m a peach, and it’s important for people to understand that about me… and that I understand it about them, too.

Please don’t misread this is a Monroe-esque “If you can’t handle me at my least sober then you don’t deserve to cheat on your wife with me” motivational post. I don’t necessarily think that companionship is something that should be earned or deserved; my presence is not a trophy. No one’s is. Everyone has crappy aspects of their personality and those little boxes shouldn’t be overlooked or tolerated, but they’re also (usually) not grounds to label someone as junk and direct them to your recycling bin.

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