The grief over all the people with whom I can no longer have meaningful relationship is heavy on me today.
These are old friends, family members, the adults who cheered me on as a child, Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders, people I worked with, volunteered with, went to church with, cried with, prayed with, laughed with, people I believed in who believed in me. Perfectly Nice People who were Perfectly Nice.
But I don’t accept Perfectly Nice as adequate anymore. Not for the basis of true relationship. Acquaintance? Someone I smile at in the grocery store? Send a Christmas card? A “Happy Birthday” text? Perhaps. Though even those things are often painful when I consider the sheer breadth of the gulf that separates us now.
Some people grow apart: gently and without wounds. This is not what I mean.
Some people continue to attempt to exert control over who you are and what you believe and your very right to exist, and how can you be with anyone who refuses to see you as you are, who refuses your truth, who writes their own narrative of you while rejecting your own?
You cannot be with such people.
You can interact with them, smile at them, chat about the weather, or a new movie, or an old song, but you cannot BE with such people because such people do their very best not to let you BE.
Growing apart is hard. Growing apart because of circumstances beyond one’s control or ability to change is harder. Growing apart because you must in order to be true to yourself is harder still.
Perfectly Nice People want to be friends with Perfectly Nice People. When things happen–as things do–that are not Perfectly Nice, you have a few choices before you: downplay the thing or downright lie about it so the illusion of Perfect Niceness is preserved, acknowledge the struggle but only speak about it or act to change it in ways that are Perfectly Nice, or…
The thing about being Perfectly Nice is that is is always a lie. But for many, many of us, it is the life we have been taught to strive for above all else, the gold standard of existence, the shape we should mold our public selves to match. Any noticeable deviation from Perfect Niceness shatters the illusion of all Perfect Niceness and is thus taboo, and by extension, so those connected to the deviation. It doesn’t even really matter what kind of deviation it is.
It could be having asthma or allergies. It could be not having the “right” length of hair. It could be a significant other cheating on you in what was meant to be a monogamous relationship and your subsequent hurt. It could be having a low-paying job. It could be suffering from a mental illness. It could be thinking a popular movie is harmful and speaking up about it. It could be simply the audacity to say “Something is wrong” or “something is different.”
Because just being honest about something that isn’t Perfect or Nice is a threat to the fragile existence of Perfect Niceness and Perfectly Nice People.
So Perfectly Nice People will tell you they are praying for you.
Perfectly Nice People will say, “That happened to my [insert relation here] and they got through it just fine, honey.”
Perfectly Nice People will say you should think about those who have it worse than you but who just keep going anyway! Heroes!
Perfectly Nice People will ask when the last time you went to church was and are you trusting God because God is Perfectly Nice and brings Perfect Niceness to those who trust in “his ways.”
Perfectly Nice People will smile and wag a finger and pat a shoulder and give a light hug and wink as you drown in front of them.
Perfectly Nice People will stay silent out of “respect for both sides,” but hope you can “keep in touch!”
Perfectly Nice People will tell you your children are so adorable in that photo you posted online and then bat not a lash before sharing an article demonizing kids these days and the people raising them.
Perfectly Nice People voted for Trump because he might be tough and a little abrasive but he is actually going to do Perfectly Nice things for Perfectly Nice People and was much better than the Nasty alternative, after all.
Perfectly Nice People also didn’t vote for Trump or even maybe for president at all because a Higher Power is in control after all, or well, actually you know, they just aren’t that political and you’d be a lot happier don’t you know if you didn’t get worked about all that nonsense like whether or not you can afford healthcare or if the air is clean enough to breathe.
Perfectly Nice People tend to be white and Christian and American because those are all Perfectly Nice things to be thankyouverymuch.
Perfectly Nice People don’t mean to be rude, but can’t we just get back to the way things were because people weren’t so sensitive or weak back then, and autism and ADD didn’t exist, and you could call a spade a spade, and beat your wife or own slaves and weren’t things just so normal, so lovely, so Perfectly Nice? Weren’t they?
See, to continue to be accepted by Perfectly Nice People, you have to believe in and maintain the illusion of Perfect Niceness. And all the ideas that go with it. At all times, at all costs.
This is where things boiled over for me. Once I began to see I needed to speak up about things that weren’t Perfectly Nice and that Perfectly Nice People would rather I didn’t, the foundation of Perfect Niceness in my life began to crack. And as it became clearer and clearer who was actually interested in being with me and who had only been along for the Perfect Niceness, this grief I am talking about grew and grew, and the cracks in the foundation did too until it was all just a crumbled heap of Things I Used to Believe, and Spaces I Used to Fit Into, and People I Used to Know.
Because the truth is no matter how much freer and truer I am now, there is still such a sadness to losing those who have parted ways with me, those with whom I have parted ways, and the places we used to occupy together. It is a grief that weighs me down on the daily, though ironically, admitting this makes me even less Perfectly Nice and therefore less likely to be considered Perfectly Nice ever again.
But see, the thing is, even though I am heartbroken to think of these people and places I have lost, I have not even a tiny little smidgen of sadness over leaving behind the toxic waste that is Perfect Niceness.
I am not Perfectly Nice.
And I have no interest in ever being considered to be Perfectly Nice ever again.
There was a time when it would have been a high compliment for someone to think of me as Perfectly Nice. There was a time when I felt like things really would be Perfectly Nice if I just worked hard enough, prayed hard enough, thought of others often enough, loved deeply enough, offered grace enough, had joy in all things enough.
But those are just the false prophesies that keep Perfect Niceness up and running, going strong. And I don’t have time to live those lies anymore. Do you?
That’s part of the point in blogging in the first place for me. Here is a space where I can be authentically me and celebrate what that means. So, here’s just a few things that disqualify me from being a Perfectly Nice Person that I am really hoping to talk about more in depth here on my little blog at some point in the future.
- I believe racism is alive and well in America and that white people’s silence on the subject is a violence against sisters and brothers of color. And I don’t really care if your high school history teacher taught you otherwise, they were wrong, full stop.
- I don’t make my son cut his hair or see my daughter’s frequent and enthusiastic no’s as a character flaw, and they both sleep in our bedroom by design, and I would definitely go back in time if I could and work harder to make sure the way I presented them to the world in the first place was much more gender neutral.
- I have PTSD and I don’t just prefer trigger warnings, I need them in order to live with relative ease, and I carefully sort people into levels of trustworthiness based on how they approach topics like safe spaces or trauma-informed care.
- My parents are divorced and I’m happy about it and have been since it happened, any anxiety over social pressures to feel otherwise notwithstanding.
- There are people who have hurt me and those I love so badly, I hope I never see or hear from them again and I no longer think that doing so qualifies as holding a grudge or is in any way sinful.
- I am married, and we both believe in God, and definitely look a lot like your average Perfectly Nice, heterosexual couple, I would rather swallow a hive of bees than go to a Weekend to Remember conference or ever take another ounce of marriage advice from a straight, white, Christian source.
And see, there are people I love and have loved for whom this is all far too much to say, who would say that my continuing to talk about it openly is just plain foolishness. People who see bringing these things up in the first place as divisive and selfish and wrong.
They are Perfectly Nice. And they are hoping to stay that way. So they cannot really let me be with them. I am a liability to their status as Perfectly Nice.
But I never want to live that life again, even if that means losing touch with the Actually Amazing People who are likely dwelling underneath all the accumulated nonsense of Perfect Niceness, who have decided to settle for being Perfectly Nice instead of being themselves.
I do not miss being Perfectly Nice.
But I do miss them, and what we might have been without all the Perfect Niceness in our way.