Can We Change?

by Penelope Smallbone

Williamsburg after snow fall

In the spirit of end-of-year compilations, I have been thinking about where I’ve been over the past year and what I have learned.

This was my first full year in NYC, and the first time in my life where I really felt like it was my life, as a result of only my own decisions. I spent all afternoon running around the neighborhood with friends, purchasing foodstuffs for my upcoming holiday feast, and picking up some last minute gifts for myself and for others. I came home, made dinner and settled in for the night to do some work. It wasn’t until my father called with a question that I even remembered that far away in STL, MO the rest of my extended family was gathering for their holiday celebration. Ordinarily I would feel left out of the action, but this time I simply paused for a moment, then mentally commented about how strange and wonderful it is that I have created a life for myself here.

Over the past year I have been running at full speed into life as a young adult. There have been about a thousand ups and downs this year; I am ready to stop riding the emotional roller coaster. And yet, every little thing that’s happened has taught me something about myself, or about the world, or about the human experience. It’s been a fantastic year of experiences, both good and bad, and bad.

Over the summer I briefly dated someone who was a friend of a friend. We never got serious, and after about 2 months we decided we just weren’t compatible and broke things off. By way of our mutual friends, I ran into him a few times in the fall and wasn’t exactly kind. A couple months ago I heard that his father died suddenly and without warning. At first I didn’t know how I should react. It’s not that we were so serious that I had even thought about meeting his family. He barely even talked about them with me. Still, I felt connected somehow to his life and decided to send an email reaching out to let him know that I’m around if he needed to talk to someone. I never heard back.

I saw him last night. We were both at a birthday party for a friend. At first I chatted with him for just a few minutes, and he kept coming back to talk more. The bar was pretty cleared out by 3am, and the two of us were still talking away while my friends were chatting it up with some other dudes they had met. It was such a strange feeling, I can hardly describe it. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life lately. I’ve been working pretty intensely on some personal projects, and as a result have cut back on my social calendar. I haven’t been drinking very much, and going out even less. I haven’t dated since the summer, and have taken a conscientious hiatus from sex. I’m in an amazing mental state, and as I stood there talking to Mr. Dick in a Box I could feel myself acting differently. The night ended with him asking me to come home with him (no, he was not drunk) and me telling him no. “I really appreciate the offer, but No thanks.” I let him know how much I enjoyed our conversation, but made it clear that I had no intention of engaging in romantic pursuits with him again. I walked away feeling secure, empowered, and really happy. I felt like I did the right thing.

So this brings me to my question. Can we change? My generally cynical viewpoint says no. People will always revert to what they know, and although a person might change her location, job, boyfriends, friend, or fashion, she will always be the same person. But the optimist in me is getting excited and wants to fight the cynical side. I can feel the change in myself. It’s palpable. And it’s really really good! I am hopeful that after this year of rough tumbles and ups and downs and lefts, rights, curves, and all, that I might actually come out a better person as a result.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the topic. Can we change?