Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking Up With Friends

After I graduated from college, a girl I had been friends with for four years stopped returning my phone calls. I later found out from a mutual friend that she moved to New York. I was hurt that she didn't want to be my friend anymore, but I accepted it and didn't try to contact her again.

Last year, I befriended a young woman my age who lived in my neighborhood. We were friends until she got a boyfriend. Then all of a sudden she was no longer able to hang out, because she was always spending time with him. I still see her from time to time, and she likes to talk on and on about how well things are going with her boyfriend. She never mentions how she ignored my e-mailed invitations to hang out or how she dropped me the minute she found someone.

It's often awkward and painful when friendships end, especially when you're the one who gets dropped as a friend. I usually don't get an explanation for why the relationship ended, and I don't ask for one; I am afraid that I'll either get a list of excuses or a list of reasons why that person doesn't like me anymore. I figure it's better to just take the hint and move on.

It's even more difficult when you're the one who wants to end the friendship. That's a problem that I'm dealing with right now. I was friends with this girl for years. But now it feels like we don't have much in common anymore. I don't approve of some of the choices she made, and it's hard for me to listen to her talk about them. I tried to give her constructive criticism once or twice, but she didn't listen.

She is also similar to many people in my life who don't understand that my day doesn't end at five P.M., and I'm not free every weekend. Many people believe that college teachers have it easy: we only have to teach a few times a week, and we have the rest of the day free and summers off. They don't know that untenured college teachers often have to work through the summer, because we don't earn enough during the school year to live on. I may just spend a few hours in the classroom, but I still have appointments with students, e-mails to respond to, lesson plans to make, papers to grade, and department meetings to attend. Not to mention I have my website job and my dissertation to work on.

This person has always expected me to spend more time with her than I'm able to, even when I explained that I had to work. I finally realized that I didn't enjoy her company anymore; it felt like we were having the same conversation over and over again. I could no longer tolerate certain things about her that had bothered me for years.

I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I didn't come right out and say why I no longer wanted to be friends. I just stopped calling. I didn't call her for months, but then she started calling and e-mailing me. I told her that I couldn't hang out anymore because I was busy with work and school, which was true. But she kept insisting that I set aside time for her. I finally told her that one reason I didn't want to hang out was because of certain things she kept doing, though I tried to be tactful about it.

For a while she stopped calling. But now, months later, she's e-mailing me again, and it infuriates me that she won't leave me alone. When former friends stopped returning my messages, it didn't take me that long to get the hint. I didn't keep contacting them, as this person has done.

When you break up with someone you've been dating, only in the worst scenarios does that person keep contacting you. And at least when you exit a romantic relationship, you can tell that person that you just don't feel that way anymore, or that you want to see other people. But I don't know the best way to break up with a friend. I feel like I can't say, "I just don't enjoy your company anymore."

I haven't returned any of her messages. I'm afraid that if I do I'll blow up at her and tell her what I think of her, once and for all. And even then I'm afraid that she still won't get it and will keep pressuring me to be her friend. But I don't WANT to, and I don't appreciate being made to feel like I HAVE to. You'd think after two years she'd have gotten the message.

Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever ended a friendship before? How do you deal with it when people want to be your friend, but the feeling isn't mutual?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Writing about Religion

Although I blog and Tweet about a lot of things, one thing I don't usually write too much about is religion. I'm Catholic, but not the "I feel guilty about EVERYTHING" type of Catholic. I used to know some people who went to church almost every day, and they were basically the "I'm holier than you, you, and DEFINITELY you" Catholics. They criticized me because I only went to church on Sundays. (But I know that not everyone who attends church every day are the holier-than-thou types.)

I know that religion is a touchy issue for a lot of people, similar to politics. Most people have their own views on those issues, and when they start debating them, it can get complicated. But sometimes someone will say something negative about Catholics or Christians, and I'm not always sure how to respond.

For example, I follow several people on Twitter who are atheists. How do I know they're atheists? Because they Tweet about how they believe that everyone who reads the Bible is ignorant. They criticize anyone who believes in God. On Ash Wednesday, there were WAY too many offensive jokes about Catholics who got the ashes put on their foreheads. They say a lot of things that make me MAD. I know that not all atheists are like that; I've met several atheists who never talked about religion at all.

One of the best things about living in America is the right to free speech. So even if those people's Tweets about religion offend me, they have the right to write them. They have the right to their own beliefs, including the right not to practice any religion.

And I know that Catholics don't have the best reputation, especially in light of the abuse scandal. And I don't agree with all of the Church's perspectives. For example, I don't support its stance against gay marriage; I think that gay people should have the right to get married, and I don't think that straight people should be in a position to withhold that right from them.

But even though I don't support everything that the Church stands for, I am still a practicing Catholic, and I still believe in God. That's why it angers me when people claim that I'm ignorant or stupid for reading the Bible, because I'm NOT. I have the right to practice any religion I want, and that's another great thing about living in America.

Whenever I read a Tweet that offends me, I want to write back to that person and say, "God can see what you're Tweeting!" or "If I had a lightning bolt right now, I'd throw it at you!" But I don't. I know that if I say something to them, it will probably provoke an argument. And I really don't want to fight with people I don't even know. So I figure that it's better just to ignore the Tweets that bother me, or unfollow the people who write them.

I did, however, once write a Tweet that said something like this: I don't go around preaching my religious beliefs to everyone on Twitter. It'd be GREAT not to read any more Tweets that bashed mine.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my religious beliefs, but it'd be nice if they respected my beliefs, just as I respect theirs.

What about you? How do you deal with it when you read something online that offends you?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Age Is More Than Just a Number

1. When I was in college, I was innocent and naive enough to believe that my future career as a teacher would be like one of those inspirational teacher movies: some of the students might be difficult at first, but eventually, they would come around; I would inspire them to love literature and writing, like my English teachers inspired me.

Although I have taught many wonderful students and succeeded in inspiring them (and they, in turn, inspired me), there have also been many other students who never came around. In particular I was unprepared for some students' attitude that grades mattered more than learning. Before I started teaching, I didn't realize I'd get many nasty e-mails from students (and occasionally from their parents), demanding that I change their grades. I didn't anticipate the face-to-face confrontations with undergrads who threatened to get me in trouble with my bosses, unless I gave them the grades they wanted. I was shocked at many people's firm belief that if the students failed, it wasn't because of anything the students did wrong; it was the teacher's fault because she or he was a bad teacher (and yes, people have said that to my face).

I grew up (and I grew stronger) when I learned to stop letting them push me around. I learned to stand up for myself. I refused to back down, in spite of all the complaints, excuses, and threats, and I refused to change people's grades. I will admit, though, that some of these encounters left me shaken, angry, and frustrated as a result.

2. When I was in my twenties, I thought I could avoid credit card debt and student loans by working multiple jobs.

I grew up once I realized that even two or three part-time jobs were not necessarily enough to cover all my bills, and working so much often left me feeling exhausted and stressed out as a result. When my hours were cut at the stores where I worked or when I wasn't assigned enough classes, I couldn't earn enough money to pay my bills. As a result, I had to use credit cards (though I only used them for emergencies), and it took me years to pay off those debts (though I did pay them).

I grew up even more once I learned how to clip coupons, buy things on sale, to turn down some (though not all) offers from more affluent friends to go out on expensive outings, and save money.

I also finally broke my vow of avoiding student debt and applied for a small loan, though I was careful to set aside a third of it. That way I can use that amount to help pay off the loan once I complete my degree. I really DIDN'T want to get a loan, but after years of working multiple jobs, I knew I had to give myself a break.

3.When I was younger, I thought that even if I struggled financially as an English teacher, it would be worth it, as long as I loved my job.

I grew up once I realized that a passion for my work did not necessarily make up for all the financial struggles. When I was in high school and college, I didn't realize that I would have to work so many jobs just to make ends meet. I came to understand just how exploited, overworked, and underpaid most teachers are. The only thing that got me through was the fact that I genuinely loved teaching, and I still love it. It's the best job I've ever had, and I hope that I can continue doing it for the rest of my life.

But I know that I can't keep doing this forever. I can't keep working so hard at jobs that pay by the hour (which usually means the pay is extremely low) or accepting teaching jobs that don't provide long-term security or health insurance. I've finally realized that as much as I love teaching, I might have to pursue a different career if I don't find a full-time teaching job. It's SCARY, especially because all these years in academia have made me overqualified and underqualified for most jobs. I HATE the idea that I might not get to teach anymore, but it's a decision that as an adult, I might have to make when the time comes. (I still hope I won't have to make that decision.)

A lot of people claim that age is just a number. I don't agree with that, because who I was ten years ago isn't who I am now. You go through things as you get older that change you and that make you view the world in a different way.

It's my birthday today. I'm thirty-three years old. I still have a lot of growing up to do, but I definitely feel more grown-up now than I did ten years ago. It's not just because of my age; it's largely because of my work experiences, which made me see things from a more mature perspective.

What about you? What made you grow up, and how did that experience differ from what you thought it would be when you were younger?