As you probably gathered from the title, yes, I am a woman, and yes, I am in my early twenties. My name is Katy (my friends call me Kath), and I’m going to tell you just a little bit about myself. I was born and raised in Upstate New York (No, not the city. Yes, there are even cows. No, I do not have an accent). I’m the oldest of four in my family, and I have some of the greatest siblings out there. We have an interesting family dynamic, which I’m sure I’ll devote an entire post to at some point, but for now I’ll be brief. My parents are young and also pretty cool (maybe I’m a little biased). For example, my dad just got another tattoo. I think that makes nine in total? But if I had to pick one thing about my parents to boast the most about, it would be their constant support and encouragement. They knew from very early on that I would leave home to pursue my dreams, and they never shied away from that. When I told them I wanted to move 1,000 miles away to go to school, they did everything they could to help me make that happen. Although, my dad was far less fond of the idea than my mom was. He’s been wrapped around my finger since day one. That being said, I still live 1,000 miles away, I graduated from Evangel University two years ago, and I’ve recently graduated from Missouri State University with my masters degree in experimental psychology. I think those are the important things you need to know, at least for now.
Recently I moved back to the area that I grew up in. When I moved away in 2011, I swore up and down that I would never move back. I guess when someone says “never say never” you should probably listen. I was offered an incredible job, and after a few months of transitioning, I wanted to talk about the experience a little bit more.
I spent seven years of my life living in a city 1,000 miles away from my family. And, if I’m being totally honest, I feel more homesick now than I think I ever have. There were definitely times when I lived in Springfield that I missed home (like that one time I wasn’t home for Christmas). But, as I sit here still trying to recover from a recent visit back to good ole Springtown, I realize how much of my heart is still there.
But here’s the weird thing—my heart isn’t in the places. When I got into Springfield, I was expecting to have some weird come-to-Jesus moment where I broke down because I still felt like I belonged there. I didn’t. My brain short circuited because I was all of a sudden in this very familiar place, but it didn’t feel like home anymore. But if I’m being honest… Ithaca doesn’t feel like home either.
So where does that leave me?
I really don’t know. What I do know is this—the phrase “home is where the heart is” means something very different to me now. My heart isn’t in Springfield anymore, but it isn’t here in Ithaca with me either. It’s with all of the people who have shaped me into the person I am today. Being with all of those familiar faces this weekend was like medicine. I have not been hugged that many times in a while and let me tell you, ya girl needed it.
My heart is with my church family. The one that still uses me in the promotional material even though I live 1,000 miles away now. The one that I know still prays for me, and welcomes me back with open arms when I visit. My heart is with the friends who don’t want to do anything except sit in our pajamas and eat Taco Bell, and will humor me as I say a “Midwest goodbye.” My heart is with the friend who has seen me cry more times than any other person in this world, and walked with me through the toughest season of my life, but is also there to watch Queer Eye with me and laugh at the good times, too. My heart is with the friends who encourage me and push me, and let me into their lives.
My heart is with my actual, real, biological family. The one who has firsthand seen how hard this transition has hit me and has tried to do everything in their power to make New York feel like home again. The one who stands by me and loves me even when I make it exceptionally difficult. The one who is excited for me to be back, but understands that being here still leaves me feeling very isolated and confused and is giving me the space to figure it out.
If I wrote individually about each person that I felt “at home” with, this post would be an actual novel. So, to make it short(er), I just wanted to let everyone know how much I appreciate them. In this season of not feeling like any particular place is “home” to me, I will cherish all of the people who I feel at home with. Even if they’re 1,000 miles away.
I know, I know. I’m a bad blogger. I haven’t posted something I’m way too long. Truth is, a lot has been happening, and I often didn’t know where to start. There is this word document I keep of potential blog posts, and let’s just say there are a lot of posts that I started but couldn’t finish. Some because they were too sensitive. Some because I knew I would get negative comments. Some because I would get half way through writing them and think that what I was experiencing or feeling was insignificant, and not worthy of sharing. I’ve decided that those reasons to not blog just aren’t good enough anymore, so, here we are.
Since last August, my life has been anything but boring. I graduated with my Masters Degree, and was presented with an opportunity to teach some classes fresh out of grad school. I was so excited; I entered that new chapter of my life bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It didn’t last long. My experiences in teaching were great. I worked alongside of some of the kindest, smartest, most driven faculty I have ever met. They were constantly going above and beyond for their students and fellow faculty members. But that didn’t stop me from feeling stuck. I had so many ideas, so many plans, that just didn’t work out. And they kept not working out. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, nothing was working. I questioned my qualifications, intelligence, and my purpose, and it put me in a dark place.
This place was not one I let many people see. The few that I let see it REALLY saw it, and that just made me feel worse. I felt like they were carrying me through this gross, awful, unbearable stage in my life, but I just couldn’t do it by myself. And seriously, those few that I did share with were some of the most gracious, patient, and loving people. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be without them, and I am forever grateful for the support and love. I feel like I’m being dramatic, talking about the past year like this. But let me paint a quick picture for you: The amount of money I was making paled in comparison to what I needed. Had it not been for the generosity of a kind friend, I literally don’t know where I would have lived or how I would’ve made things work. I was dog-sitting for people so often, I basically didn’t even live at home. But I didn’t have a choice; I needed to make the extra money just to make things work. I even dog-sat my last weekend living in Springfield, because I needed the money for gas to move myself back to New York (more on this later). My health insurance decided to be the STUPIDEST and I got hit with some large, unexpected expenses. And. AND. I filled out job applications almost EVERY SINGLE WEEK for eight months with hardly any leads. I ended up with a part time job working in a store downtown that helped while I continued my search for “the next big thing.” It was hard, because I felt like everywhere I was looking wasn’t working. I felt so stuck, but at the same time, I felt so badly that the only answer was outside of Springfield.
Which put me in a hard place. Springfield had become my home. I had spent seven years there, building a life for myself, throwing down some roots. It’s a hard thing when the place you call home doesn’t feel like home anymore. I didn’t want to leave the friends and “family” that I had chosen, but, it felt almost like it did when I was 18, that leaving would be the best thing for me. So did I leave? Yes, I sure did. I moved back to the one place I said I would never go: home. That being said, the transition did not go how I’d hoped. At all. I thought I would have more time to say goodbye, and I didn’t. How do you say goodbye to the people that you love, and have spent the past seven years doing life with? You definitely need more than a weekend, that’s for damn sure. There were people I didn’t even get to say goodbye to—people that didn’t even know that I LEFT until after I was back in New York. My heart broke a little more with every mile I drove. There are things I wish I could go back and do over; people I wish I could hug. Through the whole process everyone just kept saying “fast, like a Band-Aid.” Well, I’m allergic to those stupid things, so keep that stupid analogy to yourself.
And how do you go from living on your own for seven years, to living with your family again? Don’t get me wrong, I’m so blessed that they’ve graciously taken me in like one of the neighborhood strays, but there have definitely been some growing pains. And how do you reconnect with the people you were once so close with, but left behind for so long? You pick up where you leave off when you come home on small breaks, but to come home for good is an entirely different matter. Seven years. It’s nearly a decade. Do you know how much people change in that time? A lot. It’s like getting to know each other all over again. I know that I still have those people; we’ve always been close. But man, I feel like I’m starting over, and it. Is. Hard.
So how did I get here? Well, my mom pointed me in the direction of some job postings, which led me to the job posting that led me to the job that I have now. When I read the job description, I felt like the job was made for me. Everything that I had learned as a graduate student and in working at MSU prepared me, and I sent the application in the day before I drove home to visit my family. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything right away, but the turnaround was fast—they wanted to interview me. Coincidentally, I was in New York, 45 minutes away from them. The interview went well, and long story short, I moved back in with my parents and have been commuting to and from Cornell every day since. It’s been a whirlwind, but this opportunity has been amazing. The department is wonderful, and I’m so looking forward to my time here.
So why have I written this way-too-long blog post? To be vulnerable, for one. To let you guys know that, hey, this past year SUCKED. I hated it. Okay, not all of it. I made a lot of great connections and grew a lot emotionally and spiritually. To encourage someone, somewhere, that’s waiting for the next step. You feel stuck, you feel like nothing is working no matter how hard you try. I felt like that, too. I had literally reached a breaking point. I needed to move out of where I was living but didn’t have anything lined up, I didn’t have a plan, and I was SCARED. But then I found literally the most perfect job for me. Sure, it was 1,000 miles away, but I was so happy. And it has been amazing to watch everything fall into place. So, don’t give up. In the meantime, keep growing. You’ll be amazed at how all of the things that seem insignificant now will actually be significant when you get to where you want to go.
Seven years ago today, I found out I got accepted into Evangel University. I remember being home alone when the mail came, and seeing the return address on the package immediately filled me with a nervous excitement. I couldn’t even wait for my mom or dad to get home to be there with me when I opened it to find out their decision. I tore into the package, and pulled out a pale blue t-shirt that read “EU loves newbies,” along with an official acceptance letter.
Seven years ago today, I was full of expectation, hope, and excitement. I had no idea what exactly my future held, but I could not wait. The idea of living 1,000 miles away from my family didn’t seem daunting to me; I was too excited for the new beginnings and opportunities that awaited me.
That was exactly the reminder I needed seven years later. Because a lot can happen in seven years. That once undaunted girl may suddenly be fearful of what lies ahead, because her future seems so uncertain. Especially today, since she’s away from her family on Christmas Eve for the first time. That reminder brought me back to that girl who once lived in fearless pursuit of her future, even if she couldn’t see where it was headed. It brought me back to the girl who could take the bad times in stride, knowing that this too shall pass, and come out stronger on the other side.
Seven years ago today, my life was totally changed. I knew from that point on, things would be moving in a completely new direction. I was right. And things haven’t stopped moving since. While a majority of the seasons I’ve passed through have been pleasant and full of adventure, not all of them can be described that way. Especially the one I’m in right now. And when you’re in a time of seemingly unending uncertainty, it can be easy to lose sight of all of the things you’ve already come through. It can be easy to forget the once fearless and hopefully expectant person you once were.
Being reminded that seven years ago today, a door was opened to me that literally changed the course of my life, was just the reminder I needed.
Has anyone ever used that phrase with you before? “Friend with Emotional Benefits?” I don’t remember where I heard it, but let me just define it for you. A “Friend with Emotional Benefits” could be described as someone that a member of the opposite sex (or same sex, if that’s more your speed) spends all of their time with, in between significant others. You’re not their significant other, but you do all of the things that couples do. Almost like an emotional bootycall. Things don’t ever really get physical, but the emotional boundaries get blurred. They tell you everything. You do everything together. You’ll get phone calls that go a little something like “Hey, that girl I was ‘talking’ to? Yeah, well, we broke it off. But I still really wanted to go see that movie and grab dinner. Wanna go? I’ll pay!” Yes, that exact situation happened to me. One of my closest guy friends stopped ‘talking’ to that one girl and as he was LEAVING HER DORM called me. This was the first time I realized I was his friend with emotional benefits. At the time I didn’t mind. Because I had a crush on him. I thought, oh, well now I get to hang out with him! This is great! What I didn’t realize was that all that time, he was taking advantage of my emotional availability, as well as my time. Now, I don’t think he realized it either. He’s one of the sweetest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing; I don’t think he’s capable of intentionally putting someone into that situation. Hindsight is 20/20, right? So, looking back I see how glaringly obvious it was that I was the girl in between girlfriends. But at the time, I didn’t see it. I’ve thought about writing a memoir about this topic because I have been that girl for so many people.
Signs that you are someone’s “Friend with Emotional Benefits”
- You know things about them that their past/future S/Os will never know.
- They text you at midnight because they don’t want to go to Jimmy John’s by themselves.
- They show up at your work with your favorite flower because it made them think of you. Did I mention they might also be wearing a tux?
- You might go on spontaneous road trips.
- They will definitely exploit your ability to give kick ass back rubs (if you have this skill, keep it to yourself. You’ll thank me later).
- You’ll meet their parents and subsequently make them fall in love with you. You may even end up with their phone numbers.
- You’ll feel comfortable staying with their parents when you need an escape from your responsibilities.
- They might call you and talk to you on the phone for hours at a time when they do move away from you.
- They might meet your parents and subsequently win their hearts.
- They will learn all of your siblings names and ages, and ask how they’re doing on the reg.
- You might sit in their car with them until 3 o’clock in the morning eating Taco Bell and talking about life.
- They might not find it weird at all to walk arm in arm with you out in public.
- They might make a point of paying most (if not every) time you go out together.
- They might not find it uncomfortable to lay in bed and watch Netflix with you.
- Your best friend might suddenly get fiercely protective over you and want to tell this boy what’s up (because she can see you deserve better than this even if you don’t).
- They do all of these things without any romantic attachment.
Based on this list alone, I’m sure that memoir would be longer than the Order of the Phoenix (shout out to JK Rowling. I love all of those books). Reading this list may not raise any red flags, but let me remind you, all of these things are happening without actually dating that person. And it’s not all their fault. I could’ve put my foot down; set up some more rigid emotional boundaries. I could’ve done a better job at protecting myself.
But one day, not too long ago, I realized that I would let myself get into these situations because I didn’t think I deserved any better. I was so insecure in who I was as a person that I had somehow convinced myself that all I would ever manage to have in terms of a romantic relationship was to be someone’s friend with emotional benefits. What a damaging view to have. To think that I thought that I was somehow unworthy of actually being in a relationship with someone. I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved. I didn’t think I was good enough. I’ve since come a long way. I acknowledge that there are a lot of things about myself that I think are great. I won’t lie and say I never, ever feel insecure, but I will say that I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a catch. Flips hair.
Maybe you’re a dude looking at this list of things thinking there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with stringing along your female friends and doing “coupley” things with them without the label. I just have to say: you’re better than that. Maybe you’re a girl reading this list and thinking there’s nothing wrong with being in situations like this. There’s nothing wrong with a guy treating you like his girlfriend and then going off and actually getting into a real relationship with someone else. To you I’ll say, you deserve better.
Going to a Christian university in the Midwest was a wild ride, especially for someone that grew up in New York. People smiled at me. People I didn’t know. But out of all of the cute little quirks that make the Midwest different from New York (aside from the significantly lower driving standards), the one that got to me the most was the pressure to get married young. Maybe it’s not a universally Midwestern concept, maybe it’s just the Christian school mindset, but still. A 2013 study found that the average age for a woman to get married in Missouri was 26.5, while the age was 29.1 in New York. There’s a little bit of a difference there…Maybe not as much as I was expecting, because it seems like literally EVERYONE I know has gotten married, even my friends that are younger than me. I even have friends that are having babies on purpose. Anyway, there was a cute little saying at Evangel… “Ring by Spring!” At first I thought this was some horrible, sick joke. You couldn’t honestly expect to meet someone at the beginning of the academic year and be engaged to them the next semester…right? I could buy a sweater in August and completely regret it by the time May rolled around. How on earth do you know in that amount of time that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone? I know I know, “when you know, you just know!” My whole life I have been skeptical of people who get married that quickly. And my dad says to me all the time “Kate, you know that’s exactly what’s going to happen to you, right? You always say that’ll never happen to you, but you just wait.” My dad has never been wrong. But there’s a first time for everything, right?
The sad thing is, it isn’t a joke. People meant it. In my junior year at Evangel, I made a list of everyone I knew that had gotten engaged or married just within those past twelve months. I stopped counting at 46 couples. That’s 92 individual people. At a university of only 2,200 students, that’s like 4 percent of the population. IN ONE YEAR. In an environment where you’re surrounded by people feeling like they have to be in a relationship, it can take a toll on you. You start to believe “Well, I still haven’t met anyone or gotten into a relationship…maybe there’s something wrong with me?” As much as I hate to admit it, there was a time that I bought into that. I thought there was something about me that was inherently unlovable. I’m too emotional. I’m too stubborn. I’m too independent. I’m too… The list goes on. Fortunately, I didn’t feel that way for long. I realized, yes, I am emotional, stubborn, and independent, but none of those things make me any less lovable than anybody else. Which is an important but difficult lesson to learn.
Let me just throw in a little disclaimer: I do not think any less of you if you met your S/O in college, or even if you ended up with a “ring by spring.” I saw a lot of beautiful relationships come out of Evangel. I just don’t want people walking around thinking that something is wrong with them if they don’t meet someone in college.
Has anyone ever told you that the people you’d meet in college would be the friends you’d have for life? Well, they’re (mostly) right. When I moved into the dorm, I met my roommate for the first time. I remember both of our families being in the same shoebox sized room, trying to loft beds and rearrange furniture. It was terribly awkward. I wasn’t the greatest at befriending new people, and I was a bit of a mess both literally and figuratively. Savannah, on the other hand, seemed to have her crap together. Our families are also polar opposites. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive at all about moving in with this stranger who obviously had a very different upbringing than I did. Fortunately for me, she took my extreme neuroticism and uncomfortable level of disorganization in stride—and we became best friends.
Can we talk about that phrase for a second? “Best Friend.” For a long time, that phrase left a bitter taste in my mouth and I refused to use it. I refused to use it because any time I had used it in the past, the friendship ended. It was like a curse. So, when Savannah and I started to become good friends, I pushed her away in some feeble attempt to protect myself. It was like I couldn’t accept that someone wanted to be my best friend. I couldn’t accept that she was in it for the long haul, because I had never had that kind of friend before. Fast forward nearly six years, and we’re still best friends. I don’t know what I would do without her. I can’t even post an Instagram caption without taking a screenshot and sending it to her to make her proof read it. She moved like 1,000 miles from me, but we still make it work.
But not all college friendships are that amazing. I’ll talk a little bit about one friend I made, whom I no longer really speak to. I’ll call her Jen. Jen and I were put in the same launch group, which was essentially a small group of random people in which the university tried to get you to make friends. And it totally worked! At first. We spent almost every waking moment together. I explained to her that I would not, under any circumstances, use the phrase “best friend.” I told her things about myself that I still have not spoken of to anyone else. But almost as quickly as that friendship started, it ended. I eventually felt comfortable with her calling me her best friend, and I even got comfortable enough to use that phrase myself. And guess what happened? The friendship ended. Crashed and burned. Two whole years of investing in a friendship—and it was over just like that. Let’s just say it didn’t end on the best note. But a few months later, I met her for lunch and apologized, and she did too. We don’t really talk anymore, but there’s no bitterness there either. Notice how I’m not saying my time was wasted. Notice how I’m not saying I regret being her friend. Because neither of those statements are true. Yes, that friendship is over. Yes, sometimes it still hurts. She got engaged and married and I wasn’t there for any of it. Do you know how hard it is to look at someone who you once considered your best friend and see them go through all of these wonderful experiences, but feel like you can’t even tell them how happy you are for them? It sucks. But, I learned a lot about myself, her, and the kind of friend I wanted to be. I learned a lot about relationships. And I grew a lot in those two years of friendship with Jen.
Yes, you will make some AMAZING, lifelong friends in college. But also, you may make wonderful, temporary friendships. And I think that’s okay. I think both kinds of friendships should be embraced. I don’t think you should ever look back on a friendship you had with someone and think your time was wasted. It took a lot of years for me to come to that conclusion. It took a lot of years for me to be okay with the fact that not all of the friends I made would be in my life forever. Being okay with that has helped me cherish the time I do have with them.
Man, I love my friends.