Friday, July 20, 2012

Kissing Strangers, Shame & Self-validation

"You could of had an Italian, tonight," a friend said suggestively with raised eyebrows and an off-handed grin. She wasn't referring to the ravioli siciliana I ordered on Norton street but to a short, dark-haired miniature of the type of Italian men in women's fantasies and TV advertisements for classic roasted coffee beans. I don't remember his name anymore, can't remember if he even told me. Marco, I think it was. Go figure.

I've always fought a hard battle with shame, regret and kissing strangers. There was the revolutionary moment in my life when kissing strangers seemed like the best thing in the world, quickly followed - like all revolutions - by a period of sober re-assessment and the absence of all former enthusiasm. It was that time in my life when I'd just turned 18 and I was invincible in ways only explainable by having one hand punching the air and the other holding a glass pink with grenadine and smelling of vodka.

When you're drunk, young and untouchable, shame isn't something you think about. When you're sober, the impulsive decisions you made the night before that seemed daring and courageous, are in the light of day blindingly stupid, embarrassing, they smell not of vodka but of shame (though sometimes those are one in the same, sometimes the vodka is the lesser of two evils).

Everybody's limits are different, everybody's shame takes a different form. Unlike fear, so famous and well-known, shame slips in somewhere between falling asleep and the on-set of morning breath. But it's a necessary rite of passage, like walking with your heels in your hands at 5am in the middle of Sydney centre - shame teaches you the boundaries of your own supposed invincibility. It sets the limits and draws lines around dark corners that need no further exploration. 

There's no shame in kissing strangers, there's no shame in kissing an Italian man whose name is Marco at some bar on a Saturday night; the shame is of doing things you don't want to, that you never wanted to, of letting somebody else make decisions of which you're not comfortable with nor took time to consider. Shame isn't making the decision to have as many free champagnes as possible before the bar-tab ran out, but it is what happens after. Shame was having my youngest sister see me carried up the stairs at some unholy hour of the morning, barely conscious, with my short dress riding up and my head lolling around like some pathetic discarded rag-doll. There was shame in her eyes and there would have been shame in mine, had I been conscious enough to open them. 

These things catch up with you, they shape you, and you move on from the shame. For me, the shame I felt for doing the things I did was wrapped up in issues of validation and some misguided idea of who I wanted to be or more realistically, how I wanted to feel. The crazy thing is sometimes you have to overstep the line to be taught which side of it you should stand on. You don't learn instantaneously, but you get there - to the other side of the line with all the self-validation and wisdom behind you.

And then you find yourself on the dance floor, years after your first forays into clubbing and kissing strangers, politely indulging the conversation of some Italian man, smiling as you reject his advances and realising how smug you are in the knowledge you've decided something, rather than letting the night sweep you away into places you realise you don't want to be too late. You can still feel invincible, without the vodka in hand. You realise certain things as you move from the awkward teens to the early twenties, or as you mature. The insecurities that rested so squarely on chance encounters and run-ins with strangers, blurry stares across bars and glimpses in-between fluorescent lights on the dance floor, they've officially left the building.

Because it was never about what happened that night or the other, it was about whether you could step up and make a call about what was happening, instead of having something just 'happen' to you. Shame is doing things you didn't want to, because you thought it was cool or because this that or the other. You pick up those lessons somewhere along that strange, windy alley-way of growing up, learning and overcoming binge-drinking. Ain't no shame in that. 

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