You know you’re right, and I’m fine with that
A few months ago I wrote a letter to my 21-year-old self. It was dark, somewhat vague, and pinpointed a dark time in my past.
I said that one day I might write a bit about it.
So I decided that today I would try.
One of my greatest passions these days is to go to the gym. I’ll rip out some cardio until I’m sweating and puffed, I’ll do squats until my legs are shaking, I’ll let my arms lift all they can and do crunches until my abs are on fire.
And then I’ll do it all again the next day, if I feel like I can.
I wasn’t always a fitness enthusiast. When I look at my occasional selfies and photos I’ve taken to monitor my physical progress, I feel proud. I feel strong. I feel happy.
But if I think about it too deeply, I start to remember where it all started, and it makes my eyes well with tears.
There was a time I used to despise going to the gym. I had sworn I would never go to a gym because I hated the people that it bred. How narrow-minded I was, to think that all gyms did were spawn bodybuilders and conceited men.
Then I learned that not all conceited men go to the gym.
At least the man I met didn’t, at the time I met him.
We became best friends quickly. We didn’t have a lot of common interests, but enjoyed each other’s company. We trusted each other, and we confided in each other.
He became obsessed with physical strength, and we talked about the possibility of going to the gym. I warmed up to the idea. After we went on a couple of runs together, I thought it would be great to have an exercise buddy and to see if a gym would benefit me. He seemed to like the idea too.
But then he became grossly obsessed, and he joined a gym without telling me. In hindsight I shouldn’t have really cared, but I was hurt because he had hid it from me. He spoke about “I was talking to this really buff guy who knew about the right way to exercise”, and I should’ve known that he was talking about someone at the gym. Where else would he talk to a person like this? He knew how much I was willing to go to the gym and eventually told me about it. He said that he didn’t want to tell me because he knew I would be upset. Of course I was going to be upset, given that we were very close and had talked about this, and I felt left out, and like I didn’t matter. It wasn’t so much about going to the gym – it was about our friendship and how much I valued him.
He said that he didn’t want me to go to a gym because of him, and that I should go of my own accord. He knew I didn’t like gyms, and said I should go because I want to. But I wanted the motivation from a friend. I wanted the company.
I wanted his company because I liked him so much.
I liked him so much that I became blind to the way he treated me. At times he would mock me for my lack of strength. At the time, doing two push-ups would be painful and make me cry. I had difficulty hanging from my hands on playground equipment. He had a physical strength that I couldn’t match, nor come close to, even at a women’s equivalent. I joined a gym myself, and I tried to get into shape. I tried to do more than two push-ups. I tried to build up my strength so that he would stop laughing at me, because it hurt my self-esteem. I was angry and jealous and I didn’t care that he was a strong man who could carry me. I cared about being better than him.
He was my competition – because best friends compete, right?
Wrong. Best friends don’t compete. They don’t go against each other. They support each other.
At some stage our friendship became intimate, but my feelings were so much stronger than his. The way he treated me stopped being important to me because I was blinded by my emotions. I allowed myself to be disrespected and stereotyped. I let myself be degraded as my moral values slipped beneath me. Then, as many men – but not all men, I’ve learned – are wont to do, he chose to share more than was necessary with his friends.
I stopped letting his behaviour bother me and I accepted it, which is something I would never, never do today. I would never allow it to happen.
I learned that he didn’t want our friendship to continue. He broke ties with me several times, only to have me begging for him to come back because I couldn’t bear to lose him. Our years of friendship so strongly defined me that I was incomplete without him in my life.
I had fallen so much harder than I thought.
He accepted my pleas to return.
Until one day, after I had been slowly moving on and realising how badly I was treated – our communication fraying and our strongest bonds ever so weak – I decided to remove him from my life.
But you know what?
I was sick of competing, sick of trying to show someone up. Sick of trying to be better than someone who consistently thought they were better and more important. Sick of trying to impress someone who was never impressed. Sick of being treated like shit.
He told me I should go to the gym because I want to.
So after trying to impress someone else, that’s what I did. I work out to impress myself. I go to the gym for me. Not for anybody else. Because that’s what makes me feel strong, unlike the person I was back then. I feel strong like the person I truly am – the person I am today.