I remember sitting in chemistry class as a teenager giggling at the awkwardness of it all. It was the early 90s and HIV/AIDs was just starting to hit the major magazines and consciousness in the US. It was around the time of Magic Johnson’s announcement and Ryan White – AIDS was no longer being sidelined as “just a gay thing.” Our chemistry teacher was ON IT. Each side of the room start separately. Look at the dish, add your chemicals, now go share with your neighbor. Neighbors, share with each other. Wait a minute. If you see red, you have herpes. That’s sex kiddos. That’s chemistry. It’s that easy. Be careful.
Holy sh*t. Okay, that wasn’t the ONLY sex lesson they provided to us. They were actually pretty good with it from my perspective – they brought in educators about emotional and physical health, and we had discussions about what we wanted out of relationships. All in all it was pretty progressive for the time. We didn’t talk about how consent can be sexy, but that wasn’t really part of the wider discussion at that time, and this was still a religious school. The fact that they talked about prevention and protection at all was pretty progressive.
I remember the chemistry lesson though. So much in life and relationships is about chemistry. If I adjust a little, what happens? If they shift a bit, where are we? How does that feel to me? How does it impact them? It isn’t all about me or on me, and it isn’t all about them or on them, we can work together on this. We didn’t get to this spot alone and we aren’t going to shift out of it alone.
There is a great video going around now of Will Smith talking about fault vs. responsibility, and how we are all responsible for our own happiness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USsqkd-E9ag). I love this video. It speaks to our individual strength and power. But hold up, didn’t I just say something about working together and chemistry? Yeah, yeah I did. Aren’t those ideas contradictory? Nope, not in my experience. I consider myself a strong person – not necessarily physically, I have been tackled by children on many occasions. One time I literally got stuck in a bucket. It was on video… and it was glorious in its ridiculousness. I was at work and I showed it to my friends. It’s gone now (I think… hmm…), but it lives on in our memories. But I am strong in other ways. I try to do well and to do good. When I stumble, I try to figure out where I went wrong and I try to adjust. Over the years, I have learned that I can’t do that alone.
Some things are easier to do in a bubble than others. Keep working that math problem and eventually you might just get it. When it comes to spreadsheets it is basically a requirement that I operate in isolation. But people, well that is different. People are messy. Actual humans with thoughts and (gasp) their own feelings and personal histories can be tricky. Different people perceive things differently: what is helpful to one person is hurtful to another. And then there is me: I might say the same phrase differently with different people… which might be totally different than how I intended. And by far the thing that has helped me the most, the times I have acted most responsibly, have been when I have owned my part of the situation and asked others for help. Not trying to do it all by myself, and not relying totally on others – just finding the balance of what I am able to see in myself and what others can see that I can’t. For me, more often than not, asking for help (or sometimes stepping back… asking for that help to just not…) has taken more strength than doing it myself… and it has ultimately made me stronger.
Oh chemistry, how I both love and hate you. There is so much power in chemistry. I used to LOVE mixing baking soda and vinegar to make volcanoes. And remember the whole Mentos and Diet Coke thing? I still won’t eat Pop Rocks and drink Coke, even though I KNOW that was all made up and Mikey is totally alive. But then again… (I have no end to this sentence, I’m just not going to be the one who dies by Pop Rocks and Coke… not on my watch!) But dammit chemistry, why you gotta be so complicated? Why can’t things just be clean? Like a nice spreadsheet that resolves neatly and predictably? And maybe I get to listen to some Parents Just Don’t Understand while I write the code. But no, humans are “multidimensional.” Dammit. Oh, but wait, remember how awesome that volcano was? It wasn’t violent, just beautiful, especially when you add the colors. Okay, fine – I guess I will stick with chemistry.