Oh, Tennessee: Do we see ourselves as others do?

Oh, Tennessee.

Sometimes you remind me of me when I was newly single and starting to date. I was so eager and caught up in my own tender heart that I had no idea how I came across to other people. Sometimes it worked out regardless, and much of the time it did not.

I had baggage. Not Civil War kind of baggage, bless your heart, but a (civil but still painful) divorce…

To the brave, pioneering men who were able to see beyond my baggage, I appeared open (if tender) hearted. Confident (if defensive). Brave enough to want to change (but lacking the wherewithal to execute on goals).

But to others, I was a demanding princess. I wanted people to understand everything there is to understand about me within three or four dates. To this end, I talked about myself relentlessly. And when I asked questions of potential suitors, it came across more like a job interview than a conversation. Are you one of me? Are you worthy of me?

I could make even the smartest, kindest people feel like outsiders. You, too?

Oh, Tennessee. For generations, you were the kind of place people “escaped” from. One state north of Deliverance. But now with all these people wanting to move here from other places, it’s totally understandable you’d be going through a bout of New Girl Syndrome. You are popular, and you know it, though you aren’t quite sure why. What’s most troubling is that you can’t figure out why all these new dates aren’t translating to the kind of relationships you long for. After all, they keep writing about you in the Guardian!

Oh, honey. Let me pour you a glass of wine and let’s talk.

I wanted a warm, social person with a sharp, thoughtful mind about soft, creative issues like art and religion. Someone with a tender spot toward children, but with no compulsion to make mine his own. Someone not afraid to say what needs saying, even when it conflicts with what I am saying.

To find a man like that I’ve had to listen as much as I talk. I’ve had to lower my guard and do sweet things that might make me look foolish and smitten. (Like write entire blog posts about him, bless my heart.) I’ve had to get to know his friends – and he has a LOT of friends, just like I do – which means I’ve had to sacrifice some time with my own circle. And I have had to hang out where he likes to hang out – in smoky bars and music clubs – where it seems I am always the only one who doesn’t know the band and is inappropriately overdressed.

Oh, Tennessee. You want big corporate headquarters and an innovative, educated workforce to staff them? You want beautiful parks and a pleasant commute? You want great schools, soulful music, bold entrepreneurs, and for ABC to represent us in an accurate, holistic way when they launch our namesake melodrama this fall?

You may have to give a little.

You may have to choose sincerity over hospitality, an honest conversation over a polite one. You may have to stop asking people where they go to church, or be genuinely ok with it if the answer is “I don’t”. You may have to stop looking at couples funny when both of them are men. You may have to translate some things to languages other than English. You may have to be cool with people who wear clothes you don’t know the names for. You may even have to let the grocery stores sell wine.

I know. It’s hard. Let me pour you another glass.

When you give like this, the fear is you’ll try so hard to please your suitors that you’ll lose yourself.

But it’s disarming how this giving-unto-others thing works. In my life, getting close to someone has made me more cognizant of all that I am. I can see how he sees me. I can play to my strengths and work on the things that need work. I am becoming a better me, but I am still me.

Oh, Tennessee. You have so much to give.

Please grow beyond this popular girl phase, because you so deserve the whole package.


25 thoughts on “Oh, Tennessee: Do we see ourselves as others do?

  1. Just to be sure, the State, “Deliverence”, is Georgia not Auburn (I’ve renamed that state directly south of us for the day it too matures, if ever!).

  2. As a former Tennessean this is exactly how I feel about Tennessee, so perfectly put into words. There are so many wonderful people and so many bigots, so many great ideas and so many prejudices, so much to love and so much hate. The popular teenage girl analogy is so accurate because you know that there is a beautiful woman underneath, but much of the time the young, scared and and emotional little girl is pulling the reigns. Thanks for sharing Knight!

  3. Brilliant analogy, Knight. If we want to be what we want to be we must grow beyond what we used to be! It’s a new normal.

  4. I seriously think about these things when it comes to raising a daughter here. This town and this state have so much to offer, but are still so far behind from a social aspect. I guess we just have to take our girls all over the world to see that Tennessee is lovely, but not the most popular kid in school.

  5. I was thinking about this very thing today as I was driving to work…how to explain to non-Tennesseans exactly what is going on with us right now. How wonderful, yet on the cusp we are. I can just send them this post to explain it all 🙂 xoxo

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