Auntie SparkNotes: My Friends Get Upset When I Don't Wear My Glasses
Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I have an odd problem that maybe you can give me some advice on. I have relatively poor eyesight and need to wear glasses for things like driving and work, but I can otherwise function without them. Wearing them puts me off balance and sometimes gives me a headache (and it's not the wrong prescription), so consequently, I only wear my glasses when I have to, i.e. driving or sitting in the back of a lecture hall.
Now the problem part: My friends don't understand why I don't wear my glasses all the time and tend to harass me about it. It started off as teasing, which was fine and funny for me too. But it's gotten to the point though where they're getting genuinely annoyed about things like me walking up close to a sign to read it or not recognizing them from far away, such as across the cafeteria. They keep saying that it's stupid because I could just wear my glasses and it wouldn't be a problem. The thing is, it's not a problem. It's kind of a hassle, but I'm used to it and I very rarely ask for help seeing anything. I compensate by just walking a circle around the caf to find my friends and walking up to signs, or stopping to pull out my glasses if I really have to. I don't really understand why my poor eyesight irritates them so much, and I tried explaining the situation, but they think I'm just making excuses for irrational behavior. They especially don't understand the part about not being able to afford contacts or LASIK surgery, since they all come from much wealthier households than I do. I'm fighting through college on scholarships and student loans, whereas they have everything provided for them. As an aside, they make similar comments about my decision to work two jobs and refusal to spend money on food, etc when I'm out with them. I'm getting sick of having all of my decisions questioned and called stupid, which is what it feels like sometimes.
Am I being irrational? And if I'm not, how to I make them understand the situation, or at least make what I'm doing less noticeable? I already avoid complaining or intentionally drawing attention to my problem.
Well, Sparkler, I'll give you this: you probably actually believe that.
But—and there's no nice way to say this, I'm sorry—you're wrong, and your friends have a valid point (although for what it's worth, it sounds like they could be nicer about it.) Consider: it would take you all of ten seconds to take your glasses out of your bag upon entering the cafeteria, pop them on long enough to find your friends, and then take them off again. Wear them on a string around your neck, and it would take you less than two. Give yourself a day, and you could take your specs back to the place where you got them, explain that they make you feel dizzy and headache-y, and get the tension of the earpieces and the pupillary distance of the lenses rechecked—and if that doesn't work, a few hours of research and any number of websites could net you a new, better-fitting pair for about $30. It would also cost you a trip to the optometrist and less than $200 a year to start wearing contact lenses, which isn't nothing, granted, but which is still a small price to pay for the ability to function comfortably in the world around you.
Basically, you have options when it comes to the way that you deal with your nearsightedness—and you have chosen the one and only option that makes you look like Mister Magoo. And when you do laps around the cafeteria conspicuously squinting for your friends, when you walk up close to read a sign, or when you ask someone to "help" you see what you could just as easily put your glasses on and see yourself, you are most definitely not avoiding attention. You're cultivating it.
Which is not a pleasant truth, but it's one it seems like you need to hear—and if so, then it's better you hear it here and now than have it spat at you in anger by one of the friends you're in the process of alienating. Your letter suggests that you get a certain satisfaction out of playing the victim amongst your peers; it also seems that you rarely miss an opportunity to remind people of how disadvantaged you are. Ask yourself: how often do you find yourself telling people that you're a poor, struggling scholarship student? How often do you insist that your friends can't understand your life, because their families have more money? How often do you reach for self-pitying statements, like "I don't know why my poor eyesight irritates them" or "They've had everything handed to them", when someone criticizes your behavior? How often do you choose to make your life more difficult, the better to highlight how hard you have it? And how might your life be different if you let go of the idea that you are, above all things, poor and powerless?
I can't tell you what the answers to these questions are, but I can tell you that it's in your best interests to think about them honestly. Even if you only conclude that your friends aren't the kindest or most patient people in the world, and even if you don't decide to change a thing, at least you'll be coming at that decision from a more self-aware place than you are right now. And at best, you can gain some insight into your own motivations, even the courage to resist defining yourself by your hardships. Maybe you'll have a realization or two about why your friends are starting to get annoyed with you en masse. (Because, and I can promise you this, it's not because you're nearsighted.)