On Being A Sponge

April 5, 2011

in personality, reflection

I’m a sponge.

An absorbent, holey, squishy square.

That sounds cute, doesn’t it? Except that we all know what a sponge does. It cleans up dirty stuff, sucks it into its little pores. And even when you wring it out, some of the crap stays in there.


How do I know I’m a sponge? I get upset when friends from back home seem to have forgotten about me — even though I could have bet these particular individuals probably would.

I still let phone calls home that somehow turn negative despite starting upbeat sit with me.

I actually let myself feel slightly guilty when someone says, “I miss you, things would be so much better if you were still here.”

I worry about things I can’t control, things other people do.

If you’re anything like this, you know how much it sucks. When you can’t just let other people be miserable, because you love them and want them to be happy. When you know even time and distance aren’t going to change them. Just you.

Despite these things that still bother me, I can’t begin to tell you how much better I’ve gotten at dealing with my sponginess since moving abroad. Physically removing yourself and getting into a routine that focuses less on drama and more on what you want to accomplish and do to make yourself happy are enormously helpful. I used to let thoughts about the welfare of people — toxic people — around me take over my brain.

Ever feel like this?

This is not an understatement. I’d lose sleep, I’d spend hours on phone calls, I’d rack my brain for solutions when I should’ve been doing other things (and when said people were leaving me alone with this task).

This post was churning before I read WhereIsJenny’s write-up from a while ago on parental negativity. I read through all the responses, some from very well-known bloggers who admitted that they, too, struggled with toxic relationships, many with close relatives. I left a comment, saying something to the effect that you wonder why so many people travel or move so far away from their hometowns and countries. It’s not that I think everyone has trouble letting go of toxic people, but I think a good many of us do, and getting far, far away from it all is often the only way to make it better.

It’s not a cop out. It’s a better coping mechanism for those of us prone to spongy behavior than winding up as stress cases and putting our well-being and dreams aside to help others who can’t help themselves.

If you’re a sponge, you have to wring yourself out on the regular, somehow, someway. That’s how you keep it together, whether you’re at home or away.

Because no one deserves to have that gross stuff in them for that long.

Image by enngul on Flickr.

10 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Kate

    I related to this post so much. I tiny part of me moved out of the States because I was tired of the unnecessary drama that my friend’s planted on me. Or created for me. After spending years trying to be the crutch in my friendships, I realized that I need to start focusing on myself and doing things that make me happy, instead of worrying about how to make others happy first. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if today was a good day to you.

    Love this. And you.


    1. Lauren Post author

      Kate, thanks so much for the comment. Since I have followed your blog for a while, I know some of the struggles you had with people back in PA. I am really proud that you made the leap and decided to head to Europe. Who knows what sort of wonderfulness lies in store for you now.

  2. ayngelina

    I have to agree, in a lot of ways I knew leaving was the only way out. It wasn’t so much running away but finally cutting the cord, something I couldn’t do at home.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Hey, thanks for your comment. I think it gets hard, too, once you realize your freedom, to think about returning home.

  3. Heather

    Ahhh amen. In the year before I got here I found I was coping better with this exact thing and this year has brought more improvements. To be honest, I am starting to worry a little about the return home…remembering that while some things in me have changed, people and situations I will return to may not have.

    Have read your tweets mentioning some of the phone calls above and have been thinking about you. Looking forward to getting together for a good chat in a few weeks.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Ditto on seeing you when you get back! I think as long as you stand your ground and keep those changes going within yourself, you’ll be OK when you go home. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely possible.

  4. Ali

    Ok, have you invaded my mind? Because this could totally be about me. So much stress from other people, and it’s totally dragging me down. As much as I love to travel and can’t wait to live abroad, I’m sure there’s a little (or not so little…) part of me that just wants to get away and start fresh. I don’t put myself first often enough, and while I’m not aiming for selfish, I do need to look out for myself more. Great post, I can totally relate to this!

    1. Lauren Post author

      Brew ha ha, I am inside your head! I am glad you can relate. I think that’s part of the problem with sponges — we think we’re selfish if we take time for ourselves. But the truth is, each human needs to do what’s right for him or her, even if that means telling other people to handle their own ish.

  5. iliana

    Great post, Lauren! What you say is equally valid for expats and non-expats. Having left my parents at age of 17, and living abroad for nearly 12 years, I fight not to be a sponge. So I stick to a few rules: I call my parents twice a month, when most upbeat, so their ‘Miss you so much!’ don’t get me down; When my friends say something like ‘things would be so much better if you were still here’ I tell them ‘no, not for me. it would be better for you.’ – if it would be better for me I would go back right now (and often by ‘better’ we actually mean ‘easier’); finally – toxic people and relationships, well, that’s the tough part, because they often sneak up on us and before you know it you feel like …Yuck! my solution – once a year I apply ‘check and balances’ and try to be honest about the friends and relationships I have – are they healthy? enriching? fun? I also try to make new friends – they bring new perspectives.
    Related to another post of yours, being bitchy abroad, that helps too – set the boundaries right and less gross stuff will get into the sponge. We all deserve some self-respect, no?

    1. Lauren Post author

      Wow, thanks for the great comment! I like the boundaries you’ve set for yourself. Your checks and balances is like doing the Facebook friend cleanup accept for real. Thanks for the tips; I’m glad they’re working for you.


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