On Being a Female Pro-Woman Un-Feminist

Dear women’s rights champions of bygone decades,

Thanks a lot, but also, thanks a lot.  (Still waiting for someone to invent a sarcasm font.)  Because of your efforts, it is really effing impossible to be a “successful” woman today.  Society tells me I must be all of the following–not some–but all:

  • Beautiful and thin
  • Blissfully married to my best friend
  • A creative and fun and doting mother of angelic spawn
  • Surrounded by hilarious and intimate gal pals
  • Thriving in my meaningful vocation
  • Accomplished in hobbies and personal pursuits
  • A domestic goddess
  • Independent but also well-connected in relationships
  • Aware and involved in civic and charitable causes

Are you kidding me??  I have to believe that’s not what you meant when you marched, campaigned, chained yourself to gates…It’s absolutely impossible, and yet women today, including me, have to constantly fight the feeling that we’re failing.  Somehow this ideal was generated, to which no woman has ever attained, and now we all feel like crap.

In my work I come alongside women who are weary, hanging on by a thread, and never feel on top of things or that they are doing a good job managing their responsibilities.  I think feminism (and probably also modern life in general) has destroyed the sense of female community.  No longer do we gather to wash clothes at the river, no longer do we support each other and work together.  Now we scratch and compete and envy and isolate.  And then we post pictures on Facebook that make our lives look like a magazine (don’t get me started on the media).

And let’s consider how this movement has affected men.  So many poor guys don’t know whether to hold the door or not, whether bringing flowers is an antiquated insult, or how to lead us in a dance or a relationship.  We’ve emasculated them at every turn: in media, in literature, in our attitudes.  Women are now outperforming men at every level of school.  A submissive woman is to be pitied and cajoled, and we’re left with thousands of boys, not men.  Sigh.

I’m all for women having opportunities and (someday) getting equal pay for equal work and all that.  I believe there are still attitudes that need to be changed.  But maybe we need to start with us, to give ourselves and each other grace, room to breathe, and permission to let go of some things.  If we could stop comparing and envying and hiding so much, I bet change would come quite naturally.  And I don’t know about you, but I could use some.

On Having Avoided Bullying

Video

If you haven’t seen this powerful spoken word video, watch, it’s so well done.

I’m in the rare position of never really having been bullied, nor having been a bully, either.  I credit this to going to a small private school through junior high and for being a bit of a loner.  And a loner who was pretty and smart and, without meaning to be, a little intimidating.  I’m also blessed to have grown up in a family that didn’t send me out into the world seething with rage just waiting to land on someone weaker.  Despite never quite feeling that I fit in, and certainly never being one of the popular crowd, I guess I was “normal” enough to avoid being picked on.

I wonder how common my experience was, to have seemingly skated through without receiving or inflicting this kind of damage.  Did I turn a blind eye to others getting picked on?  Surely, and that really grieves me.  Now bullying is something that fills me with a hot, righteous anger.  I can’t remember specific instances, though; I think I just kept to myself and my little band of nerdy-cool friends and was naively unaware.

I constantly forget how much bullying has shaped so many people, how much they are still fighting those perceptions, how much they are still trying to prove themselves.  Though I was not bullied, I’m very well acquainted with feelings of rejection, unworthiness, and being different.  I think it’s part of growing up to accept who you really are, no matter how much you were singled out for your differences.  We all need to remember that most of the time the things that make us different are the very same things that make us amazing.

So to all of us, myself included, I say “You are enough.  Just be you.”

On 90s Nostalgia

I was 13-23 during the 90s and consider myself fortunate to have been a teenager in that era.  The decade was relatively prosperous and peaceful and there was a lot of great art being made.

I’m proud of the taste I had in music then, and still have most of those CDs.  A lot of really great music was coming out, and I think that’s when things really started to diversify instead of there just being one style of popular music.  It seems to me that was the last time cohesive albums were the norm.  As much as I appreciate not buying a whole CD for $12 and only liking 2 songs, I still feel like something has been lost when each song has to be marketable on its own.

I miss the anticipation of a new album dropping, going to the record store at midnight to get the latest Pearl Jam or whatever.  Maybe it’s just that I’m older, but I’m hardly ever aware of when a new CD is coming out.  Sometimes waiting makes something more special.

I miss sitting around with friends and taking the better part of a day to make a mix tape/CD together.  As much as my anal mix-making is improved by iTunes (Rob Fleming, you have nothing on me — I once made a mix sorted by song key, for example), something is lost when the process is so easy.  Yes, I still make playlists and even burn them to CD for friends occasionally; I am old.

I miss going to see jam bands, especially for $5 or so, especially outside in the summer.  There’s nothing like being young around hundreds of other people being young, having a bonding experience hearing something unique to that particular show, not having any major responsibilities and feeling so free.  I also miss my full hearing.  🙂

I miss watching TV shows at the same time as everyone else.  I remember hearing an audible gasp coming out of several dorm rooms when Ross said Rachel’s name at his wedding to Emily.  With everyone watching things on DVR and Hulu you can’t often have those day-after “Did you see ____ last night??” conversations.  There are also just SO many shows that everyone is watching different things.  Our tastes and desires are becoming so individualized.

I miss people not being connected to technology 24/7 (my iPhone-loving self included).  Certainly there are conveniences to cell phones and the like (gone are the days searching for someone when they’re not at a meeting point), but I hate how we are all so scattered and distractable.  One of the things I love about traveling these days is that I am actually unreachable when I want to be.  It reminds me what it was like to go through your day interacting with who and what was actually in front of you.

I miss gasoline being around a dollar a gallon.  Spontaneous excursions, road trips, and just driving around for the fun of it have to be seriously considered.  I can remember getting a decent amount of gas with the change found in the car.

There are other things I miss about that time, but they are more universal to being young and not specific to the 90s.  What do you miss about the 90s, or whatever decade felt awakening for you?

On Having to Do Everything Well Right Away

If you are a creative person, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Even if you’re not, there are lessons in there for everyone.  One of the most helpful for me is her chapter on “Shitty First Drafts” (her language, not mine).  She posits that you just have to get something down on the page; you have to be OK with it being crappy at first and keep working with it.

As a perfectionistic, procrastinating oldest child, I don’t really know what this thing you call a “second draft” is.  Working at the last minute takes the pressure off a perfectionist because you have an excuse if it’s not perfect.  I had to be good at something from the first or second try or it held no interest for me.  If I couldn’t win something, at least every few rounds, I grew sullen.  No matter how much positive reinforcement I got, if I wasn’t the best or at least a contender for the best, my world crumbled.  This dynamic was not helped by the fact that I was pretty good at most things and a quick learner.  And, of course, I ran away from things I didn’t master speedily.

Thankfully, I have grown up, experienced some failures, and started to see myself much more gracefully and realistically.  I know my worth is not dependent on my achievements or on being better than other people.  I can lose a game and still have fun (most of the time, ha).  However, this mindset still plagues me in subtle but pervasive ways.  How many things have I not started because I wasn’t sure how they would turn out?  Oh, hundreds: inventions, songs, hobbies, writings, relationships…I chalk it up to busyness or laziness, but really it’s fear.

I don’t want fear to be my decision-maker.  Who’s with me?  Let’s get something down on the page.

On Living with “Chronic Bitchface”

I love this cartoon and identify completely (please come back to me):

Chronic bitchface

Back?  OK.

I can’t remember a time when people haven’t told me to “SMILE!” in a most irritating fashion.  It’s really a rather selfish request, when you think about it – you are asking me to change my face so that it makes you feel better.  I’m sorry, the world is not always a happy place!  But most of the time these requests have surprised me, as I was not trying to scowl, nor was in a bad mood.  The unfortunate result of the command, though, is to make me snarky and defiant, and then I really do scowl.

It’s frustrating that people view me differently than I am, and differently than I mean to project myself into the world.  Just when I think I’ve made strides in seeming more open and approachable, someone will make an offhand comment that deflates me.  Then I wonder why to even bother, if my face will just derail me anyway.

It’s been interesting to find in my travels that much of the world does not smile for photographs.  They think it’s another sign of American hypocrisy that every posed photo shows faces with plastered grins.  A photo of Russian friends with straight faces looks so morose to me, but they see a happy memory.  It’s something that starts at birth here–just pay attention the next time you’re at a 2-year-old’s birthday party.  Anyway, I digress…

The older I get, the less people tell me to smile or “cheer up.”  I think my bitchface is softening (an unexpected benefit of aging?).  I also think there is a degree to which these people have maybe, just maybe, been picking up on subtleties in my outlook that I was not even aware of.  Perhaps my unselfconscious face is more honest that I would like it to be.  So as I ever-so-slowly become a more hopeful and peaceful person my default expression reflects it.  Let’s hope it’s that and not just cheek saggage or somesuch.

Your thoughts?  Are you a fellow bitchface sufferer?  Maybe we can go get Botox together.

On Losing a Friendship

Yesterday I was cleaning and came across some floppy drives (ha!).  One of them contained very old emails and I reread a handful.  Most were from a close friend I haven’t been in touch with for about five years, much to my chagrin.  It saddened me to remember how frequently we used to talk and what a sweet, easy intimacy has been lost.

The main reason I don’t hear from this friend anymore is that he is married (I’m not) and lives very far away.  I didn’t expect our friendship to stay the same once he had a wife, but for him to ignore my attempts to just touch base has been very hurtful.  To give you a little background, we dated for a little while when we were young and were then very good friends for more than ten years.  I always thought I would know him forever, and I think he did, too.  Even though we never lived in the same place, we always kept in good touch and visited a couple times a year.

I realize in retrospect that somewhere along the way I came to love him, and I wonder now if I should have suggested the possibility of dating once we were into our 20s.  It’s too late now, but maybe I should have married him.  People who knew both of us often claimed we were destined to end up together.  Sometimes I felt like he looked at me with a question, but then the moment passed and I thought I must have imagined it.  He was my “safety” if we were still single at 40.  I believe all things work as out they are meant to, and there are things that make me think we wouldn’t have worked out, but I wish I had realized how amazing he is when I could still do something about it.  To reread an email that includes him saying “I really miss you, buddy.  I love you.” makes me chide my younger self, the one who thought soulmates could be found around every corner.

When I was younger, I definitely thought it was possible for men and women to be “just friends.”  Now I think it’s extremely rare that there are no other layers.  I remember many conversations between high school and the end of my 20s when people discussed whether the possibility of romance with a specific friend of theirs was worth the potential of “ruining the friendship.”  Now I know you might as well try, because once one of you is in a serious relationship any sort of deep friendship will be lost, as it probably should.

Many opposite-sex friendships fall to this fate, and I’ve certainly had a number of other friendships essentially end when the guy got married.  (Some friendships with girls change dramatically when they wed, too, to be fair.)  I have no doubt that this friend still cares about me and has his reasons for staying distant.  But I know that once I love someone, romantically or not, it’s hard to let them go.  I just feel like a piece of me is missing.  I hate it that I have never even seen a picture of his kids, and that he has no idea what I’ve been through in recent years.

Since he walked away, I’ve had many new friends come into my life and a few loves come and go, and for that I’m thankful.  I know eventually I won’t really miss him, but simply think of him as a dear companion for a long season.  But right now I have to say “I really miss you, buddy.  I love you.”  I wish he could hear it.

On Owning One’s Singlehood

I have some friends who intended to build careers or have adventures before they settled down.  They were all married by about 25.  Then many of us who just assumed we would be married by 25 took much longer.  I’m one of those who has lingered past 35 with no husband in sight.

It’s doubtful that even those girls who wanted to delay marriage planned to be single.  It’s hard to do something well without willing role models or trailblazers.  It’s hard to do something well when you made no accommodation for it in your plans.  I avoid singles’ events, publications–even the label itself.  I have no interest in being a spokesperson for singleness or someone people pity or someone younger single women look up to.  Yet somehow I have become all of those by default.  It feels like a burden or punishment, not a calling.

I’ve gone through various phases over the years.  The “I’m-really-fine-alone (aka-I’m-in-denial)” phase, the “I-think-it’s-right-around-the-corner” phase, the “I’m-tired-of-thinking-about-it-so-I-give-up” phase, and the “I’m-tired-of-thinking-about-it-so-I-give-up-but-I’m-actually-hoping-if-I-give-up-the-guy-will-show-up-since-‘It-always-happens-when-you’re-not-looking'” phase.  What I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced is true acceptance and patience.

As the years have ticked by without a lasting relationship, as I’ve navigated heartbreak after disappointment after “if only,” it’s become harder and harder to keep singleness from defining me.  When you’re young, you can blame the “guys out there;” when you’re older you know you’re the common denominator.  People ask you why you’re not married, meaning it as a compliment, but what is really means is “What is wrong with you that we can’t see, and how can we fix it?”  It’s impossible to be happy and fulfilled without a mate, right?

Well, there are a lot of lonely married people, from what I hear.  There are a lot of people who got married for the wrong reasons.  There are a lot worse things than being single.

Being a follower of Christ adds a whole extra dimension to the experience.  Do I trust God to bring me a good man at the right time?  Is there “The One” or could it be one of several people?  Did I pass up someone He sent me?  Did I mess up a relationship that could have worked with my selfishness and immaturity?  Did God forget to create someone who fits with the unusual person I am?  Am I being punished or disciplined?  I could certainly argue most of these away with scripture.  But the truth is, most of the scripture only gets as far as my head, and the heart is still panting.  Or when the truth penetrates deeply and I experience some peace, it tends to last for about a week.

I have come to a point where I can own how much it hurts me to have “failed to marry,” much as I wish I were healthier.  It’s been important, and difficult, for me to tear down the wall of self-sufficiency and independence and to let the hard emotions surface.  I know I was designed for relationship, I know I want to experience real love, and I also know I will someday.  I would really like to get to the point where I am fully cognizant that this is something I want, but also fully alive and proud of myself in the present moment.

I have lots of theories about why singleness is becoming so pervasive and about my own story but I’m not sure I have any answers.  Still, let me take a moment to remember some good things in this time since thankfulness always helps:

  • I control the remote
  • If I feel like eating cereal, it’s fine by me
  • I don’t have to deal with in-laws or decide where to spend holidays
  • I have lots of time for my friends and I get to help with their babies
  • I have deep friendships with guys that will be inappropriate when I’m married
  • I laugh and commiserate and swap dating stories with my single friends
  • I meet a lot of interesting people
  • I have time to figure out who I really am, independent of how a mate sways me
  • I can focus on developing a deeper intimacy with God
  • I have time and energy for ministry and service
  • I don’t have to consult anyone on how to spend money
  • No one complains about the number of shoes I own
  • If I want to travel, I travel.  If I want to read in bed all day, I do.  If I feel like watching “Runaway Bride” for the 20th time, I do.
  • There’s a luxury of time for reading, writing, and hobbies
  • I can salsa dance with strangers
  • Whenever love does come, I will think of it as a miracle and be unlikely to take it for granted
  • No one snores

I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the above.  🙂