I’m joining Cara Strickland at her synchroblog! Find her here.
Three years ago, if you’d asked me to tell you about my friends, I would have told you this: “I’m not that great of a friend.” And partially, it would have been true. I’m an introvert—much better off hiding in a corner of my house, baking chocolate chip cookies in my kitchen, or reading another memoir—or so I thought.
I often retreat from relationships into my inner world. I’m not a fan of being in the bright, glaring, non-secrecy of life; it scares the bejeezus out of me at times. Sometimes I put other relationships before my friends, and often I don’t go out of my way to solidify a friendship.
But looking back on the last three years, I’ve discovered something surprising. It has been the most profound shock of these last few years. I can hardly believe it. Women have been one of the greatest sources of joy to me. Women have possessed a huge role in my growing up. They have been the place where I belong, within a circle of XX chromosomes. That’s where I feel strong.
I have long been one of those women who says she doesn’t get along with other women. Now I’m starting to think that maybe this isn’t even a thing at all. Maybe the reason some of us say this is (almost proudly) is because we are not particularly enthused about how the world defines being a woman. I know I’ve felt this way. Secretly, I’ve scoffed at womanly things. In college, I’ve trudged out in the snow to the railroad tracks in order to be more like one of the guys. I’ve tossed pretty things out the window (while secretly wishing to be decked out like a Christmas tree in bling). I’ve marched through an eating disorder in high school all the way to the other side of healing. But I still wasn’t happy with being a girl.
I’ve refused to participate in any roles that feel too constricted and too gender appropriate (aka. when someone asks me to do something too service-oriented). I’ve refused to back down in arguments.
I’ve even taken to wondering with Chris about whether I am more like a guy.
“I like guy THINGS.” I tell Chris.
Chris is always amused by these conversations, but refuses to take me seriously. “But you are a girl,” He’d say, smiling at me from the other side of the bed.
“But I’m not really.” I would say.
“But you are.” Chris would state simply. “You are.”
And I am. I am a girl, and not just a girl, but a woman.
One of my friends read the manuscript of the book I’ve been writing, and she gently responded with a critique that blew me away. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically told me that I needed to come to grips with the fact that I was a woman by the end of the book.
You aren’t a girl anymore, are you? You need to think about how you use the word “girl” throughout the book to describe yourself, she said.
I almost cried, in a good way. I felt as if I had attended a counseling session on my issues with femininity. I don’t know why the title of woman is so hard for me to own. I still feel like I’m flubbing through life: a bowling ball in need of bumpers to keep it on track. I don’t feel like I’ve graduated to the adult lanes in the bowling alley at all. I’m not sure I even trust myself with this “womanhood” thing.
All of you twenty-somethings probably remember the Britney Spears song: “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” Britney Spears was my home-girl. I used to croon these lyrics surreptitiously in my bedroom. I’d think about how the line between girl and woman was so confusing, so hard. Adolescence was a loss of innocence to me, rather than an anticipation of burgeoning strength and confidence.
But when I read my friend’s words: you really have to think through your use of the word girl as opposed to woman, something broke inside of me slightly. It felt strange, like trying on a cocktail dress that I didn’t feel like I could pull off. But it also felt wonderful, like I had been preparing for this all of my life.
You are a woman, I said to myself. And it felt good.
My belief in my own womanhood has also been cemented these few years through my friendships. I’ve grown up, and so have all of the other “girls” I once knew. My friends, new and old, are the quirkiest adults: the strongest and most dissimilar females I know. They are a bunch of beads in a tray—all different colors, shapes, and sizes of woman.
I remember in elementary school when everyone wanted to be on the boys’ team in P.E. Everyone knew that the boys were stronger and faster, and I always felt like being a girl was kind of like an automatic second-best. Oh, well, you get to be a girl.
But this woman thing, I tell you, it is a heavy-duty thing, like WD-40 strength. I feel like I’m returning to some deep inner strength that I had as a toddler member of the XX chromosome society—that inner knowledge that the way I have been created is good. That being a woman means being something good, maybe even great. I’ve tossed off the stereotypes, and I’ve seen my friends refuse to subscribe to them too.
None of my friends fit into some stereotypical woman mold; and this has been pure grace, like dipping into a cold lake for my soul. Some of them are like me—they spend most of the time in their brain, thinking big-picture thoughts—some have a handle on the details, like the operations manager of a large company. Many of them fit into certain feminine traditional roles, and many, many of them do not.
My favorite thing that my friends have taught me is this: Don’t forget to see yourself from the outside. When you are caught up in your smallness, analyzing your faults, it’s easy to ascribe to a very limited perspective. It’s easy to see yourself only as a girl, instead of as the woman you have become. It’s easy to stick to what you know, and who you once were.
But when you think about how your friends see you, they see you as the woman you really are. They value you for the decade(s) of experience you’ve gained, for the mistakes you’ve made, for the years built into the person you are now. They’ve fought alongside of you for that hazelnut of wisdom, and they want to see you own it. I promise.
So now I tell myself: see yourself as a woman who has now grown lean and tall, like a tree. See yourself also like a river, complex and always-changing, filtering through the muddy banks. A glassy, moving thing. A wonderful, sturdy person who owns her title of (albeit limited) age and wisdom. That’s who you are.