Hey you. Yeah, you. I know you.
You’ve always been different.
You grew up in limbo, half in one world and half in the other. Wearing football jerseys to school but playing with Barbies in the back room of your basement. Impressing the boys with baseball statistics at the lunch table but staying after school to add glitter to your art projects when no one was watching. You had a crush on James, the adorable blonde in your Kindergarten class, so naturally you pushed him down the hill at recess. He no longer wanted to sit near you during arts and crafts.
You wanted the best of both worlds.
You had a 6th birthday party but refused to tell any boys: it was a Princess party and they couldn’t know you were one of “those” girls. You climbed all the way to the top of that giant oak in your neighborhood because your friends said girls couldn’t climb trees: you were scared of heights but you had to prove them wrong. You imitated your older brother as much as possible because the boys would like you better if you were more like them. Right?
You fought with your mother every Sunday before Church: you wanted to wear that pretty dress, you really did. But what if the boys from school saw you in a dress? They would never pick you for kickball again.
That cute boy in 4th grade with whom every girl was obsessed? You weren’t immune, but you pretended to be. You wanted him to notice you but NOT by acting stupid and girly: instead, you challenged him in reading contests, geography bees, and gym class competitions. You were sending the message that you were awesome but that you were too independent to tapdance for his attention. And you were crushed when he picked the girl who was willing to do exactly that.
Like I said, I know you.
You didn’t get “that kind” of attention in middle school from boys and you felt rejected: you played sports, you were smart, and you knew everybody. Why didn’t they like you? And then it became clear. Your friends were all little and petite, which was perfect for prepubescent boys who are under 5 feet. You hit your growth spurt a little early and were an awkward 6 inches taller than the next guy. Your friends had new “boyfriends” every week and they held hands in the hallway: you continued to excel at school and sports. You were confused when the boys told you that you had the “perfect personality” but chose to chase after your shallow and moody (albeit more glamorous) best friends. You learned way too early that it IS possible to friendzone a girl. But you refused to act any differently: Mom said things would change.
And change they did.
You entered high school. Your priorities didn’t change but your body did, and you got a little more attention than was usual. Your best guy friend wanted to spend even more time with you but you thought nothing of it. All your friends insisted that he wanted more but you wrote them off. You liked his company and felt really close to him but that was all. Aren’t there supposed to be fireworks or something? You ignored reality for a long time. And then, one day, you decided to try it: maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. Maybe those feelings would change if you started dating. You finally had someone who appreciated you and you couldn’t let that chance pass you by. So you dated your best friend.
And it was perfectly fine. Nothing more. Your feelings didn’t change and you felt badly because he deserved better. But you kept up appearances because everyone loved you as a couple. And having a boyfriend made high school more fun! You inevitably broke up after graduation and stayed friends, but your first relationship made you wary. You decided not to date a guy just because he liked you. Your life would be one extreme or the other: fury and fireworks or cool aunt with lots of cats. Lukewarm wasn’t your style.
College was good for you: you had a good reputation, you knew a lot of people, and you were happy. You had crushes but didn’t act on them. You gave your guy friends advice and helped them with their own relationships. A few brave souls tried but you considered them “just friends.” You focused on developing your friendships instead of giving any one special guy the time of day. There were some close calls, a fling here and there, but you stayed true to your vows and didn’t settle. College was a success and so were you.
And then you gave in, but you didn’t really commit, did you? You enjoyed his company and he looked great on paper, but it was high school all over again. You put on a good show and hoped that you could change: you wanted to love him, you really did. Eventually he cheated on you and you ended it, but it wasn’t as painful as it should have been. He was clearly a jerk and you dodged a bullet by holding back.
But then you screwed up. You felt the fire. That bullet caught up to you in the form of a guy who you knew was all wrong. You swore you would never do anything this rash but you couldn’t help it: you were no longer in control. You felt completely unlike yourself and you didn’t know how to handle it. The situation was completely foreign. You got a tingling down your spine when he entered the room. His car jumped out at you in the parking lot. Every time your phone went off? Your heart jumped at the thought that it might be him. Who was this girl, this new person you’d become? She wasn’t protecting herself. This new girl threw logic out the window and started dating him.
You knew deep down that it wouldn’t last but you still had hope. You gave your heart away only to have it broken, and in the aftermath you learned a lot about yourself and about the inexhaustibly fickle nature of life. You cried a lot at first. You had Shakespeare in Love on repeat in your apartment. You scrolled through texts and replayed intimate conversations in your head, wondering when his feelings had changed. Wondering what you could have done differently.
And then you remembered yourself. That girl who weathered the storm of adolescence with no validation or feelings of love from the other sex? The one who swore she would never settle for less than she deserved? She was back. And she was ready to continue her journey, wiser and more aware of herself. You decided to join her: you curled up on the couch, alone, with a glass of white wine and a bottle of nail polish as the NFL playoffs blared from your television. That little girl caught between two worlds became a woman with a firm grip on who she is and always will be, regardless of who tells her she’s beautiful.