Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” – Emily Mcdowell
The phone stared at me from the ground like it was smirking as hard as its owner was. “Put your number in my phone,” the owner of the smug-looking phone demanded, after he threw it from across the room. I can’t say I was expecting a very eloquent pick-up line after a two-minute, one-sided conversation of not-so-humble brags about his athletic accomplishments, followed by a blunt declaration of his affinity for my appearance. However, I wasn’t expecting such an aggressive tactic. His respect for me in that moment was less than his respect for the fragility of his phone screen. He threw it more gently than he hurled that demand at my face.
The confidence of this guy would have almost been admirable, if it wasn’t so brash. I had a hard time saying no to people and always felt like I had to please everyone. This was an especially problematic mindset to have when you’re a timid nineteen-year-old girl at a college party. I found myself politely listening to guys go on about underrated bands that no one knows about, for entirely too long. I gave my number out because I didn’t know how to communicate to them I wasn’t interested. I was afraid of hurting the feelings of people I didn’t know for more than two-beers-worth of conversation. I even kissed some guys I didn’t really want to kiss, because they went through all of the trouble of getting my friends and I into a party and hand-delivering a warm, foamy beer from the keg. Very gentlemanly, I know. I felt I owed it to them. I went through more trouble than I was comfortable with to make sure these guys whom I didn’t care about, and who didn’t care about me, were more comfortable than I was.
It must have been the brazen entitlement that was a wake-up call for me. All of those other occurrences were subtler. They hid their intentions and expectations under a mask of politeness, seeming consideration, and a lot of sentences that started with “No offence.” But this interaction wasn’t dressed up with all those embellishments. It was an in-your-face declaration of superiority, and, moreover, it was in front of a room full of people. People who were laughing with him, encouraging the behavior and amplifying my embarrassment. I like to think it was sheer bravado in an effort to stand up for myself for once, but I’m sure cheap vodka played a supporting role. I picked up the phone, walked outside, threw it in the middle of the street, and walked home. It felt just as satisfying and immature as it sounds.
This barefaced demand started a thought process, for me. It took outright, unabashed disrespect for me to realize that I shouldn’t accept subtler forms of disrespect, either. As young girls, we come to believe that men’s advances and expectations of us are normal and unquestionable. Someone expecting me to give myself to them sexually, because they did something as minuscule as invite me to a party, is absolutely a form of disrespect. These expectations of me shouldn’t have needed to be as loud as throwing a phone at me, to gain my disapproval. When I finally realized all the ways I put other people before myself, I was disturbed that I was able to internalize something that was so harmful to myself and my psyche, from expectations around me.
I ended up going to therapy and reading a lot of self-help books, after this. I was afraid of all of the other things I might have internalized from a young age that were holding me back from doing things to make myself happier and better, overall. This meant being truly comfortable with myself, without relying on what other people thought of me, to achieve it. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do; even harder than sustaining an interested look on my face when someone is talking to me about how profound String Cheese Incident’s lyrics are. Even writing this, right now, I’m asking myself if you’ll think I sound conceited for talking about guys who were interested in me, or an alcoholic for drinking cheap vodka and going to parties. This shows how much farther I still have to go, but I think that recognizing what I’m doing and breaking it down is a solid first step.
I’ve talked to a lot of girl-friends who say they’ve had similar experiences to mine. It was exponentially helpful to hear that others were going through the same thing, and I was surprised that we had never talked about it before. We still speak in awe of how long it took us to even realize all the things we internalized and how self-sabotaging they were. When we are little girls, we are completely and unashamedly ourselves. We have as much confidence as the guy who does not hesitate to use “no offence” as an opening statement to the most offensive thing you’ve ever heard. When we’re out in the world long enough, it chisels this confidence and assuredness away, and replaces it with insecurity. It takes a long time to realize that your inner self-assurance has been lost. However, working at finding it again comes with the reward of being able to say “No,” “I’m not interested,” and “Quite honestly I couldn’t care less that you’ve seen String Cheese Incident play 34 times; now take your warm, foamy beer and go.”