Saturday, February 7, 2015

Not a Good Girl

"Continue to act as a good girl, and you will satisfy us." 
Jane Eyre

After years of almost compulsive writing, I have had fewer words to share lately. My family has been a priority over the last few months as we celebrated holidays, passed sickness around (and around), and got back into the school routine. I spent much of January fighting bronchitis and its complications, watching Netflix, and getting acquainted with the Honda that recently replaced my little old Subaru.

And while resting quietly, I've given a lot of thought to how I want to spend 2015.

Two years ago, I gave myself Permission to be Outrageous.
A few months later, I wrote about always having been A Good Girl.
Last year, I tried to imagine what it would be like to "let it go" like Elsa, and embrace Who and What I want to be.

What I want.

What do I want? Working through therapy exercises over the last year, that question consistently made me uncomfortable.

I was afraid of what I wanted. I was afraid that if I acknowledged my own desires, others might not approve me. I might not approve of myself. If I let my real deep-down self out into the open, I might judge or hate her instead of loving and embracing her. And heaven knows that little girl has been judged and punished enough.

So I've been cautious about letting myself want--not venturing far from sensible things, not taking risks.

But, slowly, I am listening to my desires, and leaning into them. Taking baby steps, of course. Clumsy, tentative, frightening steps. Some have worked out better than others.

Dancing is an adventure I'd always wanted to have, so when my counselor prescribed it, I finally gathered my courage and went to my first swing dance. It was utterly terrifying, but at the same time fun enough that I have kept practicing. Chris has even been brave enough to join me several times.

I also signed up for a class in improv acting, something else I'd been wanting to try for quite a while. That one didn't go so well. Several weeks I came home and spent the rest of the day on the couch, recovering from the anxiety. One session was going well until the instructor directed us to come up with comedy lines on the subject of "Dating".

Dating? What did I know about dating? As the titillating jokes fell from the lips of the handsome man next to me, I felt my insides curl into a self-protective ball. My brain stalled. I suspected I had more sexual experience than my younger classmate, yet my tongue was frozen, my brain stalled. After a few more afternoons feeling panicky, tongue-tied, and out of my depth, I dropped out of the class.

By this time we were shopping to replace my car. Car lots and car salesmen intimidate me, and most of my life cars have simply been provided for me. But having attempted both dancing and improv, my confidence was growing. After a few excursions with my husband, I went to another dealership and test-drove a car by myself--then brought Chris back to try it, too. My selection turned out to be the model we settled on!

Next I joined a women's trauma therapy group. Many of my favorite authors have extolled the benefits of group therapy, so I was excited when this opportunity turned up. The common theme of systemic misogyny that ran through all our stories made me angry. We all came from different backgrounds and had suffered abuse in a variety of ways, but we all had first-hand experience with patriarchy. I joined the group in hopes of having my emotions "fixed". Instead, it made me grateful for how far I've come and for every opportunity I've taken to speak in defense of women's equality.

I felt different from the other women in my group, in that I had never experienced abuse at the hands of my partner. Trauma, yes, I knew plenty of that, but these women's stories broke my heart. In the end, I dropped out of the group early, feeling a little stronger, more independent, and a lot better about myself and about my parenting.

I've ventured into new emotional territory, exploring unfamiliar ways of relating to myself and the world around me. I watch my daughters and their refusal to be pushed into the molds that society has made for them and I'm proud. When I grow up, I want to be like them!

Many of you are following the narrative of our courtship. When I share bits of the story with our 12-year-old, she looks at me like I have three heads. How any adults could submit their marital destiny to the whims of their parents is beyond her. "How did they make you so afraid, Mom?"

The answer to that is another post, but seeing my past through my daughter's eyes is helping me recover my own autonomy. For the first time in my life, I recognize that I belong not to my parents or to my husband, but to myself.

So this year, I've decided I'm through being the "good girl"--the woman our society approves of because she can be predicted, and controlled. The rules I absorbed as a child have not helped me, so I am writing new ones. I'll be a good mom, a good friend, a good lover--but I'll be damned if I'll accept the part of the well-behaved lady any longer.

My friends and role models are women who have taken outrageous risks and press forward no matter what. They are who and what I want to be. They don't apologize for wanting the things they want, and they refuse to be paralyzed by someone else's disapproval.

So this year I'm choosing my own path, making up rules consistent with my values, and making my own "mistakes" along the way. I'll keep being brave and trying new things not because they are good but because they interest and challenge me.

I've taken author Neil Gaiman's words as my present motto:
"...if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something."
What adventures that may lead me on this year I have no idea, and I'm used to mapping my way to a destination.   

But after all these years of coloring inside other people's lines... feels good. 


  1. I'm on the same journey! I've lost a lot of friends and am being called crazy by my former church. I've walked away from 40 yrs. of "coloring inside other people's lines" as you awesomely put and it is so liberating!!

    1. It's hard to realize that people you thought were friends didn't really care for the "true you". But that liberated feeling helps compensate, doesn't it? :)

  2. I too am in the same journey. At 30 years old I am finally figuring out who I am instead of trying to be the person I think others want me to be. It's taken me a long time to get here and I have a long way too go still. Your words really resonated with me today. Thank you. :)

    1. I'm so glad this resonated with you! And I wish you the very best on your journey to being your real self!