So here is a thing.
I am a modern young woman. I think. I am practical. I pick most of my clothes based on how easily I can move in them, which has gradually devolved into never wearing pants. (Ever. Seriously, leggings and ambiguous long top/dresses forever.) I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to feminism, quite literally, in the sense that I won’t let a guy pay for my dinner. Unless I’m paying next time. I am confident. I have the audacity to actually like my body, even though I don’t have a flat stomach and my thighs are kind of massive. I don’t obsessively shave bits of myself that don’t really need shaving. (I mean, honestly, it’s WINTER.) My body occasionally makes strange noises and odours and I don’t apologise for that. I can hold my own. I can take a joke. I have my own goals and ambitions and plans, and none of them involve getting married any time soon. Or indeed, maybe ever.
So this is what I’m like. While I can’t imagine myself being any other way, part of me knows that, at some point, it was a conscious decision. At some point, probably when I was around 14 or 15, I made a value judgement; I didn’t want to be that girl.
Who is that girl? She’s a lot of different things but, in a nutshell, TV and movies and popular culture did an extremely effective job of painting an unappealing picture of femininity and then unceremoniously shoving it in my face. That girl is high maintenance and insecure and almost totally dependent on having a boyfriend for validation. When she’s single, she wants a boyfriend for the sake of having a boyfriend. She needs to be told she’s pretty at least twice every fifteen minutes. She cries when he doesn’t return her calls. She never has any fun because she’s worried about her nails.
For a long time, I thought that not wanting to be that girl meant I didn’t really want to be a girl at all. Throughout my teenage years, I rejected almost every aspect of femininity, for fear that I would be transformed into a weepy boy-obsessed mess of creature if I ever let the world know that my legs could be considered “shapely” or acknowledged that colourful eye make-up is a lot of fun.
Of course, I went to an all-girls Catholic school, so for a long time I didn’t really know any boys, and consequently didn’t know whether they were worth crying over or not. My resistance to being that girl was largely tokenistic and manifested itself through wearing ill-fitting grungey clothing and generally being sullen and argumentative.
Now I am older. I have evolved. I realise that I can wear short skirts and have a haircut and maybe even underwear with lacy bits and still be a strong and independent lady. I can drink wine with my lady friends and talk about penises without anyone saying “You are sooooo a Miranda!” as though Sex and the City is the only template on which lady friends can base their interactions.
Now, I know plenty of boys. And that’s where it gets messy. Because from talking with the aforementioned lady friends (without whom I would probably still be wearing questionable hoodies three sizes too big for me,) I have come to realise that the modern independent lady’s resistance to being that girl can actually end up fucking us over when it comes to sex and relationships.
Recently, one of my friends hooked up with a guy. They subsequently went on a date and had a nice time. Later in the week, we were lounging around drinking wine and inquiring whether she was planning to see him again.
“Well, I texted him on Tuesday but he hasn’t responded.”
“Oh. Why don’t you call him?”
“No. I mean, he got my text, if he’s interested he’ll contact me.”
“But you want to see him again! Why not just call him and see what’s up?”
“No. I don’t want to be that girl.”
And there she was again, after all these years. That girl. At twenty-three, we still know her well. She texts you and then calls fifteen minutes later to see if you got her text. She’s picking floral arrangements for the wedding. She knows that this time it’s different, that this guy is the one. Lord help you if you hooked up with her around Valentine’s Day or her birthday.
However, that’s not me and that’s not any of my lady friends. And we know this. None of us want a boyfriend for the sake of having a boyfriend. None of us automatically assume that sex should lead to something more than sex. When it comes into the delicate operations of hooking-up and maybe dating or maybe not sure, things can get blurry. When there are two people who want things and have feelings about each other, but are maybe not sure how to articulate those feelings or are afraid that the other person might not like their feelings, that’s when the dancing starts. And that’s a reality of human relations.
But recently, I’ve come to realise that my biggest neurosis when it comes to guys is not whether they like me or not, or whether I’m attractive enough or smart enough or fun enough (because seriously, I’m pretty great.) My biggest fear in these situations is being that girl.
I am terrified that a guy will assume I’m desperate, even though I’ve done nothing to indicate that this is the case. I am terrified of being perceived as needy or vulnerable or indeed any way emotionally affected by the process of getting to know and/or sleeping with someone. I try to keep texting strictly to business. I always leave promptly in the mornings so I don’t encroach on anyone’s day. I keep everything at arm’s length. I try to avoid ever seeming like I want anything out of any romantic situation ever, lest men run screaming from the giant needy monster of relationship drama.
Many of the girls I know are capable (and indeed, into) having one night stands without also planning a wedding. Then of course, for some girls, sex is an emotionally intense and intimate experience and they treat it as such by only having sex within committed relationships. This is not a bad thing, because being a confident and modern lady isn’t about having lots of casual sex, it’s about know what you want and operating within your own boundaries. The point being that, on both ends of the spectrum, these are the same girls who are terrified of being that girl. Which is ridiculous, because we are already so far from being her by virtue of the fact that we know she exists and we don’t want to be her. That girl almost definitely doesn’t know she’s that girl.
But that girl also gets a partially undeserved bad rap. Because while she might be kind of crazy and intense, at least she’s honest about her feelings.
Because while I am not fantasizing about white dresses and moonlit walks on the beach, I do, you know, like guys. I do think about them and talk about them. I do enjoy being wanted and appreciated in a romantic way, as most humans do. There is a huge gulf of behaviour between texting someone every couple of hours and degenerating into a paranoid mess if there is a lapse in contact, and being nonchalant ice queen who doesn’t give a fuck because-like-whatever-it’s-just-sex-I’m-busy-anyway-where-are-my-cigarettes. That gulf involves knowing what you want and being confident enough to let the other person know what that is.
Another friend of mine spoke to me about a regular sex no-strings-attached situation she had with a guy. She was having fun, but eventually she put an end to it. “It just wasn’t working,” she said, “because the whole time, I was trying to be cooler than him and it wasn’t sustainable.”
We can get so caught up in being perceived as casual and unphased, that we stop feeling casual and unphased and essentially sabotage the enjoyment of the casual situation that we wanted in the first place.
So yes. In conclusion, I think ladies who are confident and have a strong sense of themselves should stop worrying about being that girl and shutting themselves down at every juncture and trying to be cool and distant instead of direct and honest. We should trust ourselves to be able to read a situation and know when we are coming on too strong. And if he doesn’t reply to your text, seriously, just call him. You’re not that girl. I promise.
This post originally ran on my old blog, deathofthenewgods.tumblr.com, and has been backdated to reflect this.