My mum is really social. She started all these community groups when I was a kid and ran about 10 book clubs, a science club and even a magic club for kids to learn magic tricks. I’m not kidding. I could do one magic trick, and it took me weeks to learn it. It involved magically tying a rope in a knot, just by moving it around a little in a non-rope-tying-looking fashion. Yeah, I was talented. I did that trick at every meeting of the magic club.
My mum also loves to throw parties. My brothers and I always had three birthday parties each, just because she liked them so much. She would bake these enormous, elaborate cakes. Alligators and Darth Vaders and turtles; for me, a cream and lavender castle, with actual spires and tiny windows. I think if she asked me now, though, I’d want Darth Vader, too.
I never really liked the parties my mum threw for my birthday. When I was a little kid, I was infamous in the family for crying every time people sang happy birthday to me. I think I was just overwhelmed, thinking, “Why are they all singing at me?! What do they want? What am I, some pony that’s supposed to perform a trick now, for their amusement? If there was any compassion in the world, they would just give me my cake and leave me in peace!”
My mum was a good sport about my whole, you know, personality. I grew up and thought I was really great and was very impressed with myself for a number of things, including most of my dark poetry, several of my larger paintings, and my lace up suede moccasin boots, which went up to my knees. I tried to prove to the world that homeschooled kids can still have rockin’ fashion sense. And are very confident, instead of being socially inept and obviously weird and unable to multiply normal numbers.
I can’t really multiply, I’m not gonna lie. But I can socialise, damnit. I can.
I just don’t really always like to.
That is the problem. And it is still a problem today. Especially, I sometimes think, because I am a girl. Woman. Some combination of those.
One night, my husband Bear had a friend I’d never met over, and, in my defense, it was the second day of Rosh Hashanah and I had just gotten home after singing in synagogue for a lot of hours, so I was exhausted. They were hanging out and drinking beer and talking about the latest stem cell research or something stereotypically manly (no, but really they were, from the sound of it through the wall), and I was lying in bed watching a Bette Midler movie, which is sometimes all I want to do for what feels like forever. And then I had to come out because I needed the computer charger cord and I made some (hilarious) jokes about how antisocial and lame I was being by hiding in the bedroom. I explained that I was really really tired and otherwise would’ve loved to join in.
And Bear said, “See? I told you she was antisocial!” In this fond tone, like it was so adorable.
And they both laughed. And his friend was like, “Yeah, Bear was telling me that you’re just like him and never want to go out, so I shouldn’t even try to get you guys together with me and my girlfriend.”
I laughed. “Yup, we’re pretty well matched! But I think I could probably manage to be around your girlfriend for a couple hours, you know, if I had to.”
We all laughed, because we’re all so polite, and then I retreated.
But I was taken aback. I mean, come on! I can do a double date! I love double dates! I love really small groups! They’re my specialty! And also, I’m not antisocial! I’m totally social! I can talk to lots of different people in lots of different settings! I am just like the school kids! I can tie my shoes! I can multiply!
But it was something else, too. I felt like I shouldn’t be “just like Bear.” I felt like that was a failure. A laziness. Because he’s the brilliant, nerdy, lovably distracted, slow-to-speak man. But I am the woman. And it’s different. Especially if the man is like Bear, the woman should be social.
I know, of course, that the woman shouldn’t have to be anything. She should just be herself. She should embrace her unique qualities. She should be whatever she feels like being. But also, there’s this blueprint in my head, and it has very clear instructions about this: “The woman should be social. If the man is like Bear then she needs to complement him with her clever people-reading and her bright, welcoming conversation.”
Except we’re not in the 50s, are we? So what is the deal with my head?
I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I get this sense, from being alive and stuff, that we are all probably supposed to have great hair and cute skinny jeans and be at least relatively witty. And that being a better woman involves being more social. There are a lot of ways that women are encouraged to be better women. It’s like the message that cosmetic companies sell: be a better woman! Look younger! Be more like the you you want to be! Be more like the you Beyoncé already is!
I’m fairly certain Beyoncé is extroverted, too.
Throughout my life, there have already been so many things I didn’t do that I felt strongly I should have, but they just sounded so awful to me. Joining activity groups in uni. That’s where you meet friends! That’s why I only had like four friends in college! Volunteering. God. What’s wrong with you. You’re improving the world! But I’ll have to stand around and schmooze with so many other volunteers! Parties. After work drinks. Company lunches. I should have gone to all of it! I know! I know! I’m terrible. I should be somewhere right now, actually, I’m pretty sure. I should be out somewhere, doing things. Meeting people. Expanding my world. Clinking glasses. Making witty small talk.
But you know where I am? I’m inside my apartment, with my laptop, writing.
“You need to go out, to have something to write about,” my mum is always telling me, in an effort to trick me into having something that looks a little bit more like a life.
It wasn’t until much later that I realised maybe I’m really just a normal person who happens to be introverted and loves to write and is very, very lucky to get to do that all day, and maybe it’s OK for me to not go to parties with everyone else because after all, I make very good pasta, and I paint very large paintings, even now, and there are so many wonderful stories stuck in the cracks between the supposed to’s.
It occurred to me that I have the potential to be pretty damn good at being myself. Which is good, I think. But first, I’m pretty sure I need to admit who that person is. Not, like, who that person would be if my mum organized my schedule. Or if I was also Beyonce at the same time and had her perfect skin.
I’m trying to hold on to that idea, instead of hoping that Bear’s friend who I just met doesn’t think it’s lame that Bear married this woman who can’t even talk about stem cell research for two minutes like a regular friendly person. Instead of thinking about what might happen when I’m living in a retirement community, (I’m never going to live in one anyway. It’s not my thing.) I’m going to live in this little cabin in the mountains, with my novelist granddaughter and possibly her potter girlfriend. And I am going to have these adventures that you won’t even believe. Most of them, maybe, inside my head. But some of them in very small groups. And it will be great.
Kate Fridkis blogs at eatthedamncake.com.