My friends are some of the dopest people in existence.
Over the years, I’ve found myself surrounded with world-travelers, artistic masterminds and die hard intellectuals. As an only child and a fairly consistent loner, of course, I never developped a group that I could seek comfort in, but rather found solace in individual deep, meaningful relationships. This means that I don’t have a standard Friday night crew, but considering my ideal evening is rewatching possibly an entire season of Gilmore Girls with a pizza, that doesn’t bother me very much.
Growing up, my collection of friends was generally male heavy, but my living situation, my majors and my intense social anxiety, all of which were collegiate additions to my life, meant a major gender shift in my circle.
After a while though, I managed to get to a place where I was comfortable letting guys back into my life, and upon leaving college, I was pleased with the one good guy friend I had made, which made up for the implosion of a relationship with someone I’d valued and the other, more sporadic, but generally nice, budding friendship I made. I awarded myself a “Participation” ribbon and bought myself a cookie.
However, it wasn’t until I found myself stewing in a sea of extremely negative emotion did I realize why I had, up until my last year of college, avoided friendships with guys like the plague.
Throughout my life, being a girl wasn’t the identity I spoke up for the most. I was and am a “black girl,” therefore issues in the Black community gripped me with a fervor that was more pressing than any feminism had ever presented me with. I was surrounded with guys who never gave me any crap about being a girl because, to be blunt and possibly fairly narcissistic, I was just as good (better, really) in nearly every arena. I aced every test, I was musically gifted, artistically gifted, and I’m pretty sure I won more or less every award offered by every school I attended from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated high school. There is, of course, a time for humility, and a time for the truth.
To the boys who loved me as a child, then a preteen and a teen, I was a worthy opponent and I had earned my seat at the table. The rapport I developped with those boys are some of the most important of my life, and in fact, one of those relationships is still one of my most valued fripened ships, 14 years and several hundred miles later.
College had distinctly soured boys for me. I moved from an environment where I had the upper hand into a world where I not only fell short in the intellect department, but I was often reminded of class disparities and the ideological divide so prevelant on college campuses. (I.e. I was surrounded by boys who were smarter, richer and blatantly more racist than those of my youth, and because of their privilege, had no reason whatsoever to believe that they were wrong.) Despite that, I managed to make one white male friend, whose interest in me was a mystery for me and everyone around me, considering he was a raging Republican and had been known to call me “Chocolate” when drunk. Everyone has a tendency to put up with more than they would otherwise to combat the overwhelming loneliness of your first year of college.
I had a vague feeling that the Black boys would be better, the few of them that there were at my predominately white institution. But after listening to boys with very little actual opinions berate people (girls) who did give a damn for several hours once a week, I discovered had very little interest in any of the Black boys in my year. Plus, I still cringe a little at the memory of being barked at and then having to make lemonade in an exceedingly popular boy’s apartment for a Black Student Alliance event, where the only clean cup he had, had come from his bedroom.
Needless to say, I then proceeded to actively ignore boys whenever I could.
Still, I managed to leave college with three relationships in the forefront of my mind: one good, one bad, and one that changed daily. And I realized, as I talked myself out of my rage yesterday, that they all managed to invalidate me and my feelings on a regular basis.
Between the three of them, I have been told that I overthink things, am imagining things, am over dramatic, and need to calm down. I have been laughed at patronizingly when I do something for my emotional health. I’ve been belittled and told I’m crazy in variety of ways which range from “you’re just a out there” to “you strike me as the kind of girl who would key someone’s car.”
Four years of therapy and a well developped system of medication later, I agree that overthinking is a side effect of anxiety, and I definitely have a flair for the dramatic, which left pretty much all of my friends questioning my major at certain points, but I am getting sick of addressing an issue that’s bothering me only to be told that I have made up said issue, only to be patted on my head and told to trot along. And astoundingly, these boys still have the audacity to act as though they don’t know why I am mad.
Boys are fantastic at making you believe that your feelings are the problem, so that the discussion changes from their inability to handle anything stronger than mild annoyance from girls to our supposed insanity.
It is maddening to stand firm on my decision to validate my own feelings, when there are people in my life, despite all of their best intentions, who still cannot interpret my dedication to emotional health as a positive thing, but rather something out of a science fiction movie.
I chose to cut someone out of my life, who was making it hard for me to live, who was causing me to walk around in a cloud of negativity and sadness. I talked it over with a therapist who agreed that this was the best course of action for me.
Because, laughable though my behavior was to him and his friend, his presence in my life, in any capacity, caused me to either want to cry, get violent, or have a panic attack, and so to avoid this unpleasantness, I did what I had to do for me.
I have gone through far too much in my relatively short life to not pay attention to what upsets me and do I what I can to keep to my emotional center. Because of my tenuous relationship with stress and anxiety and depression, whatever negativity I can cut from my life (because there is so much that you can’t get around), I will. I had to work so hard to teach myself my own value, and now that I know it, I refuse to neglect my health, mental, physical or emotional.
It is ridiculous how bad we are at talking about emotions. We do better to hide them rather than deal with the fall out that occurs, and while it is my deepest desire to do just that, I was not blessed with a natural poker face. It’s understandable that these boys deflect when confronted with feelings, because we teach our men that emotions are for women. Yet, emotion, to any degree for a woman, is considered hysterics.
I do what I can to plant my feet firmly and make sure my friends know when they’ve done something that hurts me. I refuse to harbor years of negative emotion just because as a child, I was yelled at, “What are you crying for?!” Instead of asking why I was upset. I’m learning to undo all of those nights I slept with a throat jammed with suppressed feeling, and instead of hoping the other person will ask why I am upset, I’m teaching myself to share. I will not feel shamed for feeling, despite the blank looks of mild pity I sometimes get from people who feel uncomfortable with my emotional honesty. I will not back down though I know that my feelings and the actions that have transpired as a result are the butt of a great deal of private jokes.
Sometimes I wonder how I went from the equal to “the girl,” the one to look down upon because I betrayed the slightest feeling, because it is unfair that I cannot have emotions and be respected. In theory, it doesn’t seem like much to have your feelings affirmed, but in the real world, it’s a lot more complicated. The silver lining in all of this is that though you cannot count on others to affirm your feelings, you can do what you can to affirm your own. Thankfully, I love myself enough to validate how I feel instead of making excuses, and most of the time, that’s all the difference in the world.