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  • Lindsey Van Wagner

Mean girl?

I think that anger is an underrated emotion. We feel that we aren’t supposed to get angry. We may have received the message that it is a childish emotion. I disagree. I have learned that anger is necessary for growth and it is important to pay attention to those things that make us angry. What lights that fire? Last week something flustered me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it - I realized that these are the experiences and feelings I need to be writing about.


I was walking back to my car from the beach after a morning swim, and barely had my towel wrapped around me when I heard, “Lindsey!” I rolled my eyes. This is the third time this exact situation has happened with this same guy - that he has seen me on the beach, from the street, and has pulled over to talk to me. Let’s call him "John."


Pause. Before you start thinking “Poor you. You’re a girl who gets attention from strangers.” Stop. That is not what this is about. I don’t know why he always wants to talk to me, it might have nothing to do with looks. It might have everything to do with looks. That part doesn’t matter. If it makes the story easier for you to digest, then pretend that I am a rich middle-aged man in an uncomfortable situation. I don’t care. Choose a character. Don't get hung up on the details - for we can easily lose the forest through the trees.


So, I see John around town occasionally and I am usually friendly. It's just that something hit me on this particular morning and I didn’t want to play nice. I didn’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter why, maybe I just wasn’t in the mood. Maybe he was making me uncomfortable. Either way I wanted to get out of there– it was a sensation that felt almost animalistic and primal. Some might call it intuition or instinct. So, I was short and sweet (notice that I am still being “sweet” though… right? Deep conditioning).


I said, “Hi! How are you?” and then proceeded to quickly jump into my car. I guess my abrupt and guarded body language wasn't lost on John because he looked at me with puppy dog eyes and asked, “Why don’t you want to talk to me anymore?” I said, “I’m talking to you right now, dude! HI. How are you? Have a good day! Great to see you!” and then I slammed my car door shut. He just stared at me with a confused face while I pulled away.


I spent the rest of my drive home feeling guilty, like I did something wrong. I felt ashamed. I wanted to drive back and say Sorry. Was I mean? Was I rude? Was I a bitch? (Because when we aren’t so nice, or when we get riled up about something, we are called crazy. When we get angry, we are called bitches.) THIS is the part that made me angry. I wasn’t angry at him. I was angry at my subsequent feelings of guilt and shame and fear, and that I have such a hard time trusting my instincts and decisions.

Photo credit: @sasha_tozzi

(Sasha is my soul sister and my light in the dark)


Why do we feel the pressure to be nice even when it costs us discomfort or sometimes even potentially dangerous situations? (I think this guy is probably harmless, but this isn't about him or that isolated event, it is the principle.) The fact is I don’t need permission for leaving if I don't want to talk to someone, AND I don't need to explain myself after I have made that decision. I also don't need to apologize for it. I now realize why this was so uncomfortable for me and why I felt such tension on my drive home.


[Okay, so now I am going to talk a little bit about gender because it is kind of relevant. Let's face it. While these feelings of people-pleasing and the need for validation apply to everyone, it is merely fact that women feel this on a deeper level, due to years of cultural and sociological conditioning. It's science. If you are a man reading this, and you can admittedly relate, I am happy to hear it. That means we are one step closer to breaking out of these old-fashioned norms, roles, and standards.]


It is uncharted territory for me, as a woman - especially a woman who has grown up always wanting to be perfect and to follow the rules. We have been taught to be on our best behavior and do what people want. Good girls with good manners. Always polite. Always nice. So I am unlearning these behaviors and that is hard work. Amy Poehler says, "It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for." By the way, when I talk about being "nice," this is different than being nice for the right reasons. This type of niceness I am speaking of is slavish and subservient – Come on, we all know the difference. We can feel it when we are going against our true nature in order to comply and get along. In order to be "good."


So, this incident with "John," it just put a little dent in my morning, nothing major. But, when I look back, there are SO many little things I have done just because I didn’t want to be mean, like agreeing to go to a party I didn’t want to go to, giving my phone number to a guy because I didn’t want to be rude. . . These small things, these little acts of obedience can accumulate and lead to the bigger things we do and the more important choices we make. Our actions become our character, even the small actions. This eventually turns into boundary issues with certain people or not being able to escape toxic circumstances. I have definitely stayed in unhealthy relationships too long. Hell, I think I have even STARTED some relationships just because I didn’t want to be rude or hurt someone’s feelings.


Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in one of my favorite books Women Who Run with the Wolves, says that most women are in recovery from their “nice-nice” complexes. I am glad that she calls this a recovery because it is a slow and painful process to break these habits and to undo years of outdated conditioning. Estes says we have been taught to set aside acute insight in order to get along, but that the reward for this is just more mistreatment. We are agreeing to NOT being ourselves – maybe because we are scared that if we show our true selves we will be exiled from others. But, by not showing our true selves, we are instead becoming exiled from ourselves. I have to ask myself - by saying "yes" to [whatever], am I saying "no" to myself?


So, I am starting small and moving slowly. Like I said, of course this will be uncomfortable and painful and it will feel really effing* weird. I think of these things, though they may seem small, these times we show our true authentic selves, and listen to our inner wisdom and our all-knowing intuition, they are all acts of courage which add up to strengthening our our true character. And they turn into the bigger things. Frank Turner sings, "The big things stay the same until we make little changes." Kind of random way to end this, but it's a good song.


*I choose to use the word "effing" because my mom doesn't like when I write the real F word and I know she will be reading this later. Part of me still wants to be a nice girl :) Baby steps.


Peace and love. Thank you for watching me be me as I take these small steps toward finding, listening to, and aligning with my authenticity.

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