“You really act more like a dude anyway.”
I remember the first time one of my male friends told me I was “one of the guys”. I was in 7th grade and we were at youth group playing knock-out as other kids threw dodgeballs behind us on the basketball court.
I stopped dribbling for a minute and blinked, confused, but not upset. Was I more like a “dude”? I had never thought of myself as a tomboy.
Growing up, I had always played with the neighborhood kids, 90% of whom were boys. I wasn’t afraid to play in the dirt and I liked sports. But playing with Barbie was my favorite thing until about 4th grade and I always picked Princess Peach when we were playing Mario Cart. I liked glittery things and makeup, though I still had trouble navigating the eyeliner crayon, opting for a silver liner for God-only-knows what reason. Apparently I liked looking like a mermaid alien.
Was it a good thing to be one of the guys? He had said it like a compliment. In junior high, girls were kind of mean (13 year-old girls are their own special kind of terrorists), so the idea of fitting in safely with a group of people, even if those people were BOYS, pleased me. I really liked being liked. Even if it was just as a buddy.
Over time I began to embrace the parts of my personality that made me different than the stereotypical “girly-girl”. I was cool (self-proclaimed). I still wore makeup and cared about my clothes, but I was a snowboarder and ran track. I would eat locusts on a dare and steal road signs. I had a dirt bike and nothing ever bothered me. At least I pretended like nothing ever bothered me. Being popular was overrated and drama was for the birds. Easy-going was the name of the game. Because I was the “cool girl”. And a cool girl doesn’t get her feelings hurt because her boyfriend forgot to call or other trivial matters. She just doesn’t.
Or so I thought.
Imagine my anguish when I began to realize that as much as I wanted to pretend to have masculine feelings (I was one of the guys, right?) I still truly had a very feminine heart. I wanted to be told I was pretty. I wanted to feel sought after and treasured. I wanted to feel understood and be able to talk about my emotions when I was upset about something, even if that something was silly. And I wanted it to be okay that I wanted these things. Instead, I just felt guilty and high-maintenance.
It was my opinion that being viewed as high-maintenance or needy was a fate worse than death. And though I have come a long way in debunking this fear, I can tell you that even as a 25 year-old it is something I still regularly grapple with. In so many ways I am still that 13 year-old standing on the basketball court just wanting to be viewed as cool.
For years, I buried any tendencies that could have been perceived negatively as the stereotypical girl. I had come to believe that in order to be appreciated by a guy, either in a friendship or relationship, I needed to manage my own emotional needs and require nothing from others, especially him. I mistakenly believed what guys really wanted was a girl who acted like a guy.
It didn’t mean I was never distressed, because I definitely was. It mostly just meant that instead of having constructive conversations, I pouted alone in my room until I got over it or could find a way to manipulate affirmation from where I needed.
Like I said…I was the “cool girl”. And so, I would go out of my way to elicit responses that praised me as such. And often that just meant keeping my mouth shut. Needs? I don’t have any emotional needs! I AM THE COOLEST FREAKING GIRL ALIVE!
The problem with this kind of behavior is that it’s not real. Living your life to fit an image is exhausting, not to mention unhealthy. It eventually got to the point that when I shared pieces of my feelings about anything I compulsively apologized for having emotions afterward. I was so scared that I would be perceived as high-maintenance… and in so many ways I still am.
At the heart of it, I know what I am really afraid of is others walking away from me after they’ve seen me at my most vulnerable. If I put myself out there, articulate my feelings openly and honestly, will I be seen for only the things I try to keep hidden inside? My fears, my insecurities, my at times illogical emotional responses, my penchant to over-analyze, my hidden tears over silly insignificant events…will those become all I’m known for?
And as a result, I am afraid I will be seen as too much and as not enough all at once. That I will not be worth wading into deep water for and my needs will be shrugged off as being high-maintenance and unreasonable. I am afraid that if I do not keep it all in check under the “cool girl” persona, that beneath it all, I am someone who is easy to walk away from… someone who is not worth the hassle.
In the past I have thought it better to keep my feelings inside than risk being rejected for them…than to risk being ridiculed for being too much of an “emotional girl”. But as women, we ARE emotional. Often times we are more emotional than our male counterparts. And for most, it is important to articulate our emotions to those who are closest to us, both to our women friends and the men who are in our lives. Unless you can safely communicate, you bury and internalize…and eventually explode. Then drama really does happen.
But talking about your feelings isn’t drama or high-maintenance. It’s just maintenance. And we ALL need someone to emotionally process with, male and female alike. Relationships without maintenance are actually not growing. They’re stagnant. They may be “cool” but they’re also probably dead.
What I didn’t realize (but am finally starting to) is that I have added to the problem by trying to masquerade behind the “cool girl” image. Can I be honest? The emotionally-unattached, robot, “cool girl” doesn’t exist. Not in the way we have projected her to be. No matter how much we all want to pretend nothing phases us, it does. And that is okay. Seriously. We need to let that be okay.
Like most elements in life, there is a balance. You are in charge of your emotional responses and how you choose to communicate them. Articulating your feelings does NOT make you too “girly” or high maintenance. Acting like a girl is NOT a bad thing. And for the men reading, please don’t make it into something negative for the females in your life. Help create a safe place for us to share and be ourselves. Even if we are being a bit over-dramatic (and we will be sometimes).
As women, we reflect a part of the Father’s emotional heart in a way that is different than men, not better or worse, just different. God feels emotions acutely and deeply…we also have that gift. And it IS a gift. As much as I try to bury my emotional responses and pretend I don’t feel hundreds of things all at once, I do. But it is a blessing because it affords empathy and understanding, compassion and silliness. Because all the emotions you feel, make you…well, you.
But it’s up to you what you will do with them. You can be emotional AND strong. Vulnerable AND cool. It’s all in how you choose to articulate your needs and feelings. Drama is not created by merely discussing how you feel. Drama is created when you fly off the handle and demand that your needs be met “or else”.
As women, as cool, level-headed, fun, sensitive women, we have an opportunity to reshape the stereotype. You don’t want to be seen as high-maintenance? Then don’t throw fits. Talk about your feelings calmly. Don’t wait until your emotions have stewed to eruption point. Learn not to blame how you feel on others; take responsibility for your emotions while still being honest. Do not use manipulation or passive aggression to avoid talking about what truly needs to be discussed. Stop hiding behind the “cool girl”. In fact, I think we should probably kill the “cool girl” as she is a fabrication.
The coolest girls are the ones who can own their feelings and still stand in confidence. The coolest girls are the ones who can laugh after they’ve been a bit dramatic and love themselves all the same. They are the girls who can be honest about what they need with surrendered and unassuming grace. Because at the end of the day, your confidence doesn’t come from how cool anyone thinks you are or aren’t. Ultimately your confidence comes from God, and He made you both with emotional needs and the ability to communicate all of your complexities.
And I think that’s pretty darn cool.