A neighbor invited The Chef and I to run with him yesterday. An easy 5k around the neighborhood. We’ve never run together before, the three of us. It was warm enough to wear shorts and sweat. We kept a conversational pace; only checked watches for distance measurements rather than time. The neighbor is working toward a special goal. Every day he asks someone different to work with him. We said Yes.
As we finished the final tenth of a mile needed to make the third kilometer, the conversation turned to the Superbowl. I had completely forgotten about the Superbowl. Oh, that’s today? I am getting deep into I Don’t Have To Be That Girl Anymore. This was another manifestation. I forgot to care about the Superbowl. Because I don’t have to care about the Superbowl anymore, especially in the company of people who do care. I don’t have to be that girl anymore; the one who will care to prove something about herself to guarantee her inclusion and/or special preference within a group dynamic.
This is rather huge. I grew up on football. It was a big deal to my dad. I learned my numbers and letters from football jerseys, sitting in my dad’s lap with Sports Illustrated. With bone-deep abandonment issues regarding my mother I worked every angle available to earn the approval of my father. I cared about football to safeguard his acceptance. If I cared about football and fishing and played sports and got my hands dirty and eschewed girly things in favor of tomboy life, he’d love me more. Or more specifically, love me at all. I’d do anything to prevent being unlovable. I’d bait my own hook, carry home a handful of headless snakes, help build a chicken house, cut firewood, fix the car. Approval equals acceptance equals desirability equals love equals less risk of being thrown away or dismissed.
Later in life I applied the same tactics to romantic relationships. I cared about whatever was prescribed by the male whose affection I needed to earn or keep. I cared about boxing and martial arts. I cared about electronics and certain kinds of music, movies, and entertainment. I cared about camping and wilderness survival. I cared about getting tattoos and piercings. I cared about drinking and partying and porn. I cared about being funny and bawdy and brazen and fearless and feisty and sexy while maintaining status as one of the guys. Whatever it took, I would be That Girl. That Girl’s preferences were dictated by the desires and interests of the male whose favor I worked to curry. Times 40 years. Truth be told, I even started running all those years ago to please and support a military boyfriend.
Most disturbing is that I wasn’t pretending. I wasn’t faking anything. I made myself like these things. I convinced myself that I truly did so that I’d be more successful in convincing everyone else that I truly did, and thereby guarantee my desirability. It wasn’t an act. I brainwashed myself. Because if it was true about me I couldn’t screw it up. I couldn’t betray how I really felt because the way I really felt about anything was never explored. It was never part of my identity. I couldn’t fail. This is how dangerously malleable we become when our earliest belief about ourselves is that we are bad. We are unacceptable unless we behave a certain way. People may swear to love us anyway but the most compelling evidence to us when we are young is that we are treated better when we behave better. If I wanted people to want me I had to be want-able. I had to want to be whomever they wanted. So I did. I wanted it. I believed it. I lived it.
I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to be that girl anymore. Running is mine now. I do that for me. I claimed it for my own and do it for my own reasons and choose it for myself now. However long I keep it, it will be for me and no one else. So in the company of men, sweating together, finishing up a run, when the conversation turned to football, I was pleasantly surprised to find I didn’t care. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Superbowl to the point that I forgot all about it on Superbowl Sunday. That Girl would have rushed to cover and lay on the jock-talk, team-talk, player-talk, etc. with thickness. That Girl would have jumped to assimilate; to be one of the guys. Be cool. Be a girl who knows a lot about football. Not anymore. I don’t have to be That Girl anymore.
I didn’t say a damn word. I didn’t care. I even tuned it out a little, especially the player greatness conjecture. When given the choice, it appeared I didn’t care about football. Me, football girl. My dad probably would have been sad. I don’t seek that kind of approval anymore, which is a prettier way of saying I don’t do things just to keep people from being disappointed in me anymore. So I love you, Dad. But I won’t care about football to make you love me to or to make anyone else like me. Times everyone. Times forever. In my heart, I realize after 40-plus years I don’t really care about football. Not even the Superbowl. I let the moment pass and comfortably enjoyed the men discussing it with without me. I don’t have to be that girl anymore.
The run finished at our house, where we parted company with our neighbor and heartily agreed to do it again. The dog was hysterical that we went running without him. We leashed him up for a walk to soothe him and cool down ourselves. As we walked I found a red silk flower on ground. I care about flowers. I really do. It turns out I care more about flowers than football. Near the end of the walk I found another one, a bright pink on this time. Tucked in together the two of them made a cheap imitation homecoming corsage. Red is my color of truth. It’s the color of confession. The fuchsia pink is my color of connection. The two of them were dropped onto my path felt like signal flags or blazes on a trail; markers of the path.
I took them home, ignited some incense, and gave them a place of prominence on my backyard meditation table. For 45 years I was That Girl and now that I don’t have to be Her anymore, who will I be? I had to reach nearly the halfway point of life to find myself agreeable to being whomever I really am. So who am I? What do I care about? What do I like? What do I think is important? I’ll have to take it baby steps.
To start, I like flowers. I like making pretty, soulful images with a camera. I like dogs. I like running with slow-ass runners. I like taking a walk break to refresh my legs on the run. I like finding objects on the ground and writing stories about them. I like nag champa incense. I like windchimes. I like rocks. I like to get dressed in clothimg based on how I want to feel rather than how I want to look. I like braided hair. I don’t care about football. I don’t care if boys think it’s lame or dumb or disappointing that I don’t care about football, even my dear old Dad. I don’t care if boys want my company less because I’m not into football. Starting today, my practice changes. If I don’t have to be that girl anymore I’ll have to start practicing who I am, and figure that out.
I did watch it, the Superbowl. I watched it with changed eyes. The only part of the Superbowl that made me smile was watching Eli Manning and Odell Beckham do the Dirty Dancing dance. And Pink sang the hell out of the national anthem. The rest of it was noise and stupid head injuries. I’m not sorry I feel that way. I am deprogramming myself, one confrontation with truth and untruth at a time. I’m not going to be one of the guys. I’m not a guy. I’m none of the guys.