I've always been wary of women. Groups of women, talking about what women tend to talk about (all topics to which I generally have nothing to contribute) make me want to shrivel up and hide in some corner. I will gravitate to men in a group any day. The idea of a "girls night" bores me. It always has. One on one with one close friend is one thing but I will always prefer mixed company. I can't remember a time I didn't feel this way. I've always felt a lack of kinship with women. Especially new women. And I've always wondered why.
So in light of being recently told that I don't give off the most welcoming vibes on first meeting, I've done some reflection. I am going to tell one story to represent the MANY stories I could tell. And some of this story might be true, and some of it might be coloured with 24 elapsed years of additional life experience, and some of it might have elements of other stories I have chosen not to tell all mixed in. And of course, as always, it is my one sided version. So, to begin, lets,
I spent a lot of time at the lake when I was a kid. I had a friend out there who was a year older than me and we were different from each other in many ways. I was a school geek and she was not. I loved to read everything I could get my hands on and she did not. She liked to cook and I definitely did not. She knew things and I was naive. But our parents were close enough to each other that their property was our property. Their stuff was our stuff. We borrowed back and forth regularly. My parents were her pseudo aunt and uncle as hers were to me. We were both water babies and sporty girls and she inspired me. I wanted to be able to do everything that she could do. She was just enough older and just enough more worldly that I wanted to BE her. I copied her openly. We had our own little world out there and we played well together. We told each other we were "best" friends but she lived in one town and I lived in another for the majority of the year so, really, we were actually seasonal and weekend best friends.
Being a year apart is not much of an age gap. We are actually a year and 3.5 months apart to be exact. But there comes a time in girls' development when that one year turns into about 5 years in terms of psychological and physiological maturity. I'm going to say that in this case, it started when she was 12 and I was 11. We were good with each other one on one even at that age, but that all changed when she brought friends from her real life into the mix.
Most of her friends that she brought down to the lake were really cool and just as fun as her but there was one that I could never figure out. I will call her Ruth-Ann. Ruth-Ann was constantly pulling my lake friend over and whispering stuff in her ear or dragging her around some corner to tell her something and then never letting me in on the secret. One day we were all together playing some game or having some conversation in the guest cabin and out of no where Ruth-Ann pipes up, "Kim, I think I hear your mother calling you."
"What? Really? I don't," said I.
"I heard her too," said my Lake Friend. "You better go check it out."
"Oh. OK." I didn't want to leave. I loved being with this person. She was my childhood idol. It was the best thing about being out at the lake.
So I ran through the worn paths between our cottages, I knew them so well I could walk them barefoot without a flashlight in the pitch black. I was thinking I would be right back. I found my mother and asked her what she wanted and she said, Nothing. She hadn't been calling me. And I'm not sure who had the insight, whether I realized on my own, or if after a conversation with my mother she told me what had likely happened.
I didn't go back. There is nothing more disheartening in childhood than to realize that you've been hoodwinked into leaving because someone didn't want you around. I knew it wasn't my Lake Friend who didn't want me around. It was Ruth-Ann pulling the strings.
Sometime later, the same weekend or on some other occasion, Ruth-Ann apologized to me and said that she didn't really know me and she'd been nervous of me but now that she had spent some time with me she thought I was really cool and fun. And I was relieved and I accepted what she said at face value and I was just glad it was fixed.
Me, age 13. Them age 14. We are on a boat on a lake. This time there are boys. Was I really allowed on a boat on a lake with no parents at age 13? We were experienced water kids and I'd (and they'd) been driving boats for years. The guy driving the boat is Ruth-Ann's boyfriend and he is sooooo cute. But I'm 13 and I am terrified of boys and it is 1984 and the big hair trend is just revving up and it is windy on the boat and my hair looks like crap and I am completely out of control with self-consciousness.
Or maybe I wasn't so shy and polite. There are things I know now about myself that I didn't know then. Could I have been flirting? If I was, I did it without knowing it. Did I even know what flirting was at 13?
Me, age 15. Ruth-Ann age 16. We work together at a restaurant in the lake town. She doesn't work that often and she refuses to work night shift and she tells me in private, with superiority, that she could work night shift but she just gets her parents to say she can't so she doesn't have to. I think this makes her spoiled. We are sitting at the staff table and there are other staff around and a few adult staff including Lake Friend's mother, and Ruth-Ann is gushing over me. I have great hair, great clothes and a fast worker and she is so glad to be on shift with me and not with anyone else. I smile and I am glad for this because Ruth-Ann is actually a really nice person. But I haven't forgotten that day at the lake in the guest cabin when she lied and told me my mother was calling me. I don't trust her.
Thirty minutes later we are in the kitchen and we are alone. I say something friendly to Ruth-Ann. She snaps at me and is rude back. And this is how she treats me when no one is watching. She tells me I didn't do something right and I need to do it again. She criticizes me every chance she gets. She says she's sparing me from getting me in trouble because if she didn't tell me then she'd have to tell on me. The problem is that I could never see what was so wrong with what I'd done in the first place. I am stunned and flabbergasted by this audacious change and still I still prefer to believe in the version of Ruth-Ann that is sweet and charming when others are watching. But the REAL Ruth-Ann was alone with me in the kitchen.
I came closest in nursing school as a student but once I started working, the atmosphere and experience of being a new grad only firmed up my stance on keeping women at arms length. Nursing in certain areas can breed this environment of continuous levelling and personal sabotage. And I don't know if I can talk about this. There has been a lot written about it as a problem in nursing and it goes by the name of horizontal or lateral violence or bullying. I met more Ruth-Ann's working in a hospital than anywhere else in my life. All I can say is I couldn't wait to get out. Sometimes I suspected it happened because I was more educated and a product of the university they despised and disrespected. And I was working on a Master's degree. It seemed that particular individuals were far nicer to me before they knew this information. It got to the point where I stopped telling people these things. Or maybe it was because I was smarter and more self confident. So being envious of that, they would exert their power over me with the one ounce of control they did have -- experience. I wasn't allowed to make newbie errors with some people. I wasn't allowed to have crazy days and leave things unfinished. And I wasn't allowed to ask for help. There were circumstances where I felt like I'd been set up to fail. I got yelled at in front of patients and other coworkers. It was only a handful of individuals but they were the ones that had me scrutinizing my schedule and losing sleep and dreading certain shifts. And I didn't become friends with anyone.
Everyone knows of someone who's suffered really bad heartbreak or went through a particularly tumultuous relationship with a crazy, difficult, or abusive person and they never allow themselves to get into another relationship again or, at the very least, never give themselves wholly and completely. Everybody seems to understand and excuse those that make that choice because of these experiences, I don't blame him, they say. But it is difficult to make people understand the roots of my reluctance to develop close friendships with women. I told one story, but it is definitely not the pinnacle story of stories that I could have told. Ruth-Ann was a minor blemish in my history of appalling and negative interactions with others of my gender.
I have learnt over time that women experience this kind of treatment from other women purely because of envy -- because you carry some unnamed X factor that the other person covets. They despise themselves and have no faith in their own gifts so instead of learning from you, they attack you and try and steal it away. Like the way Ruth-Ann thought I was stealing her best friend and then her boyfriend of which I was doing neither. But I guess she didn't like herself enough to be confident that our mutual friend could be friends with more than one person, or that her boyfriend was just being nice to the guest and would still be with her when I left. After all, reality was, I was a temporary problem. Soon I would be getting into the backseat of my parent's car and driving back to my own town where I had my own friends and my own teenage insecurities.
I have always been reluctant to believe that anyone could be envious of me, as if somehow thinking someone could be jealous of me speaks to my own arrogance and self-importance rather than acts as rationale for rotten unnecessary and hurtful behaviour. Jealousy is an interesting emotion. It's a taboo emotion. People would rather tell you they hate you than admit to being jealous.
And I'm not going to say all this from up on my high horse and then tell you I've never been jealous. I have been. And I'm sure I've been snide (my attitude of defence, I find), and perhaps occasionally snubbing. But I've never set anyone up, and I've never started rumors, and I've never tried to sabotage. I could never live with myself.
So if I seem aloof or difficult to access, its not you. I'm still feeling you out for Ruth-Ann-like traits. And I'm gonna scrutinize you for a long time before I decide you're safe. One of my best friends was my office mate for 5 years before I even had a significant conversation with her. And it happened because during one of my greatest moments of need, she looked at me and said, We should go for diner sometime. And we did. And I let her in. And its been beautiful.
And if I see any hint that you are not safe, rather than try and run the other way, as I should, I will probably go to great lengths to win you over. I'm a nurse after all. I am, by nature, and by career choice, a rescuer. I've been fooled too many times but I still have too much hope in the deep-down goodness of other people that when I see deliberate sabotage now, I still react with dropped-jaw naivety and feel blindsided and wounded. And I always walk away with the same thoughts. Is it me? Is it something I'm doing? Because I feel I have an above average track record in bringing out the green-eyed monster in other women and enduring all the back-stabbing goodness that goes along with that.
And I know I'm not the only one who's lived through things like this, but there have been many times when I felt like I was. So please, feel free to share your stories.