Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The Tyranny of Being Thought of as Strong
The other day on my ninth day in a row of spinning -- obsessed much? -- I ran into an old acquaintance of my husband's and mine in the changeroom after class. She remarked that she noticed I was always there and asked how I managed to go so often, since spinning is so gruelling, and cheerfully complimented my bum.
I replied: It's either this or go on an anti-depressant.
To which she replied: I hear you're having a tough time. How are things going?
To which I burst into tears in front of an entire changeroom of naked post-spin women --strangers, all of them, and yet soon I was surrounded by cooing, clucking half-naked women of all ages offering me words of comfort and support. I was even clutched to my friend's half-naked bosom. All this at a time when I thought my bouts of public weeping when I ran into old friends I hadn't seen since before the breakup were over.
I came out of there embarrassed and yet strangely changed. Throughout this entire ordeal, everyone has been telling me I'll get through it because I am "so strong." Even my shrink tells me that every time I fruitlessly plead for an anti-depressant. My mother says it, my friends, my siblings, my aunt, everyone except for the select few who know I am, in fact, not so strong. "Pshaw, you'll be fine! You're so strong!"
A dear new friend seems to have sussed me out almost immediately; she seems to get me in ways that some of my oldest friends do not because our pasts are similar and so we have learned to PRETEND to be strong. For me, it was a survival mechanism. So for much of my life I have played strong and cracked wise and made jokes and kept people at arms' length and very rarely let anyone see me fall. When I have allowed someone to see me fall, I have a friend for life.
But as my new friend put it: "The tough-girl rep is good armour, but it isolates you and magnifies your loneliness."
It's true. While I was mortified to find myself sitting on a bench in the spinning changeroom and crying forlornly into my sweaty towel in front of a group of strangers about how much I missed my ex, at least I didn't crack some joke, tell them I was better off without him, pretend not to feel anything and then go home to either get drunk, take drugs or sleep with some new distraction without mourning his loss.
Strength is highly over-rated, I say.