I could not help but grapple with the question of “Now what?” after I went through a heart-wrenching breakup. The asphyxiating, self-probing question: “Will I be alone with dogs (cats are gross), The Notebook on replay, and Thai takeout forever?” haunted me. Okay, that’s a little melodramatic.
Fast forward a few days: I sat at a dinner table with a group of girlfriends who I hadn’t seen in ages, ready for a simple distraction from my overwhelming sadness. To my dismay, the conversation rapidly changed from small-talk to the last thing I could possibly want to discuss: MEN.
Disclaimer: What lies below is an utterly heterosexual anecdote, stemming solely from my personal experience. I’m intrigued to hear from LGBTQ+ on this topic.
I won’t bore you with the specifics, but this three-hour-waste-of-my-time-dinner-conversation solely consisted of trivial topics such as that of “mixed signals”. As an aside, I will attest, from personal experience: MIXED SIGNALS = NO. Okay, I’m a tad bitter. I get it; fleeting romances or “flings,” can be riveting in the moment. But they also possess the ability to consume us, especially as women, which is where this phenomenon becomes problematic.
The subsequent “girl talk” revolved in slooooooow, pointless, circles; like the solar system (except, that’s actually somewhat important—and I’m pretty sure average speed up there is approximately 67,000 MPH, so, bad analogy). I’m new to this. Anyways, from recent dating app matches to year-long relationships, I pretended to listen while simultaneously fighting the urge to hide in the bathroom for the remainder of the evening with self-inflicted food poisoning.
When it was my turn to talk about “love interests” I tried to dodge the subject with the classic, “I don’t have time to think about that,” which I cleverly used as a segue to my dreams of applying to law school and pursuing a career path related to human rights. Good thing I am not coordinated (yes, I was the one always chosen last in gym class), and as you might have guessed, the dodgeball hit me square in the face. When my comment was met with utter silence across the table, I felt as though I had said something wrong, or I had an overtly pronounced piece of broccoli wedged between my front teeth. Probably would have preferred the latter, given the former’s implications.
My wide, enthused eyes were anticlimactically met with sly smiles and half-hearted “That’s amazing’s,” but the conversation nonetheless reverted to romance. Neptune, here we come… On my way home that evening, I did some soul-searching, of course (when in doubt, channel your inner-genie). I wondered, Was I dismayed by the conversation solely because I no longer had those cute anecdotes or enthralling argument synopses to share? No, I knew this wasn’t the feeling gnawing at my stomach, as I could have gone on about the reasons my partner and I had decided to go our separate ways (e.g., my inability to be easy going… can you tell?) simply to fit into the conversation flow, but hadn’t felt inclined to. Then, of course I began to think of this through a gendered lens. Hello, 21st century!
Mean Girls, a film that is commonly leveraged to encapsulate the hurdles that the media throws our way as women, perfectly depicts this issue. Cady Heron, a down-to-earth, homeschooled female from South Africa, moves to the U.S. and quickly finds herself in the desired popular group: “the plastics,” with members Karen, Regina and Gretchen. Mean Girls and its depiction of women in the media is problematic for a multitude of reasons, namely: infatuation with glamour and beauty; the need to act dumb to be “cool”; and the catty “tear the other girl down” culture. Interestingly enough, there is one motive in the film that acts as a catalyst behind these behaviors: Aaron.
Aaron is the star male; Cady’s crush and Regina’s (fellow plastic) ex. In accordance with my personal observations above, he is the source of these detrimental female practices. The plastics are portrayed obsessing over weight, sabotaging each other, and pretending to lack mathematical commonsense, solely for his approval; yes, to be wanted by this guy. While men are bragging about their sexual conquests, women are mulling over what to text; whether or not to have an extra slice of pizza; how long to wait before responding; or even if he waved on campus. To which I respond, “…your tongues were intertwined last weekend, germs and spit were exchanged, and his sly wave enamors you that much?”
So, why do I care about this perturbing three-hour long conversation? Well, because it’s longer than a three-hour conversation. This is happening ubiquitously, all the time. We as women obsess over what men are thinking of us, wait for a man’s approval, or harp on his minute attempts to act like a decent human (e.g., campus wave vs. “look away”). My point: Don’t wait for a man to validate you; validate yourself. As women, let’s grow together; we are defined by our ideas, dreams, travels and experiences. Not by the [______] (time to play some Mad Libs), who “ghosts” us or prefers to compliment our looks over our brains. The man who wishes we would flow with the motion of the ocean, as opposed to embodying the rock that the waves can’t possibly erode, likely doesn’t appreciate our uniqueness or ability to challenge commonplace ways of thinking, so stop talking about it; not worth your time. Move on, dream bigger, challenge one another. Be more.