A few days ago, I had a thoughtful conversation with a stranger. We were in the parking lot of a nature area in Los Angeles observing her 5-year-old daughter play with three younger boys. The gal was helping a toddler climb up a nature path and encouraged him to keep climbing while she held his hand. Another mom stated how nice and polite the girl was. The mom turned to me and carefully said, “I don’t know if I want her to only be nice. I want her to be assertive. I want her to have a choice.” This statement triggered a thought in me. Why do girls have to be nice, polite, and nurturing? I wasn’t taught until I was much older to be assertive. I love how this mom is teaching her daughter to check-in with herself and find her words. She’s not advocating for defiance, but honesty, finding her voice, and trusting her own intuition.
There have been countless times I’ve acted politely rather than honestly. I’ve been demure because that’s how women are “supposed” to be. I have been nice so others would like me. I didn’t trust my intuition because I didn’t want to hurt someone else.
Once when I broke up with someone, he accused me of taking some random kitchen items. We all know I love to cook, but I’m not in the habit of taking people’s property and also don’t want more stuff. For weeks, he harangued me via text about his missing kitchen utensils. Finally, I wrote back and expressed that I didn’t have them. In private, I wrote a satire about these kitchen items. In all satire there are always morsels of truth.
My close friend and confidante urged me to send him the satirical message. My friend said the ex needed to know how I felt: I hadn’t expressed everything despite my initiating the breakup. There were unspoken issues to be expressed and possibly resolved. Apologies were in order also. I was cowardly and he was bitter.
I was convinced that I was “over” him. I believed that because I’d had the break-up so long ago, I didn’t still care. I had been hurt and he said our relationship hadn’t been a high priority. We threw jabs for many rounds.
So, I closed my eyes and pushed send. This is what I wrote:
Nobody cares about kitchen utensils the way you do. I didn’t take them and I don’t have them. You probably lost them while you were on something. I’ve never taken any bowls from you. If I wanted anything, it would have been your heart and not your glass bowls that could have been shattered. I wanted intimacy, not tongs to grab marinated chicken. I wanted physical contact, not platters that stacked. I wanted to have fun, not stay in the apartment stuck on a shelf. I wanted you to want me as much as you want the good glasses. I wanted you to protect me as much as you care about the Pyrex. I wanted you to consider me and our relationship a priority as much as you have talked about the good kitchen utensils. I wanted you to check in with me about your feelings rather than give me the silent treatment for days at a time. I hope you recover the good kitchen items. You and they seem like a good fit.
I was a wreck. Then, the texts came rolling in. He apologized for not being able to meet my needs and disappointing me. He also spoke with authenticity about some personal struggles, which softened my heart. I was touched by his honesty. I apologized, too. I said I was sorry for my cowardice. He was so generous and loving in his acceptance that my heart melted all over again.
This authenticity and honesty produced effective results.
I no longer worried about hurting him. The bar was already very low. Instead, I concentrated on my voice. I wrote with honesty (and satire). He got the point.
Most of the time, my honesty has yielded good returns. There have also been times when it hasn’t. One such difficult experience was when I was in the very early stages of dating someone and suggested we make some small tweaks to our burgeoning relationship. He blew up! He may have been triggered and said I was irrational. He hung up the phone on me when I tried to describe what was going on for me. I read these messages with my mouth agape and tried in vain to repair a troubled situation. There was no give, no elasticity. He refused to listen to my rationale for the request. Instead, we stopped seeing each other promptly.
I was bummed. I blamed myself for ruining everything. My apologies for texting (rather than talking) and telling him not to contact me anymore were not heard, not acknowledged.
After processing this situation, I realized I had been honest. I did the best I could do and still, we didn’t end up together. I saw a side of him that wasn’t attractive and pushed me away for voicing my needs.
This turned out to be a good learning experience: that I can be honest, assert myself and things may not turn out the way I hope. Yet, I’ll still be okay.
Honesty has been a big topic for the month of September. As we enter the final three months of 2019, I’m making a point of taking care of myself, being clear and honest about what I want.
Just as the mom is teaching her daughter to check-in with herself, I needed that reminder. Being polite doesn’t preclude honesty. It pays to express myself and most others value it, too.