On not being Stephanie

In the third grade, we all sat in a circle during some group exercise and answered “Who do you wish you could be?” Kids said things like, “President of the United States” or “an astronaut.” I said, “I wish I were Stephanie. She’s smart and nice and pretty.” Stephanie, my classmate who I barely knew, smiled gently (uncomfortably?) from her seat across the circle. My classmates looked at me. The teacher said something like, “That is a very kind thing to say,” and moved on to the next student.

Girls are weird. Or at least, I was (am?) weird.

I read an op ed by Emily V. Gordon in the New York Times today–it brought Stephanie to mind. She writes, “Women compete, compare, undermine and undercut one another — at least that is the prevailing notion of how we interact…”  She examines competition among women and traces its origins to things like natural selection or “internalizing the patriarchy.” Blech.

But she proposes an alternative theory: “We aren’t competing with other women, ultimately, but with ourselves — with how we think of ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see, instead, a version of ourselves that is better, prettier, smarter, something more. We don’t see the other woman at all.”

Girls are hard on themselves. I am hard on myself.

We moved here a year and a half ago and we have made friends. Nice families, people who are easy to hang out with, laugh with… But it is hard to make close friends–the kind that ensure you have a social life, and at times I feel… lonely? That seems an inadequate word. I’m surrounded by people and connections… I’m not alone. Not quite lonely. But I miss… something.

So I ask myself, regularly, can I do anything to mitigate my state of not-quite-loneliness? We could host a party and invite people who I would like very much to get to know better. These people, they’re like a pack of Stephanies. I’ve idealized them to an extent

Alas my husband is not a party host kind of guy. He’d rather have a small gathering, like one family over at a time. Maybe two. Okay. That would work. (Note to self: This man will not host a surprise birthday party for me when I turn 50. I need to let that fantasy go.)

I made friends, it seemed, so quickly back at our last home. As I think about it though, it actually took a good eight months to really get to know people. It took about two years to feel I’d made new confidantes. It took about three and a half years to feel safe enough to cry in front of them.

I was a great friend, with great friends. I want to be her again. But even better.

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