Fight or flight (Joce)

A couple of years ago, after a holiday visit to my parent’s house, I went to the airport to fly back to Arizona. As I was walking up to check in to my flight, I recognized the girl behind the counter as someone I went to high school with. Sasha and I had belonged to different cliques (she was a cheerleader, I was a neo-hippie intellectual), and therefore, obviously, we had never been friends. I said a quick prayer that she wouldn’t recognize me as I placed my suitcase on the scale.

“Joce? Hi! How are you?”

Unfortunately, God, once again, wasn’t about to interfere in my favor. I feigned surprise and responded with a similarly enthusiastic greeting.  

“And, where are you going today?”

“I live in Tucson now, just going home.”

“Great. And the name is?”

I’ll admit to being more than a little confused at this question. She had just called me by my name. “Oh, Joce, Joce Stevenson?”

As soon as the answer was out of my mouth, the look on her face changed. No longer was she chipper and smiley. Now, she tilted her head and gave an exaggerated frown, furrowed her brow.

“Really? Still a Stevenson, huh?”

It took me a minute to realize what she was saying, what she was offering up her condolences for: my name hadn’t changed. I wasn’t married. What a poor, pathetic loser. I glanced down at the dime store speck on her ring finger. “Yep, you win the popularity contest, again, Sasha,” I thought to myself.

She printed my boarding pass and slung my bag on to the conveyor, “Good to see you, Joce, and best of luck to you.”

“Yeah, thanks, Sasha.”

I festered on the flight, wishing I had retorted with something witty, something funny, something biting. How dare she? I have a graduate degree! I work as a professional person! I own my own business! I have a great circle of friends and a non-dysfunctional relationship with my family! I am successful in many aspects of my life and I’m proud of who and what I am! Who gives a SHIT that I’m not married! That is not the end all, be all! Or is it?

Are you married? This question has been posed to me three times in the last three days. By a woman in  my Pilates class, the lady giving me a pedicure and a 96 year old WWII vet who dropped by my work. Three strangers in three days. And this is not a new experience. I get asked all the time if I have a husband. Clearly being married is the defining characteristic of the modern successful woman.

And let me tell you, when you regularly get asked about something, it starts to make you self conscious about your answer, your reality. Sasha’s comment was cutting because it sat heavy on my insecurities: she goaded my feelings of self-loathing, reminded me of relationship blunders I had been responsible for, made my cheeks burn with embarrassment that others could so easily see my shortfalls, they, she, could hone in on my anxieties, and snap, like a rubber band between the eyes, cause a painful sting and a welling up of tears.

Damn. I know I am too sensitive. I shouldn’t let the uninformed, the unsympathetic and uninterested be in charge of my feelings, weigh in with unfair judgment, duh. I should go through life knowing that I am good and great, that I have possibility and potential and success in spades, I am complex and vibrant damnit, and blah, blah, blah. That is productive thinking, that is what I was taught and how I was raised. And yet that snap, this sting, these tears, happen to me all the time. It is that snap that paralyzes me, makes me second-guess my value, my abilities. It is that snap gives me chronic insomnia that makes my stomach seize with worry and fear. So, I make a stab at resilience and I keep coming back to this list. Maybe some of it is true, or none of it, or all of it. Maybe I am a loser or maybe, eventually, I will win. I'm not convinced that being married is winning (seriously people!), or having a partner or having confidence, feeling beautiful and smart is winning. Maybe winning is as simple as having compassion for yourself and others. I'm working on it.