Rough patches are common, and come quite often, but this is the first time in a long time that I don’t really like myself.
This isn’t one of the periods of life where I can’t get my hair right, or none of of my outfits look good, or my makeup can’t really hide that pimple. Just like every other young woman, I’ve been experiencing those things as well, but this has something more to do with my character.
Recently, I was thinking back to when I was younger, and how people always described me as nice. I was a nice girl. My mother raised me right; I had good manners, I smiled at strangers, I complimented girls in public bathrooms, and said yes to almost every favour someone asked of me.
I even perfected the formalities of professional gatherings adults would have, strongly grasping the hands of socialites, making the right kind of eye contact, and laughing in all of the right places.
I think I prided myself on that. I grew up in school with some girls who weren’t that nice; who could pretend in front of parents that they were a golden child, but would draw nasty things on my face when the lights turned off during a slumber party. Or later in high school, when those same girls would make fun of just about anyone who was slightly atypical.
I was not usually an active passenger of my meanness; it happened passively when I laughed at the wrong times or didn’t stand up for someone who needed it. Sometimes it’s because I was tired and impatient, acting irrationally towards someone who also didn’t deserve it. Either way, those incidents I’d always later regret, and ponder restlessly into the night.
When it came down to it, I was just a friend to anyone who needed one. I gave my time to people who did not deserve it, and offered generosity to people I knew would never give it back. There were people who really hurt me, and they never knew how much they hurt me. Perhaps someone could argue that this gave me a sense of heroism, but looking back I genuinely think for the most part I was being good, to be good.
The nice girl appeared in the first year university, too. But she appeared in areas of life that she had never appeared before. Like dating, and professional settings.
After joining organizations and doing a range of small networking activities, the definitions of nice and formality became interchangeable. I’d converse with associates and then two seconds later they would turn around and their bright smile would disappear. Genuineness became rare. More than anything, being nice seemed like a tool in a well constructed PR campaign.
Soon, some things became apparent to me. I didn’t actually have to smile at everyone. Girls who glared at me as I walked by deserved, in my mind, to be stared back at just with the same amount of intensity. A sorry didn’t have to escape my mouth every few seconds as I made my way through a throng people. A man was not entitled to my attention, just because they showed some kindness. I no longer felt obligated to keep toxic people in my life.
My gradual gain in confidence let me hold my head a little higher. Unapologetic for the space I took, I compromised less with people who made me feel like I was in their way, literally and figuratively.
It isn’t necessarily like my niceness has ceased to exist. It just that it isn’t on all of the time.
Now, I focus on things like a tone of voice or a look that carries an ounce of disrespect and immediately turn the nice girl off. I could get an angry customer at work or a pushy stranger on the bus, I would let them know with a lingering stare that their disrespect was heard, and I didn’t like it. I’ve allowed this space where my confidence has grown – with the idea that my time, my space, my feelings are my own – to also grow an annoyance that bubbles to the surface when people get in my way, literally and figuratively… With strangers, it’s different. With family and with friends, my quick temper isn’t excusable.
I haven’t been able to compromise between my old self and my new self. I think that’s where my fault lies.
People from high school would be surprised at how much I have changed. People I’ve met within the last two years would have a hard time can’t imagining me as anything but a little outspoken, confident and perhaps even to some, a little intimidating.
However, no happiness can come from reacting to every single act of rudeness. While being a good person makes one more vulnerable, I’d much rather be vulnerable than completely closed off.
The only thing I think I can do is plan to use the strength that came with my newfound confidence in all areas of my life. And with that, maybe allow the nice girl to visit more often.