I can remember being 12 years old and full of fear on my first day of middle school. It was a whole new environment for me with new classes and new teachers and new experiences. However, the most daunting and intimidating aspect of the leap from 5th grade to 6th grade, for me, was having to change clothes in the girls’ locker room for physical education class.
The girls’ locker room was one of those unofficial battle grounds similar to the lunch room – people self-segregated based on social groups, meaning if you were alone it somehow signified that you didn’t belong anywhere, and social groups were somehow expected to be at odds with each other for one reason or another. Never were they allies. Only, in the locker room, new elements were added to make things even more awkward – changing clothes and letting other people catch glimpses of what your body looked like when you weren’t wearing your favorite dress, or your overalls, or your smiley face t-shirt, or your flare jeans. Some girls wore bras and filled them out. Some of us just wore bras. If you forgot to shave your legs that day, and your gym outfit included shorts as the bottoms, be prepared for some comments. Ever present were the locker room comments, and laughter, and gossip, and ridicule. Overall, the experience was nerve-wracking for me as an adolescent.
Even as I progressed from 6th grade to 11th grade, though I became slightly more comfortable with the process, I still kept my time in the locker room short and to the point. I would talk to my friends, but I didn’t like the idea of sharing conversations with people in an area where the amount of ears per square foot were quadruple the number that’d be listening when we were walking home or through the halls. And one detail still remained in high school: the social lines of who was friends with who were clearly drawn, and rarely crossed. Out on the blacktop it’s a different story. You may get some high fives from girls outside your circle for your killer rebound during the basketball game, or for having great form while serving a volleyball, but in the locker room, those blurry lines become clear. The pretty girls were in the mirror refreshing their makeup, while the so-called sluts (who barely broke a sweat) were rushing off to meet the boys as they left their locker room. The athletic girls all changed and affixed knee or wrist braces and grabbed large duffle bags full of equipment, and the overweight girls usually changed in a bathroom stall to avoid embarrassment. Everybody stays in their place.
But it’s our “place” and staying in it that’s killing us.
Much of my fear of the locker room was that I didn’t want to be judged. I didn’t want to be looked down upon because my body looked different, and I didn’t want to be cast aside for being different. Friendship is born out of putting yourself out there, but most people don’t like to put themselves out there for reasons similar to why I loathed the locker room. But somehow, friendships are formed every day and we don’t live in a world full of loners. The fear of judgment doesn’t stop, though, even after you take off your high school cap and gown.
Women judge other women for forging friendships outside of their designated social circles, and they use a mob mentality for controlling the actions of their friends. It’s just like the locker room cliques.
Even in established friendships, women in particular withhold being honest with each other because of fear of repercussion or fallout. I believe this is what leads to much of the passive-aggressive behaviors that have taken place in past friendships of mine, which are direct opposites of assertive and honest communication. It takes courage to be honest with people, and to stand up for oneself. I’ve seen that many people don’t have the level of courage that I’m seeking in my friendships – at least not with me. If you can’t be yourself with a person you’re supposed to be friends with, then why are you friends with them? Conversely, if you aren’t willing to invest the same amount of time and consideration you see someone else doing in your relationship, why stay in the relationship?
I’ve said it so many times before, and I truly mean it now more than ever: if you have someone in your life who you claim to be friends with, but you avoid spending time with or communicating with, you’re doing that person a favor by simply telling them full out that you don’t want to have them in your life. You don’t have to give them an explanation (though it’d be nice), but saying that is enough. Does it sound hurtful? It is! But trust me, that’s going to hurt so much less than if you continue to lead them on and give them false promises of support, companionship, and integrity. When you reach the point of doing that, you’re nothing more to them than a liar – useless and faulty.
It’s taken me a long time to find my way to a place where I can stand firmly and comfortably in the truth that not all friendship is for me. That I am not a woman of multiple close friendships that date back decades, that can be relied upon to fill a banquet hall at my surprise birthday party or homecoming. I only have a handful of people in my life who are capable of friendship as I understand it, and the rest are acquaintances to me. Ultimately, it wasn’t me who chose, but rather it was them, and I honor every person’s right to choose. I also appreciate straightforwardness, and reciprocate it as a policy. I just wish the rest of the world would do the same.