Some moments in life stay with you for the long haul, even after you’ve stopped remembering the names of your first grade teacher (Mrs. Mindell – I’m not that old yet) and what it took to get to the top of the rope in gym class for the first time (not sure I ever got there).
It is true that in my middle-age, I can’t remember why I didn’t get invited to somebody’s party back in middle school or why JK and I ever thought it was a good idea to sit on a boy’s car while he drove around the block (she got scared and jumped off, broke her collarbone; I was luckily too chicken to jump), but I do recall, with quite a bit of clarity, how it felt to be excluded from that party and how it felt to quickly make up and then tell a believable lie to JK’s parents because she was afraid of being punished for what we had done. I couldn’t lose those feelings if I tried because they were honest emanations from deep inside me. In terms of how I feel at my core, the person I was then is the same as the person I am now and the person I will always be.
I started thinking about these things after reading a recent article on the Good Men Project’s website, a place I visit often because their mission is powerful and I spend hours, even days, mulling over much of what I’ve read there. The article, by Oliver Lee Bateman, is called “What if You Woke Up and You Were a Teenage Girl?” (http://goodmenproject.com/families/boys/what-if-you-woke-up-and-you-were-a-teenage-girl/).
In quick summary (but read the article), a teenage boy thinks it would be much simpler to be a teenage girl, and in a Freaky Friday moment, wakes up in that much “simpler” mind and body. He lives out twelve hours of a girl’s life and reaches the conclusion that “Guys have it so easy.” Now, I suspect that if a teenage girl had to live as a teenage boy for twelve hours she might conclude that girls have it so easy. Teenage girls may be caught up in the vicious status machine but teenage boys miss out on a lot because they are self-centered in the way of an orangutan (I want, I need, I take).
Whether it is easier to be a teenage boy or girl, for me, isn’t what makes this concept interesting. It isn’t even the way we downplay the difficulties of others’ lives compared to our own. What started my mind racing is the idea that this article suggests that the hard part of teenage living is figuring out how to fend off the dangers in the jungle of games people play. Personally, I think something important is missing here.
What is hard about being a teenager is the same thing that is hard about being adult. We desire connection with other people, yet to achieve that, we have to make difficult choices (often sub-conscious) about how much of our true selves we want to reveal. Often, teenagers hide most of that self-ness in the name of popularity or acceptance. As adults, we do a little better but vulnerability is frightening and when your naked self is revealed, other people’s judgments can be particularly painful.
When we were younger children, most of us did not have to deny part of who we were to make friends; it was all out in the open because our focus was on exploration and pleasure. We weren’t worried, for the most part, about what other people thought; we liked having the company and that was enough.
The irony is that as we grow and change, we discover that what we really want is what came so easily to us as kids: that easy, authentic connection to other people. But, because our grown-up focus tends to be on the result (the perfect relationship, the high-paying job, the ideal vacation) instead of the journey, we often forget to stop, let the sun in, and allow those seeds of self to breathe.
I’m about to change the meaning of a Shakespearian term, but I think, in this situation, it is a metaphorical change (so it’s okay, I say). In my humble opinion, I think the worst thing we can do is to let other people deflower us, take what’s inside us and pull it out by it’s roots. We have to protect who we are and be the ones who decide when it is time to let ourselves fully blossom.
As I let this out into the world, I wonder if those people whom I’ve only just met will be disappointed that this is not a humorous post. But we are all so much more than that one thing that may define us. I hope you continue to read my posts: the fun ones as well as the philosophic.
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