Four years ago I was in my university’s gymnasium watching my sorority sisters play dodge-ball in a fraternity’s philanthropy competition. They were losing horribly, but I wasn’t allowed to play because the team was full and, admittedly, I didn’t have the best reputation as an athlete.
(True fact: I’m actually pretty good at dodge-ball. My high school gym class was overfond of it and honestly what nerd isn’t good at dodging wayward objects careening towards their head?)
Unsurprisingly my team lost to a rival sorority and when it was over I helped collect some of the balls that had wandered to the sidelines. My friend swears that I was aiming for the rival team’s huddled mass – the gaggle of girls lording their win over us – but I insist it was bad luck that caused me to hit them square on with one of the balls.
In my version of the story the enemy was felled by sheer happenstance. In my friend’s, I’m painted at best as a woman with pride in her sorority and at worst as a sore loser.
Which makes me wonder: is there a difference between the way we see ourselves and the ways we are seen by others?
When I was seven my neighbor across the street said I couldn’t play basketball because I was too “girly.” He said I’d mess up the game and he’d rather have uneven teams (2 vs 1) then let me play as part of the group. You could say that being seen as “not good enough” has been an issue for me ever since, even though I’d never believed that I was before.
In seventh grade a boy in my art class called me “goth.” When I asked him why, he said it was because I wore black and ripped jeans (note: rips were the style circa 2005). I gave him a lecture on linguistics and the use of definitionally appropriate insults (I was much more punk rock than outright goth), but I took the comment to heart and embraced the image out of spite. I didn’t start wearing dresses again until college and to this day I still feel most comfortable in kick-ass boots and dark colors. The better to guard my heart, I guess, but I’d never considered myself as goth (or even punk rock) until he pointed it out.
In ninth grade my best friend of two years started cancelling any plans to hang out with me, but I didn’t have to ask her why. I saw her in the cafeteria, ditching me for the same cheerleaders and school sport attenders that we used to make fun of in middle school. She once went so far as to verbally rescind an invitation to her Halloween party (one I’d already received by mail and RSVP’d to) because, as she put it, I didn’t “fit in” with where her life was going anymore. I told her she was welcome to it and never spoke to her again, but that conversation still sits awkwardly with me. How could she have seen me as less than her new friends, friends who didn’t even know her the way that I did?
As a senior in high school I’d mostly given up on people at school. I’d come back from studying abroad and couldn’t really find a place for myself among my friends anymore. And after two years of on again/off again fighting, I broke off a friendship with someone I’d once considered a best friend, even though it meant losing my other best friend in the divorce. A few months later that second friend admitted she’d stopped hanging out with me not just because of the girl I’d broken off with, but because I’d become too “depressing” since the breakup. I thanked her for her sentiment and moved on with my life after graduation, but I’m still angry about that comment. After all the support I’d given her for her emotional and family drama, she should have known how much that word would hurt me. I saw myself as someone who was depressed, not someone who was depressing, so why couldn’t she?
In my versions of these stories, I’m not always right. I don’t pretend to have been the perfect friend, the kindest person, or what have you. I made mistakes. Loads of them. But I couldn’t see in the mirror the same person that they saw. I don’t see the version of myself that my friend sees in the dodge-ball story and I don’t see myself as someone who’s not good enough, or cool enough, or even happy enough to be someone’s friend.
But does that make them entirely wrong? Or am I really someone in between, someone that I’m half-blinded to by my own bias?