I’m Not Surly, It’s Just My Face

“Oi,¬†you!”

You’d look like that if someone ‘oi’-ed you, too.

That’s how the conversation started this morning. Rude, right? Now, you should know that I’m not easily offended. What I am, is easily angered. And the interaction this morning, with a guy who works near me, raised my ire. This guy is in his early fifties perhaps, and has a tendency to strike up conversations on his way past my shop. This began a couple of months ago, when he greeted me as if we had known each other for years, despite me having never laid eyes on him before that day. I disliked him immediately. See, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s when complete strangers are too familiar too soon. You don’t know me, you are not my friend; you do not get to talk to me as if we have a long standing relationship. Some of you may argue that he was just being friendly, but there is a difference between polite affability, and a straight up invasive personality. Trust me when I say that this guy has a serious case of the latter.

Over the last few months, we have had a series of short conversations. Despite my dislike of this man, I have always been perfectly polite. But his habit of asking personal questions, and making assumptions has continued. On several occasions, and in a few different ways, he has asked me if I have a boyfriend; questions I have always dodged. First of all, none of his business. And second of all, none of his business. Another time, he made an assumption about me having children, which is something I did correct him on. That then followed with the typical “You’ll change your mind” response, which I didn’t deign to acknowledge. He has made comments about wanting to take me to the pub so he can see me when I’m drunk, and comments about how I must be my parent’s favourite child, with no context. Basically, he’s weird.

I could give you plenty of other examples when this guy’s familiarity has made me irritable, but then we’ll be here all day. Today’s comment, however, is where this post began. So, after he called out to me with the aforementioned “OI”, he approached the shop and said, completely apropos of nothing, “What’s the matter with you? I saw you the other day and you looked really surly so I thought I better not come over.”

Now, you might be wondering why that seemingly innocuous comment made me so angry. It’s due to a few things. Firstly, the condescending tone (which I can’t properly convey here, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) Secondly, the way he managed to make it sound as though his not approaching my shop for mundane conversation was a loss for me. I have any number of boring conversations in an 8.5 hour period, man. You are not the highlight of my workday. And thirdly, the assumption that just because I’m not cheery and chirpy every single second of the day, that there must be something the matter with me. Let me be perfectly clear. I do not exist to indulge his (or anyone’s) flawed, archaic ideas of what a woman is supposed to be. And I will not apologise for being a human, with an entire spectrum of human emotions. I am not some Stepford wife, and I am under no obligation to appear perpetually cheerful.

Sure, I could smile all the time, but there are a couple of problems with that. I mean, let’s be perfectly honest here; I would look like a legitimate maniac. The other problem is that after all that smiling, my face would ache. And working in customer service is painful enough as it is. Besides, maybe if I look surly enough, old mate across the way will stop talking to me altogether.

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Expectations

Sometimes I find myself so caught up in who I’m “supposed” to be, that I forget who I am. I find myself constantly either battling expectations, or trying to meet them, and end up emotionally exhausted from the effort. I mean, come on; existing is hard enough, without having to try and conform to the version of you that other people think you are.

I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure lately, to be the person other people expect. And I don’t mean that I’m actively going out of my way to change who I am for someone else, but rather that I feel the weight of everyone else’s expectations of who I am meant to be.

See, a couple of days ago, I cut off most of my hair. Before the big snip, my hair was somewhere around waist length, and was dyed a dark red. When I said I had booked in to cut it, almost everyone that I told expressed disappointment. “But your hair is so beautiful”, “but you’ve been growing it for so long” and “you’ll regret it” were the things I heard the most. I felt as if I had to constantly explain that I needed a change, that I wanted something lighter for summer, that it’s my goddamn hair and I can do what I want with it.

When I felt the weight of my locks disappear, I felt literally and metaphorically lighter. By the time the hairdresser was finished, and my long red hair had become a jet black bob, I knew that this was the change I had been craving. And the first in a series of changes I plan to make, in an effort to improve and progress.

It’s not just about my hair though. At work, I fight the endless battle against customer expectations that I can’t do my job because of my gender. When I tell people I don’t want kids, I get smug sneers and condescending comments about how I’ll change my mind, because women my age are expected to want families. I’ve been too afraid to admit that I might be a little bit lonely, because I feel like I need to be this strong, confidently single woman who don’t need no…other woman. Because for so long, that’s who I have been, and my brain keeps telling me that to admit that secret aloud is akin to selling out. It’s a heavily ingrained mindset and a hard habit to break.

The truth is, lately I’ve just been overwhelmed. Between an ongoing (and long drawn out) rental dispute and the accompanying anxiety, a weighty frustration at how this year has turned out, a heavy dose of newfound and unfamiliar self loathing, and the absolute wretchedness that is Christmas, I just want everything to stop. I want to run away to a quiet little cabin somewhere and get my bearings. And to shrug off all the expectation, to start fresh. But since I can’t do that, maybe the next best thing is to stand naked and barefoot on the grass under tonight’s bright full moon, and ground myself. Because, let’s be real, everything is better when you’re naked.

I made a change, don’t carry on; I left my locks at the hair salon.