The First Tactic was Fitting In
If being desired as a friend - and later, as a woman - is the first Rule, then the first tactic is Fitting In. I have never been a good fitter-inner. Faced with this expectation, I became shy. I was convinced there was something wrong with me, positive that no-one outside of my one or two closest friends had any use for me. Something was fundamentally broken, and I did not know how to fix it. As a teenager, I tried to fit in. I begged mix tapes from friends of their favorite music so I could come to like it, too. I wore knock-off bargain store mimics of fashionable clothes from the year before and the shortest mini-skirts I could talk my mother into allowing. I tried out for cheer, thinking it was a guaranteed route to approval. I attended dances with hope in dresses I’d bought with my babysitting money, spending every slow dance awkwardly standing at the edges; at the end of the night, I’d plunk some coins into the snack machine for a soda and some chocolate to soothe the shame of being unwanted.
When my newest friends were gaga over a boy band, I loved my long haired rockers. I became familiar with their boy band in ways they were never familiar with my choices, getting to know the names and ages of the different members, naming as the cutest one that they hadn’t already picked as their crush. Fitting in, for me, was all about avoiding the appearance of conflict and refraining from asserting my true self. Where I kept my own counsel, I kept it to myself, utterly convinced that no-one was interested in my authenticity.
Which is to say: where The Rules demanded that I fit in, I gave a good show of fitting in, learning about my friends’ likes and dislikes, without ever giving up my own. Instead, I kept my own likes and dislikes secret, afraid that if I asked for the favor of learning mine in return, I’d be breaking another Rule: Be Invisible.
My first push against the pressure to Fit In came during college. I’d made a group of friends out of my hobbies, women with whom I shared something that, for once, was authentically me. We had t-shirts made up with our nicknames on them, and spent weekends together making dinner and going to the theater. I had a role to play, yes, but for once it was less of an acting job. Our second year together, relationships became strained - and then it happened. The self-selected leader of our group got pregnant and had an abortion. I threw myself into helping her recover, acting out the quintessential caregiver role I’d inherited from my mother. We ate when she was hungry, slept when she was tired - I very nearly succeeded in making myself invisible and self-sufficient.