I was 16 when my friends dubbed me The Neurotic One. Wait. (I had to stop and consider this.) Not everyone freaks out the way I do? People walk around just feeling relaxed all the time? It was a groundbreaking revelation. But surely my friends were wrong. My worries were so legitimate -- a sign of intelligence, really (though maybe don't say that out loud...) If only I could just explain them. But, strangely, no one was interested in learning how to worry more.
At last it dawned on me that my worries might not be the most riveting conversation openers; that maybe, in my friendships and dateships, expressing every tumbling concern in my ringing brain (however important I was positive it was) was not the most attractive quality. If only it were hot to be entirely un-chill. Clearly, it was not.
So I learned to suppress my anxieties. This is a skill not therapist-recommended perhaps, but a merciful service to other people. I've saved countless friends (though not the lucky few) from debates about what's the least creepy way to sign off in an email to a favorite former professor -- warmly, best wishes,
xox-? What if the guy I accidentally swiped left on, when I meant to swipe right, was the man I'm supposed to marry? Do you think the yoga teacher was mad at me because I had to leave before the third om? Is it a problem that I still sleep with my stuffed dog Mizzy and have actively missed her when I'm in bed with a guy?
And yet -- astonishingly -- I've managed to convince every guy I've dated in the past two and a half years that I am Cool, Chill Girl.* (If you're reading this, Patrick, I know what you're thinking, and that's because it was three years ago.) Cool, Chill Girl is a male construct happily scoffed at among female roommates over glasses of wine, but it's a coveted label nonetheless. "I knew you were nice and everything, but I just can't get over how chill you are," I've been told on numerous second and third dates. "I mean you, like, smoke weed and stuff!" And even, a few months in, "You say you're neurotic, but I don't believe you."In return a laugh and some sidestepping remark like "All right, I'll take it," while I simultaneously glow with satisfaction and worry about what it might mean that he thinks that.
But the thing is, I'm not always pretending. I am Cool, Chill Girl too (you won't believe me, but it's not a lie.) I fulfill some of the essential requirements. I like dive bars and beer and I hate social melodrama and I might cringe a little on the inside, but I mean it when I say I'm "down for whatever." She is a part of me -- I've just learned how to make her seem like the only part. She's the easiest to show, the one people want to see. No overly soft spots or jagged pieces: It's safer that way.
I got dangerously good at knowing what guys wanted me to be, at knowing what they didn't want to hear and not saying it. The approval that came with the Cool, Chill Girl label was so intoxicating that I believed being her was necessary to my dating success, that showing any other side of me would result in next scene: the back of his head growing increasingly smaller. That, if I let slip any hint of messy human emotion, I would become instantly and irreversibly undesirable. I've learned so expertly how not to express my anxieties that they have sometimes become all that's left of me.
At last it occurred to me that maybe I don't want to be with someone who wants just part of me. Cool, Chill Girl may seem like more fun when you meet her, but Un-Chill Girl is, well, more human. More unexpected. More amusing. Grittier. Kinder.
So maybe there's a compromise. We'll start small. I graciously promise not to share my concern about the long-term effect of red wine on my teeth while we're watching your friend's band, or that I'm really worrying about the fate of my swallowed gum during our fascinating conversation about our mutual crush on Daenerys Targaryen. And maybe you'll promise to let me explain, when I really need to, why it makes me anxious to be three minutes late to the dentist, or why the sugar bowl looks sad without its matching spoon. Maybe you'll walk down to meet the Seamless delivery guy so he doesn't have to climb so many stairs, or reassure me that the disapproving woman at the post office didn't mistake my resting b*tchface for a personal attack on her customer service abilities. Because life is too short not to show you who I am, and I want to know who you are too, and the universe is vast and we're all insignificant and soon it will be over -- and you don't have to be cool all the time either.
*For simplicity's sake, I'm conflating the "Cool Girl" and "Chill Girl" tropes that Alanna Massey has so beautifully examined in her April piece on Medium.