Hello friends and welcome to The Midlife. Today I wanted to talk to you about sticking up for yourself. But before we get there, I think we have to talk about our preprogramming.
A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I were in our bathroom together getting ready for the day after a leisurely breakfast of eggs, fruit, toast, coffee, juice and copious amounts of crispy bacon. As we were chatting, I ripped a tremendous burp. Like fraternity house worthy. He turned to me and asked me if I’d ever thought about doing a podcast on being “ladylike”.
I laughed, but also it really made me think. What are these rules that have been handed down to us and how do they impact our decisions?
Now, I am a huge proponent of the rules of polite society. For instance, I was being gross on purpose as a joke and also because I had single handedly ate close to a pound of bacon. But I would never have done that in public. I am adamant about please and thank you’s of myself and my children and I have taught my boys to hold the door open for me and to let me enter and exit the elevator before them. Apparently that last part is going to get them in a lot of trouble with this generation of women who find that to be commentary on their abilities to open doors for themselves but whatever.
The concept of being “ladylike” as my husband playfully criticized though is something that is truly a conflict for us women both internally and in the way that we approach the world and confrontation specifically.
Let me share a story with you. Little league baseball is back on. Yay, but also ugh. The little guy is super excited to be back out there even though his team makes The Bad News Bears look like The Dodgers and I have it relatively easy because my husband is on the coaching staff so he takes him to practices and gets him there early for warm-ups. Because a 9 year really needs to stretch it out an hour before game time. Anyway, I’m pretty good at timing it so that I am sitting down in the bleachers when the umpire calls “play ball”. You should also know that there is nothing else on this stretch of road where the ballpark sits except the ballpark.
Last Saturday, I was pulling up and spied a primo parking space on the street right in front of the back gate to the ballpark which conveniently sits next to the field my son plays on. I legally and carefully made a u-turn at the main parking entrance, pulled up next to the car in front of my spot and threw my car into reverse to parallel park in my spot. As I looked into the rear view mirror, a tiny little car swooped in, front first, into my spot. I am seething with rage just recounting this story to you right now.
So I reversed back next to this car, close enough so that the man in the car who I would say is about 60 years old, could not open his door and rolled down my window and calmly said, “You took my spot”. Well let’s just say quite the conversation ensued and for the record, let me tell you that in no possible way was this not my spot. Turns out he made a u-turn also, obviously behind me, and even if he had been coming the correct direction, when I pulled up to parallel park, the law says any traffic has to wait 10 feet behind while you complete your maneuver.
So he is gleefully trying to say this is his spot and I simply tell him, and I quote, “you are a horrible person.” He soon understands that I am not giving up, and sort of half-assed admits it’s my spot, so he agrees to leave my spot. If you feel I am repeating “my spot” too often, please understand it is because I am so adamant of my position that I have ordered a plaque with the date of the incident and my face in relief to be placed there in a ceremony at the end of the season.
Before I tell you the rest of the story, a quick word from our sponsors. Just kidding, I have no sponsors. Maybe I would if you would share this podcast with your friends and leave me a glowing review. Man this event has me feeling snarky. I apologize. But really, share it with your friends. What I meant to say was, before I go on, I want you to know that I was very carefully choosing my words and refrained from name calling or swearing. I will admit to you that was not easy and was absolutely a conscious decision.
As he pulls away, he screams “fucking bitch”. Well… he has just fucked with the wrong fucking bitch.
I parked, walked into the ballpark and spied my husband readily available on the edge of the field finishing warm ups so I invited him to come speak to the gentlemen who had just hurled that charming phrase at me.
And then I waited by the gate for my new friend to walk into the ballpark and I confronted him. “Did you really just call me a horrible name?” His excuse, I was “shrieking at him”.
So let me just translate that for you. I am woman and I was sticking up for myself.
My husband then wandered over and I asked my new friend his name, Dean, and introduced him to my husband. I then left them to chat while I put my stuff down.
They were still deep in conversation and I felt it was my obligation to rescue my husband from the position I had put him in so I walked back to hear Dean still repeating that I was shrieking at him.
I decided Dean didn’t really know what shrieking was so as I approached the two of them I started jumping up and down, and you know, actually shrieking. My husband, used to my bold antics, laughed. Dean was terrified and now called me “dramatic”. “Yes”, I told him. “Just like a woman!”.
Flash forward, Dean it turns out, is the uncle of one of the players on our team and I joyfully went on my regular way including conferencing with my husband at the dugout in between innings right in front of where Dean was sitting. He was very quiet during the game.
I have three points I want to make.
The first is Dean was banking on the probability that I would back down. That I’ld be too afraid to fight for myself and even when i did say something, he thought he could bully me into giving up. It makes me angry that in most cases, I think Dean would have calculated correctly and that some of you listening would have driven away. And I don’t blame you necessarily. There are a lot of crazy people in the world and in many cases, it’s not a great idea to confront them, no matter how in the right you feel you are. I am prone to act on instinct and I have a huge sense of justice but I am smart and careful too. Knowing that the person in the car was headed to the ballpark and that I sized him up and my spidey senses weren’t alarming me, I committed. I also know, that had I not said anything, this would be haunting me.
How often does that happen to you? Do you get bullied into just accepting a situation, whether by a stranger or by a friend or by a family member? I have always been able to stick up for myself in the outside world and I have many an entertaining story for you in that regard. But I will admit to you that it is only now in my Midlife that I am willing to stick up for myself in personal relationships. And it comes back to that preprogramming. Oh, I’m gonna get raw with you here. My programming says if I complain ( i.e. stick up for myself) people will be mad at me and they will leave. So my hard drive says don’t rock the boat. Suck it up. Keep the plates spinning.
Well no more. And I’d like to inspire you to stick up for yourself in more situations by implanting this little truth. Sticking up for yourself doesn’t mean that there has to be a winner and a loser. Well, except in my parking story because there is a loser. Dean is a big fucking loser.
Because you are loving and kind, you sacrifice your feelings or your position because you are willing to absorb the damage, believing if you speak up, you will inflict damage. I want to tell you that speaking your truth can actually end up improving a situation not only for you, but for the person on the other side.
I think the easiest example of this is our long-term marriages. How often do you unilaterally decide it’s not worth the fight to mention something? That you have no confidence that you’ll be heard and that anything will change, so you choose (yes choose) not to say anything. Up until now, I’m sure you’ve been proven right. But it’s not about what you’re saying, it’s how you’re saying it. My example with Dean doesn’t prove my point because he is a misogynist prick, but I’m hoping your spouse isn’t.
Calmly say what you’re upset about.
Explain why it’s important to you.
If necessary, acknowledge that it may not hold the same value to your partner.
But ask directly for the change to be made.
Please understand that the party you have made the request of has the choice to make the change or not. And that you have the choice not to be upset about it.
But I am confident that you will find great success improving the situation for everyone when you follow those 4 easy steps. You may be wondering how your partner benefits. Easy. They are going to be elated and much more eager to comply with your requests when you are not angry all the time.
Saying nothing doesn’t’ really mean you’re saying nothing, you know. You basically walk around like a hot stove that everyone’s afraid to touch.
Which brings me to my second point, another of Dean’s flaws and societal programming that we’ve internalized. If you speak up, you’re nagging and complaining…just like a woman. Do you think if my husband had been driving that he would have let Dean get away with his sneaky little maneuver. And oh by the way, if my husband had pulled up next to Dean, I’d put money on Dean apologizing within 5 seconds that he didn’t see my husband and he’d drive away.
I wonder how often part of our calculation in speaking up is rooted in as my husband put it, “being ladylike”. Especially in business. I know I faced it ALL THE TIME back in finance and banking. And I had the double whammy of being young too. You know what’s shocking to reflect back on? I was criticized less for my boldness when I was finally married. You know, because now I had a man to keep me in check.
My advice to you on that front is my advice to you always. Be who you are. There will be people who love you for it and people who don’t. Did you really want the people who want you to be different than what you are in your life anyway?
Speaking of that man that’s supposed to keep me in check. My third point is an admission I’m not proud of. Why did I feel the need to go invite my husband to stand up for me? I was doing just fine on my own. In truth, I was never going to get full satisfaction from the scuffle. I mean, I got my parking spot but this asshole was never going to see the error of his ways in what he said to me after. For that sad human, calling a woman a name is full resolution. I think I felt very vulnerable in realizing that I truly am powerless to this and that I wanted backup.
But I can only change the world so much on my own.
But what I do hope to change is that you feel empowered in your everyday life. Whether it’s in how you are communicating to the people in your world or dealing with outside forces. While there will be some situations where walking away is the best course of action, I want you to do it from a place of power. That you actively make that decision and are completely at peace with the outcome. But if you are a person that finds yourself replaying situations and recalculating what you should have said, I want you to find your power in the moment. I want you to speak up for yourself and know that you have the grace to express yourself clearly and firmly.
I hope that you are finding that the older you get, the less fucks you have to give. But I think that’s a sliding scale and kinda depends on where exactly you’re starting from. If you need some guidance on how to move that needle down the scale, I’m always here for you.
In reflecting on the weekend’s events, there’s a part of me that says I should have been satisfied with my parking spot and moved on. But I’m glad I confronted Dean. No one deserves to be spoken to the way I was and maybe, just maybe, he’ll think twice about it next time and he won’t say that to a woman who wouldn’t stick up for herself. Also, I know Dean’s mom and his sisters and they find me very amusing. Don’t think I won’t sneak this into a conversation the next time we find ourselves sitting close on the bleachers. Dean’s been a very naughty boy.
As always, I thank you for listening and really do love to hear from you when something resonates with you in the podcast. Do you have a story where you’ve stuck up for yourself? Share it with me. Is there one where you wish you would have? Tell me about it too. Maybe that will be the catharsis you need to just let it go.
And that part before about sharing the podcast with your friends…Dean says definitely don’t because then we may have a whole bunch of us all empowered and kicking ass in the second half.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.