I was 22 years old and the guy I liked (Dude) wanted to date my friend (Homegirl).
No, this isn’t the beginning of a new novel. It’s actually the beginning of a reflection on my personal journey when it comes to relationships and specifically, what it means to be true to myself in them. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while—particularly as I watch my daughter grow up and navigate the world of friendships.
When examine my life, I can see periods of time–seasons–when I was clearly not yet ready to be my authentic self; to live according to God’s design as opposed to other people’s validations and/or rejections of me. Which, of course, meant I was also completely unable to be honest about what I thought or how I felt at any given time.
Back to Dude and Homegirl:
After undergrad, I left my home state of Kentucky and moved to Chicago in order to, according to me at the time, begin my “real” life. I wanted so badly to live the dream: Small town girl goes to the big city and makes it big. But when I say I was GREEN…Man, you could’ve just called me Kermit. LOL!
I knew absolutely nothing, but you couldn’t tell me that.
Through some friends I’d met the summer before, I met Dude and began “talking” to him. Translation: sorta, kinda hanging out to see what happens but not really dating exclusively, yet wanting to. (side-eye) Let’s just say it was a friendship that was evolving, I thought, into something more.
He’d initially expressed interest in me, chased me even, and I finally reciprocated. Mostly because I was shocked, I can say now. Here was this dude that was attractive and smart and cool, with swag for days, and he was asking about me. He was talking to me. Of course, that triggered all my low-self-esteem, needy, please-love-me-now buttons.
So you know where this is going, right? This “evolving friendship” devolved after a couple of months. Today, I know why. These kinds of things happen when you are foolish (or desperate) enough to underestimate your worth and give away the most valuable parts of yourself too quickly. I suspect my stock lowered in his eyes because well, it was too easy to have me.
Several months after Dude and I stopped “talking,” we were both at a party thrown by a mutual friend. Some girlfriends of mine from back home had come up to visit me and we were all hanging out that night having a good time. Suddenly, Dude pulled me into the kitchen and I must admit, my heart fluttered. What was he going to say? What was he going to do? Yep, I still had it bad for him. Then…he dropped the bomb.
“So I wanted to talk to you first. Just outta respect. But would you mind if I asked your Homegirl for her number?”
“I’m feeling Homegirl. And ummm, we’re cool, right? But I thought I’d ask you…”
*brain explosion, part II*
So here’s the thing: Nearly 40-year-old Tracey, the woman who’s seen some things, been through some things, and frankly ain’t got time to hem and haw with her words, would have responded very differently than 20-something Tracey with all her insecurities and inability to say what’s on her heart and share her truth without reservation.
“Nah, nah. We’re good. Go ‘head. Ask her out. Matter of fact, why don’t I ask her for you?”
(I know you might be looking at the screen with your mouth twisted. I’m so sorry.)
He said: “For real?”
I said: “Yep.”
He said: “Cool!”
Then he walked out of the kitchen. I stayed there for a while, crying my stupid silent tears. I stayed there until I could, once again, swallow the rejection and push it down where all the others lived.
It wasn’t cool. I wasn’t cool. Not at all. My skinnier, prettier, smarter girlfriend got the guy I wanted (they actually ended up dating for quite a while) and that hurt me. But here’s the point: I couldn’t be mad at him. Nor her. I was, at that time, incapable of telling my truth and being real with myself and with those around me.
So what would have nearly 40-year-old Tracey said in this situation? What would I want my daughter to be brave enough to say should she ever find herself in this situation? What words would the Tracey who still struggles with some of these same issues but is old enough and wise enough to know that it doesn’t serve me to be dishonest about them, have used?
“You know, Dude. I realize that, for whatever reason, we didn’t work out. And I’m slowly–very slowly–becoming okay with that. But I have to be honest with you and say that I’m not totally there yet. And this would not be okay with me. I appreciate you coming to ask me because quite frankly, you don’t need my permission or blessing to date my friend. But I cannot promise you that if you do ask her out, I’m going to throw rice at your wedding. At least not today, I won’t. Tomorrow? Maybe. Next week? Sure. But you’re asking me today and today, I say no.”
I’m pretty certain this probably would not have stopped him from asking Homegirl out because in the same way he chased me, he had every intention of chasing her. But there’s one thing I do know for sure. If I was able to be truthful with myself and him about how I was feeling–even risk looking like a fool or hater–then I would have limited the inner conflict I experienced for months afterward. Taking the risk to be my authentic self, being unafraid to share my truth–no matter how skewed it was–would have saved me so much heartache in the end.
Photo by Wellington Sanipe for Unsplash
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.