The last week there has been a recurring theme in my life; what people value me for. On Thursday, on my nightly phone call with my co-worker bestie she said some things that felt like shards of glass running across my skin. “Yeah, but that intern was hot. Bill will definitely want her in the office this summer. You may not be queen bee for very much longer…they like you because you’re pretty and young.” There are so many things I could’ve said and I wish I had let them manifest from my lips. But, I didn’t. I let her say that and get away with it. Maybe, because I was so dumbfounded. Bill’s my boss boss, not just my manager. He and I have a great relationship, and we’ve developed a good joking manner and just work well together. He is the same age as my co-worker crush, so 28. The fact that my so-called ‘friend’ thought that she could discount me so quickly was definitely brutal.
But, it got me to thinking. Soul searching. I went in to work on Friday and tried to observe the way Bill and my other manager/crush/co-worker interacted with me. Was Bill really only impressed with me because I am pretty? Did my co-worker crush only do things to help me and listen to me, because I’m young and hot? It was driving me crazy. Do I get special treatment? I pondered that one and kept turning it over like a coin in my mind. My coworker crush, let’s just call him Jim from now on, always has that delighted big grin on his face that dudes get in 7th grade when they see the big tittied overdeveloped middle school girl walk by. Bill, is more mature, and while awkward, he says things like ‘No one’s better than you!’ Or ‘you’re the best, like the absolute best.’ I welcome these compliments but also don’t revel in them. I don’t like too much praise, it makes me viciously uncomfortable like that wool turtleneck my mom put me in when I was little.
And the other girls at work don’t like me. My so-called ‘friend’ and this group of girls…I can tell. They see me as some post-grad who literally gets smiles from all the males and gets away with things. I see the way they smirk at me, uninclude me, most likely talk about me and the way I dress. Girls never grow out of being catty when they find a target and the mean girls are alive and well at my non-profit. My mom calls it jealousy and at first when she said that, I disagreed. I’m socially awkward in big groups, often dumb myself down around people I think are more qualified and competent than myself, and still stutter on occasion. Clearly, I have many enviable professional skills. But, she insisted they were jealous of me because of how I present myself. And now, especially after Thursday, I think she’s right. But, it still sucks.
It sucks to walk into a school and when you tell people who you are, they take two looks at you and say you aren’t qualified. Not only because you look young, but also because you’re a female working in athletics, and you’re feminine to boot. So you must not know who is seeded highest in PAC-10 for college basketball and you can’t possibly know what you’re doing. So, people sell me short a lot at the schools I walk into. And one particular coach, took advantage of the one time I was too naive to see that he was bad news. I talked about him in November, but on Sunday I received a text from him, asking if I was ok since he hadn’t seen me around lately at school…. NO. Just no. But, at the time I was actually getting ready for a date.
Ah yes, another part of this theme about what people value me for. I chatted with this really cool guy on Friday, and he asked for my number. On Saturday he texted me and asked me to brunch. On Sunday we had a great brunch date. Or so I thought… We talked a little bit after the date but I haven’t heard from him since. And I am not stupid, if a guy wants to talk to you, he will. I think on Friday, I was just enough for him. I was witty, tipsy, and looked great. He was intrigued and even called me charming. But, on Sunday, he got to see a little more of me, the stuttering, the rambling occasionally, the inability to finish a story because of ADHD. And maybe he would’ve preferred if he could’ve just had the girl from Friday back. The pretty girl.
I sense there’s something I don’t know when it comes to Bill and Jim and how they feel about me. Lately, Bill has been working more one-on-one with me, which I know bothers Jim. Bill called me today to come meet him at a nearby conference room. When I arrived nearby, Jim looked confused as to why he wasn’t included in the meeting and paroused by the glass conference room, with almost a look of jealousy. Looking back, I think Bill uses me as an ego booster. I laugh at his jokes even when they aren’t funny, I re-establish ideas he has come up with, I help him in a way that shows I care. But, I do this because he is my boss and ultimately these are things any good subordinate does. Bill never looks jealous or mad when I meet with just Jim, or come up with a good idea with Jim. But, that’s because Bill has no real feelings for me. Bill has a picture of him and his girlfriend on his desk, and I think they’re very much in love. Bill likes me because I come in with a smile every day and always look presentable. Bill likes that I never complain, that I work hard, that I am a team player. He appreciates my physical beauty, but I believe more so he likes my professional talents.
Jim is a completely different story. Jim and I get each other. We don’t even have to say it, because it’s like an unspoken truth. No matter how many dates I go on, how many guys I kiss, I keep coming back to him. When I told him about the coach texting me, he was confused. And mad. I could tell, because he started breathing heavily. But, he used his words carefully and listened to me like I was telling him the greatest secret in the world. I kept shifting my glance as I told him that I was frustrated with the coach and that I am a 23 year old female and this guy was a respected disciplinarian and coach in the school. I re-arranged the sticky notes on my desk and could feel Jim’s glance piercing me. When I finally looked up into his eyes, him leaned over the counter of my desk, I again was re-assured at what I know to be true. When I made the comment about being a 23 year old, he looked at me like I had left something out. His eyes, while stern and to the point with others, were soft puppy dog eyes in that moment. And I felt it. I feel it every time we both let our guards down. But, I can’t let that permeate me right now. So, even though I sensed he wanted to say more and wanted to let me be vulnerable and feminine for longer, I just sort of cut the conversation short and said ‘ok thanks for the advice.’
I guess the more I get to know Jim, and the more he becomes comfortable and trusting of me, the more I also worry. Jim and I are scared shitless of each other. Even if he doesn’t admit it, even if he keeps driving two states over to see her, or she comes here, he doesn’t look at me like Bill does. He respects me and values me, but there’s definitely more to it. On a conference call with Bill last week, he made two huge mistakes, in terms of trying to cover up how he sees me. Jim, Bill, and another colleague were determining how many sports programs I should run in the spring. The other colleague said flat out ‘no more than 3’. I had just asked to do 4. Bill agreed and said ‘3 is ideal, Jim what do you think?’ Jim skirted around the question, but finally said ‘I love you ____(my name), but I think 3 is what’s going to work best.’ Just say 3 bro, just say 3. And then as I asked a question on the conference call, the response from Jim was astounding. ‘Don’t count on it babe.’ Jim looked at me for a reaction but I was so shocked he had said that, that I couldn’t speak. He could see it wasn’t well-received and tried to play it off.
Jim calls me hun a lot. I mean if it were someone that was like my dad’s age, or a mentor, or someone who uses affectionate terms with other female co-workers, no harm, no foul. But, he’s a 28 year old guy that is often seen as a tad grumpy and stern with most of the people he works with. So it’s definitely concerning. I fight so hard to not care that he looks at me for too long, that his gaze doesn’t make me weak in the knees. That while I am vulnerable for a few minutes, he makes himself vulnerable when he slips and says things that show there’s more to the story with how he feels.
I want more. I want exchanged words in the corner of a dive bar. I want smiles at midnight, intertwined hands in the hot summer breeze. I want to hold him and I want to listen to him. I want to run my hands through his hair, I want to give him more reasons to smile than he has now. But, we both love work so much. We are both so passionate about the organization. If this were to happen now, or in the not so far future, it would be sticky.
I can’t let go though. Ever met someone who honestly makes you feel like you matter, always? Someone who makes you feel at your best, who pushes you to be that person that they see you can be. And they handle you like you’re worth a million dollars, even when you’re bloated or tired or cranky. They still show that you alone matter. He does that. And I know he has the same fear I do with people, never giving himself completely to someone for fear that they won’t be able to handle him. That it won’t matter that he can be sweet, that he is a little rough around the edges, that he has freckles on his nose even in winter, but that he can be very intense. That he doesn’t handle being in the passenger seat well. That his sense of style could use work. That he is secretly not sure of what he’s doing at work. He doesn’t need to see her everyday, because he knows if and when he does, he will have to face all the things that will never add up for them.
We all matter. We matter for our acts of kindness. Our fears. Our contributions to the greater good. Our creativity. Our unique quirks. People will make you feel like you don’t matter more than a few times in your life. They will leave you, show you how little they value you, make you feel so small. And the silver lining to that dense dark cloud is this: you are then given the ability to distinguish when someone sees your tremendous worth and value. You matter.