Calm Down, You Hysterical Woman

Let’s talk about a girl’s best friend.  It’s not diamonds.

It’s validation.

I was thinking about it recently while seething with rage after having been stuck in traffic for over an hour.  By the time I got to where I was going, my blood pressure was through the roof and I was livid from having sat through four light changes at every stoplight for eight miles.  The drive normally takes me 15 minutes.

So imagine how pleased I was to have a guy tell me to “calm down” and that “at least” my drive isn’t normally so bad and to stop being “hysterical”.  This made me want to throw him out the window.  Not for one single second did I think, “Hey, he’s got a point there!  I’m being really dumb about my own feelings about a stressful situation right now!”

I think there is still, in 2019, some confusion as to what women are looking for when we storm into a room, faces red, gesturing extensively about a stressful incident.

We do not want you to tell us that everything is fine.

We want you to say, “That sucks!  You have every right to be upset.

This is a helpful string of words.  It shows that you’re listening to our concerns, you understand how upset we are, and you trust our judgment that it was, indeed, a shitty situation.  What we want is validation.

You know what’s not helpful?  Telling us to “calm down” and that it’s “not so bad” and that we’re being “hysterical”.  When you do that, not only are we still upset about the initial stressful incident, but now you’re telling us that we have no right to be upset about something that we are clearly very upset about.  At that point, you might as well just go ahead and yell, “Your feelings are WRONG!” and then tell us we look fat in these jeans.

Most women have a real hair trigger with being called “hysterical” because most women have been called hysterical their entire lives over their totally normal reactions to stressful events.  Hey, I can get hysterical for sure.  Sometimes I lose my shit over totally trivial stuff, but that doesn’t mean that everything I lose my shit over is trivial.

I lost my job one time and came home sad about it and had a boyfriend tell me to stop being hysterical.  I had a single, lone tear running down my face.

I found out an ex-boyfriend had cheated on me the entire time we were together and when I calmly confronted him about it, he told me I was being hysterical.

And, for my personal favorite, when I was hit by a car when I was 15 and broke half of my body and I was quietly crying in pain on the backboard in the emergency room, the ER doctor told me to quit being hysterical.

This guy actually said, “Quit being hysterical.  It’s not like you’re not the first person who ever got hit by a car, honey,” and ROLLED HIS EYES AT ME.  So in addition to being frightened and in pain and not sure whether I was going to die from my injuries, he made a 15-year old girl feel like she was being stupid for crying about it.

Nice job, dick.

I mean doc.

Wait, no.

I mean DICK.

For the record, I’ve only met two doctors in my entire life who I didn’t want to punch in the face for the way they talked down to me, dismissed my concerns, and/or acted like I owed them a favor for them so graciously allowing me to be their patient while simultaneously removing thousands of dollars from my and my insurance company’s pockets.

Welcome to being a woman seeking medical care in America:  Where doctors act like YOU work for THEM.

Did I already say DICK?  I mean, it’s absolutely worth repeating.  DIIIIIIIICK.

Now it would seem that I’m still bitter over these events, and that’s because you frickin’ bet I am.  Because while some of these incidents that I mentioned above happened a million years ago, guess what I recently got called for merely being pissed off about what was literally called “The Worst Day in Traffic History” by the local news?  Hysterical.

This particular word is only ever used to describe women being upset over something.  Never once have I heard a man be called hysterical for anything.

Even when their sports team fumbles a ball, and they get so mad that they go crazy and knock over a bar stool, punch someone in the bar, get into a DUI accident on the way home, open fire on their entire family, hold a cop hostage, take on the whole SWAT team, get sent to prison and stage a riot where dozens of inmates and guards are killed, collapse a small government, and blow up the Earth creating a rift in space-time that destroys the entire universe, nobody ever says he was hysterical.

They say he was “troubled”, and that’s pretty much the end of that judgment except to add an “Oh man, you know how bummed you get when your team loses – we’ve all been there, right?  I remember that year the Dolphins blew that lead against the Jets during the playoffs.  That was pain.”

Guess what that previous sentence was right there?  Validation.

(And I swear to god, if anyone pulls a “not all men” on me, I will punt a casaba melon right into this plate glass window in front of me.  Of course I am not referring to every single man walking the planet in this post.  There are tons of men out there who are awesome and supportive and empathetic, and I’m lucky to have so many of them in my life.  Now I’m going to walk away from the casaba melon and trust that we understand each other.)

Diagnosis: Foot-in-Mouth Disease

My favorite teachers were always my art teachers, except for that one.  That one that I lamented to a classmate, “Mrs. Strickland is such a bitch – I can’t stand her and her stupid “art should always be beautiful” crap.  If you think art has to be beautiful, then you’re a moron who doesn’t know a damn thing about art.  Why doesn’t she go teach Hygiene or something?”

Then my classmate said, “Umm, you know she’s my mom, right?”

And that’s how I found out Emma was Mrs. Strickland’s daughter.

You know how much I just can’t stand to brag (all evidence to the contrary), but I’ve got an unparalleled knack for putting my foot in my mouth.  I don’t even really have to try that hard, it just sashays into any scene like 1950s Marlon Brando in a stained white t-shirt and starts smashing lightbulbs.

If you have something you care about, like and respect, please feel free to count on me to say the most awkward thing about it after having mistakenly thought we were on the same page about it.  Oh, you like Paris Hilton and named your baby after her?  How…interesting!  After I just spent ten minutes trashing her.

I used to try to backpedal when this happened, like I did with Emma when I’d responded to this mom business with, “Oh, uhh.  Well, I mean, she’s actually really nice!”

Even though Emma was only 15 years old at the time, she gave me that look of, “Don’t patronize me.  Just take your awkward medicine and live with how uncomfortable you just made both of us.”

It has taken me years to understand that look, that sometimes you just have to exist in a bubble of discomfort until it passes.

In a recent foot-in-mouth incident, I was forced to attend a seminar on healthy lifestyle habits that turned out to be one long sales pitch from a Real Housewives of Orange County-looking chiropractor who wanted to sell me magnetic shoe insoles to solve every health problem under the sun.

If a chiropractor has helped you in your life, that’s great.  I just don’t like being told that I’m going to learn about healthy lifestyle habits and then get the hard-sell on magnets – unless it’s that weird guy who’s on The History Channel all the time.  He’s like a train wreck I can’t look away from, like The Hogan Family after they replaced Valerie Harper with Sandy Duncan.

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The next day I walked into my office and someone asked how the seminar had gone.  My coworker butted in and he and I answered at exactly the same time, only he said:

“I was impressed.  It’s exactly what me and my wife need.  I signed us both up and we start on the whole regimen next week!”

And I said – at exactly the same time:

“It was some hard-sell, snake oil bullshit from a chiropractor who looked like a reject from the blow-up doll factory.  Yeah, no.  I didn’t sign up for her magic beans.”

I may have used air quotes around the words “magic beans” for effect.  Maybe (yes).

I can tell you, the ensuing silence clung to the air like a dog fart.  And not one of those dog farts from a beautiful dog.  It was a junkyard dog fart.  A fart from a dog that eats a steady diet of discarded, rotting mob victim-flesh and spent motor oil.  The kind of dog fart that makes you banish even a beloved dog from your dining room and think less of them as a family pet from that moment on.  A dog fart of destruction.

Did I immediately backpedal?  No – this time I didn’t.  Because I believed in every word I had just said.  I hadn’t said it to insult my coworker – I said it because I truly felt this magnet saleswoman was a scam artist and should be called out for it.  I had no idea he was going to barge into our conversation.  Nobody had even asked him his opinion to begin with.

So I let the dog fart sit in the room, and did nothing to dispel it.  I didn’t say, “Oh, I was just kidding!  I’ve actually heard great things about those magnet soles!” like I would have years ago.

Because sometimes you just have to sit with the discomfort and let it be uncomfortable.

As a lifelong codependent and people-pleaser, this can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.  To let someone be mad at you and then just sit with it?  Not cow-tow to them to try to make things all better?  Not rush in to smooth things over?

It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.  Say it with me, out loud:

“It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.”

I’m not saying be rude – far from it.  Just stop making it your job to fix everything.  Be okay with the discomfort, and don’t change the subject to distract everyone from the discomfort.

Man, that Hogan Family went downhill after Valerie Harper got fired.

When Johnny Met Maggie…And Threw Trash at Her Face

“Roll down your window.”

I was sitting in the passenger seat of Johnny’s car and he was in the driver’s seat, speeding down the highway at 80 miles an hour.  It was our first date.

I mean, I guess you could technically call it a “date”.  We had gone and hung out at his friend’s band’s warehouse and then Johnny had taken me to the Burger King drive-thru afterwards.  By musician standards, the fact that he had bought me Burger King meant this guy was serious about me.  The crumpled ten-dollar bill Johnny handed out the window to the Burger King cashier at the drive-thru might as well have been an engagement announcement.

That would have been silly.  Johnny wouldn’t propose for another two days.

I rolled down the car window.  He put one knee under the steering wheel to steady the car, picked up all the empty Burger King wrappers and dirty napkins and then smashed them all together with both hands as we tore down the highway.

He said, “Lean back some.”

I leaned back.

Then Johnny threw the Burger King trash-wad an inch past my face and out the passenger side window.

I gasped, mouth dropped open in disbelief.  Little lines of ketchup were streaked across my face and the front of my dress.

Johnny looked at me, laughed, and said, “What?”

This was our first date, where everyone should have typically been on their best behavior.  I figured maybe he was trying to impress me with some kind of “Rebel Without a Cause” attitude, or that he had some growing up to do.  It seemed like such a totally bizarre and aggressive thing to do.  I was so freaked out that I didn’t even know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.  (I can tell you, 43-year old Maggie would have handled that differently, i.e. put a foot in his ass.)

An hour later, Johnny held my face, with tears forming in his eyes, and professed his love to me.  He had never felt this way before.  He had never fallen so hard, so fast.

Johnny would turn out to not be such a great boyfriend.

You’re stunned.

Unfortunately, it just took 19-year old me another year to figure that out.

What I failed to see that night, as a pile of ketchup-swirled garbage was chucked an inch past my face out the car window, was that this was Johnny on his best behavior.

Fast forward a few months, and we’re pulling away from that same Burger King, and Johnny’s motioning towards me with his hands and sarcastically apologizing to the cashier for how “slutty” I was dressed.  “Sorry, I don’t know why she’s dressed like this.  It’s really embarrassing for me.  I’m SORRY.”

Apparently, my skirt was too short for his liking.

I tried to hide my face from the cashier, my eyes red and puffy from crying because a half hour before this Johnny had thrown a lit cigarette at me, shoved me up against my front door, and red-faced screamed at me, “Where the hell were you?  Tell me where the hell you were and who you were really with!!!” because I had gotten home at 9:45 from a coworker’s birthday party.  (I’d told him that I’d probably be home around 9:30.)  He needed a full accounting of where exactly I was for that fifteen minute discrepancy, and threatened to call my coworkers to “verify” what time I’d left the party.

At this point Johnny had been fired from three jobs in a row and I was making his car payment every month, despite the fact that he was living with his grandparents and had no bills.  He called me selfish and would storm out of the mall anytime I wanted to buy so much as a ten dollar t-shirt for myself with money from my own paycheck.  Then I would cry and apologize for being so selfish.  Then he would hold me and tell me how much he loved me, and that I just needed to work on myself so that I wouldn’t make him so mad.

I tell you what, being 19 years old was not at all the fun and carefree experience I’d thought it would be.

I had absolutely no role model for what a healthy relationship looked like, and I thought I had to put up with Johnny’s behavior, that this just what guys were like, and that it was my burden to become okay with it.  After all, he said he loved me, right?  He said he loved me more than any man had ever loved any woman in the history of the world.  I was so, so desperate for a man to love me.  So desperate that I took whatever they dished out as love.

Here’s the thing, though.  When Johnny wasn’t acting like a goddamned monster, he was so affectionate with me.  He would hold my hand and cry and tell me how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.  He wanted to marry me.  He said I was the perfect girl, if only I could stop “pushing his buttons” when I wore too short a skirt, cut even one inch off my hair, or spent time with literally anybody else – my own family included.  So long as I did whatever he wanted, he was the sweetest guy in the room.  But if I made what he called a “mistake”?  There went the evening.  He would slam doors and scream and break things while I cowered, and then sulk and give me the silent treatment until I cried and begged for his forgiveness.

He twisted and turned my emotions so expertly, he made me feel like it was my sole purpose in life to not set him off.

This is how you end up in a cycle of abuse.

You don’t even want to know how many varieties of Johnnys I dated over the years, ranging from physical to emotional to mental to financial abuse.  It would never fail that in hindsight, when the ashes of the relationship were stinging my eyes like sulfur, there was a red flag on the first date that I had politely let go because I was too young to know any better and too afraid to say anything.

I have to believe that when weird, rude, and even straight up antisocial things happen on a first date, they’re more than a red flag.  They’re a test.  A big one.  If someone pulls some totally weird or aggressive stuff right from the start and you pitch a fit and then walk out, they won’t be calling you again.  You’ve got an excellent sense of self-worth and are definitely not going to silently put up with their shit, so they’re not going to waste their time pursuing you.  They’ve weeded you out.

These types of abusers are predators and they know what to look for in potential prey.  If you’re thinking, “Well, I would never put up with that!” then guess what?  Congratulations!  These guys know that!  That’s why they’re not asking you out.  They know who to go after.  They’re looking for the young girl with no self-esteem who looks like she’s afraid of her own shadow.

If you go along with whatever weird shit they pull because you have no self-worth, or are too beaten down or too weirded out to speak up?  Then they know they’ve got you.  You’ve passed their prey test.  Expect for the behavior to get worse.  It’s not going to get a little worse, either.  Once they’ve got you isolated, it’s going to get much, much worse.  That’s why Johnny proposed after 2 days.  He wanted to pin me down so that I couldn’t get away.

When I think of what my life would have become if I had married him when I was 19, I can’t even imagine.  As it was, when I finally found the strength to break up with him, he threatened to kill me, himself, my family, his family, and called my house sometimes forty times an hour – for weeks on-end.  He banged on my windows at night.  He left terrifying letters on my door at home, at work, at my regular hangouts.

There’s nothing I can do to change the past or alter the things that made me believe I was worth so little that I had to put up with this shit, so the best I can do is offer the following advice to you, and hope it saves someone from the nightmare hellscape that dating was for more than half of my adult life.

  • If someone can’t make it through your first date without throwing a pile of trash at your face, find someone else to date.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, click here to go to breakthecycle.org to learn more about how you can get help.  Stay safe, my friends.  Nobody should have to live in fear of a person who claims to love them.