Thursday, June 19, 2008

In It Together

Last night at critique group, some of the commentary about my WIP got me thinking about my characters. I noticed something about them that struck me as interesting.

(A caveat: All of them are real to me, so you'll have to pardon the fact that I'm going to talk about them like real people.)

These five women, as different as they are, have one big thing in common. It's not just the one big situation they're in together. It's something else, too.

And, sadly, it's something that a lot of us women share: we compare ourselves to one another.

In general, we come up short in the comparison. She's smarter, prettier, skinnier, is a better mom/wife/housekeeper, and so on.

Or maybe we're judging in the other direction, being harsher on the other person to make ourselves feel better, like the woman who told me once, when I had a toddler and a baby, that I had no idea what stress was like, because she had four kids, and I only had two.

When we compare, we're judging—another person and ourselves.

That can't be healthy. I know that it certainly isn't for the ladies in my book. They range in age from twenty to fifty-five. One is a newly wed. The other four have children. One is an empty-nester. One's a nurse. They are all now dealing with the same difficult situation, yet each responds to it differently. And they're all judging and comparing.

In addition to the one common burden, each woman has her own additional struggle to face, something she keeps back from the others, because of course they wouldn't understand, or they'd judge her, or they'd think it was silly, or they wouldn't be able to relate.

She thinks.

The the truth is, if they could all take off their social masks and get real, they'd discover that while their individual trials are different, that all of these women are very, very human. They're all under pressure. They're all imperfect. They're all barely keeping their heads above water.

What a comfort such a revelation would be to them.

Somehow I don't think my characters are alone in this. I think we all put up barriers, put on a face for the rest of the world, and then compare ourselves with everyone else's pretend faces.

So now I have to wonder . . . what would happen if we all dropped those social masks? What if we let one another know, really know our insecurities, fears, and weaknesses?

I imagine that at first it would be terrifying. But eventually, I think it would be liberating. I imagine we'd actually judge one another less because we'd have more compassion and understanding. I imagine we'd be able to find strength and support among other women because we'd rally around one another instead of worrying about what each other thinks. We'd stop pretending.

I hope the five women I'm writing about can learn to trust one another like that. They'll need one another's support to get through what they're facing. But they'll have to learn to let down those barriers first.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two along with them.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I nearly lost one of my best friends recently because she compared my life to hers and thought I had it too good. Thought I had everything she didn't. We ended up talking for about two hours straight, being brutally honest with each other about what we experience on a daily basis, what we think of each other. I found out that she was assuming a whole heck of a lot. And she found out that while I don't struggle financially, I struggle in many, many other ways.

We're closer than ever. And for me that really hits home the question you've brought up. What would happen if we all dropped our masks?

I think we'd have a lot more friends.

Karlene said...

Hmm, the whole point of having masks is that, while it's probably true that we'd have more friends without them, deep down we all believe it to be utterly false. That one glimpse behind the mask would send everyone we know screaming for cover.

We all do think that, don't we? Or did I just let something slip.

Sandra said...

This is one thing that I counsel the students at school about all the time. They come to me with "secret problems", "nobody would like me if they knew" problems. The thing is, the problems are usually the same 2-3 over and over and over. I always say, You would be be surprised if you knew how many students have this same exact thing going on.
Then they are surprised when they open up, be honest, and no one makes fun or leaves.

Unknown said...

hi annette -- what if you know you don't want that many friends? i have enough. i feel blessed. there is only so much time in a life for each special relationship. but every now and then, another special soul fits into your life and that is fantastic, too.

really liked your post. blessings, kathleen

ps. hehe, this is funny. the word verification says "o girl."

Crystal Liechty said...

Amen, Annette! I hate the comparing thing and I find I always fall into it when I'm already feeling low for other reasons. Let me know how you're characters figure it out and maybe I can take a cue from them.

Don said...

This comparison game is often presented as a woman thing, but I can assure you that just having a Y chromosome does not provide immunity.

I think the social masks are very important - "Be yourself, but be your best self" and that kind of thing. The problem, as you mentioned, is when we use those masks to make comparisons, and with those comparisons put down others and/or ourselves.

Jeri said...

I am the worst at the comparison game...

I heard someone once say that the trouble is that we compare our "laundry rooms" to another persona "front parlor" (ie our weaknesses compared to another's strengths.) It is easy to know that it isn't right or healthy, but it's sure hard to stop doing it...

samiam said...

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is "One of the worst things members of the church can do to each other is to try to appear more perfect then we really are." It really puts a barrier between people--because they feel they aren't living up to some standard and because they feel like people don't really know them. But it is scary to truly be yourself.

Anonymous said...

Social barriers... that is something very real (and very common) in society. It's just subconciously developed and grown as human nature has evolved. I'm not sure if it's something many people can shake off - the rare insightful ones yes, but to the rest of the world it would be much harder. Many like keeping their position, their difference from the world - knowing they are smarter, prettier, faster, etc. It's vain, but it's human.

Unknown said...

That is so true. We all do it. Maybe I'll try to drop a few barriers the next little while. Thanks for sharing.

charrette said...

Great post. I have been musing about this topic from a couple of different angles all week (in one I even referenced your guest post on Brillig's blog.)

This is a huge topic for women. One that needs more open discussion. And It's been around forever. (Think: Mary and Martha.)


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