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.
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.
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