This was my entry among of a group of essays by writers I admire, such as Fay Weldon, Cheryl Strayed and Cindy Chupack.Â We all wrote about how and when we stopped caring what other people think.
I started seeking my own approval
Anyone who has ever been a child knows that kids care deeply what their parents think, so much so that they will dye their hair puke green and pierce every centimeter of cartilage on their body so they can scream, “I don’t care what you think!!” when those parents object. But what if the parents never notice, let alone object? Then you’re merely an angry kid with green hair and infected holes in all the wrong places.
That’s what happened to me (not the piercings but the misplaced bids for attention). I found myself straining to be the girlfriend guys seemed to want or the ideal employee, never turning down an assignment. A shrink once said I was subconsciously making myself nuts in an attempt to win the attention I never got from my father. I’d continue to do this, she said, until I “became OK” with the fact that said attention was never likely to come my way. “Just because your father doesn’t love you the way you want doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you,” she said. Still, I continued to live for that “Good job!” from a boss or “You look great!” from a super skinny girlfriend or “You’re the one” from a guy I’d never asked myself if I cared about in the first place.
Then, around the time I turned 30, I looked in the mirror and saw an angry adolescent. Gradually, I began choosing my boyfriends rather than allowing myself to be chosen and gave myself permission to do work that I was proud of, whether or not thumbs-up were forthcoming. There was no single epiphany, but I do recall a phone conversation with my dad when, as in many others, I was able to put down the phone, answer the door, pay the Chinese food delivery guy and get back on the phone without my father noticing I’d been gone, which for the first time struck me as hilarious instead of infuriating. My dad finished talking and said, “OK, bye, honey. I love you.”
And I knew he meant it. Nothing had changed, except me.