As women, we play so many roles. But, what happens if we strip those roles away?
If you ask someone from each one of my roles to describe who I am, you’ll get a mind spinning whirl of contradictions: I’m quiet, shy, and a total wallflower. I’m loud, gregarious, and quick with a joke. I’m serious and don’t take anyone’s shit. I’m super easy going and always go with the flow. I’m awkward and nervous. I’m confident and bold. I’m thoughtful, a good listener, and a solid friend.
Most days, I flip between so many roles it feels like I’m spinning. It’s dizzying. I start off my day as a pseudo-efficient, loving drill sergeant mother, move into creativity in my writer and entrepreneur role, and put on my polite and social face for meetings with peers. After school, I am a tutor, then a friend, daughter, or partner over dinner. In each of these roles, I have to think and act to some extent. What can I say or not say (tread carefully with some), how do I need to present myself (can I drop an f-bomb if it’s a professional meeting?), remember my agenda (don’t piss off the teacher!), censor myself from saying what I really think (so much tongue biting), and so on.
At the end of those days, I am usually exhausted from having to switch personas, especially if there were more times I was outside my zone than in it.
All of this role playing sometimes leaves me feeling unsure if I even know who I am when I am just me. In my 20s, I used to know ‘me’ so well, when I was the only one I had to cater to. Now, I wonder if there is even a ‘just me’ that remains after years of playing roles, of being ‘something’ everywhere I am. Who am ‘I’ when I don’t have to be something to someone else? What if I’ve tied up so much of my identity into being all of these things that I’m lost without them to define me?
I saw shadows of it when my marriage ended. I’d lost myself and realized I no longer had confidence in my own choices, from what color to paint the walls to what movie to watch. It scared me. I used to be so assured and, after a few years of being a wife and a mother, I’d forgotten how to be confident of who I was.
Back in the days or early adulthood, I used to hunger to define myself by roles, always looking to fill my time with friends, impatient to be a partner and a mother. Now, though, after many years of it, I hunger for the opposite. I yearn to spend time with the unpolished me, the me that is my only guarantee in this wild ride of life, the me that has no title, no place to fill.
Here, a few years post-marriage, I have come to love the moments that I am alone. I cherish them as much as I do the time I have with my children, and I don’t apologize for that. I don’t want to be someone all the time. I want to nurture the core of me because that’s what I’ll have left at the end of it all. I don’t have to BE anyone. I have no role to play. When I am alone, revelling in the vast nothingness of it, I am none of those things that others say I am. I am not shy or outgoing, bold or awkward, self-conscious or confident. I am not quick-witted or clever, kind or harsh. I just am.
When I’m by myself, I have no space to fill. I am lost in my own thoughts and I lap them up with curiosity, observing the way I think and react. Sometimes, I soak up new knowledge by listening to a podcast while I putter, or I shut my brain off and watch a program that doesn’t demand too much of me.
In my raw, no-role state, I would be utterly boring to anyone else. But, to me, I’m interesting and fun. I allow myself to be sad or silly when I want to be, to go out or stay in, to pick my own music, to eat popcorn for supper with chocolate for dessert. In those alone moments, when I am not trying to be something for someone else, I am my own perfect company.