When I was a teenager, I had a teacher tell me that I was “too intense.” She said that my seriousness made it difficult to teach me. I had no idea how to take that comment or what I needed to do make teaching me easier. I remember spending days, maybe even weeks, running her comments through my mind, trying to make sense of them. I’ve never forgotten that conversation, and in truth, even then I was slightly offended by it. These types of interactions have occurred over and over again, and the older I get the more annoying I find them.
I often wonder what vibes I’m giving off because people will say things like, “You should smile more,” or “Is everything ok?” when I’m feeling perfectly happy or content. Sometimes, I’m in deep thought about something. Other times, I’m just really cognitively engaged in what someone is saying or presenting. Still other times, I’m bored out of my mind or quietly frustrated. Regardless, I find it strange that my male counterparts don’t get the same reaction. Why must my face be a “resting bitch face” while they can look “stoic” or “cerebral?”
My dad tells people that I’ve “always been on [my] on program.” It is his way of saying that I was always different. As a kid, I think he found it a bit difficult to understand me because I always had my head buried in a book. He would take my brother and me to basketball games or concerts, and I would bring along some book or another and pray that the lighting was good enough for me to knock back a few chapters. My dad could not comprehend how I could tune out all the “excitement” happening around me just to read. The great thing about my dad, though, was that he never made me feel bad about that. He found it quirky, made a few lighthearted jokes here and there, but generally just accepted that this was just who his daughter was.
My mom was amazing. She fed my interests, bringing me books and helping me learn to be ok with my natural self. She listened to my stories and talked about books with me. When I wanted to learn all the prepositions, she quizzed me. When I enjoyed an excerpt from books in school, she found the full text at second hand book stores and brought them to me. I never felt weird or out of place with her because she fostered my authentic nature and compelled me to be confident, voice my truth, and respect myself.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I have grown comfortable with who I am. It’s challenging because when you have a “resting bitch face” and you’re self-confident and you enjoy intellectual pursuits, people tend to find you arrogant, hard to relate to, or dismissive of them or their ideas (even when you’ve never said a word!). I remember a colleague saying to me during the last month of my teaching career that she (and others–she was speaking for a group) found me intimidating. She emphasized, somehow thinking it would soften the blow, how hard I worked and how passionate I was about education, but punctuated her comments with the refrain that my intensity was hard to live up to and made her (and the others) look bad. If I would just not take the work so seriously, maybe people would find me more relatable. Unlike my younger days, I did not search in vain for some deeper personal understanding. Instead, I said, “This sounds like your issue, not mine. Good luck with that.”
Here’s the funny thing about all of this: I am not mean (although my face may say otherwise), isolated or lonely (I have tons of great, lifelong friends who can attest to this), or naturally smart (I do a butt-load of studying and reading just to stay ahead of the curve). The “she’s smart, but…” tagline somehow derides in a way that out and out calling me a “bitch” never did. I still find it odd that some adults cannot, choose not, or find it difficult to live and let live. I get the cattiness and pettiness of adolescence, but truly, can we please just grow up and take the time to get to know people authentically? Or, just shut up!