Giana, 26, USA (New York, NY)

Giana

What is your story of strength?

I think women are called upon to be strong at different points in their lives. There are a lot of people that live really nice childhoods and they don’t encounter something until they’re adolescents or adults and then there are people who in their childhoods are called upon to be strong. I think that my story of strength started when I was little, when my parents got divorced. I was eight when that happened, and we had just moved from Rhode Island to Florida three years prior to that for my dad’s job. We had gone from living in this really nice house with a backyard and near all my cousins and family to packing up and moving to Florida in this two bedroom apartment in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. It was so different, and I was almost too young to really feel that sad about leaving Rhode Island, but watching my parents’ marriage fall apart required me to be strong.

How can an 8 year old be strong? How do you know what that is? But it’s almost like you’re weirdly more conscious of what’s going on around you when you’re a child. I think you’re a lot more empathetic and observant than you are as an adult, and you’re not as selfish. When I was very little, I was observant of my mother’s loneliness and her resentment of my father for making us move. I was also really observant of my dad withdrawing into himself because he wasn’t succeeding in the way that he wished that he was. He moved out and moved in several times. In that time period, I never knew if he was going to be home or not when I got home from school. I’m not even sure if my mom knew either.

I distinctly remember this one incident where he was gone and I crawled into bed with my mom. I remember that I said something to her like, “The pillow still smells like him.” I was so little I didn’t realize that would hurt her. She cried silently in the bed next to me the whole night until I fell asleep. Going through all of that I realized that I had a choice — I could breakdown and become this problem child and give everyone a hard time and go my own way OR I could choose to allow the situation to build my personality and learn from it.

At a really young age I made a commitment to myself that I was never going to be financially bound to a man in the way that my mother was because she didn’t work. When my dad eventually lost his business, we were financially devastated, and my mom’s whole world was turned upside down. That is when I started having to be strong. I learned that you have to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, and you can’t rely on anyone. And as much as you think you can rely on your family, there are times when there is nothing they can do to help you. That concept has been thread in a way throughout my whole life. My family has always been there for me, don’t get me wrong, but there have been situations where I’ve realized, “no one is going to do this for me, I have to it for myself.”

There have been so many crossroads where I’ve thought, “I can take the easy way or I can take the way that’s a little harder, but the way I know is going to make me have a more satisfying life.” I try to go that way at every crossroads. It’s still a work in progress. I feel like your story of strength continues throughout your whole life. You’re constantly faced with these decisions to be strong, or to withdraw, or to turn to cynicism, or to turn to resentment or to allow fear to control your life. For me it’s a constant battle. A constant battle suppressing fear.

What does being a woman mean to you?

I think it’s really difficult to be a woman. I think it’s really hard. And sometimes I fantasize about the comfort and the security that I would feel if I was a man. Sometimes I wish that I could just walk down the street as a man and see if I would experience life differently. However, I never really wish that I was born a man, because I believe that women hold up half the sky.

There is nothing that happens that is good in the world that doesn’t have a woman behind it. I think that the biggest falsehood is assuming that we are the weaker sex. Women go through so much (and men do too), but stereotypically women take the brunt of all the bad shit that’s happening in the world. I feel that a man is capable of compartmentalizing his feelings and he’s capable of apathy in a way that I don’t think most women are. I think that feeling and love are genuinely born into most women’s DNA. And even if you want to be a cruel type of woman, I think that you’re deliberately choosing to be cruel, you’re not born that way. I think a woman in her purest form is basically love, she’s the definition of love. We give, and we give, and we give, until we can’t give anymore. Even when you consider yourself a selfish person, which I do, I still know that I’d rather be giving than taking at the end of the day. That’s something that I would never trade, even for security and safety.

Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?

I really disappointed myself in the one relationship I’ve had so far in my life, my boyfriend from college.  I had a great time when I was in it, but it ended badly. For a while after the breakup, I focused strongly on all the things that we both did wrong. But now looking back I am most disappointed in the fact that I neglected to acknowledge all of the good things that he did. I was not my best self inside that relationship, and I don’t really know if we were good for each other in that way because I don’t think we brought out the best versions of each other. But, I know that he loved me. When I think about specific situations, how he tried to open himself up to me, and he tried to be there for me, and I always pushed him away, that disappoints me. I acted in the way my parents did when they shut down communication, which is exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t do. It disappoints me not because of what we could of been, I don’t really think that we were meant to be together, but it disappoints me because my behavior hurt him, and now I am afraid I’m going to feel or act that way in every relationship that I’m in.

It was my first relationship and I was very young, so obviously I made a lot of mistakes. I just hate that I couldn’t be my best self inside that relationship and I don’t know why. I don’t know why I chose to be that way. I don’t understand it. Even to this day I get disappointed in myself when I think back on that. I’m usually really good at making decisions that I want to be proud of, and I made a lot of decisions that I wasn’t proud of inside that relationship. And I don’t know why I did it.

I’ve tried to find some silver lining in this disappointment. I’ve noticed that I have been much more open with people I have dated since then. And I think that is something I have consciously chosen to do after learning how disappointing it feels to hold back.

How can women better support each other?

In recent events in my life, I’ve had these really impactful conversations with my female friends about why we mean so much to each other. I said to them that this is the first time in my life that I feel surrounded by supportive women and women that don’t judge me. And because of this, I have more confidence to do the things that I really want to do and to lead my best life.

I think that in light of how a lot of women feel right now, we want to blame someone for our hardships. It’s easier for us to take our anger out on each other than it is for us to take it out on men for several different reasons. But if we create these environments where we make it hard for women to talk about what they’ve been through or decisions that they’ve made, we’re just making it okay for everyone else to continue that behavior. It’s just going to be this vicious cycle.

Like I was saying earlier, our best quality is our empathy. So we need to have it for each other and across all levels — not just empathy for your roommate or your best friend, but empathy for all women. I think not judging is the main way we can support our fellow women. Creating a space for the women in your life, space physically and emotionally, to release the stress and anxiety that you have. If we ban together as women and create this wonderful environment of support, we would be a force that people can’t ignore.

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