As I sit and write this, three women sit next to me discussing boundaries, relationships and what they mean to each other. I’m reminded, almost bitterly, of the beauty of women that understand you. The act of being understood, heard and seen terrifies me, and I pretend I am not sitting at this uncomfortable angle so I can swallow every word they say to each other.
I never concentrated on women when I was growing up. Whatever they said was background noise to me. I was so busy shrinking to fit the notion of the ideal girl that boys would like. I was taught, subconsciously, that women never have anything important to say. That every woman I met was my competition. An absent father did not contribute to my already bordering-on-harmful relationship with myself. I thought I could be loved if I were loving enough. By being less, by being identical to the boys and ‘not like the other girls’. Every book, every film, every song taught me I could change a man into my man; that I could make them better people, better lovers, a protective shield that would save me from being unlovable.
At 12, I went to an all-girls boarding school. It was a nightmare. I was suddenly dealing with the politics of being popular, in control and in constant competition. I grew tired of trying, and stepped back. Books and fantasies were my refuges. Somehow, I made one friend – another outcast. I think we grew closer because we saw each other. Together, we were better. With time, I made another friend. She liked listening, I loved to talk. Together, we made each other better.
It was hard to truly like someone without wanting to be devoured by them. I wanted to be consumed, praised, heard and swallowed. I I know I loved them, and I know I still do. If I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t think of them every day.
In my personal opinion as a survival of the Human ExperienceTM, being loved by a woman is the most fulfilling of all. I strongly believe if you left two women in a room for thirty minutes, by the time you were back they would have discussed one life-changing event, hinted at their trauma, and become some sort of allies. I have seen it happen. I have been a part of the magic. A woman I met at a tattoo parlour told me I nod like a therapist, and no 22-year-old should be able to do that. At another time, in a different place, a woman who is now a very successful actor confided in me about her intellectual disability and her brother’s increasing alcoholism. I have, over time, become friends with women where our primary medium of communication has been silence. We have laughed, sobbed, banged fists, and hollered at the top of our lungs, and no one but us has heard us.
It is a different kind of power, the kind that makes you want to offer your heart on a skewer, female friendships. And nothing has hurt as much as losing these friends, lovers, critics, nurturers and lifelines you pick up along the way. I find myself going back and looking at WhatsApp display pictures of the women who took a piece of me with them when they left, more often than I look at the men who called me too much, or not enough. I look at their social media once every month, their faces happy, hands being held by someone who isn’t me, and wonder what could’ve been. If you can’t keep a woman happy, there isn’t much else to the Human ExperienceTM. There, I said it.
I have wanted to crawl inside the skin of every woman I have ever met. To be her, to see her, to know her in a way no one else does. I have wanted to eat and drink and dance and weep and shout and cry and sing and cry and cry and cry with every woman I have known. Even now, just sitting by the girls makes me want to face them and pull my chair closer and say “can I join you?” but I won’t. There are enough places we cannot let loose; I don’t want to ruin this for them.
Instead, I start writing this, scribbling notes on tissue paper. I don’t want to miss anything. I once told a friend being a woman meant being a voyeur to your own existence. Everything about you was always up for evaluation, and the standards were unattainable. By the time I gathered the courage to be the Shamelessly Myself Woman, it was fetishised because the Shamelessly Myself Woman is a hurt little girl who wants to be loved and cared for and proven to that she is worthy. Fuck stereotypes and their spoonful of truth.
I wonder how this sense of honesty comes about. Was it reading women? Is it working as a sexuality educator? Was it being a little girl who was never enough? Is it wanting to bring the broken pieces to the table with glue and a canvas, and turn them into mosaics?
Nothing breaks my heart and puts it together like the affection and strength I have lost and gained with women. My work involves sitting in a room and responding to 50/55 questions a day with, “Yes, that is normal. That too. That too”. It makes me want to nail my arms open with a banner that says FREE HUGS. It makes me want to devour and be devoured. It makes me want to write this, today.
The girls get up to leave. I go to sit on the still-warm chairs and put a cup of half-drunk cappuccino to my lips. I belong. I belong. I belong.
Ria Arya is a Comprehensive Sexuality Educator and student of Psychology.