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*Editor’s note: well-deserved salty language ahead!
A while back, a male friend and I were getting coffee when he got a phone call.
It was one of his lady friends and she was bawling on the other end. My friend got up, apologized to me (although I understood), and said he needed to leave immediately to take care of his crying bestie so “could we do this another day?”
I nodded. And we did meet up another time.
It was then he mentioned that his childhood friend who’d cried a few days back was going through a bad breakup with her boyfriend. She was “extremely fragile” and had been in really bad relationships before. So, when there was an issue with her latest boyfriend, my friend got worried and rushed to be with her.
Very casually, I then asked him: “Would you rush to me if I ever cried on the phone?”
I still remember the stunned look on his face. For the first few seconds, his face was expressionless—complete and utter blankness. Then he shrugged, shook his head, shrugged again, started to say something, and stopped. Then he stared at me all over again.
The idea of me crying on the phone, or anywhere else at any time, was a completely alien concept to him. He’d never imagined me as a crier. Not ever. He finally found the words he was searching for and said, “Roop, I never think of you as crying about anything. You’re so strong. You don’t need anyone or anything.”
It was my turn to be a bit stunned now. I mean, I had an inkling this was how he saw me. But never crying? Always strong? Don’t need anyone? Really? That’s what he really thought of me?
I was stumped. Vacillating between my mind being completely blown to trying to make sense of what was happening, I poked the bear and needled him with, “Really? You think I’m some cold bitch who has no feelings and is like an island and needs no one else?”
He shook his head furiously. “Roop. You’re not cold, at all. But, yes. We all think you’re someone who doesn’t get rattled by anything, who’s comfortable on your own, and who doesn’t need anyone. Least of all someone like me. Like why would you even want to reach out to me if you needed help? What the fuck could I do that you couldn’t do yourself?”
I wasn’t sure if I should applaud myself for being considered a Superwoman or wail at the fact that my friend thought I was indestructible. While I couldn’t figure out the answer, I made a note to myself: never cry in front of this dude because he will run for his life.
I wish I could say this was the first time this has ever happened to me. But no, this has happened to me almost my entire adult life.
The fact that I have a core inner strength, that I don’t fall apart because a friend or a boyfriend dumped me, that I don’t cry when I watch “The Notebook” or “Marley and Me,” that I’m someone who is beyond thrilled to hang out with friends and chill but is equally comfortable with myself has been both a boon and bane in my life. For the most part, it’s a boon because it makes me strong and independent. But it’s also a bane when it oversimplifies who I am to others, and when those who should be there for me are often dismissive of my needs and, like my friend, have an image of me that may not always be correct.
I’ve had others tell me that they don’t really worry about me. An agitated friend once told me, “Gee, Roop. Stop saying things like you need our help. We come to you to sort our shit out.” She said this with a laugh that was less of a laugh and more of a worried grimace.
But there is a big difference between “being strong” and “being an emotionless robot who needs nothing or no one.”
The former is terrific. It’s a privilege to be a strong person. It gives you the courage to deal with whatever life throws at you and the knowledge that you’ll be okay.
But the latter assumes that strength in a person means they don’t need any sympathy, empathy, softness, kindness, or handholding. The older I got and the stronger I got, the less people seemed to worry about me. They weren’t and aren’t trying to be cruel, but sometimes it feels that way. When you’re considered a strong, can-handle-anything kind of a person, the assumption is that you don’t need anyone’s sympathy or softness or handholding.
“Roopa can handle whatever, man!” I’ve heard this my whole life. And for the most part, I’ve gone with the flow.
But it does feel a tad unfair when your friends rush to others when they whine about a sucky boss who asked them to work a few extra hours over a weekend or when they didn’t get a job that they felt they should’ve gotten or when a boyfriend didn’t pick up a soggy towel off the bathroom floor or when they’re “gutted” after watching “Pieces of a Woman.”
And then there’s you: it’s December 2020, the worst fucking month of your entire life, when you lost someone who meant more than your whole world and you’re crying in agony and friends and family walk past you looking awkward and weirded out and unable to say or do anything because, “Do you see how emotional Roopa is? I always thought she was so strong!” (True story, everyone!)
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t ever want to not be strong. I like my strength. I like knowing I can handle whatever the world and/or God throws at me. I’ve made a conscious effort to change from being a “glass half-empty” person to a “glass half-full” person. I no longer worry about things that don’t go as planned. I’m still ambitious AF and work hard toward my goals, but I’ve also learned to relax and go with the flow.
I’m also okay with the world looking at me and seeing me as a strong woman.
But man, just once—just fucking once—it would be nice for someone to see through my strength. It would be nice if they could see the vulnerability beyond my strength instead of hushing me or saying, “Now’s not the time for you to crack jokes, Roopa,” or shuffling awkwardly and having a mini-meltdown of their own when they see a few teardrops flowing from my eyes. It would be nice, for once, for them to instead squeeze my hands hard and say, “It’s okay, Roopa. You don’t always have to be the strong one. We are here for you.”
Just. Fucking. Once.