The Waiting Room
When I was about eight years old, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out by my family’s mailbox. Not because I was waiting for the mail, I hasten to add, but because I was waiting for my best friend, playing in her yard across the street with someone else, to invite me to play, too.
Understand, this was my best friend. And whoever she was playing with was usually someone I knew from the neighborhood. And yet I was too—shy? afraid of rejection? proud?—to ask if I could join in.
So instead, I would simply put myself on display at the farthest-most reaches of my driveway, hoping desperately to be noticed. I’d twirl on the mailbox. I’d examine, with feigned intense interest, small rocks on the ground. I’d jump rope, seemingly vigorously counting my skips—but in truth, counting how many seconds had gone by and calculating how long I could continue to hang about without looking stupid.
But my best friend never asked me to join in. Not once.
How awful! How exclusionary! How snobby! But look at it from her likely perspective: HER best friend was playing by herself, rather stand-offishly, across the street, and not just calling out or coming over and asking to join in. They probably thought I was the snob.
I spent an awful lot of my youth waiting to be noticed and for others to intuit what I wanted: walking my dog an embarrassing number of times past the house where my crush lived; studying in the student union where the guy I adored from afar worked; standing just outside a group of people talking at a cocktail party, hoping to be included; pointedly arriving before the boss did and leaving after she did in the hopes it would lead to a promotion.
It never once occurred to me to simply ask for what I wanted.
One of the things I love most about growing older, about growing into myself and being comfortable in my skin, is that I’ve gotten so much braver about speaking up and asking for what I want or need. Stuff I wouldn’t have considered doing in my 20s, like asking if I can join friends on a group outing, asking for a raise or a job, even—horrors!—asking a man out.
A lot of women—and men—I know are experiencing something similar. We don’t want to waste time not living our best lives, not getting our needs met—time has become so much more precious. We have become so much more precious to ourselves. If we’re very lucky, we learn that thinking “If he/she/they truly cared, they’d know what I want without my having to tell them” is a ridiculous, not to mention ineffective, delusion. In fact, it’s about as insane as going into a restaurant and getting miffed because no one is bringing you the dinner you haven’t actually ordered.
So if you’re still spending time hanging on the fringes of your life and hoping others will make things happen for you, some thoughts: what do you really want? What do you need to say and to whom, in order to make that happen? What tiny steps can you take in the direction if your dreams?
Asking for what you want is no guarantee you’ll get it. There’s that annoying free will thing where other people get to make their own choices, after all.
But not asking for what you want? Pretty much a guarantee you’re gonna be left standing by the metaphorical mailbox. Waiting.