I grew up feeling embarrassed of my developing body, its acne, its freckles, its fatty thighs already full of stretch marks, its glasses and braces. I looked to other people for validation about my looks and everything else. I heard I was smart, I heard I was nice, I heard I was empathetic and sometimes people said I was funny.
Some boys seemed interested, and I looked to them for proof that I was worth noticing. Not many noticed. Now I realize people see what you show them. I was showing them someone who didn’t believe she was worth noticing.
Like many women of my generation, I got mixed messages about the place of sexuality in life. I had an old-school Catholic upbringing that was strong on shame and guilt, and didn’t have much experience prior to getting married in my early 20s. I had a couple clumsy, drunk, groping experiences with people who genuinely seemed to like me, and I liked them. Somewhere underneath it all, though, I was looking for validation, for that person who could make me sure of my worth.
In order for that validation to count, it would need to come from a really smart person, so I fell for a guy who was really smart—and emotionally incompetent. One time he asked me to leave through a bathroom window so his landlord wouldn’t know I had slept over.
The thing that hurts most in retrospect was that I believed him, that I crawled out that bathroom window. I wish I’d walked out the front door, yelling, “Thanks for the really bad sex.”
Later, after an episode where he ended sex abruptly, he broke up with me via an essay (not even a letter), the 80’s nerd version of breaking up via text. I figured I wasn’t worth his time, that I wasn’t smart enough and that there was something repulsive about my body.