Whatever Happened to the Girl Code? THE COMPLETE STORY


This is a picture of me winning - that girl with the perfect profile is one of my best friends... None of this would be possible without her.

I first released this post in series form, because it seemed too long to post all at once. Then I realized that was kind of annoying, so now that they are all out there, I decided to release them as one very, very long post. 

Lots of love,
Dena 

Introduction

I am constantly amazed by how lucky I am to have the female friends that I do. Somehow, I managed to acquire a truly remarkable set of them - each one more impressive, fun, and gorgeous than the next. Not only are they stunning - they are also brilliant, compassionate, funny and interesting. They have profoundly interesting jobs, sparkling conversational skills, exceptional dance moves, and killer style. I feel humbled and honored to know them, to be included in their activities and invited to their homes. Their visits inspire me, carry me through hard times, and keep me going when I think I cannot make it through another day. They are the reason I am a feminist - proud to be a girl, comfortable in myself, able to be open and raw.

But not all girls are like this. Some of them compete with each other. They make themselves bigger by trying to make other women small. I'm often reminded of the line from one of the classics of my youth - Drive Me Crazy - "When guys compete it's overt, ringing a bell with a sledgehammer or luggie chucking, the size of your engine or whatever. When girls compete, it's art. And Alicia, she's an artist." Melissa Joan Hart is of course describing her wicked BFF, the scheming/lying/sexually aggressive character who tells the star basketball player's girlfriend that he's in a cult to end their relationship so she can have him for herself.

Watching this movie again as an "adult" felt too contrived and vicious to be real. The plot mechanism of a charming, ABC Family movie from the last century. The sad truth is that it exists as a cinematic trope because it happens. Women do nasty things to other women.

My father-in-law gifted me with the most amazing book for xmas.  Cancer Vixen is a stunning "graphic memoir" of breast cancer. The author, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, is my spirit animal. My only regret is not getting this book sooner. Nobody warned me about the weight gain either.  I wish I had been so precise about documenting the outfits/shoes I wore to each chemo.  Most of all, the very real fears and struggles of going through cancer while in a new, exciting romantic relationship with a much sought after man. A man, much like my own, who has girls throwing themselves at him constantly. 

This is such a part of my cancer love story I was shocked to realize I had never written it down. When it comes to the list of indignities I suffered during my diagnosis and cancer treatment, this one still invokes one of the most painful gut punches. It's one of the few stories I have about breast cancer that shows how humanity let me down instead of lifting me up. I struggle to understand it, to reconcile it with the love, positive energy and constant support that the universe sent my way to get me through this nightmare.

So, like all things I struggle with, I decided to write about it here. To see if by documenting the story I could finally put an answer to this question: What happened to the Girl CodeEspecially when the other woman in question is going through cancer. 

Chapter 1: Meet Cute


My husband is a dreamboat. In the early days of our relationship I used him as a testimony to my skills at shopping. I joked that I ordered him online. He checks all. the. boxes.

Tall? 6'5. Smart? He went to Stanford, then worked as a research assistant at Harvard. I guess that will do. Good looking? Um, he modeled for a Crew catalogue once. Successful? Well, he was in "the first 50" at a publicly traded company that everyone has heard of. So we'll go with yes. Athletic? He rowed crew at the aforementioned fancy school. Kind & Generous? Yup. Yup. Yup. 

To say that my husband is a catch is like saying fashion girls like black. Nobody is going to argue with you. He's a human being, so he's not perfect, but in a world where such a thing as checklist's for human beings exists, he's a winner. 

We met in an adorable way. I was writing a book about online dating for a startup, doing my research and messaging guys while also seeing someone IRL. He was not the one for me, but I wasn't ready to admit that yet. I messaged with my husband a lot but I refused to meet him, which probably drove him crazy as such a thing had never happened to him before. 




Then I stopped seeing that other guy. I was finishing up edits on my book. I decided to message the guy who would come to be The Hubs. He asked for my number. I gave it to him. We talked on the phone for 3 hours. We arranged to meet that night for drinks. He was late (he's always late, see previous imperfections) and when he walked in, he walked right up to me, grabbed me and kissed me. We've been together ever since. His version of this story is, "We met for the first time at a bar and 90 seconds later we were making out." Men. 

Our early relationship was basically one long date. From that first kiss we became inseparable. He was very honest with me that he was emerging from a very, um, single phase. There had been some drama. Lot's of girls thought that they could "change" him, but he wasn't ready to date. They said they understood, but then they flipped out when they realized he was serious. He warned me. He told me he felt differently about me. I believed him. I've always known I'm something of a catch, even if I occasionally acted like I didn't. 

The walls in my apartment were very thin. We would have a date that would last for days.  He would tell me he needed to leave for some kind of "work thing" later, but then we were having too much fun and he wouldn't want to go. He would see if he could "work something out." I would hear him in the other room canceling dates with other girls. The work thing would disappear. I would pretend I didn't hear, all while smugly smiling to myself and going about my life supremely confident that if he was the one for me everything would work out the way it was supposed to. I credit my mother with this rare and elusive confidence, which has always served me well. 

About 3 weeks into this blissful, never ending hang we started going out in public together. His friends seemed to like me a lot, and I would find myself included in lots of social activities. Never a clinger, I would wander around on my own, having conversations with other people, going to the bathroom by myself. I'm a rebel.

I started to notice a strange phenomenon. Whenever I left Hubs, other girls would materialize at his side. If he beckoned me over, these same girls would dissolve. Disappear into thin air. Ghostly apparitions. Was I crazy? Hallucinating? Who were these phantoms haunting my consciousness?

But of course, they weren't phantoms. They were the ghosts of "girlfriends" past. Hubs was emitting what we like to call "taxi light on". They say men are like taxis, if the light isn't on, no matter how awesome you are, they just aren't going to take you home. Once the light comes on, well, it's open season. 


Chapter 2: The Haunting


OPEN SEASON. 

Never having been a woman who found taken men appealing, I was astonished to learn about this behavior. Realizing that hubs was starting to get serious about me, they thought to themselves, why her? Why this giant, size 10 brunette? Look how crazy she dresses. I am blonde, I have never eaten a carb in my life, all my shoes are from Tory Burch, we belong next to each other in the J Crew catalogue. ** If he's willing to get serious it should be with me and not her. 

These women, some of whom had access to his phone, were omnipresent. One particularly aggressive one would see him at these events, WITH ME, and then have her friends yell at him while I was gone. Upset, he would tell me about this, filled with remorse at hurting them but confused because he had never been anything but honest with them about his intentions. He still doesn't understand women. Then, usually between the hours of 11pm and 2am, these same chicks would text him - apologetic, telling him they needed to talk in person, asking him to meet them. Lying next to him I would see these texts and feel nothing but pity. Why didn't these girls have friends who would take their phones away? My friends would never let me violate the girlcode this way, would never let me send late night texts to a man I had seen several hours before on a date with another woman.

These texts continued once we'd moved in together. "Oh, I saw a (insert kind of dog you like) at the beach this morning. Now it's 11pm and I thought I'd text this picture to you in a super casual way. What're you doing right now?" We laughed together at their fecklessness, but in my stomach I just felt sad. 

Who were these shameless girls? What happened to the girl code? When did it become OK to send late night texts to men you knew were in committed relationships? 

I cannot say I have lived a perfect, innocent life, but going after someone who is seriously taken seems like a gigantic karmic misstep to me. It's just asking for trouble. There are actually enough men to go around. Every pot has a lid.

For the first time in my life I was in a totally committed, loving relationship where I felt 100% confident that this man had chosen me, so of course we were going to be constantly tested.

Women in bars would approach him and stroke his face. The late night texts continued. I took it all in stride - after all, he was mine. I had won. I hadn't tried to change him even a little bit, and because of that we were so happy, so confident in our rightness that even these blatant violations of the girl code seemed like nothing to me.

Then I found the lump

**I have absolutely no evidence to support this except their aggressive behavior 

Chapter 3: The Ultimate Betrayal 

So I had cancer. It was really hard. Choosing to go so public with my diagnosis and my experiences was overall such a positive experience. It was like I was a thirsty woman in the desert and sharing my story turned on this amazing faucet of love, positive energy, support, attention and everything else I needed to get me through the nightmare that is being 29 and having breast cancer. The end.

Just kidding.

If only life was like that, it would be so wonderful. But of course it's not. Life is nasty and hard. Just when you think you can't handle anymore, something else comes along to show you just how strong and resilient you truly are.

The hubs is a much more private person than I am. Since sharing my story is also sharing his story, it's just another reason he's such a saint. I think given the choice he would've shouldered the burden of my diagnosis with stoic, waspy silence. His boho, hippie, diarrhea-mouthed writer of a girlfriend didn't give him an option. Everyone knew I was sick. Everyone who knew him knew that he was standing by me, even though I tried to respect his privacy but not writing about him too often.

Is there anything hotter than a guy who stays by his (new) girlfriend's side during a cancer diagnosis? As if he wasn't perfect enough, he was also a truly good human.

So, let's review. Dena has cancer. Everyone knows that she's sick. She's blogging about it on the reg, getting some traffic, getting to write for some amazing publications, her boyfriend by her side. Everyone knows they are staying together, that they are living together while she goes through chemo.

Seems like the perfect time to send him a text message and hit on him, right?


Let's set the scene.

Bald headed, pukey Dena is lying in bed next to hubs. It's a random weeknight. Suddenly his phone pings. All she can see is a text message that takes THREE screen swipes. That's a lot of text for a text. Hubs seems confused.

Who is it? Dena says. "It's her." he replies.


I know who her is, she of the late night texts and amazing disappearing acts. I've never met her, but I know who she is. I've seen all the texts she's sent him during our relationship.

I wish I had saved a screenshot, but I was too angry to do anything but cry and force him to delete it.

I will have to paraphrase it here:

Hey, you. Congratulations on your beautiful girlfriend and cute dog. She seems amazing, talking so publicly about being sick. I think you are amazing for staying with her. It seems like your life is about to get super tough and awful taking care of her. You are incredible for putting up with how terrible it's about to get. I just want you to know that if you ever left her, I would understand and I would be here for you. Like HERE for you, like sexually available to be your wife. I think you are the best guy ever and way too good to waste your life on a sick girl, and I don't want you to forget about me or the fact that you have other options besides staying with her. Did I already mention how horrible it's going to be for you taking care of her while she goes through this? xoxo


Time for a flashback. I tried to end things with hubs several times during all of this. Privately, secretly, I cried as I told him I loved him too much to subject him to this. I clung to him, then pushed him away. The fertility preservation hormones made me crazy. Then I lost my hair and fell apart. It was so hard. I knew how noble, how truly good he was, and that he would never abandon anyone who needed him.

I needed him so badly, but I was also full of pride. I didn't want to be with someone who only wanted to be with me because he was too ashamed to leave.  He was a good guy. Good guys don't leave their girlfriends because they have cancer. I checked in with him constantly, assured him regularly that I would defend his decision to leave me with every public breath in my body. Acted awful to try to drive him away. None of it worked. He loved me, too.

Slowly it became too exhausting to feed that much self doubt. I trusted him. I loved him. He loved me. Life was making things hard enough without me trying to make things harder. We just worked. He was there for me in every way I needed to and in exchange, I gave up trying to push him away and let him love me. Let him take care of me. Let him be the good guy he was, my good guy. Maybe possibly my soulmate. It wasn't how normal people figure out if they are meant to spend their lives together, but it was how we did it. Slowly the ugly, "noble" monster who wanted to spare him from this cancer nightmare was wilting inside of me.

Then this text message came and it was like being hit by a car. While on chemo.

Of course I knew there were other girls who wanted him. Of course he could find someone easier, healthier to love. Of course taking care of someone with cancer, who you love, watching them suffer and being rendered totally helpless, is awful. Nothing she said was not true. Hell, I had been thinking it on repeat for months.

Who was I to deserve this amazing guy? I was so many awful things: bald, sick, helpless, fatter than ever, a hormonal mess. If people are checklists, I was winning at losing.

But to see it, written there, a proposal, from another woman... It made me furious.

How. Dare. She.

Where is the girl code? I have FREAKING CANCER... Using that as an excuse to steal away MY BOYFRIEND. Of all the nasty, crappy, horrible things to do to another woman.


reenactment of the horrible text*






Chapter 4: Anger + Acceptance 

How. Dare. She.

DEEP BREATH. LOUD VOICE.

I was shocked. I felt like the ugly "noble" monster inside of me was just thrown a big fat juicy steak. She was growing, banging angrily against the cage inside of me where I locked her. I wanted to lash out at Hubs, punish him for being so desirable.

But of course, it wasn't his fault. This was another challenge from the universe to teach me that I can control absolutely nothing. Except how I reacted. That was mine.

My anger at this violation of the girl code reared up inside of me. I knew her behavior was abominable. That my hubs was too good of a man to be with a woman who could throw me under the bus like that. I was not threatened by her - I was only threatened by my own monsters: insecurity, fear and the worst one, the one that eats my gratitude.

Hubs could love me, could see how viable and amazing I was. It was time that I did, too.

I would not let this poor creature drag me down. I would only pity her and then let it go. I would count my own blessings, instead of hers. I would channel my anger into a fire that would scorch my insecurities out of me until all that was left was space for more love.

So I made a very bitchy list.

Here's what I had that she didn't:

I had the strength to know that cancer was not my fault. It wasn't something I could control. Being a nasty, competitive clinger who went after other people's men was something she could control. She chose not to. Points: Dena

I had friends who would never let me send a text message like that. Who would protect me from my own big mouth and the seeming ease of communication that is the ill-advised late night text message. This girl had nobody taking care of her, had nobody saying - "You are the villain in this story. This is not you offering a comforting friendship to a guy going through something hard. This could be screenshot and put on the internet. Give me that phone." I did. Points: Dena

I know that this is not the kindest, most positive thing I have ever written. I know this poor girl would be ashamed if I outed her, something I would never do. I know she's in a relationship now, that years have passed and I am happily, blissfully, confidently married.

But this sad reality has haunted me. Why do women compete over love? Why do they let romantic love bring out a part of them that allows them to tear into other women? Who's truly winning with this behavior?

If we all strived to be the best versions of ourselves, celebrated each others triumphs, relished each others happiness and bolstered each other where would we be? If we didn't let subtle, petty manipulations suck dry our energy, feed our insecurities and weaken us, what could we accomplish?

Girl Code, as I have taken to calling it here, is just a kind of morality that says that we will feed the beast inside of us that gives instead of taking. That grows us bigger when we can be the person growing other people bigger.

Over time my anger at this girl turned to pity, then understanding and finally hope. Yes, I "won" but what I really won is not my husband - it's my friends. The girls I have the pleasure of knowing, who form the network of love and support that enable me and hubs to have such a full and happy life. Who hold me to a higher standard of morality, enforce in me the desire to be less competitive and more supportive of each other. Without them, there is no winning.

Let's bring back the Girl Code. Are you with me?

2 comments:

  1. I can't believe no one has commented, because this is amazing! A great read and a great message. I have been guilty of being jealous and insecure as I dissect every interaction my fiancé has with his ex. (Who happens to still be in his group of close friends). She is thinner than I, more bubbly, and sickeningly nice to everyone. But, I won't tear into her, as it has to do with my own insecurities and very little to do with her, actually. Turning it around now.

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    1. Being jealous is so human, it can't not exist. I deeply believe that what matters is how you harnass that energy - does it make you want to be kinder? bubblier? work harder? whatever it is, it can be a way to see (and then fix) something you want in your life that isn't there, which can be good. It's when it turns us against others, or ourselves!, that I think it can be bad. I am all about owning feelings, because you control them, they don't control you :)

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