I recently came across a 2007 study out of the University of Arizona that found that on average, women speak about 16,000 words a day. It seems like a huge number, but what I immediately wondered when I read the article was whether anyone had ever done a study on how many words we don't say.
I don't just mean the, "screw you, asshole" that runs through our head when someone cuts us off, or the, "Really? I have to hear again how yoga would change my life?"
I'm talking about the 24-hour news ticker that's scrolling across your brain -- the mental monologues, declarations, rants and pleas that never quite make it to your mouth. Fine, I'll own it -- my mouth. I know that this isn't only a women's issue, but numerous studies show that women are less likely to speak up at work, in an abusive situation, in the company of men, in politics, in positions of power, at school -- so I think we can safely assume that it is more of a women's issue.
I'm talking about the 24-hour news ticker that's scrolling across your brain -- the mental monologues, declarations, rants and pleas that never quite make it to your mouth.
A few years back when I watched Brené Brown's Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, I was floored by it and not just because Brené Brown was funny as hell and so super smart. It was the idea, the possibility, that we could all connect and so safely take our space.
But although it sounded beautiful, productive and meaningful, it also sounded terrifying. A bit like joining a communal quilting group where there's a very good chance some of the members would stab you with a needle.
Because really, how comforting is this definition?
Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
Seriously, that definition could be used as a PSA against being vulnerable in the same way that Don't Drink and Drive campaigns work.
It's got to the point, I think, where the words I haven't said probably outnumber the words I have. In their truth, at least.
And anyway, I like to think that I pass for a, tell-it-like-it-is person. I'm a loud-mouthed, argumentative extrovert -- as anyone who knows me will tell you. I know just what to say and how far to push it. But I'm fed up with my "fake it till you make it" bravado. Because it's got to the point, I think, where the words I haven't said probably outnumber the words I have. In their truth, at least.
The irony in writing this, of course, is that I am terrified of what people -- those who know me or not -- will think of that statement. And as much as I'd love to be one of those women who say, "the beauty of getting older is that I don't care what anybody thinks," I'm not. I care desperately what people think. And I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone. Because I know for a fact I'm not the only person who doesn't speak her mind when it matters most to her, who's been afraid to come across as too sensitive, selfish, needy, weak, aggressive, angry, unreasonable, prudish. I'm not the only one self-censoring her truths. And I find that devastatingly sad.
We all hold back or suck it up to a degree -- of course we do. But the other sad irony is that I've probably come across as all of those things at some point or another anyway, because what finally ended up coming out of my mouth was so misspoken, misplaced and misdirected.
Now, I'm a sucker for a rom-com. It's not just the happy endings that get to me -- it's that at some point in the movie, they get to say -- or better, sometimes YELL -- what they've been wanting to say for so long. The difference between real life and rom-coms is that usually, by the time those of us who aren't Meg, Jen or Julia yell it, it's coming from such a hurt, angry place that it never ends well.
I know for me that the words I don't say affect my life as much as those I do.
Over a glass of wine with a recently-divorced friend the other night, she told me that she wished she'd been able to say what she really meant during her marriage from a place of love instead of finally leaving him. I've spoken to other women who regret not speaking up instead of quitting a job; never telling a friend that they didn't feel supported instead of deleting their contact; confronting a parent before they died; standing up for themselves in an argument rather than taking that anger out on someone else; standing up for someone else instead of staying silent. I know for me that the words I don't say affect my life as much as those I do.
A rom-com scene that always gets to me, no matter how many times I've watched it is when Love Actually's, lovesick Mark finally makes the decision to get over his best friend's new wife. He steps out into the street after serenading her with confessional whiteboards and says to himself, "Enough. Enough now." I hate the whiteboards but I love the resolution. Self determination instead of self censorship.
I've been working on reaching my own, Enough. Enough now, moment for a while. And I think I'm finally there. Coincidentally, it happened on International Women's Day 2016. I checked in to see what the women I admire -- mostly writers of some style or another -- were saying on Facebook and Twitter and blogs and camera and I suddenly realized that instead of wishing I could be more like them, I could just become my own version of them. I could be my own truth.
So if anyone's interested in joining a metaphorical quilting group where you can be up front about not wanting to be stabbed in the eye with a needle, let me know. And I really mean that.