Yesterday morning, a lot of my friends got up and ran a festive Thanksgiving morning turkey trot race, whether it were 5 kilometers or a half-marathon like my fast and fabulous friend Kristi. In the past, I too have donned the running shoes of the determined and carb-adjacent and taken a spin around a road or two in triumph, as well to stave off whatever I was going to eat.
This Thanksgiving, the shoes stayed on the floor and my butt stayed on my couch watching “The Magnificent Seven” remake for the third time in 24 hours. There were years in the past that I would have felt like I was missing out, or slacking, or not keeping up with some standards set I set at a time of healthier knees. But this year, Leslie was perfectly fine chilling. And this morning, before anyone else was up, I got up, retrieved those shoes, and hit the road for my very own 5K, my own personal 3.1 mile race.
It was free. It was in my own neighborhood. And the only person I was racing against was me.
I won against the voices in my head that judged me against other people or against that me with the better knees. I won against the idea that run/walk intervals aren’t good enough (Better Knees Leslie used to judge run/walkers, and she was a jerk for that. Wasn’t her business.) I won against the narcissistic urges that assumed the other walkers and runners were judging me because they were minding their own business and not thinking about me. I won against Better Knees Leslie’s assertions that she used to be faster and would have been embarrassed 10 years ago at this time, forgetting that four years ago when she was grieving and heavy she couldn’t have run even this fast, so shut up.)
I won because I ran because I wanted to, not because I had to, or because I hated myself for what I ate and drank yesterday (Y’all, I do not. Not even for a little bit. Had more for breakfast. Ain’t scared.) I won because I live in a place where you can run in shorts the day after November, where there is sunshine and other people excited for our good fortune.
I won because I ran. And my medal was a bowl of white rice and homemade gravy. What have you done for yourself today that was for you? That brought you joy, that you celebrated yourself for? That was your win?
Imagine that you had a friend – or someone claiming to be your friend – who took every opportunity to remind you and anyone who might think you’re awesome that, well, you’re actually not. For your own good, of course.
Say someone congratulates you on finishing the 10K you’ve been training for, and your “friend” jumps in and says “Well, she finished third from last and she got dusted by like eight old ladies and a guy pushing a stroller with giant triplets, but she thanks you!” Or when a co-worker tells you that it looks like you’ve lost weight, and your “friend” buffalos her way between you to confess that you’re actually fat and, in fact, have just pulled your entire face out of a container of Halo Top. Hey it’s an email list
You know how they say some people can’t take a compliment? Your “friend” intercepts them, wraps them in a big ol’ bow of negativity frosted with a thin layer of plain-spokedness and sweetness, and then lobs them back at your head, all the while explaining that she’s just trying to keep you humble. That you’d be more relatable if you were more self-deprecating, more chill about your accomplishments. You know, so people like you more!
This person, of course, is a bad friend. She sucks. She won’t allow you to luxuriate in the joy of any moment, of any triumph, of any anything, under the guise of keeping you humble. Of not scaring people away. Of not being conceited. Of course, big-headed conceited people exist, but this friend won’t let you own your victories, keeping you small and even managing to make anyone who compliments you feel like an idiot for saying anything. You probably wouldn’t let some chick do this to you.
So why do you do it to yourself?
Vocabulary.com defines a self-deprecating person as someone who “knows her own weaknesses and shortcomings and isn’t afraid to point them out, often in a humorous way.” Seems harmless enough, right? We like people who can laugh at themselves and try to make others more comfortable. It’s even been said that a self-deprecating sense of humor can be a sign of a good leader. But the slope between laughing at oneself and beating oneself up is slippery business, and for women, who are traditionally socialized to believe that our femininity requires humility and a slavish commitment to everyone else’s comfort at the expense of our own, it’s all the more covered in axel grease and banana peels.
As the release of my first book, “Black Widow,” gets closer, more and more people are telling me how cool the prospect of publication is. And I find that even as a 48-year-old woman who knows how hard I’ve worked in the wake of my widowhood and single motherhood, and as a proud survivor in the turbulent world of print journalism, it’s hard not to smile shyly and say “Oh, thank you, but lots of people write books.” WHY WOULD I DO THAT? Do you know how hard and how long I’ve worked on this thing? Do you know how difficult is was to basically stab myself in the gut and bleed that out onto a page? I mean, no one expects me to say that in cocktail conversation, but there’s no reason to act like I jotted it down on a Publix receipt and handed it to my editor along with my shopping list. It was a feat to write it, find an agent, get a deal and now seeing it through to publication. Why do I feel the knee-jerk need to downplay that for some supposed sense of relatability?
Elle.com UK writer Katie O’Malley wrote that her tendency towards self-deprecation was, on the surface, about “vulnerability and authenticity,” as well as a way to point out her own flaws before anyone else can. “But… and it’s a big ‘but’…,” she wrote, “in highlighting our insecurities, putting down our talents, and striving for the laugh instead of congratulation, could we not just be cementing a negative narrative about ourselves? At a certain point, if you call yourself ‘stupid’ enough times, you’ll start to believe it and so will other people.”
In the words of Milli Vanilli, girl, you know it’s true. And it’s hard to stop, once you get going, like a reflex as sharp and as involuntary as if we’d been hit in the knee with one of those little rubber hammers by our doctor. For me, I think that impulse comes from a lot of places. It’s that previously-mentioned societal pressure on women to downplay our awesomeness, an insecurity that dates back to being an awkward, goofy kid with bifocals who didn’t know when to shut up, and even an affinity for self-deprecating comedians, from Joan Rivers to Jeanane Garafolo to Wanda Sykes, who draw laughs from pointing out their own flaws, their aging faces, their dating disasters and other weirdness. Being able to accept and laugh at those things is great, but at what point does it put a stopper in our greatness?
Years ago I asked Barbara Corcoran of real estate empire and “Shark Tank” fame what she might have done differently at the start of her career, and she told me that she “would have learned earlier to take credit for it. You see men — it starts when they’re boys on the playground — who yell ‘I’m king of the mountain’ when they’re just halfway up. Women can have gotten up the mountain, built a house and had to paint the kitchen, and still say ‘I think I’m queen of the mountain?’ I would have owned it sooner.”
Boom. We as humans, particularly as human women, have got to stop believing that it’s somehow unseemly – unladylike, even – to own our own success, whether that’s building a company or building a Hot Wheels track at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning without cursing too loud and waking your kid up. We have to learn to accept praise with a simple “Thank you,” without following it with “…but it wasn’t a big deal.” Better yet, when someone says “That must have been so hard,” we have to learn to say “Yes! Yes it was!” We have to learn to be comfortable with our own awesome.
Otherwise, we’re being bad friends to ourselves. And as we’ve already discussed, no one needs friends like that.
Part of my superpower as a life-long Features writer is relating seemingly random things to each other and writing pithy, moving and meaningful pieces about them. Thus, I’m going to make a connection between hanging out with a group of widows – my people – for the weekend, relationship goals, a fictional minivan murder and Peter Cetera’s gorgeously schmaltzy 1986 masterpiece “The Glory of Love” from “The Karate Kid II.”
Yes, Daniel-San figures prominently into my current love philosophy , just not in the way I thought in 1986 when I was hanging ripped-out glossy “Bop” magazine posters of Ralph Macchio in my locker. Wonders never cease.
So, I watch an NBC show called “Good Girls” about three moms who become a criminal enterprise, and it’s dark and funny in ways that make me feel bad about laughing. That happened in last week’s episode (SPOILER!) when a truly despicable guy was accidentally run down with a minivan by the (sketchy) woman he’d blackmailed into a relationship. The whole thing was set to chorus of “The Glory of Love,” where Mr. Cetera earnestly pledges to be “a man who would fight for your honor” and “the hero that you’re dreaming of.” But everybody here is awful, nobody has any honor, and in the end, the lady becomes her own hero, in a way, by getting rid of the man she was kind of trying to love. It’s super-cynical and mean, and it made me start thinking about my own approach to love.
And no, that doesn’t include running people over with my minivan. I don’t even have a minivan. Or run people over. Y’all can put the phone down.
What I mean is that like a lot of little girls, I grew up loved the idea of a man being willing to fight for me, to selflessly face dragons and wars and evil karate guys to save me, and to keep me safe. I used to and still do wear that Peter Cetera song OUT in the car. Back in the day, I was imagining the handsome man who was going to lay it all on the line for me. Decades later I married my late husband Scott, who was that man, but with a twist. Scott was not a cute young karate guy – he was a chunky middle-aged guy who fought most of his battles with sharply worded emails and calls to people’s managers. But I have no doubt he would have taken off his rings and thrown down for me if necessary. He had my back, in all things, and the thing that seemed most heroic about him is that he knew that I would fight for him, too.
Which is to say he was the hero that I’d been dreaming of, and I was his hero, too. He saw me not as a helpless damsel who needed someone to save him, but as his partner in a mutual, lifelong love story in which we always saved each other.
Then Scott died, and I couldn’t save his life – a thing I’ve had to forgive myself for, because I don’t have time to wallow when the kingdom still needs saving, the rent needs to be paid and this child still needs raising. I thought about that during my annual visit to Camp Widow, a weekend conference of bereaved partners where we try to make sense of the love and life we’ve lost and find the tools to start cobbling together a future that isn’t remotely what we wanted. We’ve all been broken, and are at varying stages of bleeding and scabbing over and slowly healing. These people are my heroes, particularly the ones just months into this awful journey, who somehow cut through the shock, put on shoes and came to a widow convention. That’s miraculous. What I’ve done, I think, is to honor the hero Scott was by making good on his belief in me and getting it done. I am my own hero.
This has extended to what I’m looking for in my next partner. I still want someone who is willing to fight for me. Not for my honor – I can do that. I’ve done that. What I need is a man who’ll fight for my budget by not freeloading, who’ll fight for my mental health by not gaslighting me or dismissing me when it makes him feel better about himself. I need a man who will fight for my career by standing by me and supporting me rather than belittling it because it’s not about him. I need a man who’s impressive enough as an adult, as a father to his own kids and a potential father to mine, to make me look up to him, and to trust him to have my back. I want a man who fights for me and my self-esteem by making me a priority in his life, not a placeholder to make him feel better until something better comes along.
In short, I need a man whose ego doesn’t require someone who needs saving, who sees me as a symbol of his own strength. I can’t do that for you, and you can’t do that for me. I want a partner, not a knight who sees me as a conquest. I fought with Scott, I’ve fought without him and now I need another partner who’ll toss me a sword (or give me space to kick, if we’re going back to our “Karate Kid” theme) and be willing to fight alongside me.
We’re saving each other. That’s the kind of glory I’d love.
Hi, I'm Leslie
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