One Big Question: What Do You Want People To Say About You After You’ve Left The Room?
Let’s just be honest with ourselves: of course people gossip about us. Gossip is delicious and rich and sticky and filling, flowing like a low-grade American maple syrup on the otherwise bland waffles of our lives. But here’s the thing: I can’t decide if I care. It’s very cool to say “I don’t care what people say about me,” to be bold and self-assured and content, like a woman in a superhero comic or a tampon commercial, but it’s less cool to secretly (and not-so-secretly, hello Internet) be possessed by the thought. So here’s a fun exercise: what if we got to choose? This month’s One Big Question is what do you want people to say about you after you’ve left the room, because it’s a way for our deepest insecurities to mingle with our private aspirations and come up with something honest and hopeful, and quite possibly, true.
“Does anybody know if she’s on Twitter?”
I’m at a bit of a personal crossroads in this respect. I used to be sufficiently boy-crazy that I just wanted men to notice me, which they never really did, for the record, so I just awkwardly zeroed-in on male attention in any given room. And then it was funniness, wanting everyone to think I was funny. But right now I want people to think I’m warm and attentive, that’s what I’m going for now: that people who’ve just interacted with me will think “oh, that woman is such a good listener! I made a connection with her!” Which I think is currently working out about half the time? I’m sure it seems insincere to at least 30% of people, but it’s really dogged effort being mistaken for insincerity. I want to be good to you.
I only ever ever ever want people to say I’m funny (“Does she do standup?” “No no, but tells stories sometimes.”), but I wouldn’t mind if they said nice things about my jewelry too.
I was thinking about this a lot recently actually, because in the past year I’ve made some new friends and new social circles, so thinking “ooh what does everyone think of me?” comes up a lot more than it does with people you’ve known for 10 years. I guess there are all the normal things. I want to be thought of as smart and charming and funny and hot (ugh I want everyone to think I’m gorgeous SO BAD sometimes). But I think the thing I want more than anything is to be seen as sincerely nice. Not just “nice” in that innocuous way where there’s nothing actively bad about someone’s interaction with me, but rather a legitimately good person. And I probably want to be seen that way because that’s what I really want to be. I get very anxious about being a good listener and I try really hard to be a good friend, and I’d give up any glamours of coolness or edge to just have someone think “wow, I always love talking to her” as I leave. They can think that though, and then out loud they can go “her ass looks so hot in that jumpsuit.”
Honestly thinking about this question is making me break out in stress hives. So hopefully people are saying, like, “She seems really free of hives and overall like a nice girl — nay, woman.” Realistically I just want everyone to feel heard and at ease. I get told I’m ~intimidating~ a lot, and I don’t like that idea, so I tend to make a lot of self-deprecating jokes to overcompensate, which can end up being a bit much in a different way. It’s a fine balance and I don’t think I have it exactly right. I just hope people feel sort of comfortable and lightly flirted with after I leave, like they might text me later and don’t feel at all self-conscious about what they’ll write.
Serious answer, “She is clever and kind!” More serious answer, “And her caftan was fantastic.”
“Wow, that lady sure has a lot of opinions.”
“Ugh, I know. But great shoes!”
I used to want people to think that I’m nice, but I now understand that there’s a difference between thinking that someone’s nice and actually knowing that someone’s nice. I aspire to the latter, but I think the former is what happens most of the time. It would be nice if people thought I was smart, if people thought I was funny, and if I came off as just the tiniest touch intimidating, I’d like that too. My perception of myself is often very different than what I project. I think that I’m meaner than I actually am, that I’m more dismissive and ruder to humans I don’t know. Maybe it’s true. I would want people to meet me for the first time, and, after I’ve swept out of the room in a haze of cigarette smoke and China Rain by Body Time musk oil, “Oh. She’s funny. She’s nice! She seems smart. I’d talk to her again. I like her.” I’m a Libra. Libras like to be liked.
Huh, I guess I’d like them to say “OH MY GOSH HAVE YOU EVER MET SOMEONE SO AMAZING?? SULAGNA IS SO PRETTY AND SMART AND FUNNY” before fainting? Just kidding. I’d really like people to have enjoyed their conversation with me, and feel like their brain got a workout (I hope I feel this too!). I mean, sometimes I meet people who seem really unimpressed with me so I hope they continue to feel nothing. But I love when I meet someone new and we just talk and talk and we both feel listened to and both feel kind of warm and smart. Also, I really like to encourage people who tell me their hopes/dreams/aspirations, so I hope those people feel a little closer to their goals, or feel like they can accomplish them.
Whenever I leave a room, I hope that women — in particular — feel warm feelings towards me. I want them to see me as an ally and not a threat. I want them to say, “she’s really cool” and smile in a very approving kind of way — like I passed their cool girl test and I can go out into the world with full confidence in myself. I also want them to notice my outfit and all of the nuances and considerations I put into it that men wouldn’t understand or care about — but women would. Like purposely unkempt eyebrows or mom jeans. Those were intended for the female gaze in mind.
The thing about OBQ is I always worry someone else will have a BETTER, more CLEVER answer or something more meaningful. And that’s how I am sometimes in public, even if I wish I weren’t. So this one is especially hard because secretly I want everyone to be like “Leah is a goddess.” But I also want them to say “I love when she’s around. I always feel better and happier when she’s here. She’s funny and smart, yeah, but she’s a real friend.”
Let “She didn’t let him get away with it,” be the crest on my coat of arms. I work as a bot in a machine. My rooms are Slack channels, group chats, public posts, private DMs, the panopticon of “Seen by____.” Too often, men are allowed to speak in these rooms with impunity, all under the guise of giving feedback. I resist my first impulse to let things lie, and make myself give clapbacks that can be documented for myself and for other women, because you’ll always need receipts. (Always take screenshots.) Because if we’re fighting on a field where our work is highly documented and the systems of power and promotion are frustratingly opaque, I don’t want someone to tell me privately that he was offensive. I find solidarity in listening, but not in silence. I don’t need the last word, but I want to be remembered as someone who didn’t let hurts go unacknowledged if I was in the room when it happened. I want to be remembered as kindly as one homegirl told me, “You cried, you didn’t break eye contact, and you said what everyone had been thinking.” And I do this even as a cowardly people-pleasing bot who hates confrontation, because I know the difference between being The Only One and crying out your rage in a bathroom can be you interrupting your colleague with, “He’s wrong. She’s not the only one who feels this way.”
“She really looks and is dressed like a human. That human woman 100% wears clothes that don’t have mayonnaise stains, her face is cleaned with some iteration of regularity, and her bra is surely not flecked with Lucky Charms residue, because that would be insane, but even if it were, I like her; she is kind, and a person who functions. She looks me in the eyes when I speak and seems to truly, deeply care about things and ideas and the way corgis butts look when they run down stairs. She’s the sort of human person I’d like to share some cheese with. Camembert, maybe.”
Jazmine Hughes is mean and impressive, just like you thought.