Recently I crossed paths with an old acquaintance from my surgery days. She wasn’t a friend, just someone who worked in the same hospitals, and lived in the same set of buildings we all piled into during off hours. Since those days long ago, both of us have gone on to create families and pursue our passions. Mine: picking up Legos, assimilating with Asians, gardening, breast cancer, armchair evangelism, and relentless blogging; Hers: raising children and becoming a successful and well-liked surgeon. This is someone I see only once or twice a year, which makes it easy to forget that she hates me.
Maybe hate is a strong word. She probably doesn’t think of me at all until I show up all chipper and chatty. Having spent many years with long, blond hair and a weakness for clothes that swish or cling, I’m accustomed to being judged. And often the Book of Britt totally matches its silly cover. I once botched an interview by unprofessionally describing both the experiments being done in my lab and the tenured Harvard professor mentoring me as “sexy.” (I still blanch when I recall the blank stare from the un-amused interviewer.) My enthusiasm for life, science, my three boys, my friends… it occasionally bubbles over into my cocktail conversations and makes me seem more frivolous than I am. My demographic is mostly men over fifty who don’t mind if a younger woman slips “sexy” into the discussion. But professional women who sandwich a career saving lives into the daily grind of raising children are going to find me occasionally ridiculous.
Those of you who tolerate me on a more regular basis can vouch for the fact that I’m not always absurd. There have been plenty of black-tie-optional events where my demeanor and décolletage are appropriately restrained. Over the years, as my hemlines have dropped, so has the Stockton Family habit of saying absolutely everything that comes into my head. And even if at first blush you find me irritating in my ebullience, I’m going to do my middle child best to make you like me. But some people will be stubbornly immune to my charms. After our recent reunion, even Bernie admitted that this otherwise lovely woman won’t be adding me to her holiday card list. “It isn’t her. Everyone really likes her. It’s you… she really doesn’t like you.” Thanks, honey.
Of course, this recent snubbing has me if not desperate to win her over, then at least launching some theories about why anyone wouldn’t find me fabulous. Maybe my insistence on looking super girly in a decidedly masculine room dotted with pant-suited women is annoying. Maybe I’m a disappointing statistic, dragging down the perception of Women in Surgery, by choosing not to pursue it. There’s April’s theory: suspicion of some call room dalliance with her husband a decade ago. I suppose it’s also entirely possible that I’m ridiculous. Who knows? But not even my pixie haircut echo of Cancer could coax this woman into exchanging pleasantries. I suppose I could take some sort of odd pride in being this repellent.
Admittedly, what I perceived as a social slight might not have been that at all. Maybe after a long day of doing important and inspiring things, she couldn’t muster the energy to exchange more than two words with anyone other than the small children she’s racing home to kiss goodnight. And someone who can write five self-involved paragraphs about ten socially awkward minutes is easily considered a bit irritating and vain. Certainly I don’t need to be liked by everyone. (Total lie. I do, and I completely expect to be.) I don’t see this person enough for it to matter in a committed-to-win-her-over way, but if we were more neighborly, I just might kill her with kindness, bombard her with baked goods, overwhelm her with offers for the this and that of child care. And she’d totally love me. Totally. Cue montage of us shoe shopping, heads thrown back cackling over our chardonnays, side by side in downward dog, arms locked entering the theater to see Twilight.
Or… she totally wouldn’t. I am assuming not only that this person finds me loathsome, but also that I know why. The only thing I do know is that I can be rattled by one little surgeon who doesn’t think I’m the bees knees. However I live with two little boys that do, and a larger boy who happily embraces my sunny-side-up-ness, my lack of interest in returning to the world of medicine, and my ability to work “sexy” into a discussion. And I like that girl. I think I’ll go pour her some Prosecco.