I wanted to devise a way for women to be there for each other to express the honest realities of their lives without having to risk anything; to be able to speak openly without worrying about losing, offending, or being judged by, anyone. So I created my anonymous Women’s Realities Study to that end.
I invite any woman who’s interested to participate. There are 63 open-ended questionnaires on the major themes of being female, and you can respond to as many or as few as you like, and write as much or as little as you want.
Here’s part of my motivation for this undertaking. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you witness two girlfriends who run into each other and do the polite social exchange thing:
“Hey! How are you?!”
“I’m great! How are you?”
“Fine thanks. Things are good. Things are really good.”
Now let’s imagine each of these women is on her way to therapy. I’ll give you a list of just four of the hundreds of completely feasible scenarios that might be played out in the ensuing sessions.
1. “I just ran into a friend on the street. She and her husband always look disgustingly happy together…I bet THEY have sex. Then there’s my marriage. When do you decide there isn’t enough there to make it work?”
2. “I just ran into a friend on the street…I felt really self conscious. I told her I was fine, but I worried she thought I looked like shit. I drank so much again last night.”
3. “I just ran into a friend on the street. She works with John, but she doesn’t know about the affair.”
4. “I just ran into a friend on the street, and it was all I could do to pretend I was fine. She thinks my life is perfect. She’d be blown away if she knew how depressed I am. I hide it so well no one would believe it.”
Many parts of our realities are fiercely protected by our choice to keep them private. This is usually the case when we fear we’re the only ones thinking, feeling or doing something, and when we anticipate being judged. These fears are standard fare in therapy, but because we keep them secret, just as our parents and grandparents did, the general public isn’t fully aware of their abundance. Consequently, we tend to operate under the illusion that just because someone hasn’t confided something in us, they’re not going through it, and it makes it easy for others to make the same assumption about us.
It shouldn’t be that only therapists and priests know what’s truly going on under the surface of people’s lives, because it’s information we could all use to deepen our understanding of what we have in common. We’re more alike than different but our secrets complicate our ability to be soothed by this.
Having a more realistic view of what takes place at the most authentic level of our lives would build empathy and reduce judgment by having the power to influence the way we see ourselves, and the way we perceive others. It would make it easier for us to work through whatever was going on in our own lives, as well as to make us more compassionate toward those we’d otherwise be likely to judge out of hand.
To address the dilemma inherent in the battle of the safety of privacy versus the freedom of honesty, my goal is to gather these anonymous stories, put their psychological and emotional meaning into context, and make them available to women so we can learn from each other. One of the mediums through which I can do this is my Huffington Post blog.
Here are some excerpts from what hundreds of women 18-105 have wanted to share so far. I’ve selected quotes that reflect the full range of human experience, from the light and humorous all the way to the tragic, to illustrate that no matter what you want to share, or what you hope to hear from other women, there’s a place for it.
(Both questions, same woman.)
Q: In your most intense moments of love, what are your thoughts about your partner?
A: That he is the most wonderful, caring, kind, passionate man I could have dreamed of.
Q: In your darkest moments of anything approaching hatred, what are your thoughts about your partner?
A: That he is an absolute ignorant asshole with no social skills.
Q: Do you think our culture draws a distinction between single women who have never been married and divorced women? If so, how, and what are your feelings about this?
A: Yes – for divorced women “it happens” but for single women, there’s more of “why is she still single?” I feel somewhat defensive, sometimes embarrassed that I’m single, like somehow I’m (for lack of a better word) a failure in this aspect of my life. It’s like there’s something not normal about it. I feel like if I were divorced, I, and other people would say that at least I managed to get married. I also feel like I’d rather be single than married to someone I want to divorce.
Q: Please describe in detail the physical and emotional experience of an incident of abuse that stands out to you to this very day. What is the quality of this memory that makes it stand out?
A: My ex-husband in a drunken rage told me I was a fat pig-fuck attorney. I remember it because it was an unusual insult.
Q: What did you feel about surrendering your body as you knew it to the pregnancy? Did you worry about weight gain, stretch marks, Caesarean scars, breast enlargement, etc.? How was this for you?
A: I fully surrendered and assumed that none of those things would happen to little ol’ me! I didn’t get stretch marks on my stomach…I got them on my ass!!! Both cheeks look like a cat tried to make a flying leap onto them – but slid down.
Q: What do you want others to understand about your experience of your affair/s?
A: That it’s not as simple as some would like you to believe. Not all men are philanderers who have an adoring wife at home who just doesn’t understand them. Not all other women are desperate lonely women willing to settle for anyone who comes along, or women who just want to prey on other women’s husbands. Often it is a case of two people finding each other too late in life. Obligations have arisen, i.e. children, that make it hard to leave. People say we are selfish…I think sometimes, it is more selfish to leave rather than to stay. As one who left, I sometimes feel selfish. My son would have preferred I’d stayed married…
(81% of respondents to this questionnaire report having suffered from depression for over 15 years; 90% of those report hiding it.)
Q: If you hide the extent of your depression, what influences you to do so? And what are your fantasies of what people will think?
A: I’m worried about people asking why, because I don’t actually know. And I’m terrified of being abandoned by my friends.
Q: Please describe in detail the physical and emotional experience of an incident of sexual abuse that stands out to you to this very day. What is the quality of this memory that makes it stand out?
A: My grandfather would get into bed and tell me stories about when he was a prisoner of war and then he would fondle me. I don’t remember everything. I would stare at the top bunk above me and disconnect from my body and kind of disappear. When I think about it, I either feel numb or I vomit.
***We are our greatest resource. I hope my study will help women maximize it at no personal cost, and if you decide to participate, I, along with the women who will benefit, thank you.