As I write this, the State of Illinois is 14 hours into a mandatory shelter-in-place for the next 18 days.
I read somewhere yesterday that shelter-in-place isn’t the correct term and that shelter-in-place is actually something you’d do in the event of a tornado or a bomb. What we’re being asked to do is to stay home and not congregate in order to prevent the spread of catastrophic illness.
I’ve watched people, presumably extroverts, grow anxious about the lack of contact with other humans. I am an introvert and one that has grown very accustomed to being home alone. Aside from the few, slightly more personal ways the world has been turned upside down, this is just another week — or 18 days — for me.
Practice makes perfect
I’ve been practicing social distancing for a while now. Not necessarily in the virus-related kind, but rather in separating myself from those with whom there is little to no connection with anymore.
It started when my father died.
I noticed who did — or did not — reach out. I know I’m not necessarily the center of many people’s universe and that people get caught up in their own lives. However, it’s not every day a girl loses her father and if there was ever a time when I needed people, it was then. As my birthday rolled around two months later, the list of people whom I noticed I rarely talked to became obvious.
Call it wisdom or call it my 40s, but I was done.
I was done being there for people who weren’t there for me when I needed them. I was done pretending that it didn’t bother me when people I’d counted on as friends excluded me in group activities we used to enjoy. Or when family would forget that I, too, existed and that my lack of a partner or spouse didn’t make me less of a person. I was done microdosing myself with followships that were bad for my mental health.
On Facebook and Instagram, I unfriended or unfollowed close to 100 people the night of my birthday. It didn’t matter if they were family or people I’ve know since I was 5. I was no longer interested in collecting friendships that gathered dust.
I craved relationships that had intention and conversations that meant something. I didn’t want to subscribe to anyone’s lip service anymore and I became exhausted trying to decipher friend from emotional foe.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the last year, it’s that I value connection over collection. I’d rather have 3 amazing people whom I can count on when life is rough versus 300 people who might remember me once a year when Facebook reminds them to do so.
And because I valued my mental health over everything, I also removed Facebook from my phone. My passive Facebooks habits while I lay in bed or waited on line at a store would suck me into an energetic minefield that I found difficult to disengage from. So in the interest of being intentional with my Facebook usage, I removed it and the energy it held from my phone.
Needless to say, the purge that started 7 weeks ago was a welcome shift and the social distance has had a profound effect on showing me who my real friends are.
A goddess of a different color
On New Years’ Eve, a random male partygoer began paying special attention to me at the event I was at. While I found the attention gratifying at first, after midnight came and went, so too did any respect. What had started out with a flirtation became one more person who judged me based on my hair color.
I’d had a love affair with my red hair for four amazing years. It brought me joy. It brought me fun. It brought me identity. It brought me attention.
To me, the red fit my personality: confident, fun, adventurous, with a bit of fire inside. To heterosexual males I heard from, the red fit their desires. They presumed I was s#xually wild or promiscuous. To many I heard from, I was a fetish or a conquest. Unfortunately, Mr. New Years Eve wasn’t the only guy who started out fine but disintegrated into comments about wanting to ‘violate the wild redhead in a hundred different ways.’
I’m a smart, funny, witty woman, yet I hear from people I’ve just met that I’m awesome but ‘too wild.’ I’ve met guys whom I know have dated women my size, my age, my station in life, yet there always seemed to be something about me that never quite fit their type. And this wasn’t just about acquaintances or getting a date. There were other areas of my life where it seemed like my hair impacted me reaching certain goals.
I started to wonder: Was my hair getting in my own way?
Then several guy friends — not all of whom know each other nor provided answers at the same time — gave me a reality check: Red hair is intimidating to a lot of people. It shows you’re confident. Either that or you are high maintenance and want attention all the time. Between the confidence and the smarts and the attention, you’re a lot to most people who don’t want a lot.
Holy sh#t. It suddenly made so much sense.
The people who did comment on my hair often backed it up with ‘I could never pull that color off’ or ‘you’re so brave to do that.’ In fact, never in my life have I had so many strangers randomly talk to me as I have being a redhead. The red did attract attention and because of that attention and the not-always-natural color of the hair, there was a certain level of confidence required to go with it.
I had a theory and an idea. And because I had a hair appointment right after my birthday, I decided I was going to set up a social experiment to find out: did my hair color make a difference in how people treated me?
So, on Valentine’s Day, I became a brunette (technically a very dark auburn, but I digress).
The first thing I noticed about my new hair color was how much it made my green eyes pop. The second thing I noticed was that my makeup was going to need to change. The third thing I noticed? Well, it’s that no one really noticed.
Other than my family and my few friends who knew I was getting it colored, no one said a word. This was a far cry from my red hair, when a visit to get the color redone usually rendered three or more ‘OMG! I love your hair’ declarations before the end of the day. I thought I looked completely different, but it turns out I looked exactly the same, but with darker and browner hair. Whether in social situations or at work, no one said anything.
I’d started to think the new color was a bad idea. Then I remembered exactly why’d I’d colored it in the first place: I didn’t want to attract attention just because of my hair color. I’d gotten so used to standing out with the fiery hair that it took a few mental adjustments to become comfortable blending in.
My hair, which used to be my trademark, is now similar to everyone else’s. The very things I wanted people to recognize and wanted to attract conversations with — my wit, my humor, my mind — are what I rely on now and it’s incredibly liberating.
I’ve socially distanced myself by changing the way people look at me.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way…