When Britney Spears sang “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” I was 16 years old, and I totally got it. I understood every word, and I wanted to shout it to the world; “Be patient with me, be kind,” I wanted to say, “but trust me, please because I’m old enough to know what I’m doing, even though I might not be old enough to know where that will take me.”
I’m 27 now, and I sort of wish someone would write a similar song for how I feel now, something along the lines of, “Well Yeah I’m A Woman Now, But I’m Definitely Not, Like, A Proper Adult Grown Up Or Anything.” Because that’s just as equally a frustrating feeling to try to articulate; of being on the brink of something, but not wholly understanding what that thing is and remaining apprehensive about diving in to find out.
Technically, I’ve been a woman since I was 11, that ripe old child bearing age when spots of blood appeared on my underpants for the first time and I ran into my mother’s arms sobbing, “I don’t want to be a woman, mommy!”
But I guess emotionally I began to count as a woman somewhere in the grey area of my mid-20s, when I was no longer satisfied with being a girl; when I’d been in love and after that; when I was earning my own money; when I started really formulating solid ideas about the things I believed in and when I began to realize that I don’t actually have all the answers, and that I very probably have none of them; when I was literally out in the world by myself, holding my own against… well, everything.
There are more things than that to which I hold my womanhood, and I assume and hope that each young woman has her own defining moments and achievements that make her feel worthy of outgrowing the role of girl in order to begin a later chapter. But here’s the confounding thing I’ve found about being a woman: it doesn’t exactly make you a proper adult grown up, or anything.
For the first time in your life, as a woman, you’re clueless. We all know girls have all the answers. And I mean. Every. Single. One. Don’t try and tell a girl she doesn’t because you’re not ready for the ultimate sass of a girl disagreed with. When you’re a woman it’s different. You suddenly have absolutely no notion of anything. You begin to pick your battles and your mind begins to open to the possibility that yes, you are wrong, sometimes. Maybe all the time, even. What’s “right,” anyway?
When you become a woman, nothing and everything is possible. You’re aware of your shortcomings in a different way than a girl is, but you haven’t come to peace with them the way a proper adult grown up is supposed to. You begin to shed your girlish insecurities but you begin to pick up new ones like will I have this career I want and will I be able to have babies at the same time and oh no, it looks like my vagina wants to start with the technical difficulties and ouch, these mammograms really hurt. You suppose that proper adult grown ups don’t have any insecurities at all — they’re rational and strong and deal with each blow as it’s dealt.
You know you’re on the cusp of something, there in the middle of your womanhood. Part of you is groping backwards for the girl, doing shots at the bar at 3 a.m., kissing the bad boys, reading moodily in cafes downing coffee after coffee, writing too many things about too many feelings, and spending too many credit card dollars on too many shoes.
But the other part — that’s the part that’s reaching forward. The part that tells you to eat better, take responsibility for your environment, go for that run, be objective about your white girl problems and meet a man that is good and kind and that understands and embraces your tumultuous, indefinable feminine personality.
It’s scary to think that the proper adult grown up is closing in. That less irresponsible decisions will have to be made, that if I want to be the sort of proper grown up I want to be, I’ll have to leave little bits and pieces of this reckless, piss-into-the-wind young woman scattered along the path behind me.
I couldn’t bring the girl with me, even though I can look back and see her clear as if it were yesterday, smoking in the toilet stalls and dying her hair pink. She taught me so much. And so I won’t be able to bring this young woman I am now with me, even though I’ve learned a lot from her, too. I’ll bottle her frenetic energy, her consuming existential battles, her absolute sincerity and probably, one day, will laugh at even this that I’m writing now, because proper adult grown ups are wise and jolly, and I guess see life as this beautiful, ridiculous mess that all you can do is shrug at and carry on loving.
So maybe we need a song to define this time. Songs are good at that, even if they are silly pop songs; they still speak to us in blindingly obvious terms, which, for the most part, is as comforting a luxury as we can be sometimes afforded.