It was really beautiful today. There was this one cloud smack dab in the middle of the cool, blue sky, and it reminded me of the first time I saw my daughter in an ultrasound picture — big, vast space with a little smudge right in the middle.
Like this cloud, just hanging out and waiting to grow through the season. So I smiled, remembering.
I was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change when it happened.
I could see his lips moving, the man next to me, because I had music on full volume. And I couldn’t hear him, so I took out one of my earbuds.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“Is that smile for me?”
“No. Sorry. I’m just happy today.”
No, sorry. SORRY!?!?
Why the f*ck am I telling him I’m sorry that I wasn’t smiling at him?
But I felt sorry. I felt sorry that I’d led him on somehow by smiling at that little cloud in that big blue sky, that I made him think I was interested when I hadn’t even noticed him. How ridiculous! I’m sorry? I can’t even believe I felt like this, but I did. I felt sorry.
So I did what we as women all do when we’re feeling vulnerable and awkward in broad daylight: I faked a phone call.
I looked at the smudge of cloud that had grown a little bigger. I angled my body away from him and shrank into myself, my shoulders bent, as though to hide my breasts. I moved my purse in front of my waist like a fig leaf.
“Well, you can make it up to me by having coffee.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“So, why did you smile at me?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t.”
“Come on, it’s one drink.”
And suddenly, the day didn’t feel so beautiful anymore. And I felt a lot less happy, and even a little gross, even though the sky was still blue and deep, and I shouldn’t feel less happy or a little gross. But if you’re a woman you get it. #YesAllWomen
From strangers on the street telling us to smile, or, “Girl, why you gotta be like that,” when we don’t. Or, feeling icky when we DO smile and it’s misinterpreted, to the lingering touches that we ignore, to the comments about our breast size, to the things we ask ourselves: “Do I look fat?” “Is my skirt too short?” “Can you watch my drink so no one puts anything in it?”
And every time I say it, I mean it — and I know you get it if you’re a woman — because to some degree we’ve all grown up feeling like this, like we have to justify everything about our choices, when no one would dare treat a man this way.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go out with you.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to kiss you.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to sleep with you.”
“I’m sorry, NO. No, please. No. I’m sorry, but no. Don’t. I’m sorry, but I said no.”
And how often do we not say I’m sorry? How often do we just say it so we won’t have to feel sorry in the first place?
And then when we face the mirror after, again: I’m sorry. The biggest apology we owe to ourselves that we so seldom internalize.
The light changed. And while I stood there at this crosswalk underneath the clear blue sky, as I stepped down from the curb onto the street, I thought of all those sorrys. And I felt sorriest for that.
Look. It’s nice to be asked out. And when someone summons the courage to make the first move, it’s lovely. But if we aren’t interested, all we should feel the need to do is smile sweetly and say: “Thank you. But no.”
And, turning to face him under that clear blue sky, that is exactly what I finally did.