“Too much.” I read an essay in Elle a long time ago about “too muchness” and – because someone had emailed it to me – I tried to find it in my inbox: the list of emails that had the phrase “too much” in them numbered in the hundreds. Mostly it’s my doing – and my undoing: everything can feel like too much to me a lot of the time: things I’m asked to do, places I’m supposed to be, tasks I have to achieve, raising two sons; it all can feel like too much sometimes!
But I found the article. And the writer discussed a feeling of shame from being “too much”: she found that she overshared with people, she was overly emotional, and she was too much up in people’s faces.
I know people like that. I know women like that. I think I kind of am that woman.
But there is more to it. There is a notion I have had from the time I was very young – which continues until today – that all of me is too much for many people to handle: too much intensity, too much focusing on serious things, too much thinking fast and talking fast and just…too much.
I didn’t date a lot at all before I was married. I had two relationships before I met the man I eventually married. We were together for five years and then married for about ten. He never said I was “too much,” but when I think about how we functioned, maybe he didn’t use those words but maybe I was too much. Should I ask him?!
I recently got together for drinks with one of the men I had dated before meeting the man I married. He and I had dated for 2 ½ years; now we were talking about dating in general, and he talked about what it was like dating me. He talked about the challenges of me, the challenges of dating me, the complexity of dating me. He dated me at 19. But what he said about what I was like 20 years ago is what men say about me now.
So basically, the take-home message my brain creates is: I’m as difficult now as I was 20 years ago. I was “too much” then and I’m “too much” now. I’ll always be “too much” and no one will ever truly love me and understand me. I better start learning more games you can play alone. Solitaire can’t be it forever.
I can’t be the only one whose mind goes there. Am I?
I know a lot of awesome single women. Many are about my age, some are older, and some are younger. Some have never been married; some were married and now they aren’t. A lot of the single women I know are smart, they are independent, and they speak their mind. Many have “dominant” personalities in their business career lives and many are very successful. Many want to be with someone but can’t find that someone. And no: they’re not unattractive.
Now, I know that the demographics of my city in particular make ‘finding someone’ seem impossible, as the number of stunning skinny actresses can be found every time you turn around. It’s true: there are a lot of exceptionally and freakishly attractive people here which makes many females struggle. And a lot of men, especially in their 20s and 30s, see “getting” an attractive woman as a main goal. (See Amy Schumer’s stand-up about dating in L.A. – Live at the Apollo – for an hysterical take on this: basically, she says in L.A., people are so skinny that they think her arms are legs and her legs are mistaken for tree trunks.)
But all of that aside, what do I conclude about the single women I know? Well, I think if I’m being brutally honest, they might be perceived as “too much” for the exact reasons I stated above: they are smart, independent, they speak their mind, they have strong personalities, and they are successful. Many men see those kinds of women as “too much.” And when you’re single and lonely, undoing your too much-ness can seem like a good solution.
A super-smart friend of mine who is getting married for the first time at 40 said to me recently, “Oh, please. Men find all women to be ‘too much’.” Sometimes that’s what it feels like, but is she right!?
I’ve thought about what it would look like to not be “too much.” I think it would involve shutting up a lot and I’m sure there are times I should shut up. Also I should not interrupt people, which I know is rude, but it’s a very hard habit to break and I do feel awful when I interrupt people. So I can work on that; I really can. I can’t change my success, and it’s not like I talk about it; but when it comes up, I could downplay it heavily so it doesn’t seem like too much.
Maybe I could change my countenance to be more deferential to men so I don’t seem so confident. I could refuse to pay for myself or refuse to split the bill on a date. I could let the man be right even if I know he’s wrong. Right?
I could cut back on how much I enjoy food and limit myself to a certain amount of calories and I could exercise every day so I would lose weight. I could stand to lose weight, trust me. I could spend a good amount more time on making myself look attractive than I like to: more make-up, wearing SPANX, wearing clothes that emphasize my body more; wearing heels even though they hurt my knees and ankles.
This is sounding crazy, right? I know.
But for those of us who feel we are “too much,” sometimes we let ourselves go there. Maybe if I do this, maybe if I do that, maybe it would be easier to be me…
I was invited recently to a Shabbat lunch by a friend of mine who is one of my mentors (he also happens to be my lawyer, but we were friends first!). He and his wife invited me over to eat with some very powerful women who are change-makers in the Jewish community. A few are married and a few are single. I noticed a few things about these women during this lunch we had:
- They also interrupted people (including me) and it was fine
- They are committed to the struggles I find important in the world
- No one told them to lighten up when we got into heavy conversation
- They also feel conflict about being female and strong-minded
- They acknowledge that some find complexity in attractiveness and intelligence
- They feel they are made for something great in this world
I don’t know if I was invited to this lunch by my mentor in order to show me I’m okay, but that’s what this lunch did for me.
I am smart and that intimidates people. And I’m okay.
I speak my mind and get very animated when I speak and sometimes I talk over people. And I’m okay.
Heavy conversation changes the world. So do rebellious women. I’m okay.
There is no easy way to be a woman who defies cultural limits. And it can be very lonely to be a woman who isn’t doing what most of the women in our culture are encouraged to do. And that’s okay.
It’s hard to present yourself as an attractive woman first and foremost, because we are animals and we like attractiveness; it’s a thing. So it’s a challenge to see where that intersects with wanting to be heard and seen as more than what you can offer to the animal brain of humanity.
I was not brought into the world to please people. I was not put here to be your doll or your baby. I’m not a toy and I won’t always be able to be everything you want me to be. I was born with a brain that can do amazing things and there are ways my brain can work that is more significant than how any human-made creation operates.
The women’s movement produced incredibly important changes for all of us, and it also has introduced a tremendous amount of confusion – for men and women alike. How grateful I am that women before me have blazed these trails, and how lucky I am to find women who remind me that I’m not alone. And that I’m okay.
I am sometimes “too much.” I am also “never enough”. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t have it any other way.