I have behaved, but not conformed.
I never set out to be a Contrary Mary. I don’t act with the explicit intention of hurting or annoying anyone. I never caused my parents any serious trouble, was never a smoker, never took drugs, never slept around. I got straight As at school and did well at university too.
Seen from that angle, I’ve been a good girl. And yet, and YET…I’ve still managed to get myself a reputation for being a rebel, defiant, trouble just waiting to happen. In short, I’m an awkward, contrary woman.
It all boils down to this: I have behaved, and yet failed to conform.
How have I managed to embody such a set of contradictions? Let me count the ways…
1. It’s all in a name
My middle name is Louise. Named after a French man, Louis. Who, by the way, was a Communist.
With that anchored into my identity from the day I was born, I was obviously felt obliged to learn German and pursue a career in the hyper-capitalist field of banking and finance law.
It was the logical choice.
2. Why can’t you be like the other girls?
I was supposed to have throngs of girlfriends, love makeup and sleepovers and understand the vast array of female emotions.
What actually happened? When it came to handing out girliness, I was right at the back of the queue. No — strike that. I never even joined the queue. I was off on my own in some quiet corner — oblivious — my nose stuck in a book.
I always preferred to hang out with the guys, did not care a jot about babies (either real or of the toy variety), only figured out how to deal with lipstick in my late 30s and generally prefer being on my own to interacting with anyone (major introvert alert!)
I can count myself lucky that the Victorian requirement to “be ladylike” had pretty much fizzled out by the time I hit puberty. Thank God, as I’d have no doubt failed spectacularly on that front too. I’ve always been the kind of girl who prefers flexing her muscles on the climbing hall wall than following the latest winged eyeliner tutorial on YouTube.
3. The prodigal daughter
When it comes to careers, the most obvious path for me would have been to stay in England like the rest of my law degree peers and go and work for a London law firm after graduation.
What did I do? I went to Austria. Without any plan, just € 1,000 in my pocket and a vague intention to “get involved in the EU enlargement”. I got my English degree validated in Vienna and built up a legal career there instead.
Taking the path of least resistance? Not me. The difficulty and disruption that comes of being different? Bring it on!
4. Why won’t she just settle down and have some babies?
After a few years working in a respectable, well-paid corporate job, I was supposed to get married, get a mortgage, and get some babies. And preferably a car too. Because that is what grown ups do.
Oh dear, that went a bit awry, didn’t it?
I quickly discovered that I hated working in a corporate job — or in any office job for that matter. So I became a freelance legal translator. And now I’m changing career again.
Frankly, I have no idea where my career trajectory is going to end up. But this much I know: I am fully committed to the freedom of self-employment because I love being the pilot of my own ship. If that means having to navigate some stony paths, then so be it.
At age 41, I do not own a house, or a flat, or a car, or any pets. I decided when I was 12 that I would not be reproducing and have rigidly stuck to that intention. I am not married — yet.
More or less 100% of expectations disappointed, then.
5. While we’re on the subject of marriage…
As I wrote here, I was never against the institution of marriage per se. In fact, I always assumed that I would jump casually into matrimony if/when the circumstances were right.
But then, when the circumstances were right (I found a man who I love to bits and is basically the cat’s pyjamas in every way), I found I couldn’t stomach the thought of matrimony.
Marriage will happen eventually (for the legal benefits mostly), but I am going to have to come at it in a very specific way.
The deal will be this: no name change, no ring, no dress, no witnesses, no big party. Just us two, the registrar, and a certificate afterwards. Maybe a nice low-key weekend somewhere. That is it.
So basically the complete opposite of what getting married is “supposed” to look like.
6. Little girls should be seen and not heard
Even though we are (allegedly) living in more enlightened times, I still have a very strong feeling that women who speak up are “problematic” while men who do the same are “assertive” or are showing “natural leadership qualities”.
I still feel like we ladies only only handed approval if we refrain from doing controversial things like giving our opinion, or arguing, or standing up for what we believe is right. If it’s acceptance and an easy, quiet life we’re after, then we’d better not make any unnecessary problems for ourselves by — oh, I don’t know — writing online.
I once asked The Other Half whether he thought I was out of control. His reply:
“We’ve been together 15 years, and I think in all that time you’ve been in control for approximately 7 minutes. But it’s OK. That’s what I love about you”.
I told you he is the cat’s pyjamas.
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