We had finished our morning cross-country ski and were sliding our equipment into the trunk of the car when a half dozen cars pulled into the snow-covered parking lot. Women emerged, individually of course, as we are duty-bound to travel alone in cars with non-family members these Covid days. They laughed and chatted amongst themselves, carrying their skis, and headed for the trail that started beside our car.
All were dressed in colourful cross-country ski gear – mostly snug fitting Lycra tights, spiffy, form-fitting, hip-length jackets with lots of zippered pockets for lip balm, ski wax, and a cell phone, too, I suppose. Season passes dangled from side pocket zippers, swaying snappily as they walked. A few had the word “Sofit Ski” on the backs of their jackets. So fit. So not me but, man, they looked cool. They reminded me of the hip girls in school, the ones that had the newest, slickest gear, the sleekest muscles, the prettiest mascaraless eyelashes who smelled of baby powder and mashed potatoes. I said to my husband, “They look like a fun crew. Maybe I could join them.” I immediately retracted my statement.
“Nah. I’d feel peer pressure to wear Lycra instead of my comfy, baggy wind-pants and my not-cool fleece lined Louis Garneau windbreaker with only two standard-issue pockets. Plus, they’d laugh at my handknit toque.”
On the drive home I considered my aversion to groups. I’m initially attracted. I long for the camaraderie but fear the intimacy and the storytelling, commiserating, sympathizing required in female groups. Bonding, I guess is the word. So much of socializing among girls and women depends on sharing stories of our lives, our loves, our joys, and disappointments – spilling your guts. But as a kid, this kind of friendship building meant potentially exposing our family weakness – my father’s alcoholism – and so I grew up gun-shy of such intimacy.
In an alcoholic family, the non-alcoholic members learn to keep secrets about their addicted family member. Added to the secret are the twins of embarrassment and shame. I couldn’t have sleepovers in case my father came home drunk. I was discouraged from inviting friends over to play or to stay for supper in case my father came home drunk. My mother did not have female friends in case my father came home drunk. Other than family, no one visited.
In the last years of my father’s alcoholism, my mother withdrew from socializing altogether. She couldn’t risk the shame of others knowing. I grew up thinking of people not in our clan as dangerous outsiders and I believe this is why I have a profound suspicion of groups. Nonetheless, I feel a push-pull of yearning. We’re herd animals, after all. Or pack critters. We need each other for love, support, and comfort. I know my response towards the “Sofit” women was a reflexive defensive posture so deeply attached to my out-of-whack survival system that I almost missed it. I did that “I reject you before you reject me” thing. But you know what? This ruminating is hilarious because I’m not going to join the group anyway – I can’t afford the peer pressure. (Did I just deflect again?) But the encounter reminded me that I must make a bigger effort to connect with my friends, especially now, when pandemic induced isolation threatens my mental health. I don’t have to hang out in a large group, but I do need to see my friends – outside, six feet apart, wearing cute hand-knit toques and mitts for a walk through the neighbourhood.