I’ve always been a good girl. I can’t help it.
I’m fairly sure it’s something that’s ingrained in me; this intense need to never disappoint people. This need to please. This nagging conscience that never fails to remind me when I’ve gone off course. This sense of obligation to always be the cheerful girl, the one who goes by the rules, the one you never really have to worry about.
I’m a classic middle child, always prone to being the one to just go along with things without causing much fuss. My parents like to remind me how when I was a little girl, all they’d have to do is give me “a look” when I had done something wrong. I’d crumple into tears and feel awful to have made them angry. I rarely got into any real trouble when I was growing up. In fact, I don’t remember ever being grounded. Not even once.
I’m a mediator. A listener. A dreamer. An optimistic pessimist. Slightly introverted and incredibly sensitive. All those things combined have lead to a fairly intense case of what I like to call The Good Girl Complex.
It’s difficult for me to stray from that. And I suppose that’s how it’s been nearly every day of my life.
It’s a lot of pressure to live up to. I’d never deny that for a second! And, as most girls do at some point, I’ve tried to push the boundaries here and there. To see if there has been some grand adventure that I’ve been missing out on by living life within the lines. But, honestly? At this point in my life, being the “good girl” is something that I cherish more than anything else. It’s almost as though I’ve come full circle, in a way, after a few years of trying to shake what I’ve always been.
When I was a teenager, I never had a rebellious phase. All I wanted to do was fall in love. In a way, that was a good thing. I had these ridiculously high expectations and hopes - fueled by girlish fantasies and whims. I lived in a bubble of wistful journaling and romantic comedies. I looked around me, consumed by the thought that my future husband could be right around the corner. I skipped over most thoughts of partying and making out and anything else that a typical teenager seems to focus on.
I remember being completely confused when I was 17 and someone told me that I was the girl that a guy wants to marry, not date. I wondered why these things were mutually exclusive. I was thrown. I didn’t understand. I wondered what it took to be a girl someone wanted to date. I began lamenting my fate as a complete love pariah (and most likely wrote another wistful journal entry).
In all honesty, I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was 18. I took baby steps, I guess. I did have a few boyfriends after that, but always made sure to stay inside the lines. I never stayed out too late, never went out drinking, never gave too much of myself to any guy I was seeing - even after falling in love for the first time. I always did what was deemed as the right thing. I knew what was expected and making that right decision was always fairly easy for me.
Which is something I figure is quite lucky. It made being "good" quite simple.
A short while later, in an uncharacteristically brave move, I collected my things and headed to Southern California at the age of 19. It was my first taste of independence, and probably the first time that I felt that inkling of desire to fight the image that seemed to follow me everywhere. I was surrounded by more “worldly” coworkers, living in a city that was much more intense than the fairly small town I grew up in, meeting people with completely different lifestyles and attitudes than mine. I moved here being incredibly naive - and I have no doubt that my naivety is something that was basically radiating from my entire being.
I was the little blonde girl from the Northwest. The one wearing her heart on her sleeve, the good girl, the Christian, the one people seemed to always want to take on as some sort of “project”.
“Oh, Kerri! How precious! We’re totally going to make you over!”
For the first time, my resolve started to waver, ever so slightly.
I actually remember being surprised by any rebellious thoughts I had. They were so unfamiliar. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign; those unnatural feelings of fighting my very nature. Being anything but the way I’d been all my life felt much more like an act than anything else. And I think I lost myself a bit in that act.
During the next few years, I experienced a lot of new things. I made friends with people who I didn’t always understand, but learned to appreciate and adore. I heard stories that made me blush. I went dancing for the first time. I got drunk for the first time. I relished in those moments when I wasn’t singled out as the “good girl”, for once being seen as one of the group, someone who understood the world, someone who wasn’t afraid, someone who was just out to have fun. It felt nice to blend in.
Of course, the whole time I didn’t feel much like “me”. And I knew it. After a certain point, I realized that I didn’t really feel like I was discovering something new about myself; instead, I felt like I was losing something. I’d fight my inner conscience and tell myself I was just figuring out who I was. That this was just the natural progression of life. That there was only so long I could carry on the good girl image before “growing up” and being like everyone else.
Which is something I’ve recently learned to be quite untrue.
As I look back on those few years, I wish - more than anything - that I’d never tried to be someone other than who I am. I know it sounds ridiculously cliché, but it’s true. And, sure, there are things that each of us must experience and discover as we go through life. Everyone manages to get a little too drunk, kisses the wrong boy, says things they shouldn’t say, makes friends with the wrong people, becomes a bit too self-indulgent. But I wish that I would have done those things (and not done some of those things, I suppose) without compromising what I am.
Which is, of course, a good girl.
I’m always going to worry too much about what people think. I’m always going to try too hard to do the right thing. I’m always going to get an achy feeling when I break a rule. Most curse words will sound contrived coming from my mouth. I’ll never have the ability to take a shot without looking absolutely ridiculous. I’ll never be the life of the party. I’ll be most comfortable on the couch at home, drinking maybe a bit too much wine and laughing with my husband while we watch reality television.
It still feels good to break out of my shell every now and again - and I still fight constantly to find the happy medium between who I am and who I think I should be. I still make mistakes and end up curled under the covers when I realize the person I’ve portrayed isn’t the actual girl I am inside. I still manage to say things I regret and do things I regret and wonder all the while why I should ever be ashamed to show the world what I am, pure and simple.
Because, really? I’m happy being a good girl. And if that means that I’m the one staying home on a Friday night, playing scrabble with my husband while drinking Pinot Grigio out of a coffee mug, then so be it. Those are the moments when I feel most like myself, anyway.
At this point in life, whenever anyone alludes to the fact that I’m a good girl, I smile. I own it. Because it’s who I am. It’s who I’ve always been.
And that’s probably the most important thing each of us can discover, right?
April 6, 2010
I’ve always been a good girl. I can’t help it.