A few years ago I briefly dated a very nice, not very talkative guy. I talk a lot. I assumed that our differences could maybe lead to an opposites-attract sort of situation. Instead, I felt uncomfortable around him, stifling my words, and myself, to fit what I thought he was looking for: a chill girl.
There was the time I finished a story, looked up, smiled, and he said, unsmiling, “You’re … intense.” (I just thought I was a good storyteller.) And another guy, another time, telling me to “chill out” when I asked, apparently, one too many questions. “Don’t be too curious,” I noted in my head. Don’t offend.
A chill girl is a constructed persona who can wear many (really chic) hats, but at her core, she’s defined by what she is not; a chill girl does not embody steorotypical female qualities like chattiness, empathy, jealousy, and other, you know, emotions. She is defined by how she interacts with men, which is to say, in a non-caring, carefree, chill way.
If this phrase is unfamiliar to you, just take a few moments to Google it. Headlines like “The Truth About Being the ‘Chill’ Girl,” “How to be a cool, chill girl who is Cool and Chill,” and “6 Things Every guy Needs to Know about the ‘Chill Girl,'” fill your screen, both mocking and genuinely exploring the trope of the chill girl. I am not alone in my experience as a failed chill girl.
Needless to say, my aformentioned relationship didn’t last. After some grumbling I realized that I wasn’t so fond of quiet-guy after all; we were both OK how we were, just not together. I accepted that I am not, nor will I ever be, a chill girl.
Earlier this month I read the New York Times article, “The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women,” which outlines two separate incidents of men shaming women for “talking too much.” Uber board member David Bonderman joked that adding more women to the company’s board would lead to more talking; Senator Kamala Harris was interrupted for the second time in as many days by her male colleagues while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
I felt a pang of familiarity and, in a brief moment of despondency, hopelessness. “So, we can never talk as much as we want?” I thought. That thought evaporated, sure, I’m not that dramatic (because to be that, would be bad). But the NYT article struck a chord. I thought both about workplace habits, but also about the habits we create and encourage in our personal lives.
All of my years of wanting to be a chill girl had led me on many failed dates, some soul-searching, and an angsty blog post or two. But until I saw two powerful women get shut down, publicly, I hadn’t thought about how being a chill girl had seeped into my work life. I started pausing when I typed out “sorry,” in emails. I furrowed my eyebrows when I was interrupted, pondering the cause of the conversation’s quick turn.
Here’s the thing about sexism — no one really means anything by it, do they? The quiet guy I dated years ago, and the guy before him, and the one before him, they didn’t mean any harm, really, when they told me they wanted me to be less of myself. When the one guy asked, “Are you always like this?” he probably didn’t know how those words stung; he genuinely wanted to know if I always talked so much.
My failed romantic relationships almost always ended badly, with me ashamed of myself wondering, “Why do I have to be this way?” Mistakes made at past jobs — from barista to doggie daycare worker to finance secretary — were exclusively pointed out to me by male coworkers. “Why is it so hard to please them?” I wondered.
I say, all the time, that I am lucky, because of where I landed in life. I have a boyfriend who talks almost as much as I do and we love each other without hesitation. I have a job that I enjoy, too, doing what I love, which includes, of course, plenty of talking, every damn day.
That isn’t luck though. You know what that is? It’s me. It’s me being assertive and nixing “sorry” from my conversations and listening and learning and taking note when I see powerful women like Kamala Harris interrupted by men who just don’t get it. It is talking when men want me to be silent.
Don’t chill, girl. Do better. Speak up.