I have recently joined a new group for meeting friends, women of like minds and age talking like only women can: about their lives and their loves, peppered with a bit of gossip, some laughs about their other half and their family ups and downs. It doesn’t get better than that. It felt good to laugh and chat together and reach levels of closeness and intimacy that comes from being with other women.
It was whilst soaking up that ambiance I became acutely aware of how freely I talked. Revealing who I was and what I had done over the last few years since retiring to North Wales. I felt relaxed as if I had known these women for years. It was so easy to show myself, my new life with my relatively new husband. Growing old has its advantages.
As a young woman I recall how painfully shy I was. Anxious about saying too much or not saying enough and conscious of how I looked, what people thought, and always in my imagination failing to measure up to their expectations, whatever they might have been. My real self was hidden behind some need to protect from disapproval, failure, and worse still being seen as stupid. My major issue was observing "me" through the eyes of others, constantly trying to interpret another’s expectation. Exhausting! How many, I wonder have this experience.
Now at nearly seventy years old I realise what it means to "be myself". It is about being authentic, real, spontaneous and relaxed around others. It’s about self-acceptance and feeling good enough. It’s a time when you are no longer on trial, whether in your mind or because of another’s opinion.
So many people find it difficult to be close within friendships, carrying a fear of intimacy because of the dread of loss, fear of rejection and failure, many trying to anticipate what others expect so that, in itself, prevents a sense of freedom.
To be true to oneself means being a leader rather than a follower, taking opportunities as they arise without fear of making mistakes or rejection. Letting go of the idea that we need to behave, think and feel in a certain way to impress or keep in with others.
What’s important is being able to go ahead and make choices without needing constant reassurance from others and setting boundaries so that others cannot influence you into doing something you don’t want to. As I have grown older it has become obvious that being myself merely means having self-value, self-respect and self-esteem. This has not happened over night, it has, of course been a gradual process and life has presented many obstacles over which I have climbed, making me into the person I have become.
I am grateful that life has given me so many chances at being myself. I would not turn back the clock. I would not want to be young again unless, as the old cliché implies, I knew then what I know now.
June Heathcote is the Editor of Gransnet Local Conwy.