The 'Perfect Woman'
I’ve been sleeping alone for over three years. The heat generating from the excessive use of Netflix on my laptop has mostly been dominating the magic that happens in my bedroom. They recently added the Roseanne Collection to Netflix, which sadly only contains 50 episodes of a television program that ran for almost ten years.
It was a typical Friday night that I found myself in bed with Roseanne Barr. All of a sudden I saw my entire romantic history flash in front of my eyes. Roseanne’s sister Jackie finally meets a nice guy named Gary. He gets along with the family, has his own business, and appears to be head over heels for Jackie (the ‘perfect woman’ version of Jackie anyway.)
Jackie’s character is so relatable, particularly in this episode, because of the way she struggles with her identity and how this applies to her relationships with men. At this point in the series she is in her early 30s and has been serial dating men who don’t treat her well. Jackie’s love life is constantly being provoked. But in this particular episode, entitled “All of Me,” the audience finally gets to see her character catch a break. The only problem being that Jackie can only be the ‘perfect woman’ version of her self around Gary, and Roseanne calls her out on it.
“He should know. I shouldn’t have to tell him that.”
“Yes, he should be able to read your mind,” says Roseanne.
The context of this dialogue is that Jackie assumes she will eventually be able to do the things she wants to do, instead of just the things Gary wants to do. I was no longer watching a sitcom, but was face-to-screen with an uncomfortable truth.
I began to see ten different versions of myself. The parts I have played to make sure he would stay interested. I once lied about being on birth control because I wanted to get laid. In the same three-week period I went to Planned Parenthood twice for the morning after pill. I’m not sharing this because I’m proud of this by any means. If I had been myself around this man I could’ve said that I hadn’t taken birth control in two weeks because I ran out of free samples my doctor was giving me at the time. But I didn’t. I wanted to be the ‘perfect woman.’
As the ‘perfect woman’ I also have a hard time saying a boyfriends name. I could tell you this is because I don’t feel like I’m good enough to call them by their birth-given name. I could also tell you that sometimes I use my shyness as a crutch a little too comfortably. I dated a guy in college who smoked a lot of weed. We went out for maybe two months. I drove past him in the parking lot one morning as he was walking to campus. After I parked my car, I started walking briskly to try and catch up to him. He was maybe a hundred feet in front of me and I didn’t know what I should do. I took a deep breath and yelled, “heyyy!” I didn’t say his name because there was no one else around and I figured he would have to turn around.
As Jackie continues acting as the ‘perfect woman’ by agreeing with everything Gary says, she is letting him make all the decisions. He asks her if she wants to go to dinner and she responds, “Sure, if you do.” He follows up by asking her what kind of food she’s in the mood for. She replies, “I don’t know, what are you in the mood for?” They are lying in bed together as this conversation segues into Jackie turning away from Gary. The camera is focused on Jackie and it is clear she is unhappy.
“All you had to do was say something,” says Gary.
All you had to do was say something.
ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS SAY SOMETHING.
No matter how many times I write that I can feel my heart race. How can something so simple feel impossible? I see all the different versions of myself grasping for the words I couldn’t find. The breathlessness of the words I’m fine. The words I kept hidden so that they wouldn’t have to get to know me, or that I don’t, in fact, want to eat kale. I have put myself in bad situations because I wanted to be the ‘perfect woman.’ There were times I should’ve said something and didn’t. I would wake up the next morning wondering if I was okay with what had happened.
The ‘perfect woman’ is a trap we set for ourselves because we are afraid. She is a convenient lie. She is a cautionary tale. The actual perfect woman is the one you wake up to every day. She is the one who accidentally dutch ovens herself and immediately tells people about it. She is someone you already know. She is you.