Caring a lot about what other people think

I’m very polite. I open doors for people a lot. And hold them. And stand there while twenty additional people come through. I’m running late, but I stop to have a conversation with my neighbor in front of the CVS, because he wants  to talk about the elevator in our building.

I used to have a lot of trouble at holidays, when I had to open gifts, because I wanted to act the same amount of excited about all of them. I remember unwrapping a little plastic Disney character toy, maybe a keychain, actually, that a relative had picked up last minute. I was grinning and exclaiming, “I love it! This is SO great!” And my face hurt.

(This would’ve been worse. source)

Because of this, I don’t like receiving gifts. Unless people send them to me by mail. Or let me open them later. Those boyfriends who bought me jewelry and clothes were the worst. After breaking up, I gave away heaps of necklaces (I don’t wear necklaces) and bright little dresses.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

My parents taught me very young to answer the phone carefully. “Hello, this is Kate!” and then, “I’d love to get my mother for you! Just one second!” Or something. I remember leaving a friend’s house when I was six or seven, and Dad was saying, “Did you thank them for having you over? It’s really important to be polite.” I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to thank them.

The problem isn’t really that I’m polite. It’s that I genuinely care what people think. I tend to believe what people say. I hope they like me. I hope they aren’t offended by something. I kind of hope their day has gone well and their marriage is a success and they don’t step in any puddles.

Once I said “I love you, too,” to a guy who had just confessed his love, even though I wasn’t even the slightest bit interested. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. You can imagine how well that ended, a week or two later.

As a result of all this, some of the proudest moments of my life have involved me being rude. Probably not even very rude. But doing something that might really bother someone else.

Here’s one:

In college, a boy said something sexual about me to a group of people. Something he wanted to do to me. My then-boyfriend was in that group of people. Reportedly, he laughed and shrugged it off. I learned what the boy had said, and I was furious. A few weeks later, I saw him on a bus. I was with a friend. He was across the aisle from me. I politely excused myself from the conversation with my friend, and then I asked him if he had said this thing about me.

He stared at me mutely for what felt like a long time. He turned bright red. And then he nodded.

“That was a really stupid thing to say,” I said. “And you said it behind my back. That was cowardly.”

He nodded slowly, again.

“Don’t ever do it again.”

He looked like he might cry. He muttered, “I’m sorry.”

I turned back to my friend and we kept talking. That was back in college. And early in college, too. So maybe it’s a little sad that it’s the first example that pops up. But I still vividly remember how good it felt to make him uncomfortable, even though it made me incredibly uncomfortable to do it. It went against everything I’m used to. It went against everything I almost always do. But I felt heroic in the moment. Like my own hero.

I felt like that when someone casually used the word “fag” in conversation with me and I asked them not to. I told them I was offended.

The truth is, I’m embarrassed by how much I care about other people. I think I’m too sensitive. I try to understand how my brothers didn’t end up with this trait. They go through life loudly saying things when they feel like saying them, and their friends trail after them in adoring herds. I text my friends twenty minutes later to make sure I didn’t hurt their feelings when I said that thing about the ridiculous looking dog, even though I’m now remembering that their mom had a dog a few years back that was a little like that.

So I’m trying to work on being a little meaner. Or a little less constantly polite. Bear worries aloud that I’ll find myself in a situation with some dangerous guy, and I’ll make small talk instead of running for my life.

The other night Bear hooked up a subwoofer to his computer’s sound system. He turned on some music. It was maybe 10:30. I was cringing. The downstairs  neighbors are going to hate us. They’ll think we don’t care about them at all. I tried to enjoy the amazing sound quality and the awesome bass line. But it was impossible. Bear was trying to figure out how to turn it down, which turned out to be much more difficult than adjusting the volume. I kept thinking, “I hope they don’t mind.”

I have never even SEEN these people.

After a while I started to think, “If they hear some bass for a little while, it’s probably not a big deal. I mean, I don’t really care when I hear them making noise. In fact, I never hear them making noise. Maybe no one lives in that apartment. Even if they live in the apartment, it’s not a big deal. Even if they’re annoyed, who cares? So they’ll be annoyed for ten minutes. They’ll get over it.”

Which they will. I’m sure they are over it by now.

Bear fixed the subwoofer, and we listened to quiet music that should have had a pounding bass. And the next day, I turned it up really loud and danced. I mean, sometimes you just have to dance. Even if it might bother the neighbors. Maybe one day I’ll do it at night. For ten fabulous minutes.

(who could resist? source)

*  *  *

Un-roast: Today I love the way my hair looks with big, dangly earrings. I found some for $5! Cheap earrings make me happy.

P.S. I’m sorry to everyone who saw the ad on this blog for some sort of weight loss something or other. I signed up with an ad hub that allows companies to send me ads to approve or reject. I didn’t realize that if I didn’t immediately reject them it counts as an approval.

I’ve written before about moments when I made other people uncomfortable. Check out this, and this. There are others that aren’t about guys, but I can’t think of them at the moment.

I have two pieces on Huffpo today. One is about interfaith couples and divorce and the other is about only children (that one was on this blog at some point).

35 Comments »

Kate on January 19th 2011 in life, relationships

35 Responses to “Caring a lot about what other people think”

  1. Virginia responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Love, love LOVE the way you told off the creepy college guy. ARGH. Also I am glad that ex-boyfriend is not your boyfriend anymore.

    I am also very polite, but I think there is a time and a place — and situations like that just don’t warrant any politeness.

    And I agree, your neighbors are probably fine with the music. Or if not, it’s on them to let you know (politely!).

  2. Cyndie responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I’m so glad you shared this, because I am very similar. Sometimes I think I FEEL for people too much, if that makes sense. I dance around people’s feelings all the time, and get really upset if something offends them. I get depressed about things that offended someone YEARS ago, and can’t stop apologizing. Everyone says this is a good trait, but it’s exhausting!

  3. Valerie responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m proud of you! It takes a lot of guts to learn to be impolite when you need to be, but it really matters.

    So many people go through life just taking the situations they don’t approve of because they are afraid of hurting the feelings of others. It is important to worry about your own feelings as well and it is important to learn to speak up for yourself.

  4. Kate responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    @Valerie
    It does really matter. Which is why I admire those people who have no qualms at all about defending themselves. It takes a lot of confidence to be like that.

  5. allison marie responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, as I find myself in a struggle to change my ways, too. I’m so sensitive towards what other people think – have I hurt their feelings, are they mad at me, did I do something wrong? Sometimes, I forget that I have feelings that deserve my attention, too. It doesn’t matter if everyone is happy with me all the time if that’s all I focus on. I don’t want to get caught up in making others happy over making me happy. On the other hand, politeness is nice. I guess, I’m just trying to care a little less.

  6. Erinleigh responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Gosh. This WAS soo me! Sometimes I am so worried about others I completely forget to worry about ME! I put others first all the time and end up making myself miserable.
    I the past couple years I have learned to take the good advice of friends and stand up for myself and speak my mind when something upsets me. Usually, I would just not say anything and end up miserable because my feelings were hurt or I was misunderstood!
    Thank you Kate for making me feel less alone…being “too kind” and “too thoughtful” can really be detrimental to ourselves. There must be a happy medium…I’m working on reaching it!

  7. Christin@purplebirdblog responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    I relate to this on so many levels. And I totally understand the pride associated with standing up for myself. I find it easier to stand up for other people than myself, so that one gets extra points.

  8. Ashley responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    You sound a lot like me. I can’t stand being mean to people. I think everyone cares what people think on some level, and if they don’t then I would love to get inside their way of thinking. But sometimes you have to be a bit of a bitch to people because they won’t get the message or take you seriously if you don’t.

  9. Ellie Di responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    I’m working on this one, myself. I’ve always been overly sensitive to what other people say and think (even if it’s only something that I imagine they’re thinking) about me. Getting older has been helpful. Being “rude” for the sake of standing up for myself or others is getting easier, although being “rude” in the sense of turning up the music too loud at night is still a mental sticking point. Maybe someday I’ll have the courage of my convictions 100%.

  10. Luyi responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    I’m the exact same way. You captured the essence of that feeling and conveyed it so well in this post. I applaud and admire you for your honest openness.

  11. MWN responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    oh my god Kate that bus conversation was AWESOME!!!!!!

    My suitemate is really into this as well, it’s a project she’s constantly working on, having her voice heard loud and clear. She’s been inspiring me to be more assertive and less overly-polite in everyday conversation. For example, instead of worrying about keeping shampoo in the shower, trust that if it bothers someone, they’ll mention it.

  12. B1 responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    I think I am the odd man out here in some respects. I remember a girl in grade school asking me how a dress looked on her and I was honest with her. I was then chastised by other girls for telling the truth. She told me she appreciated the honesty.

    I’m not rude all of the time, I do weigh what I say to people, and believe it or not, I do care deeply about people, but I stopped worrying about what others thought of me or if they took offense at something I said, a long time ago. I feel that ultimately, each individual is the only one that can be responsible for how they feel or not feel about things. Here’s my reasoning.

    If someone asks my opinion or advice, if they are a friend and know me, they know I will be brutally honest. If it is someone that I don’t know that well, I will ask them if they want the truth or if they want me to stroke their ego. That way, they know that I will be honest from my point of view. But, I don’t go up to people and tell them that things look awful on them or that they’re doing something wrong or anything like that.

    I also feel that if someone takes offense at something I said, they have to understand that what I ever I say comes from my own experiences and my own opinions and I don’t expect them to agree with me. However, if they have taken offense and do not say anything to me, then the fence is theirs to carry, not mine. I’m agreeable to say that we can disagree on things because we come from different points of views.

    I also believe in excellent customer service. If I receive bad service and have to call someone, I let them know that I’m not angry with them but with the service that I received. If the bad service came from them, then I will let them know that I’m too angry to talk to them any longer. If I receive bad service in a restaurant, I let them know in the tip I leave. I will generally tip about 20% or more because I have friends who have worked in food service and know that their tips mean a lot to them.

    I also don’t like to yell at people in public and honestly, people who do that get on my nerves because I don’t feel it’s right to take your bad day out on someone else. I think I’ve gone way off topic here.

    Anyway, shy and bashful does not live here and I don’t think they ever did. :-)

  13. Just Josie responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    I wish I couldn’t relate to this post as much as I can. I am annoyingly polite. To the extent that it makes me cringe. I genuinely do care about not being a jerk to others, but I question whether it’s all about me being a sensitive, “nice” girl, or whether it is me being a giant tool and caring WAY too much about what others think of me. I do think a lot of it has to do with me really caring, though — I mean, for goodness’ sake, I apologize to people for the rudeness of others, I apologize if they’re the one who interrupts me, or runs into me. It’s gotten worse since I was in seventh grade and I was standing at my locker, and this guy ran into me, completely out of the blue, so hard that he knocked me over. I remember being shocked and sort of waiting for him to apologize, but he didn’t. And then a teacher who had witnessed the whole thing yelled at me, guilted me into apologizing, and said that it was the rudest thing she had seen all day. :( I also feel as though I’ve painted myself into a corner in that I’ve been so “nice” and quiet and shy my whole life that any time I want someone to listen to me or I assert myself, they either laugh it off, call me a bitch, or ask if I’m on my period. It’s terrible. I feel even worse because I kind of feel like, “Hey! Dummy! You’re a radical feminist! You’re not supposed to be that submissive!” I hope that when I start having relationships with guys I can assert myself better. Actually, I think I owe it to myself before I commit to a relationship to be able to do that.

    I so admire the way you dealt with that guy on the bus. I hate the whole “words left unsaid” thing. As in something happens to me, I’m too shocked to react, then when it’s over I have all this things I should have said and it irks me that I didn’t, and then I can’t bring myself to confront them should I ever see them again, because they’ll just laugh at me because it was no big deal, not the most important thing in their day. Last week, I was having a really good day. Lunch had just ended. I was walking down the hallway, which was packed like sardines in a can, by myself, to geometry. Some guy (he was older, like a junior or a senior) said, “It looks like you’ve got a new girlfriend, Damien” to another guy. Then he asked me if I liked his friend [Damien]. I started to walk faster. The guy grabbed me and put his arm around my shoulder, and stupidly, I just did that weird look I get when I think someone stupid and immature but that I don’t want to have to deal with them. He told me that his friend Damien rides horses. And girls with glasses (which I wear). They all laughed that sick, perverse laughter that guys laugh when sexually harassing a girl. He said, “He’d ever ride you bareback, honey!” (sans condom, that is). I feel like my face looked terribly confused, and then I just sort of half-speed walked, half-ran away. I heard him yelling, “Get it, girl!” at me as I ran, and then more laughter.

    I regret not saying anything; in fact he makes me hate myself a little. I’m sickened that this passes for humor and that guys get power trips from sexualizing and degrading girls and women. I’m sick that they don’t know the difference between SEX and RAPE. On the bus, I’ve heard the guys discussing what they’d like to anally rape others girls with. Honestly, it makes me fear men and boys a lot. It’s part of why I have trust issues. I abhor masculinity. IBTP.

    I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to start speaking up, because taking that shit lying down (no pun intended) reeks havoc on my self-esteem. :/ So, like you, my proudest moments are definitely when I’m being assertive (which will inevitably be construed as rudeness or bitchiness; again, IBTP). I’m better at defending others than I am myself though. I’m especially proud of the time I told this one guy in no uncertain terms that he was in fact a bigot and that he did hate Mexicans because he said he loved them because they could be used for cheap labor, and that their women could be used for a “different kind of cheap labor” (i.e., prostitution); and when I told another person that he was a despicable human being for saying blacks can’t read and for speaking to Miguel in broken Spanish (Miguel speaks English better than the other guy). Both of these people were “good Christians”. HardyharHAR! But god, I definitely need to start speaking up for about myself, veganism, atheism, slut-shaming, rape jokes. I have a lot of room for self-improvement. :(

    Btw, I’m also the same with gifts. I always am like, “Oh I’d rather open it at home…” if I get something at school, and then if they guilt me into opening it, I’m like, “Oh I LOOOOVE it! Thank you so much!” even though I don’t celebrate Christmas. I should start making that more clear too — I don’t want gifts, please don’t give them?

    I just finished both your Huffpo pieces and I enjoyed them rather a lot, Kate. :)

  14. Barbara responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Re: the bus conversation. I think the way you called him out on his bad behavior was not just great for you, but I’ll bet he never did that again. His bleak little “I’m sorry” acknowledged that he felt shamed. Imagine if more people stood up to bullies and bad-mouthers to say publicly, that is just mean, or cowardly, or unacceptable, or just wrong-headed, maybe they’d think twice.

  15. Liz responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Kate,
    I have felt the same way. I don’t like receiving gifts unless they are books, coffee cups, or gift cards for the same reasons you mentioned. I use to never want to make anyone upset. I would tell people what they wanted to hear, and do things people asked me to do because I thought that was the right thing to do. Honestly, I kind of blamed it on my Catholic upbringing—all the guilt. Something slowly has changed after having kids. What I was doing was not working for me, and it really just leads people on to thinking we’re thinking or feeling something we’re really not thinking. I’ve lost a few “friends” from being more honest, but it’s been worth it.

  16. erika responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 3:56 am #

    Reminds me of my early college years in NYC. I was on the train and some guy was talking to his friend about how all women are bitches. I confronted him, and of course he told me to stay the hell out of his conversation, and I retorted, “Well, don’t call all women bitches and expect me not to say something when I’m a woman.” Of course you know what he called me.

    But my point is, we should speak out against injustice. What you said to that boy wasn’t rude. He was rude. What you said was necessary.

  17. Dawn responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 7:38 am #

    Don’t even think about changing. You are wired with empathy for a reason. A very good reason, no doubt.

    Me, too. When I grew up, I started working with people who needed me this way. They have learning, physical, and psychological disabilities. The greatest part is that they love me, no matter. In fact, loving these people has made me a better–and meaner person. I grew up to be an advocate.

  18. Valerie responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Josie, I adore you. Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. You’re too awesome to let people treat you like that.

  19. JJgal responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Look at how many women instantly said that you sounded just like them. I was going to say the same thing. I think many women feel this way. It sounds like we have to be on or the other: nice vs. rude, a sweetheart or a bitch. But we don’t have to be. Finding that healthy balance is so key to live a happy and fulfilling life, yet it is so difficult for many of us to do. I applaud your “telling off” the guy who said the inappropriate comment… and this is why. You did not fight unfairly, you did not call names or do anything inappropriate back to him out of spite. You didn’t become that second wrong that doesn’t make a right. You simply told him that what he said was wrong and asked him not to do it again. I feel as if people don’t do that anymore. Instead of simply stating the facts when arguing or trying to defend ourselves, we look for ways to hurt the other person worse than they hurt us. To win. To one-up them in their cruelty. I have found myself on both ends of the spectrum, and I’m not proud of my visits to either side. I have always cared what people think, to a fault. And then when I feel backed into a corner or can’t take feeling like a doormat anymore, lashing out and being the mean one in defense. Neither way is healthy for anyone. And there’s nothing wrong with being polite or sensitive to others. In this crazy world, politeness, manners and morals seem to be disappearing. I would not suggest trying to be more mean or rude, but rather, be kind and courteous to others but learn to stand up for yourself and not let people walk all over you. I’ve been struggling with that for years. Or should I say, I’ve been working to improve that. Being both polite and self-assured at the same time IS possible and we need to stop thinking that it’s not.

  20. JJgal responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 10:19 am #

    And please pardon my typo’s. See?!?!? I just did it! I was so “worried” about what any of you may have thought about me based on my lack of proofreading, that I just had to come back on here and apologize. Yeesh. Like I said, still working on it! Hahaha

  21. Guy responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Caught your blog post when I was going over the facebook page. Normally blogs don’t do much for me, however the beginning of your post caught my interest and here I am.

    Interesting,the fact that you have so much respect for others that you face the dilemma of sacrificing your happiness, while respecting yourself. Your attitude and behavior is admirable, and refreshing in a world that at times seems devoid of these qualities. You are special.

    Love the way you addressed the young man and his thoughtless comment, you made a impression on him, I’m certain he will never forget the experience, good for you! (Too bad the boyfriend didn’t have the moxie you have, he should of)

    Thank You for sharing, it is a very enjoyable read! G (cindy’s hubby)

  22. Mandy responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Until I reached the age of 27, I managed to fool myself into the belief that I didn’t get angry, because I grew up being taught that anger is ugly, and Not Allowed. At the age of 27, some part of me realized that I was fooling myself. I stopped being quite so nice all the time, and started to express my real feelings. My then-husband complained that I wasn’t as sweet as I used to be. Shortly thereafter, my first marriage disintegrated. My first husband was, and still is, a great guy, but the real me wasn’t the right girl for him, and he wasn’t the right guy for the real me.
    The divorce was difficult, not the least of which because 27 years of repressed anger wanted out.
    What saved my sanity was that I started using all of the martial arts lessons that my soon to be ex had paid for, but never used. It gave me a safe and appropriate outlet for my frustration, disappointment and repressed hostility. Over the course of my training, I managed to wrestle free of the brainwashing that all young women (of my generation, at least, can’t speak for yours) went through while growing up–you all know what I’m talking about! Be Nice, Don’t Make A Scene, Apologize First, Be Quiet, Pretend You’re Not Angry/Offended, Put Everyone Else’s Needs First…
    I took matial arts for five years, and managed to reach black belt. But the most valuable lesson I took from that training was the realization that it was okay to stand up for myself, to speak up, to let someone know they’re doing something that makes me angry (how will they know if I don’t tell them?)
    BTW, I very much admire the way you handled the guy on the bus, Kate–you told him a truth he needed to hear without being mean or vindictive. Well done!
    I can do all this, and still be a nice person.
    For those you you worried that you are too nice, I have two suggestions:
    1) Read “Getting in Touch With Your Inner Bitch,” by Elizabeth Hilts. It’s hilarious, and she makes some excellent points about what she calls “toxic niceness.”
    2) Find some sort of martial arts training you enjoy. Where else are women encouraged to yell and hit things?

  23. Kate responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    @Guy
    Thanks for reading and commenting! Say hi to Cindy for me! And yes, the boyfriend could have done a lot better in that situation. I don’t think I ever forgave him for it, actually.

  24. Kate responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    @Mandy
    What a story!
    My aunt is an awesome, awesome woman who is a black belt and teaches women’s self-defense. She has been trying to get me to take a class for a long time, and I don’t know why I haven’t. I like that you used martial arts to get in touch with yourself. And thanks for the book recommendation!

  25. Martin responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    Hi, I’m a new follower, I’m planning to have kids in 2012 hopefully (i’m from argentina) and want my kids to be unschooled. In my country that is unknown of and sounds like you’re completely crazy (even subversive), but I hate schools so much and I want to actually spend time with my kids so we’ve made up our minds, we’re gonna do it whatever it takes.
    On being “polite”, i’m the same way and has made me hate myself so much, we all know one thing is to be polite and another thing is to let people take advantage of you, and most of the time we can’t draw that line, but well, i try to fix it as much as i can and at the same time to accept myself as I am.
    I took several years of martial arts and didn’t help me :(
    ,years of therapy didn’t help either,only prozac helped me a tiny bit .

  26. Five for Friday responded on 21 Jan 2011 at 7:31 am #

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  27. Mary responded on 31 Jan 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I just deleted the comment section of my blog, Capturing Happiness. Last Friday, a man posted three very rude comments on my blog …comments that attacked me directly. Luckily, I have a very good sense of humor and was able to laugh his comments off. But it got me to thinking – how often to I worry about what others think about me, and how energy have I wasted trying to control others?

  28. Kate responded on 31 Jan 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    @Mary
    I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can’t stand people who leave mean comments on blogs. It’s cowardly, obnoxious, and hurtful. It’s happened to me plenty of times, and every time, it bothers me. I’m glad you have a good sense of humor! But I also understand the decision to turn the comments off. People can always send you an email!

  29. Emmi responded on 15 Mar 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I tend to be overpolite only at work. A holdover from my childhood and adolescence when I was also quite oversensitive. In my teens I said to myself, “Self, toughen up or you’re going to continue to get walked on your whole life”. So I did, and I proceeded to get WAY too tough, and turn into a total nasty bitch.

    These days I’ve learned the wisdom of the ol’ honey vs. vinegar adage, and I’m a lot nicer. But I am also honest all the time, which many people interpret at rudeness. I don’t have time for silly games though, and a small group of folks seem to appreciate my candor.

    I’m not always successful at being nice, either. It’s the Boston in my blood. Too many hours of riding subways with asshats. But I’m working on it :)

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