Things you never say to a girl
‘’You really need to learn to look after your skin’’ – the words jolted Carla away from her phone. They came from her boyfriend who was lying right next to her, lazily scanning her face. ‘’You, white girls, have no idea how to look after yourselves.’’
Carla stared at him in disbelief. ‘Are you actually saying those words?’’ - was all she could muster.
Not reading her reaction well, he continued - ‘’You have that spot on your face and you could’ve prevented it, you know, and…’’
‘’Enough! What is wrong with you? Who says THAT to a girl?’’ – Carla roared. Not one to accept insults, she attacked like an angry tigress, sending the message loud and clear – ‘In the interests of safety and preservation of manhood, leave the premises immediately.’
The following weekend, when Carla relayed the story to me over brunch of eggs and coffee, I didn’t dare to ask what happened to him after that. (Although I do recall reading a story in a local paper about a man who drove himself to A&E with a folk sticking out of his face. I guess it could’ve been a coincidence.)
I must admit, I was shocked myself. I’ve always thought that it was common knowledge not to say certain things to a girl. The skin comment would be there together with ‘Did you put some weight on?’, ‘Must be that time of the month’ and ‘How much did those shoes cost?’ But evidently, the common knowledge memo never reached Carla’s boyfriend
On the way home from brunch I was trying to think of enraging comments I have heard from men. But at the time I couldn’t remember a single one.
Later that day, as I was sorting out some papers in my office, I stumbled across a box of old photos. They mainly consisted of bad hair styles, poor fashion choices and questionable taste in men. Most of them made me laugh until I came across I picture of him – a boyfriend of four years and his remark that haunted me for ages.
It was summer of 2000 and we were hanging out in my room. He put his hands on my shoulders in that melt-your-heart romantic way and I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead he said: ‘’Whoa! You have really broad shoulders!’’
I spent the following few years avoiding strapless outfits and covering up, without realising I was doing it. Until one girlie night, when my sister-in-law and I were swapping stories and steadily emptying a bottle of vodka, I remembered the reason why I didn’t wear strapless.
‘’Tash, he is hardly a fashion icon! He is fat, boring and he can’t spell, are you really taking criticism from that guy??’’ – she shouted without pausing for a breath. ‘’Besides, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your shoulders’’.
She had a point. I went back to wearing whatever I wanted, archiving him and the whole experience so deep in my memory, that I needed a jolt to even remember him.
I put all the photos back into the box and put it away, but the memory was lingering like a bad smell. I couldn’t help but wonder, what makes us let people affect our lives with their language? And if they speak negatively, what makes us stay with them? When does constructive criticism become destructive?
That night I had a date with Mr Chateauneuf and as I opened my wardrobe, my eyes went to a red strapless dress I bought a couple of months earlier. I knew I had to wear it that night.
An hour later as I slid into the passenger seat next to him, I felt his gaze caressing my shoulders. ‘’Looking hot hunni’’ – he winked at me and started the car.
I smiled, wondering if he realised that he had just given me the best compliment I had ever received.