The XX Factor

Your Comeback Readers Talk About Sisterhood, Marriage, and Private School

Talk about being a woman in transition. I am writing while simultaneously downloading episodes of SpongeBob on this laptop for my 7-year old to watch on the plane tonight as we head to England for a quick Columbus Day visit to my dad. I’ll be back on Tuesday before flying to California to speak at USC next Friday .

Before leaving I want to post a hodgepodge of thoughts from e-mails I’ve had over the past several weeks. I’ll do this kind of tidy-up regularly, as I like to post as many submissions as I can.

First up is Kristin, who asked to be identified by her first name only. She wrote in response to yesterday’s piece about sisters:

I have a sister who’s two years older than me, and we both have 7-year-old daughters that are 3 weeks apart. It is so funny to not only reflect on the ups and downs of my relationship with my sister, but to witness similar behavior between the girls.

My sister was very assertive and confident, and I was more of a pleaser. I remember always wanting and begging her to play with me, and she never would. I remember wanting to know why, and deep down, I still feel it was her just wanting to exercise her right to do whatever she wanted. I did things to make others happy, and when I didn’t, I found that I received disapproval. I’m also more of the sensitive quiet one, and my sister the more aggressive, outgoing one.

Our daughters are as night and day as we were. They are not what I would call close friends. They have very different personalities. My niece is very bright and things come very quickly to her. However, when she’s around my daughter, I can see that she feels threatened by my daughter’s relaxed, easygoing personality. My daughter seems to enjoy life and doesn’t feel the need to compete, which seems to bother my niece.

Next, Tam Le in Evanston, Ill. wrote about school applications:

I have always been a last-minute person. Until the very last moments of any deadlines, my mind sits on the not-yet mode: if there’s still time for improvement, why should I stop now? Then I would religiously scrutinize every single detail of my application until the clock ticks.

That night was just one of the deadline nights. I was, as usual, polishing my essay for the millionth time in a day: I could potentially read it out from memory. I was delirious and excited. I felt like I had finally captured the right “spirit” on paper. I clicked “submit.” Then I received an immediate rejection.

It was actually an error message, saying that the deadline has passed! I grasped in disbelief: Of all the reasons to be rejected, I did not prepare for this one. My other tab was still open: It said the deadline is Jan. 8, and that moment was before midnight on Jan. 8. My clock was running Pacific Time. The website should also be running in Pacific Time. How could I possibly be rejected?

I tried several more times. I got the same message. It left me in crumbles. I felt like screaming. It was in the middle of the night. No office was open to questions, and no friend was awake, for that matter.

It did not take me long to figure out what happened. The department did not update their website. The website said information was updated as of last year, when the first Monday of the year was still January 8. That year, it had moved to January 7. The general application page did have this information, but swamped in my sea of words and improvement, I did not take notice.

Devastated I was after what happened. But it also makes me a more careful person. I still suffer from the last-minute syndrome, but at least, I make sure no deadline is missed in this ridiculous way.

I had another response to the application post, which I loved because it put things into a sensible perspective. This one came from Clover Coyner.

I’ve seldom been more grateful for my rural northwest upbringing. I went to preschool in the only preschool in town, a church-run affair that all my friends attended, too.

I went to kindergarten in the only kindergarten in town, at the public school.

I went to elementary school, junior high, and high school at the only schools in town: the public schools.

As a National Merit finalist, I got a few reams of Ivy League junk mail, but opted to go to my state university, because they offered me a full ride before I had actually applied.

Finally, I had an e-mail from Rose Linton, who got married this summer. She described a conversation she had with her fiancé as she was deciding to take the plunge.

ME: I don’t want to give up my career.

HIM: Why would you?

ME: I love to travel; I don’t want to give up my independence.

HIM: Great, you have lots more vacation time than I do.

ME: I have a cleaning lady and I live on take-away.

HIM: So I’ll clean, or we’ll keep your cleaning lady. And I love take-away.

ME: I don’t want to change my name.

HIM: Ok.

ME: I can’t get stuck in one place; I need to learn and travel and change stuff in my life. You might not like who I become.

HIM: I’ll take my chances.

ME: I don’t want to feed you and buy all your clothes and organize your social life.

HIM: It’s not 1945. I don’t want that either.

ME: I don’t want a big wedding. I don’t want to spend money on it, or organize it. I don’t want to be on display with a big dress and everyone taking photographs all night.

HIM: Thank God.

ME: I wouldn’t belong to you, you know. And I don’t want you to put a wedding ring on me like it’s a dog collar, showing that I’m taken.

HIM: Pu-leez, of course you wouldn’t belong to me, and I don’t care if you wear a wedding ring or not.

ME: I don’t see any reason to get married.

HIM: I don’t see any reason not to. I love you. I’m committed to you. When I say “my girlfriend” it sounds like a whim. I want to say “my wife.” I want to show I’m serious.

ME: If we’re committed, we’re committed; making it legal won’t change anything.

HIM: If we’re already committed, why not make it legal?

ME: OK, let’s say we do it. I can swear to love you, to be faithful to you, and to try my hardest to make this relationship last forever. But I can’t swear to stay together absolutely no matter what. That’s just not honest; stuff happens, and if things get bad enough I don’t think two people SHOULD stay together.

HIM: It’s the 21 st century and marriage isn’t prison. You swear that you INTEND to stay together forever, not that you’ll be a martyr if things become unbearable.

I’ll be staying in touch with the blog remotely, because in the 21 st Century that’s what we do. Meanwhile, Happy Columbus Day!

Photograph of women by Jupiterimages/Getty Images.