Within the last two years I have become a part of several facebook forums that support women within dentistry, one of them being DeW, and am shocked at the warm welcome I’ve received. This is surprising and unusual because previously, if female camaraderie wasn’t found on our block, within our town, or in the extended family, all bets were off and we would be lost and deserted, even within each other’s company. The internet created an opportunity for us to feel less alone. Being a part of these groups, I am stunned at the support and the willingness towards working at collaboration, towards creating a safe space. It is probably the first time in my life that I have felt like I’ve belonged among women, with no questions asked. I was invited and welcomed even though no one had known me. And the presence of my disbelief is admittedly strong, because out there, in the real world, women suck. It is not just my own finding, not even an urban legend, women certainly seem to be terrible towards one another. The anecdotes of catfights spread as far back as probably the birth of womankind. And in my life, relationships with women, especially, had taken a toll on my own emotional wellbeing, causing me to rid them entirely from my circle…until now.
Exhibit A (the only exhibit) – (in my life) women suck
I had gotten a text from an acquaintance (a woman who doesn’t suck) that on a Facebook page group (within the small town in which I practice) women were flocking to tear apart my reputation. The initial post, made by a mom of three, summarized the terrible experience she had within our office. This particular patient, who saw my male counterpart, felt she needed 3-4 more opinions to ascertain if she indeed needed a root canal and deep cleaning. According to her post, these newly consulted dentists did corroborate that apparently we attempted to gauge her. Ironically enough, following her appointment, we received a specialist report, recognizing that she got the unnecessarily recommended (by us) root canal completed. As her post continued, mommies in my local area began to take digs, one after another, at my professionalism or lack thereof. It was surprising because the post had nothing to do with me, it only talked about my partner, though naming the office in which we both practice. One mom asked why in the world my partner would choose to associate himself with someone as terrible as me. Another claimed that I called her ‘a liar’ in front of her son, because I didn’t believe she had an allergic reaction to local anesthetic. This, of course, was the lie, because if I was in the business of calling people names, I wouldn’t have a business at all. A treatment coordinator from a neighboring ortho office posted “we had a patient of theirs in our office and they said he was having a filling done on a specific tooth. Our doctor saw no cavity and we encouraged to seek a second opinion.” I had no way to combat the post, I couldn’t break HIPAA. This nonsense went for 97 comments, mostly posted by women, last I was able to check. Even as I attempted to contact the administration (another woman who sucked) of the group asking to take the post down, I was the one removed from the group. This online bullying was one of the most challenging moments of my professional career. It hurt for months. I was worried about my reputation. My fears enlarged the whole fiasco enough that I was sitting in the bathroom with a full blown anxiety attack. What happened? How did the mommy group, who was supposed to be swapping organic chicken recipes, come to destroy my livelihood. How did a group of self pronounced nurturers leave the important work of teaching their kids kindness and go on a tirade, taking virtual punches at me? Why are women so terrible toward one another? What are we trying to prove? My guess is that the experience I had is not unique to me, to my career as a dentist, or to the community within which I practice. And this consideration is terrifying.
It is for lack of trying
It wasn’t just the situation above that had kept me from attempting to create relationships with women, whether it be in my hometown or outside. I simply do not know how to interject myself into the lives of neighboring women, nor do I have the time to create and nourish those relationships. That takes energy and, until recently, I felt very little reward in it. I barely have the time to repost ads and analyze resumes in the never-ending cycle of looking for great team members on indeed. By Friday night, I’m exhausted from wearing and switching the hats of a dentist, a practice owner (yes those are two different things), a plumber, and an accountant. The only thing on my mind is to plop in front of the TV to watch ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. No cell in my body wants to go to a local wine bar to talk about whom Jennifer Lopez or Jennifer Aniston are dating this week, a stereotypical female conversation. I continued to feel this way until one day it all turned around. Out of nowhere, led by an unknown force, I began attracting like-minded women, or perhaps they began to attract me. A sort of unfamiliar and unexampled magnetic field began to develop, a palpable one between us. Though still filled with anxiety about my past, I felt compelled to be brave and to follow through with it. It’s not just one example that I will mention below, but many more, whose occurrences, sometimes on a weekly basis, wakes me up to the presence of a higher power, and a sense of responsibility from me towards other women. Today, awkward interactions between me and my female peers are the exception. I simply grin at the times I was disillusioned by women in the past. I partly feel bad that they may not have found the joy I had, the support I have, and at my own far reaching journey that had already been had–a journey having brought me to the amazing place of the here and now.
Not Jennifer Aniston, not Jennifer Lopez … the real Jennifer
It’s a bizarre circumstance of life, when you find a random mom with whom, for almost a decade, you make eye contact now, knowing that in time, your paths will merge, and you will depend on some handholding to get through life’s toughest moments.
Ten years into this staring contest, Jennifer and I finally ended up on a school volunteer committee together. We were formally introduced and would spend the next few years working together for the betterment of kids’ school. Jennifer asked to have a glass of wine following our first meeting, but as mentioned above, I simply had no strength or energy to pursue any kind of friendship. A glass of wine with someone other than the HGTV hosts inside the television seemed like too much effort. And frankly, the possibility of awkward conversation scared me. Yes, I knew I could be cordial, but was worried that my introverted, inexperienced self would keep the conversation flat. So, the invitation got lost among other summer activities, travels, and work. Upon school resuming and the committee back to having in-person meetings, Jennifer offered again to meet for a glass of wine. Rather than fighting it, something inside pushed me to sincerely make it happen, fully aware of the fact that a rather superficial conversation may ensue. That Friday night was truly one of the most profound, enjoyable, enlightening experiences I’d had as an adult woman. It was led by an insatiable force of bringing us together. Jennifer and I ignored the clock as hour after hour passed into almost midnight. The glances and eye contact we exchanged for years now made so much sense, as it had found its purpose. We laughed, hugged, giggled, and cried, not just in front of each other, but for each other. It was an experience like the one you would have had with your middle school best friend, except on steroids, and more fulfilling. At the end of the evening as Jennifer was leaving my house, I told her how I felt. I told her our couch conversation was profound and, above all, not something I experience with many people. A part of me was afraid to tell her this. I didn’t want to have my feelings misunderstood for anything other than platonic, I also didn’t want her to think that I was a complete loser for not having many of these moments in my life. To my pleasant surprise, she felt the same. She also told me she felt moved by a power greater than herself in offering her friendship. And so, the metaphoric hand holding began.
It has taken me decades to come to the realization that I have looked for female camaraderie in all the wrong places. And though decades may seem to be too long, I could have done many more years if it meant that I would eventually fall into the place among my own people. Women who bravely and unapologetically are willing to be raw, honest, and vulnerable together. Women who are light and easy to be around. Women who find me funny and worth loving. Unfortunately for all of us, what I’ve come to see now is that I am not the only one who has felt alone. The good news is that the leadership of trailblazers establishing safe sanctuaries, of women who were previously not allowed in the spotlight of our profession, are coming front and center leading us into healthy and open relationships with one another. These women allow us all to have a different story, a different walk of life, one not needing the help of envy or competition to survive in the open air. So now, as I update the first paragraph, it isn’t that women suck, it’s that certain women suck.