I Used to Measure My Self-worth by Catcalls

By Darlene McGarrity

Do you remember the cartoon wolves who would potentially lose their minds when a pretty lady walked by?

If you are under the age of twenty-five, it’s possible that you don’t.

When I was a kid, these cartoons were normal type stuff that no one ever thought a bad thing about. Guys whistled at girls and shouted things at them, and women rolled their eyes and kept walking.

I did not roll my eyes. In fact, I didn’t understand why women had a problem with men behaving that way until I got myself some self-worth.

Picture it — 1989 Philadelphia.

I was sixteen and married with a son in 1989.

I was also neck-deep in a relationship that should have been dragged out back and shot in the heart.

My self-worth had been crap since I was a kid. Growing up in an alcoholic type family does that sometimes.

So, when I met an older boy who showed me some attention a couple of years prior, I jumped in for all the wrong reasons. He looked at me in a way that no one ever looked at me. Now I realize he looked at me with the eyes of a predator but, hey, when I was a lonely teenager, I saw it through a different lens. Not only was he too old for me, but he was also too possessive and needy. More red flags I didn’t see until years later. He would tell me not to wear makeup, no form-fitting clothes, no male friends — if it got me the slightest bit of attention, it was a no go.

But I needed attention.

I lacked attention for years and when I got older and saw that my body got me attention, I craved more. It made me feel good. It made me feel worthy. I felt seen and relevant. This type of thinking went on for decades. It cost me a lot of peace and serenity because I was always looking for something outside of myself to make me feel good. I would get dressed up and just go walk around and see how many guys I could get to whistle at me or beep their horn or shout foul, vile shit out the window at me.

That was how I knew I was a woman. That was how I knew I had what it took to get a guy.

That was how I measured my worthiness.

Fast forward fifteen years.

It’s no surprise I took a stab at trying to be an exotic dancer.

I mean, that’s the ultimate in having guys holler things and whistle at you, right?

Spinning upon the stage, grinding and bumping to the bass while guys hoot and holler over the music and the clinking of glass — walking around and letting guys stick money in my underwear was one of the ultimate highs.

Except I was still stuck in the truncated stage of emotional development, so it showed up as desperation to the tenth power and everyone saw it.

Hell, at this point in my life I was a drug addict and knew I had some issues.

I knew why I did the things I did but I felt that as long as I didn’t admit it and blamed my parents and ex-husband, I was the victim. Men loved victims, right? Oh, poor, poor, pitiful me.

Bad relationship after bad relationship, decisions made for the wrong reasons. Over and over and over. I just could not stop.

Even after I got sober in 2006, I still measured my worth in male attention.

My longing for attention had gotten me in more trouble in my years than anything else. Bad relationship after bad relationship, decisions were made for the wrong reasons. Over and over and over. I just could not stop.

It seemed that not only did I have a drug and drinking problem but I also had a co-dependency problem and it showed up everywhere. One of the first rules of sobriety is “if you aren’t already in a relationship, avoid getting into one for the first year.”

Well, that was great for everyone else, but I was special. Surely, everyone could see that?

So I did things my own way.

Less than two months into my sobriety, I had a boyfriend. He was the creepy predator type that I loved so much back when I was using drugs. But this one was sober so, hey whatever, right? Maybe we could fix each other.

Yeah, no.

That relationship lasted for six years — 5 1/2 years too long in retrospect. It was my first sober relationship, but not my first relationship built on the wrong values — negative attention. However, I did learn a lot from being with that person. I learned that no can be a complete sentence, that sex addiction is real, and that maybe I could fix myself… So, I left him.

It took years of sobriety, some therapy, and a whole lot of deep down, painful honesty to get to the core of my being. I don’t recommend doing things the way I did them — locking myself in a basement, half-assed therapy (only when things got unbearable), and weaning myself off of opiates and then antidepressants.

It was always the “rough road” for me to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. As if I didn’t deserve sunshine without the storm first. As if somehow, self-approval wasn’t something I could just have.

When I realized that the road to happiness doesn’t require pain-filled potholes or negative attention and that I could, in fact, be happy just because, I lightened up on myself. I started to look at things through the lens of acceptance. I started getting dressed up for me and sometimes not getting dressed up for me. I let myself walk out of the house without makeup and my hair bit messy… no one said anything to me and that was more liberating than a catcall.

I no longer measure my self-worth in male attention. I no longer feel the need to be hit on, whistled at, etc. I don’t keep score of the times a guy tries to get my number. I don’t walk down the street waiting for horn beeps. I don’t get bummed out if guys aren’t giving me attention — in fact, when they do I just smile politely despite the objectionable screaming inside. I can get by without the attention, really. I’ve learned two spectacular ideas throughout my years so far:

Your opinion of me is none of my business.

I don’t need your approval to approve of myself.

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