what's my motivation
April 26, 2005 12:37 PM   Subscribe

teen girl psychology filter: I'm acting in a production where I do a short monologue in which I ask God to please make my period come. I understand in a sort of surface way why a girl would want that, but not really. Are any of you women or girls who couldn't wait (can't wait, if you're young enough) to get your first period (menstrual cycle)? If so, why? Please make me understand.

This girl is the last of a group of four friends to get her period; she says "Why is this happening to me" and "I'm afraid I'm some kind of mistake" and "it's a Gift from you". The show is "Quilters" (in case anybody's heard of it).

I just read Judy Blume's "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret" in an attempt to understand. I don't have time to read any more books, though. I'm hoping for one or two (or more) heart-felt first-person accounts of why it was important to you to "become a woman".

I already tried searching for web forums / blogs of girls of the right age with not a huge amount of success. I did get the insight that a girl might be afraid she was "abnormal" if she didn't get hers soon enough -- but what are the implications of this? What would it really mean to be abnormal in this way?

I am a girl. I was a teenager a while ago. But I never had aspirations of normality (or girl friends), so I just kind of ignored/dreaded the whole issue. Thanks for any help; I'd like to do justice to this character's sincere feelings, even if it's only a short speech.
posted by amtho to Human Relations (26 answers total)
I remember waiting/wanting to get my period.

For me, it was a combination of a few things:

I wanted to start bleeding because of what it signified socially: that I was on my way to being an adult, that I was more "mature", and that I would feel more sophisticated and less child-like.

I wanted to start bleeding because of what it signified physically: that my body was going through interesting changes, becoming capable of reproduction and the whole circle-of-life process.

I wanted to start bleeding because of what it signified spiritually: that I was changing from a child to a young women, and beginning to feel the connection with the woman/mother energy of the earth, and with the mystical aspects of the moon.

In the case of your character, I think that as she is the last in her group of friends, she's feeling pressure to fit in and wanting to make that rite of passage. Many adolescents want to fit in, be "normal", and for this young girl, her period signifies this. Getting her period late may be viewed as "weird" or "wrong".
posted by Specklet at 1:02 PM on April 26, 2005

I too didn't want it to come. In fact, I was the early bloomer that had hers first in her group of friends.

I'd imagine it's about belonging, right? It's like virginity -- you don't want to be the first, you don't want to be the last. When everyone talks about it, you would have to lie. Or admit that you were still a "little girl" and hadn't had it yet. Even if you knew it was awful. Even if you knew it was terrible. Even if all your friends bitched about it. You'd want to bitch right along with them. Otherwise, you'd get the, "Oh, she can't talk about periods. She hasn't even *had* hers yet."

Think about getting breasts late. Or not losing your virginity when everyone else did.

Anything that makes you different at that age is proof that you are indeed the total freak you secretly fear you are. Everyone else is perfect. Why can't you be? (Even if everyone else is thinking exactly the same thing.)

Once people hit 17~18, they start to be (hopefully) more confident in who they are and can internalize value, but at that age most young women are still in the defined by how others see them stage.
posted by Gucky at 1:07 PM on April 26, 2005

For young girls, getting your period for the first time is a sign of growing up. If you're the last in a group of friends to get it, there's the terrible worry that you never will, that everyone will become adults, get boyfriends, have sex etc. and you'll still be a little girl.

Also, if everyone in a group of friends is talking about it (which teenage girls do), if you're the only one that has nothing to add, you're going to feel left out.
posted by Lotto at 1:18 PM on April 26, 2005

Thanks for the responses so far. I have to follow up, though: why would you want to be an adult? Why (at that age) would you be thinking about wanting to have babies? Why would you want to "belong"?

Please try to answer from a 12-year-old perspective (although I know it's not always easy), rather than a more philosophical adult perspective.

Maybe something like "[myself at 10/11/12 says: ] I really, really want my period because.... Not having it means I am .... I am afraid of .... I have to be like the other girls because ...."

Yes, I am a geek. I never felt the urge to "belong" that I know of (really; I'm not trying to seem cooler than anyone; I'm probably emotionally behind a lot of people because of this). I'm pointing this out to show how much and in what detail I need to be made to understand.

Thanks again.
posted by amtho at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2005

I was the last in my group to get mine. The emotions I remember feeling at the time were shame and anger. Shame because there was something weird and wrong with my body. I reached my full height (5'11") at 12 years old but didn't get my period for another year and a half, I thought I was some kind of circus freak. And then anger because I never wanted to be a kid, I always aspired to be an adult and was proud when people said I was mature for my age. My body was betraying me. I could (and did) sneak into bars before I got my period, I was able to convince bouncers that I was a college student. But this one stupid thing that was completely out of my control was a constant reminder that my "maturity" was all a lie.
posted by cali at 1:37 PM on April 26, 2005

The problem is that for an 11/12/13 year old, even a highly verbal one, a lot of those things can be almost totally inarticulate.

"I really, really want my period because.... God, I don't know, I just do. Or I don't. I do! Ugh. Arrgh."

"Not having it means... I'm lame."

"I am afraid of.... God, I don't know, everything."

"I have to be like the other girls because... I suck."
posted by redfoxtail at 1:38 PM on April 26, 2005

Thank you cali. redfoxtail, that was surprisingly helpful.
posted by amtho at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2005

Because you want to be "grown up."

Because you want to have a reason to carry a purse.

Because you want to fit in OR because you want to be the "trendsetter."

Because you think something in you will blossom.

All these reasons seem silly now, but when I was younger they made perfect sense.
posted by elisabeth r at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2005

At that age, "little girls" are invisible or annoying... having your period puts you firmly in the category of "no longer a little girl."
posted by xo at 2:05 PM on April 26, 2005

I, too, wanted to start my period because all my friends had. At twelve (at least in the early nineties), to be cool was nearly synonymous with acting "grown up" (which meant acting like a 16-18 year old). Not that anyone was going around all "I don't want to hang out with any no-period little babies," but hey, that's the age when cool clothes mattered a lot, swearing was cool, drugs were cool, knowing about the s-e-x word was cool...eagerness to start one's period is just an extension of that, I'd think.
posted by leapingsheep at 2:09 PM on April 26, 2005

I think a lot of it has to do with feeling like an outsider, that the girls who've had their periods have a shared bond about something you haven't yet experienced. Adults make a big deal about your period being this huuuge step between being a girl and being a woman and I think some girls really stress about being on the wrong side of the "little girl vs. woman" divide, particularly when they find out that all of their friends are together on the other side, and they've been left behind.

Not to mention that girls that age can be ruthless when pointing out anything that makes you different. Imagine being caught out publicly about your inability to do something that identifies you as adult, woman, or feminine and then imagine that happening in front of the boy you've got a crush on. You can bet you'd be worrying about that possibility (however slim it may be) and praying your ass off to get your period before anybody found out you were still uninitiatied in the mysteries of menstruation.
posted by stefanie at 2:28 PM on April 26, 2005

For me I don't think that any of that wanting-to-develop stuff was motivated by anything as articulate as wanting to be grown up or even wanting to fit in. I suppose I would have fallen into the "wanting to have some indication that I'm not a total freak and mutant" camp. I think if I were you I'd show some complexity in the girl's attitude in that she's also secretly terrified of getting the period because it means her life is going to change plus it's kind of gross (in her view).
posted by matildaben at 2:30 PM on April 26, 2005

I remember reading and being talked to a lot about the "meaning" of one's period, but I don't think that factored in. I was just curious and therefore excited. Getting your period just seems like such a bizarre, unaccountable thing before you've gotten it -- I just wanted to know what it was like. Freakin' weird! Blood! From your vagina! It's so normal now that it's hard to remember how foreign an idea it was then.

Okay, this is ridiculous but might help: Imagine you knew that someday soon your left arm would turn green, and you lived in a society where everyone wore long sleeves all the time, so you'd never actually seen the green arms of other people. You wouldn't know what color of green it would be, or whether your skin would still look like skin, or whether it would change all at once, or whether it would hurt. And so even if you knew that it was normal and would happen soon, the desire to know how it would happen might make one quite anxious and excited.
posted by climalene at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2005

Good grief, I was nearly sixteen before I got mine (Asian family with a history of starting late) and I was desperate to get it, mostly because a friend of mine had made an off-hand comment that if you didn't get it by the time you were sixteen, you had to go to the doctor and undergo some sort of scary procedure to make it start. (I'm embarrassed to admit that the words "pop your cherry" were involved.) So I was TERRIFIED. Plus I remember always freaking out because it could start at any minute and I might be in class and then everybody would know that I was such a freak. It was very stressful.
posted by web-goddess at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh, I've done Quilters! Like three times, even. I can even still sing some of it, and I did the "Sun Bonnet Sue" monologue myself more than a few times in my theatre career.

As far as this monologue goes; if I remember correctly, it's in a series of pieces about growing up. It's directly after a monologue of a very young woman who was the first of her friends to get her period. It's all about the confusing growing up mess that happens to everyone in adolescence. In this case, the urge to grow up, to be taken seriously. To have more autonomy. And remember, these girls married young. There's a monologue later about a woman who's under 30 and expecting her eighth or ninth child. She probably feels not only left out, but like the rest of her life is hanging on this one event that hasn't happened yet. I'd guess the girl in question is 15, likely to be married (at least in theory) by 17. Not much time left for courting.

But mostly it's about all the various things that can happen to you and make you feel left out. With a heavy emphasis on the general ickiness of adolescence.

Sharing life
Beneath my Lone StaaAAAAaaRRRR

hehe. I still giggle when I do that. And my husband cringes because his ex-girlfriend was in the show with me and she was the soprano that sang that bit.
posted by Elsbet at 3:06 PM on April 26, 2005

Thanks for the responses so far. I have to follow up, though: why would you want to be an adult? Why (at that age) would you be thinking about wanting to have babies? Why would you want to "belong"?

It's not about wanting to be an adult in the "Yay, I get to buy houses and shit!" way, it's more just the way that children/teenagers always want to be older than they are - at 12 drinking, sex etc. seems exciting and incredibly grown-up and sophisticated.

It's also not about belonging to any group or clique, it's just wanting to go through a "rite of passage" thing, and not wanting to be the last to do so.

As for wanting to have babies: barking up the wrong tree, 12 year olds (although they may find babies cute) do not generally want to have babies.

Hope some of that is useful.
posted by Lotto at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2005

Here is an anecdote for you:

When I was 12, I went to a Boys and Girls club camp. One girl (who was large and intimidating and a little dangerous seeming and poorer and wilder than me) came up to me one day and said, a little beligerantly and apropos of nothing, "Are you a woman yet?" I had NO IDEA what she was talking about -- it's just not how I would have put it at all. Did she mean was I a virgin, or what? So I looked at her blankly, feeling like a chump. "Do you have your period yet?" she said.

"Oh. No," I said, and there was nothing after that to make me feel like that meant there was something wrong with me for not having it. The thing that made me feel lame was that I had been insufficiently clueful or sophisticated to catch on. And I associated that with not having had it yet, and felt dumb.

A side note: I think, also, cultural phenomena like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret feed the feeling that it is a huge deal. I mean, it's nice to read a book that seems to speak to that experience, but it adds to the obsession, too. Its obliquenesses also got me really confused when I first read it, at the age of seven or so. I thought at first that your period was something you got only once, and was very confused by the scene in which her friend gets it for the first time, having told the other girls that she already had it. The friend cries and is all worked up. Margaret asks the friend's mother if the friend is like this every time, and the mother says it is her first time. I was all, "every time? huh?" I am a doofus.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:50 PM on April 26, 2005

redfoxtail, I am at least as much of a doofus. I read Are You There God? etc around the same age as you & thought it was about punctuation (honest!). Couldn't understand why my mom got all freaked out that I was reading it.
posted by mogget at 4:18 PM on April 26, 2005

I don't recall specifically wanting to get my period, but I think I understand some of the reasoning behind it. I ditto what a lot of people said about peer pressure- that late elementary/middle school time is just brutal. I remember in gym class once, a group of girls were standing around talking about what colors their bras were, and when they got to me, I just said I wasn't wearing one (which was the truth), and they made fun of me and said that was "grosssssssssss". After that, I'm sure I wanted a bra even more, even though I was totally flat-chested.

(p.s. I got back at them by growing enormous breasts in high school, so I don't feel so bad about it anymore)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:27 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I didn't get my period until I was a month shy of 14.

I suppose there was part of the whole "wanting to fit in" idea to my wanting to get my period, but I remember friends and family asking me if I'd started my period yet and wanting to be able to say yes just so they'd stop fucking asking. Jeez, what did it matter? I'd say no, they'd say I was lucky and that I'd understand why when I finally got my period, but I never understood why my menstrual status was in any way interesting/relevant.

But the fact that people did ask more than once suggested to me that there was something mysteriously important about it that I didn't yet understand. It made me want to get my period just so that I would understand why my Grandma asked me if I'd "started...uh...menstruating yet" after one Christmas dinner. I suspected that there would be at least some subtle enlightenment that I would receive along with the mess.

Sadly, there was not, and I still think it's creepy that anyone but my Mom ever asked me about my period.
posted by katieinshoes at 9:29 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Imagine being caught out publicly about your inability to do something that identifies you as adult, woman, or feminine and then imagine that happening in front of the boy you've got a crush on.

Imagine being a 12/13/14 year old boy and being confronted by a group of girls about the mysteries of menstruation. Whooo...
posted by namespan at 10:09 PM on April 26, 2005

One thing that no one seems to have mentioned yet:

There's something a bit unnerving (especially at that age) about knowing that it's going to happen, sometime, probably without warning -- and knowing/thinking that the initial result might be an embarrassing accident. I think I just wanted it to happen so that I wouldn't have to worry/wonder about when and how it would actually happen.

So it actually did happen on Christmas morning (HUGE family gathering and not a great opportunity to deal with things discreetly). Oh well.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:15 PM on April 26, 2005

The "rite of passage" that one wouldn't want to be last to go through, pointed out by Lotto and others, is helpful.

Lotto also wrote: "...children/teenagers always want to be older than they are - at 12 drinking, sex etc. seems exciting and incredibly grown-up and sophisticated."

Lotto may have been using hyperbole (a common literary device), but I have to point out that not all children/teenagers want these things. I didn't, and I very much resented adults (including my parents) believing that I did. If I'd had these desires, I might not need to ask this question. Please, please don't assume that all children are alike.

Thanks so much for sharing these stories!
posted by amtho at 7:09 AM on April 27, 2005

This is of no help, but I had to chime in hear and tell you amtho, you are not alone. I did NOT want my period, I was horrified at the very thought, in fact I refused to believe in it. I didn't want to grow up, I didn't want to be a girl and have to wear a bra & deal with my period (the health ed teacher with the giant scary looking belts and napkins & etc may have had something to do with this.) I wanted to go on climbing trees, having sword fights with my brothers and going on bike/canoe/sunfish/wandering adventures by myself and I figured that when I got my period that would all be over, since Ladies couldn't do any of those things, or, in fact, anything much that was fun. And then, of course, when I did get it my mother burst into tears and told me I had the curse. So I can't imagine wanting your period.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2005

There's something a bit unnerving (especially at that age) about knowing that it's going to happen, sometime, probably without warning -- and knowing/thinking that the initial result might be an embarrassing accident.

Oh man, I was so relieved to have gotten mine on a snow day... And yep, 2 months shy of 15 years old.
posted by heatherann at 11:32 AM on April 27, 2005

I was 15 and convinced by that point that there was something wrong with me since I was starting so late. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, I'm like, is it ever going to end?
posted by Lynsey at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2005

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