The greatest, most perfect period that you'll ever have is the one that exists solely in your mind, before you ever actually have your first period. I'm not saying that periods suck — periods give many women a common experience that crosses all cultural, religious, and class boundaries, and mark our transformation into (possibly) fertile adults. At the same time, our first periods also mark our transformation into adults who may get menstrual cramps so bad that we vomit into a Big Gulp cup. So truly, periods are the most mixed of mixed bags (mixed pads?).
But back before we got our first periods, they were all black and white — in our minds, they were either an all-access pass to the cool world of adulthood, or a horrible curse that would make everyone treat us differently. Neither of those reactions ever quite matched up with the weird reality of actual menstruating life, of course — but those expectations stay vivid in our minds.
In fact, my period will turn 21 this February (yes, she can finally start buying her own beer), but I still sharply remember being a period-obsessed tween, who re-read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret religiously and held vigils over the tampon ads in Teen, waiting for a crimson wave to finally wash over me and turn me into the hip, mysterious woman I was born to be. Waiting for my period ended up being a lot more interesting than actually getting my period.
So, in honor of your last period, your next period, all the periods past, and all the periods to come, let's revisit 13 preconceptions we had about periods before we got them, measured against what getting our periods was actually like.
Expectation #1: You'll Become a Woman
Not only would you feel like a woman once you got your period, but people would start treating you like one. High school upperclassmen girls would finally realize that you were as cool as them. And maybe your parents would finally respect your adulthood and let you move into the basement, like a real adult.
You may have felt like a woman the day you got your first period ... or you may have felt like a sad, crampy little girl whose internal organs had, after years of plotting against her, finally made their move. But either way, you found out that no one in your family thought it made you more adult. And you definitely didn't get to move into the basement, even though you totally saved enough allowance money to get some tight beaded curtains from Delia's.
Expectation #2: Your Peers Will Respect You More
Well, even if your family didn't get that you had become a total adult, surely being the first girl in your volleyball team/French society/group of kids who play Magic cards in the back of the school library to get your period would buy you some social cache?
It turned out that at least one (but potentially several) of your friends had already had their periods for a while, but just never mentioned it because no one else seemed to have it yet, and they felt weird about it.
Expectation #3: It Will Feel Super Classy
Nothing could be cooler and more refined than having a period. It's like the Little Black Dress of tween bodily experiences. Everyone would wonder how you suddenly became so worldly and sophisticated ... until they saw those cool Kotex packets floating around in your backpack, real casual-like.
WHY CAN'T I STOP POOPING???? And why does the blood smell kinda weird?
Expectation #4: It Will Be Terrifying
How can having blood fall out of your body be normal? And everyone on TV is always freaking out about PMS, and annoying people are always telling stupid jokes about how women are irrational and angry when they get their periods ... will I actually start to be that way? Will I even be able to think of anything when BLOOD is POURING out of my body?
Sure, getting your period for the first time may have caught you off guard. But you didn't turn into a puddle of blood or a Cathy cartoon, and that helped you realize that all media talk about how scary and awful periods are is mostly just sexism.
Expectation #5: You'll Get It At Home
You knew you'd get your first few light drops of period blood at home, where you had period supplies stashed for months, at a time when it was totally convenient for you to drop everything and embrace your entry into this New Stage of Womanhood.
You got it at a place that was extremely not convenient, including but not limited to: a track meet, during a state-mandated standardized test, in a parking lot, or while trying to complete the "Vermonster" at Ben & Jerry's.
Expectation #6: Cramps Are Just a Good Excuse To Complain
Most of those "what's happening to my body?" sites and pamphlets barely mention cramps, so they're probably not a big deal, right? And your mom didn't seem to have them, so maybe they're just, like, hereditary.
You learned that period cramps are actually really bad. Also, your mom only didn't seem to have cramps because she was filled to gills with Midol for a week each month.
Expectation #7: You'll Just Bleed a Little
It'll be kinda dainty, like those drips of blue fluid in the pad commercials.
The gush of spookily dark blood that comes out during your first period attempted to steamroll over everything you held dear, like cute underpants, jeans that had finally been broken in, and friendship anklets that you spent a lot of time working on at summer camp.
Expectation #8: You'll Sync Cycles With Your Friends
You and your friends' cycles would sync up perfectly, and you'd get to do all sorts of cool adult things together, like nonchalantly ask if anyone has a spare tampon, or very publicly hand each other Midols.
Your period didn't become regular for a number of years, so you couldn't track it, let alone sync up with your friends. And after it did become regular enough to sync, let's just say, the novelty of Midol had worn off.
Expectation #9: Guys Will Start To Act Weird Around You
You've overheard those doofuses in the back of your science lab snickering about who is "on the rag." What if those jerks start treating you that way once you get your period? Worse yet, what if your male friends think you're gross for having a period?
Some of us did lose male friends who started getting weird after they saw a Tampax in our pocket; some of us drifted away from our best guys pals after our nervous moms refused to let us hang out in private any more. But that was a phase, not the rest of our lives. And some of us met new guy friends who were cool, supportive, and not weird about our periods.
Expectation #10: Pads Will Be Fun and Easy to Wear
You practiced with the ones you got for free at school, and they seemed totally easy. What could possibly be so complicated?
You somehow got your pubic hair stuck to the adhesive parts of the pad's wings approximately one thousand times. Also, you somehow positioned it so that it was chafing both of your thighs at once?
Expectation #11: You'll Get Your Period In High School
An 11-year-old is too young to get a period; ergo, this weird blood on my underpants must mean that I am dying.
The average age of first period in the U.S. is 13, so many of us became fertile adult women at a time when we were still trying to figure out our stance in the "Is Santa real?" debate.
Expectation #12: Helpful People Will Be Around When You Get It
Your mom, your sister, your friend who already has her period, or even your cool female English teacher would be around when it happens and answer any questions that come up. I mean, not like you'd have any questions. It's just a piece of cotton!
You did need help, immediately, and sometimes, the only person around to provide that help was a flustered dad, uncle, grandfather, friend's dad, or Larry David.
Expectation #13: Your Period Will Probably Ruin Your Life
Getting your period seemed like it was going to ruin your entire life. You wouldn't be able to swim, or play sports, or just run around and be a kid whenever you felt like it. And your parents would probably get super weird and obsessed with the idea of you getting accidentally pregnant. And you'd have to get into all sorts of stuff you're not even genuinely into, like make up and dating.
You eventually found out only total assholes make a big deal about someone having a period. For all it's cultural significance, it turns out that it's just ... a thing. A thing that had neither the power to ruin or change your life, nor the ability to make you cool or a pariah. After all those hope and dreams and fears, it really turned out that it was just a few ounces of blood.
Images: AMC; Giphy (9)