Today I had plans to meet someone for lunch at my favorite restaurant. So the combination of one of my closest friends and lunch was something to look forward to. About 10 minutes before we were going to meet up, she cancelled on me. Which considering I had made other plans around it was super frustrating. But what I found even more frustrating was that I couldn’t call her out on it. I know what she did was wrong. You should keep the plans you make. But why couldn’t I tell her that I had made my day around the lunch plans. Why couldn’t I say that I was annoyed. Now obviously, this is not the biggest problem in my life. And even the fact that I am writing about this means I have it pretty good, but this is a bigger issue than cancelled lunch plans.
You could say my life is too rigid that I couldn’t accommodate a cancelled lunch, but that’s not the heart of the issue. I made it work and went about the rest of my day, but it continued to eat away at me. I pride myself on being a nice person, friendly to everyone. So why is it so hard for me to stand up for myself? It is not mean to say something. Possibly it is a little harsh, but honest. So why couldn’t I say it? I even typed out the text message, but couldn’t press send. And then the whole time I sat eating lunch alone I thought about it and my apparent deep-rooted fear of confrontation.
Afraid of Confrontation
My story like many revolves around a boy, eh more like a successive string of them. I broke one heart. One broke mine; then I stabbed his. The third boy got his heart broken without even my conscious awareness and consequently halted communication with me, and thus broke my heart. However, more important to note than the dynamic between me and each of these gentleman callers was the outcome of them: the gradual loss of my once strong independent spirit. With each relationship, I grew more and more attached to the feeling of being attached to someone: the security of having one person always at the ready to share my thoughts with, be silly with, feel deeply connected to; the fake “need” for this became enormously alluring. What I didn’t realize is that with each relationship, the strong independent nature that I had once been known for would dwindle away and would be replaced with an unhealthy dependency on attention, praise, and the simple desire to be wanted.
The first gentleman was the “perfect” boyfriend in many dimensions of what a perfect boyfriend is qualified as. Our relationship was long-distance but he was smart, grounded, caring, adored me, and we somehow made it work for quite an extensive period of time. Initially, I perhaps naively thought I was head over heels, in love; I felt sure we would marry. My attention after a while started to wane though. After several unsuccessful attempts at breaking it off with him, I finally did so with success in January of my sophomore year in college. In the span of our approximately 1 ½ yearlong relationship however, I stomped all over him. I held the cards; had him strung around my finger. Yes, I was able to maintain my independence with this one, but at a price. Many of my actions while we were dating showcased I had held little respect for him as a person; respect that he did deserve. The breakup was hard for him to muster and although today we maintain a friendship, it has been a long process for him to get over the bond that at one point held us so strongly together.
On the rebound, about two months later I found myself head over heels with a new boy. This time, it wasn’t long-distance; quite the opposite. We spent every waking, and sleeping hour together. We were attached at the hip. He was a foreigner; I found him fascinating. We both held “cultural” things in a similar high regard: art, design, philosophy, food, music, spirituality; on the surface, we were highly compatible. Not to mention, he payed for all of our outings and it is safe to say we experienced nearly half of the area’s culinary highlights.
When we found ourselves separated by distance for a few summer months, I started cracking. I had allowed my strong independence to be replaced by dependence on an individual who seemed equally demanding of my attention and presence. However, now separated by several thousand miles, I began to find the skypes and emails not enough to decrease a potent neediness that had begun to form. A neediness I had not been entirely familiar with previously. Since, he who was so far geographically from me could not fill this undefined void, I began to seek it elsewhere. In our country’s capital for a summer internship, I found myself becoming engrained in the District’s young professionals’ social scene. One evening, at a friend of a friend’s house warming party, I literally opened the door to what would fill that unexplainable void.
Tall, big brown eyes, well-dressed, three years older than me (always am a sucker for the older ones), stable admirable job—conversation like we had always known each other —a text message the next day from my new friend and the rest was history. Those sappy Nicolas Sparks-like novels depicting a memorable summer romance: that was what I had with “DC.”
Don’t worry I semi terminated my relationship with Mr. Foreigner before embarking on this one. I began falling for this summer boy; however, in my effort to protect myself and the hurt that I knew would happen when the summer would end and I’d be on my way home, a nonchalant approach began to overtake my interaction with him. Either I was to fall for him severely (which had the potential of leaving me heartbroken if it wasn’t reciprocated) or I was to adopt the nonchalant ‘whatever happens is whatever; this is just a summer fling’ attitude that would keep my heart safe. It did keep my heart safe but what I hadn’t realized was that I was back to my old tricks of unintentional manipulation. I played mind games I needed to play to keep his attention on me; but more importantly and sadly, I did not allow myself to fully fall into his arms. Keeping my guard up, half my mind was still on foreigner. Guiltily, I knew foreigner and I would both be back in North Carolina together for the upcoming fall semester and for some reason at the time, that felt comforting. DC and I knew we couldn’t sustain a long-distance relationship—we both had mentioned we had tried that with others with not much success. What I failed to take into account is that Mr. DC didn’t have another person, like I did, or so I thought I did, waiting for him post-summer.
We parted that summer with a kiss and promises of life updates every now and then. My heart was not broken. I assumed at the time I had kept my heart safe. A few days prior, Foreigner had informed that he would be staying in his foreign land for the semester for an “incredible life opportunity”. Due to his absence for a few months, he informed me our relationship, whatever it was at that point, could not be sustained. Coloring it with a few very kind choice phrases praising me as a person and that sort of thing and following a few hours long skype conversation, our relationship came to a halt. This time, I was the one heartbroken. I had just experienced a beautiful summer with Mr. DC, yet because I had formed expectations of a comfortable dependency for the upcoming semester, and because I had spent so much time with Foreigner the previous semester (sharing joys, concerns, etc.), I had trouble fathoming how I would emotionally survive the semester without him.
I did it. However, again, with a dependency on both Summer Boy and Foreigner. Still conversing long-distance with them both, I began to feel that the communication in itself would be enough. Due to some realizations, I finally cut ties harshly with Foreigner. To Summer Boy, I promised visiting DC 3 times, never following through. After the third time and having found out I would not even be in the country for Spring of 2012, he halted communication with me–completely, with no explanation. For a week, I moped.
After a few days of this somber mood, I followed Elizabeth Taylor’s wise words: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Doing just that, I slowly gained an awareness that whatever reason I was ‘not wanted anymore’ was really nothing to waste my time fretting about. Yes, perhaps I had filled my dynamic with “DC” with broken promises, game-playing, and thus, unintentionally manipulated him to a point where he just thought ‘dnough is enough.’ However, despite my mistakes, my worth of my own self could not be compromised because of someone else’s new-found judgment of me.
Moreover, my dynamic with both Foreigner and Summer Boy were not entirely genuine if I am honest with myself. By the end of both, they were based largely off of the dependent nature that can begin to form when one loses sight of one’s self within a relationship. I continued to try to turn to them even when my time with each of them was done. An insecure nature that I had not previously held had taken over; I found myself becoming aware that I needed others’ attention to feel good about myself. This realization started to sicken me; previously, I had always championed independence; I held my own high goals and visions in high school–always pitying the girls who spent all their time with boyfriends.
My real challenge came when I was finally in the DC area to visit relatives in mid January. I made a vow I wouldn’t turn back; I wouldn’t text Summer Boy telling him I was there, Guess what? I was okay. Yes, there were near stumbles but I left DC keeping my word and feeling great.
Yes, there are times I want, or even feel I need Summer Boy. Yes, there are times I want or even feel I need Foreigner. Yes, there are times I want, or even feel I need, that first one.
But when I remember who I am, what my goals are: I’m comforted.
I’m going to make it myself regardless of who comes into my life, whether they stay for a while or only a brief moment. Princess Diana once said, “People think at the end of the day that a man is the only answer [to fulfillment]. Actually a job is better for me.”
Princess, I’ll be following your philosophy.
Being a second grader should be pretty stress free, right? I mean, you aren’t even to multiplication yet. Well, mine would have been stress-free if I hadn’t had to go into my classroom everyday and be confronted with the big question: Do I speak up? You may be expecting that I was faced with racism or sexism or something profound in the classroom–something that I needed to speak up against but it was nothing near that. Everyday I was faced with the same question by my teacher during reading time, “will you rub my back?” And even at times (try not to vomit), “will you rub my feet?” Yes, my second grade teacher expected her students to “rub” her during our class time. Now, if you have seen Waiting For Superman you know how messed up our education system is but let me have you know that it extends to private schools as well. Yes, my parents were paying money for me to go to school to rub my teachers back. The first few times I complied being to scared to say anything but after a couple times of this nonsense, I stopped giving this teacher eye contact and if she ever asked for me to rub her back, I’d just give her a no without even a glance. Eventually it got so bad, I had to get my parents involved. Eventually, it did get better. I know what you’re thinking–this is ridiculous. Oh, and it was. I still can’t get the image of Gregory, the teacher’s pet, huddled UNDER the desk rubbing her feet. It haunts me still.
On our last day of class, this teacher told us she had good and bad news. Of course, I was crossing my fingers she was retiring. So when she told us her bad news: she was retiring, I was ecstatic. However, when she told us her “good” news: she was being promoted to vice principal, I quietly vomited in my mouth. She told us to come visit her next year in her big new office.
I never visited her. I may look back and laugh at this now but a part of me still cringes. It may not be rubbing a teacher’s back nowadays but it may be accepting an unequal pay or simply accepting something for the way that it is without questioning it. There will always be the Gregorys but there will also always be the ones willing to say something too; even if it’s the second grader in the classroom. It has to start somewhere.
Rubbed the Wrong Way
I wish I could say this was a story about going into a tunnel and coming out okay on the other side. The trouble is that I am en route at the moment and so I can’t tell you how it all pans out (but believe me I’d like to know). In the meantime I can just go on what I have figured out along the way thus far.
For me, one of the most upsetting things about graduating from high school happens a few years later when you realize you adult life resembles the same social structure. There still seems to be the same competition for some elusive “coolness” and all you can really be sure of it that some people have it and other people don’t. You still feel the need to impress your mom, your coach, your friends, your boyfriend, teachers– whoever– but now that desire is seen as immature.
A few months ago I quit the job that I thought was going to help me build my career. I don’t suspect I will have the opportunity to re-enter the fairly exclusive field I was working in. In order to have some income I have taken a job that interests me little and has no room for growth. Every day at work I mostly feel embarrassed as I look around at my co-workers (my age and younger) who all seem to be headed somewhere. Shortly after giving up my old job I told a former professor of mine that I had moved on, her response was to swear me off completely. We used to talk a couple of times per month and now she no longer speaks to me and has asked that I not contact her. While on some level I always suspected that the only cache I could have had as a former student was my potential success story– her reaction really solidified that for me. Leaving the industry was a hard decision, but one I made to salvage myself. I hope that this was the right choice, but as of right now, I can’t really tell. The reaction I received from my former teacher bothers me more than any of it. Even if all the choices were wrong, the fact that making them so decreased my value to her that she doesn’t want to hear from me feels distressing.
At my current job I basically staple things for a living. And while I know I should be pleased that I have a place to go every day and pleasant people to work with and a paycheck that covers my bills, I can’t help but feel like a little bit of a failure. Additionally, I cannot help but feel a little ashamed when I think about all the people who spent time, money, and effort educating me so that I can do something other than staple things for a living. And when I flip to the back of my alumni magazine to read about overachieving peers and their work to make the world better, I keep wondering if I lack some strength of character. Perhaps if I were really dedicated, I wouldn’t stand for my current state of affairs.
I feel that mine is a generation brainwashed by the idea of the wunderkind. Rather than it being empowering– the possibility of achieving greatness early in your life and career– has become burdensome. You start to feel like if you haven’t made your mark on the world by the time you’re thirty, you may as well just pack it in. At the same time, the college educated of my generation are moving back into their parents’ homes in record numbers. It is a world of extremes– and if you reside in between those extremes there is an aimlessness that is hard to deny. Perhaps some are more willing and able to embrace this feeling as one of open possibility. I am not that type. I find myself reaching out in all directions to the people who used to measure my accomplishment. The trouble is they cannot assess my efforts in the same way they once did. What I am seeking really from other people is something I know I can’t get from them. I want some definitive way to know if I am doing things right. I want my report card.
So I am down one career plan and one mentor now– and the loss of a sense of perspective that is informed by experience worries me. Perhaps because I know it’s not something I can come to on my own, that I’ll have to earn it. In order to fight down the sense of panic, I try to think about things that at are bigger than me.
I think a lot about the universe. I invoke its name and sometimes blame it about as frequently as others might call upon various deities. But I like the idea of the universe mostly because it feels malleable to me, something that changes and absorbs and adjusts for impact. See, the trouble with high school mentality, (particularly for us overachievers) is that its ladder based. The only way to measure change is in success or failure, as you advance you move higher– any descent, any movement closer to where you began is a failure.
Even as I write this I find myself fighting the idea of my life as a ladder. Because, poetic as I may feel about the universe, I long for some way to measure that I am doing things correctly. I want my A paper with commentary, my student of the week nomination, my high five. The emotional equivalents of these types of praise that we see as vital to student development are not easy to find in the adult world. You’re much more likely to wander into forms of negative reinforcement or have your hard work ignored completely. And it seems there’s simply no room for noble but unsuccessful attempts.
I went to a very good college. With challenging classes and a good reputation, I attended this school with some incredible smart and dedicated peers. A community of people who knew how to achieve and how to pursue greatness– and were frequently recognized for it. It was not until a couple of years after graduating that I started to sense that school had left something out. We had all learned to be excellent students, diligent workers, and responsible citizens, sure, yes, all these things. But it would have been helpful if they’d mentioned how to be a person. Not an impressive person, not an achiever, just a person. When you stop for a moment and acknowledge that attempts to achieve and acquire are not in fact what the act of being human entails you have to take a pause. I know there are all manner of branded, time-tested, pre-packaged religions that can sum this up for me, and that I could just buy a magnetic bracelet on QVC that would realign my energies nip this whole existential crisis thing in the bud. I guess what I’m getting at here is that I hope there’s something to be said for the muddling through. Whatever my conclusions, I would like them to be my own.
I always knew I would have a daughter. I planned our long walks on the beach and our talks about being a girl and about developing into a woman. I anticipated battling the “princess” culture. I delighted in little girl sundresses and sandals. Well – guess what? We looked at the ultrasound in anticipation and my little girl wasn’t a girl, but a boy. “What will I do with a boy?” I said to anybody who would listen. “I don’t know boys. I know girls. Do I even like little boys?” I panicked.
I believe that there is a higher power somewhere and she chuckled at me those days, knowing the path ahead of me. I gave birth to that little boy and 11 years later, he is one of my best friends and greatest teachers. He has taught me so much about not only the unfairness of how the world treats little girls, but also the pressures and weird gender messages given to our young men. My son and I have a game we play together in the car sometimes. I will say, “Little girls like pink ponies and babies and kittens.” My son will say, “Little boys like guns and war and dead puppies.” It cracks us both up because as much as I hate Barbies, he hates guns even more. It is all so ridiculous.
I found out this summer that the little boy I thought I was adopting this spring is actually a little girl. And guess what I thought – as God chuckled? “What will I do with a girl?”
I can’t wait to meet her and see what lessons she will teach.
At lunch with my grandma today, the conversation inevitably turned to asking me about my boyfriend, or lack of. I love my grandma, and every other relative who also asks about my relationship status. I understand that they mean well. But just once I would like them to ask about my friends or my success in my job. I am successful on my terms, which right now does not include a boyfriend. My grandma doesn’t understand the casual dating or enjoying my 20s and 30s. All things that I value. I don’t hold it against my friends who got married right after college. I simply want to be able to live my life differently. So someday, I will invite my grandma to my wedding. But tonight I go out to a bar with my girlfriends.
So the first college party of the year, and for me first ever, rolled around and in typical college style, girls and guys come together drinking cheap beer, and at this particular party in ridiculous Texas attire. And although not unexpectedly from my TV watching, the flirting and invitations back to a dorm room came about. I was turned off by horrible pick-up lines and intrigued by older boys. But at the end of the night I ended up in a hammock with two other girls, discussing the night and our lives.
Those two girls haven’t become my best friends and the party scene hasn’t changed terribly. Some nights I get intriguing invitations from boys I am interested in, other times I runaway from creepy ones, but I have realized that most of my best nights end similarly to my first college party. Lying somewhere tired, sometimes still drunk talking to my best girl friends.
One of the things I am guilty of is always being on the look out for potential male companions. There are far worse things one could be guilty of, but when you phrase my behavior as my fabulous gay best friend does, “trolling for cock” it doesn’t much sound like the behavior that good Southern girls should have. A significant portion of this semester was spent “trolling” to no avail. In reflecting on this semester I had to get very real with myself. There had been one night this semester when out of the blue a wise beyond his years freshman had come up to me at a house party and said, “you know, I think when you stop looking so hard, you’ll start finding the things that you want.” Well he was right. Sitting at home post exams thinking about the previous months I set a goal for myself, lots of goals actually- but one was this: Stop looking. When your constantly looking for positive attention from others, your clearly not comfortable in your ability to attract people with out trying. And i think that is how true and genuine attractions happened, when neither person brings any agenda or anything into an interaction. Thus my quest to stop looking at men as potential boyfriends/husbands and looking at them as people who may or may not bring what I am looking for to the table. Now let’s fast forward to the funny part of the story. I’ll spare you all the details but this is what you need to know- my best friend from home and his girlfriend both go to the same school about 2 hours away from our home land. She has an apartment there. They along with my best friends 2 roommates were staying there after a basketball game. On a whim, I joined my female best friend on a spontaneous road trip to see them…party a bit…and spend the night. In trying to decide what to wear, I remembered my earlier revelation. So I opted to dress down, even throwing a bow in my hair (sidenote: some of my best guy friends in high school threw away most of my bows because they said that no guys would be attracted to me if I looked like I was four.) I knew my best friends roommates would be there, and I knew they were attractive and successful, but I activity decided that this would not be a night of “trolling”. Instead, I was 100% Me. And guess what happened? I later found myself in the midst of my first ever make out sesh, initiated by my best friends most attractive room mate. For once I didn’t try to actively impress a guy I was attracted to and BOOM. Success. And yes, my bow remained in my hair.
“I can see myself marrying you someday.” That is what my high school boyfriend said to me my sophomore year. It is what I wanted to hear, right? We had been in a committed, serious, christian relationship and I had never wanted anything casual. This should be the pinnacle. I was in love, right? The only natural step is to tell someone that you can see yourself marrying them. But why, days later, did I feel confused and uneasy?
Years later and a couple boyfriends too, I am finally starting to see. Starting to see that not every woman’s story has to be the same. All I had ever known was serious high school relationships, marriage, and motherhood. They were the stepping stones laid in front of me. Through various relationships and experiences, I began to venture out. Past the stepping stones into the various valleys and hills that led me somewhere else. A somewhere else whose destination I am still unsure of. But a path that offers more greenery for me.
I had lived in a world that for some is extremely fulfilling but for me, it was claustrophobic. I’ve always been a dreamer, and while motherhood and marriage may very well be in the cards for me, I wanted to venture out further. It has led towards passions I never knew I had and discoveries of happiness I never thought I’d experience.
One of the most critical changes in my life has been my point of view–something that I’m sure has come with age but also with a more open mind. I began to realize how I valued the patriarchy in my life and encouraged it. I then realized how it was hindering my own growth as a woman. I realized that having children was something I felt I had to do in order to be a true woman and then I realized that wasn’t true for me at all. I realized that my story had not already been written for me—that I get to pick up the pen every single day, even if at times, I don’t control the page turning.
Ultimately. I am learning everyday that every woman has her own story to write. The stories are not meant to be the same. They are meant to be written, first and foremost.