I am not feeling like much of a feminist today. How could I, after spending two days in bed mourning the loss of my ex-boyfriend? We did the thing, I am sure you have experienced it or heard, where you get back together for a relationship death rattle after time apart. Aside from being the worst idea ever, it also ended with the worst consequence I could imagine – I hurt my best friend who had helped emancipate me, physically helping me move my mass amounts of belongings from my boyfriend’s house while mentally providing me with the peace of mind that I had someone in my life who I could trust.
Someone asked me recently why I keep referencing the fact that I am 23, and I guess it is because I feel like I am truly an adult now. Sure, I still make mistakes, but nothing compared to when I was 17 or even 21. I’m older than a lot of my classmates, which often gives me the opportunity to give advice. After all, I do know where to find the cheap beer downtown (Finns, $2 PBR drafts) and where to find the financial aid office (3rd floor, Warren) or the writing lab (2nd floor, Wilson). But inside me, there is still a tiny little freshman who loves to have a boyfriend. After all I’ve seen and done and learned, I still haven’t squashed her.
There has been one highpoint in my two days spent in bed, a book, given to me by my friend Sam. “You need to learn to be good to yourself,” she said when she handed me A Life of One’s Own by Ilana Simons. I scoffed at Sam and threw it on the backseat of my car, which is where it remained until yesterday morning. It is kind of like a self-help book, “a guide to living better,” but it is written through the lens of psychological thinking and the works of Virginia Woolf. It’s about finding your place in the world, finding confidence, and challenging yourself to be better. I thought I might really need to hear what it had to say, and I was right.
Simons says, “Persistence can mean success. The difference between a breakthrough and an uneventful life might just be the difference between a lower and higher threshold for actual – painful, self-exposing – work.”
I had high hopes for an intellectual blog this week, but after several false starts I decided to embrace what Simons was saying. I am learning incredibly hard lessons right now, but I am bet there are those of you reading who are or have gone through similar experiences. Saying that I love to have a boyfriend is self-exposing to me, because I like to present myself as independent and strong. I don’t need no man! But last week when I found myself truly without one, I panicked. I couldn’t stop myself from calling, texting, and eventually hanging out with my ex, even though I knew it was wrong and that he was way wrong for me. ‘He might not be Mr. Right,’ I thought, ‘but he is Mr. Right-Now.’
“We only find calm in intimacy when we know that people don’t boil down to something fixed and specific…Happiness only comes when we accept that we make limited, flashing connections with other people.”
Could I really be another woman tricked by dominant culture into thinking that a man = happiness, validation, love, and self-worth? Sam’s right. I do need to learn to take care of myself, instead of just trying to take care of my relationship. It’s just so damn rewarding to make another person happy, that it is hard to step back and try to make myself happy. In fact, I am not even sure I know what that would look like if there wasn’t a man in the picture. How’s that for self-exposing?
‘Your friends will change in different environments and you’ll never know all their moods or sides. The ache for full revelation is a source of frustration, and annoying to both sides. Our personalities want the room to shift. In the end, getting comfortable with that dance is also finding peace in independence.’
This quote made me reflect more on myself than a friend or partner. I accepted (and expected) certain changes from my boyfriend, but I wasn’t taking into account how much I would change, and as that happened, I started to want different things. I never knew I was going to enter Women’s Studies when I started at JMU. I had never heard of Harvey Milk High School or dreamed of moving to New York City to teach there. I had never even read Milton. I used to like the saying “You are at 8 who you are at 80,” but I am beginning to see why this is not true. People are always changing, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a natural part of growing and learning and becoming better.
‘But becoming better for what? For who? What’s the point if I am all alone?’ At this point, reading wasn’t going well. I wanted to scream at Simons and slap Woolf for being so enlightened. I threw the book across the floor. I threw myself on the bed. I wallowed in self-pity and took a depression nap.
‘Being independent means dealing with competing ideas, making contact with these people who matter to you, but then stomaching the ambivalence in carving out your own choice – which is likely to be an opinion that no other head in the world hears or completely agrees with…After all, no one will have to sit through the wreckage like you will.’
This is going to be the hardest part about being single – making my own choices. I used to tell my ex that I wished I had a pocket version of him to carry around and check in with throughout the day (not unlike the iphone applications I bashed a few weeks ago). His calm and rational personality was a good counterbalance to my more emotional and spur of the moment approach to life. I always want someone to double check my decisions, to make sure I am doing the right thing, and then to tell me I am right. Little by little, I am starting to make my own choices. It’s something I have to master if I want to follow any of Simons and Woolf’s advice.
Last week I wrote about “loving with intent,” and I guess that’s really at the core of what I have to say today as well. But this time, I am talking about loving myself. It sounds cliche to say that you cannot truly love or be loved until you love yourself, but it’s still true. I might not feel like a feminist today, finally accepting my reliance on a boy, but Virginia Woolf is pulling me back from the precipice and reminding me to be true to myself, and that is a good lesson for everyone to learn.
Step one, apologize to my friend. After all, Woolf had to apologize to her friend Ethel several times after bouts of moodiness. It takes balls. Step two, figure out what makes me happy. And do it.
‘It is only when we actually speak and act that we come to see what’s real, not just imagined about us.’