A Personal Reflection: Relationships, Empowerment, and New Goals

This is a very long personal essay I wrote in June this year–before I started blogging regularly–which I think (and hope) is interesting because it charts where I was at the beginning of my summer journey of self-discovery. Just sharing it with anyone who might want to read it.

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Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to badmouth anyone I mention in this personal essay. Everything I write about here is only used for me to gain deeper personal insight, and hopefully to help anyone else who reads this.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve always had a set of goals for life that were focused on a the stereotypical heterosexual woman’s fantasy: romance, security, and domestic bliss as an equation for happiness. Who could blame me, though? I’ve had these ideals drilled into my head, from my parents who married at 19 and seemed so happy and in love while I grew up; the Disney princess movies (which teach that no matter how strong or independent the princess is, her happy ending always involves a prince), and later, the romantic comedies I watched; the books I read (including fairy tales and, of course, Twilight); and our heteronormative society in general. (To quote Wikipedia, “heteronormativity is the body of lifestyle norms that hold that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life. It presumes that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between a man and a woman. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexual identity, gender identity, and gender roles.”) My plans were to graduate from college; meet a charming, strong, smart man; fall in love and marry him; let him pamper me and take me traveling around the world, to romantic cities; and have children. I didn’t really have much of a game plan for before or after I would achieve those goals.

So I spent most of my life acting in accordance with those goals. I’ve had crushes on countless boys from before I started pre-school to this day. Most of my time revolved around learning as much as I could about my current romantic interest, then creating romanticized fantasies in my head about how happy we’d be if we were “together.” When I was younger, I’m not sure what I expected to happen if my crush knew I liked him; I usually just wanted him to like me back. As I grew older, the fantasies evolved and became increasingly more elaborate. I didn’t just want to kiss a guy; I wanted him to be my boyfriend. I wanted us to text each other sappy things and take couple-y pictures and post them on MySpace so everyone could know how happy and in love I was, and essentially prove that I was pretty and desirable enough to get a guy to care about me enough not to want to be with anyone else. Then, I wanted us to stay together. I wanted us to be each other’s first and only loves. I wanted us to get married someday. And when I became an adult, I took it too far and almost married my grown-up version of a boy crush.

Those fantasies never worked out too well for me. I suffered from the effects of modern technology on our social and (unfortunately) romantic interactions: I got dumped through the worst possible modes of communication. My first “relationships” (if you count “dating” for 1-3 weeks as a relationship) ended through text messages, and the next two boyfriends both dumped me through MySpace messages. My highschool sweetheart broke off our year-long relationship by simply not communicating with me for weeks (while we were doing long distance and I had moved away for a year) and changing his relationship status on Facebook to “single,” assuming I’d just figure it out for myself.

Anyway, as I’d mentioned earlier, these relationships (and in turn, my fantasies) never worked out for me, but I never stopped to think about the real reasons behind these splits. After every harsh, emotionless rejection I received, my self-esteem deteriorated more and more. I knew something had to be wrong with me. Otherwise, why would all these guys keep rejecting me when I gave them my heart, time, and devotion (and then some)? They were obviously perfect boyfriends who had reached the maturity levels of grown men, and wanted nothing more than to find a perfect girl to love… right? Wrong. Unfortunately for me and my poor self-image, I never fully grasped the idea (and I’m still working my way to truly getting myself to understand this) that the problem behind all my short, failed relationships was not that I was missing something in me, or that I was an undesirable person; it was that these were boys, and I was just a girl, ill-equipped to deal with the emotional demands and stress that accompany romantic relationships between two immature, incomplete people.

Thinking about my past relationships through an objective lens rather than with my own emotional biases has led me to become more self-aware and make healthier conclusions about my life and myself. Although I said that my exes were still immature when we broke up, I know I’m not perfect either. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not whole. I am not complete. I do not always love myself or my body. In fact, I often berate myself to the point of tears. My inner voice has constantly reminded me for almost a decade that I am not smart enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not nice enough, not creative enough; not enough. The voice tells me that I don’t deserve anything good and that I had it coming when I got dumped over and over again. I don’t work as hard as I can at anything because I’m afraid that if I actually tried, I might fail, and that’d prove that I really am not enough.

So I half-ass my way through school. I begin to try to care less about the people I date because I don’t want to give my whole heart ever again, because I’m afraid the recipient will see who I truly am, and decide that I am not enough for him. But over the past few months, I’ve begun to realize something: who gives a shit? Your idiotic, negative inner voice needs to shut the fuck up. Or at least become more nurturing and forgiving. Even if I date the most perfect specimen of a human being and let him slip out of my hands (although I don’t believe anyone is perfect), who cares? I am enough for myself. Something better will come along eventually, whether it’s a new guy or a wiser version of myself, in light of the experiences I’ve had; this is the way of the world.

The combination of these epiphanies about relationships, the progress I’ve made in school and extra curriculars, and the connections I’ve fostered with people have helped me to rethink my aforementioned life goals. As my second year of college comes to a close, I’ve been taking the time to reflect on my life and how much I’ve changed within the course of a year. Since last fall, I’ve attended conferences and community events focused on issues of people of color, womyn of color, and so on. These spaces and the friends I’ve made this year have helped strengthen my sense of identity and taught me to trust myself. The help I’ve received from my family has undoubtedly given me the love and guidance I needed to get to where I am now. And of course, the friends I’ve made over the course of my lifetime have provided me with love and insightful advice through my every hardship.

With all these sources of support helping me empower myself, I’m becoming a more confident person. I had second-guessed every essay I handed in for the past 3 months, and I’ve gotten A’s on every single one (and if you don’t know already, writing is one of my passions, so that means a lot to me). I’m slowly beginning to realize that I am smart, I am talented, and I can build my skills to the point of being able to support myself. I stepped outside of my comfort zone, joined communities I’m happy to be a part of, and have taken on leadership roles for the coming school year. I also recognize that there is a fine line between having high self-esteem and coming off as egotistical, and I try to keep myself in check to stay on the humbler side of that margin.

With this newfound self-confidence, I’ve decided to make a few changes in the way I think. First of all, I’m ditching my old notions about love, marriage, and their relation to my happiness. Fuck what our heteronormative society thinks. I am a woman, I am strong, and I don’t need a man to give me what I want or need, much less a boy to tell me he thinks I’m hot (because I already know damn well that I am). I still think I will someday want to get married and have children, but I’m going to stop pressuring myself into finding a potential husband right away. I will fall in love when I’m ready for it, and when the time is right (hopefully many years from now) I can start my own family. But for now, I am going to cherish all the time I have as a single individual and make the most out of my youth. Just like everybody else does, I owe it to myself to focus on my passions, pursue what makes me happy, follow what inspires me. At the same time, I promise to remember the sacrifices people have made to help me get to where I am today, and I will always cherish those who love me in return. So I’m going to try, really try. And there’s a chance I might fail. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because I know I have all the tools I need to be happy; all I need is me. I hope everyone else can come to understand this truth for themselves, too.

–Chloe