"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, May 08, 2016

what smart girls do.

Now Playing: One Moment More by Mindy Smith (let me have you just one moment more)

It's no secret, I suppose, that I ended a relationship to move here to Canberra. I was open about it to provide some justification for my general mopiness, in the hopes that people wouldn't consider me totally insane.

I'd never been in a relationship before; and let me tell you, I thoroughly do not recommend timing your first break up with the first time you move 3000km from home. It's most unpleasant.

What I wasn't prepared for was the judgement. People constantly ask me why I didn't make our relationship long distance; I'm only away for a year, after all. Less likely things have been followed through. And I am not so young.

The truth is, it was not such a serious relationship. It was barely six weeks old before we strangled it in the cradle. It was not something I seriously considered prolonging for an entire year; I didn't want to tie someone down for a whole year. I did not hope that I could keep it alive that long. I was prepared to let go. But really, I thought a decision like that would be kept personal and private. Had it been a prudent decision to try and go long distance, I'm not averse to the idea of it. It just wasn't right for me, for us, right now. But people will judge nonetheless.

I got a serious case of cold feet just before I left. I didn't know what I was leaving behind, or what I was leaving it for. I was scared and unsure, and I wanted to stay where it was warm and safe. But I couldn't. Because that's not what smart girls do; and I was less worried about letting myself down - degrees get deferred all the time, life gets in the way. But I couldn't; because I was worried about what people might think. I didn't want to be that girl. And so I left.

People think I am very indifferent to what other people think, but moving here has made me realize how ferociously insecure I am; and how much of what I do is simply following the cultural narrative of 'What Smart Girls Do'. Even now, when things get too hard, I never seriously consider going back home, doing something safer. I have to sink or swim here, because I'm so scared of what other people will say. I have never failed at anything, except the ridiculous business of acquiring a boyfriend or inspiring someone to stay faithful for a twenty four hour period (if anything could confirm in anyone a total lack of faith in monogamy, it would be this.)

I've always been afraid of failure; it's a very nerd thing. But my fear of failure is not confined to marks or getting in to good schools; my failures as a partner and as a woman hit home, too. I feel like we have condemned smart, competent girls to these dead lives of total solitude; all the historical figures I was encouraged to admire - Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Hildegard of Bingen - seemed to be revered almost as much for their intact hymens as for their accomplishments. I'm not that kind of woman. My ambitions are not all academic. I loved being single in Perth, but for a few short weeks I loved having a partner. I'm not happy, all alone here. And I will not be ashamed of the fact that I miss my ex, that I'm still bleeding from an extraordinarily messy falling out, that I'm afraid about my future, that I don't fully trust that I can make it on my own anymore, or if that's something I necessarily aspire to. Because I am not just a rookie academic. I am not just someone who is smart. I'm not a machine. I'm an honours student but I'm also just a kid. I am only twenty, and I miss my childhood, and the people who were in it. My heart is broken and my spirit is breaking over stupid, trivial things that have nothing to do with my career; but my life is not just my career. I'm still not sure if I did the right thing, choosing this over that; all I know is that I did it because people expected of me, and because I expected it of myself. Because that's what smart girls do.

The hardest part of any struggle is not being able to speak freely of it. People judge me when I mention how much I miss some boy from my hometown. People judge harder still if I let slip that I have second thoughts about moving here; because that's not what smart girls do. But in spending so much time alone, with my own thoughts, I am more aware than ever that I contain multitudes, and that I suffer terribly when I am stuffed into one arbitrary box or another. I am still the same person that I was last summer; and I have not had the time and space to accept that I must move on, because people are so eager to imagine me as the kind of person wholly unconcerned with things that concern stupider women - sex, men, relationships, domesticity. But I don't think this binary works, you know?

Why do we judge women so harshly for their attachment to men? Would the judgement be less scathing if I were more attached to women than to men? We do not condemn accomplished men to lifetimes of solitude; we do not expect them to perform some petty charade of pretending that they do not want a partner, or just a warm body at night; we don't expect them to hide the pain of breaking off attachments in pursuit of other things. I feel like I have to deny that I ever enjoyed any of my reckless pursuits, that I do not really miss it, when I do. For a woman to want a career, she is expected to accept solitude, even when we understand that for men solitude is unbearable. It is unbearable for anyone with half a heart, even if they have a brain. And every time I put words to my pain, people are quick to rebuke me, that smart girls don't need men. Of course girls don't need men. Women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I'm not made of stone. I had a rich inner life, of love and lust and friendship and fleeting acquaintences; the gender of any of the people in question doesn't matter. What matters is that I left it behind, that there were people who were important to me, that I grew attached but I had to leave nonetheless, and I miss it terribly, and that's not being weak. That's being human.

And now I must go back to my work. Because I have made this bed, and I must lie in it. Cold, and alone, and afaid, but at least it is my own doing. Because even though I doubt myself, even though I oscillate wildly between dedicated researcher and daydreaming romantic, this year has taught me one thing; whether I am lonely or not, I can trust only myself.

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