Living for Him
Though my life is happy-looking from the outside, I’ve recently started to realize how much I don’t feel like myself.
I e-mailed my mom about this feeling yesterday. I told her I never meant to become shy and reclusive, and wondered where my energy and curiosity had gone. I was surprised when she didn’t argue with me, but in fact, agreed! She said:
“I want to see the girl that loves music, and art and writing — who has a great sense of humor and a giggle that makes my heart melt.”
She misses me. I miss me. So now I’m simultaneously wondering what it even means to be myself, and where I got lost along the way. The last time I felt like I was totally relaxed and doing things for me, I was a teenager!
After a lot of thought, I believe it’s a combination of taking a huge ego blow during a formative time of my life, and then meeting a strong personality when I was at my lowest. Let me explain.
I grew up in a small town that I couldn’t wait to leave. None of my friends wanted to go to college, so when I graduated high school, I high-tailed it from the Midwest to a college in NYC, all by myself. I had the confidence of someone who had, her whole life, been told she was smart and had great friendships.
Striking out on my own was a huge shock. I failed at things. I struggled to fit in. I had no money and was way too moral; meanwhile my roommates were party girls with expensive taste. I got B’s in my classes, which at the time made me feel like I didn’t belong. Finally, between an overtly sexist engineering professor, expensive tuition, and a general feeling of not belonging, I transferred to a college closer to home.
Back in the Midwest, I lived off campus in a lonely apartment a few hours from home. I ended up feeling like an even bigger outsider at this football / Greek life -focused college, and wondered why my High School friends never visited. After the rejection in NYC, I walled up. I was scared to be open with people. When I got assigned to group projects, I was suddenly the weird, quiet girl that no one knew. Before long, I was so socially traumatized that I could barely speak up loud enough to order a coffee.
Enter The Boyfriend. He was a high school drop out, working part-time at a local dive. He was really into me, and I was really lonely. Over time we became friends, and eventually started dating.
For the last seven years, I’ve followed The Boyfriend everywhere. He talks a lot, which allows me to feel social without really taking risks. We’ve lived near his family most of the time. Our friends are his friends.
Perhaps more importantly, His emotions rule our day-to-day. If he is energetic, we do things he is comfortable with, like coding a at a coffee shop or hanging with friends. If he is tired or sad, I drop everything to cheer him up, which usually means ordering delivery and watching movies.
Our careers have moved in tandem, too. We took the same types of entry-level jobs until we stumbled into tech. Fortuitously, we now both have successful programming careers, but I can’t help but wonder if I would be doing something completely different if we’d never met.
Don’t get me wrong. I care about The Boyfriend. I like my work. But I can’t help wondering how I got here, and whether I belong here. Or did I just stop paying attention to my choices?
As my 30th birthday approaches next week, I feel old and sad and lost. Anyone looking at my life from the outside would say I’m very successful. So why can’t I shake this feeling that I am just not myself?
I thought the exercise of writing this post would magically pull answers out of the depths of my brain. But it hasn’t. The best I can do is to articulate the occasions on which I feel least like myself:
- When I get dressed in the morning and realize I hate every piece of clothing I own. I wear masculine clothes to fit in at work. Even my “girly” clothes are safe and boring.
- When a really great song comes on at a bar, and I realize I have never actually danced in public.
- When I watch New Girl and get really jealous of Jess’s… well, everything. Her best friend, her clothes, her bravery, her relationships, etc. etc.
- When I (~ once a year) see my best friends from High School, and have so much fun.
- When I notice I am apologizing for myself, or choking down my opinions so I don’t draw attention to myself. I used to like attention!
- When I wake up on Saturdays feeling totally uninspired.
So what’s a girl to do about it? Do I need to end a long (often healthy) relationship, because it started on a shitty foundation? Is The Boyfriend even the problem, or is it my own lack of will?
I’m not sure. I’ve made a few resolutions though:
- I am going to put myself out there more, so I can make friends that enjoy the kinds of activities I do (writing, shopping, dancing, singing and exploring).
- I am going to stop feeling responsible for His emotions. If he’s depressed and wants to order delivery, I don’t have to stay in too.
If I can’t keep my relationship with these changes, then maybe I can’t keep my relationship. But I do feel certain that those changes will help me feel a bit more like the Mila I used to be.