Four years ago, a man I loved broke my heart. We met as freshmen hallmates at my undergraduate college, his room at the end of the dorm and mine more toward the middle. We grew into close friends after a few intimate conversations and decided to room together our sophomore year. In the early spring semester of my sophomore year, he told me he did not want our friendship anymore, that he would never care about me as much as I cared about him. He said that I cared too much about him. He said I expected too much.
Now, I understand he took advantage of me throughout the friendship. I remember one of our conversations early freshman year, while walking down Colonial Williamsburg at night fall, the air crisp and fireflies illuminating our path. At one point he told me that he felt impressed by me because I cared so much about people, because he himself struggles to actually care about people. At the time, I found this inspiring: wow, he struggles to care about people and wants to learn how, that’s so deep and self-aware. So, over the next year and a half, I tried to teach him. He would fail and I would feel hurt. I took on the role of his therapist instead of asserting more healthful boundaries. He saw before I did that he would never meet my expectations, so he ended our friendship.
“He literally told me from the start that he doesn’t care about people, which is like, the reddest red flag that’s ever been red,” I told my therapist the other day. “I was so freaking stupid for having ever trusted him, for caring about him.”
My therapist said all the right things: that it wasn’t my fault because I didn’t know as much about abuse then, that I’m so much more empowered and self-aware now. Yet I struggled to believe her. I felt, and sometimes still feel, that I was the stupidest person ever for putting myself in that awful friendship. I should have known that he would only end up hurting me. I was so blind, so consumed by my desire to fix him and my lowkey attraction to him to realize that I deserved better. I should have known better. I should have known.
I texted my close friend A today that April 2019 will go down as the month from hell. In this month, I have received a fellowship rejection, two manuscript rejections, a teaching award rejection, and a rejection from guy who I honestly should’ve never been into in the first place, old habits die hard lol ugh. Last Friday night, after receiving three rejections over the course of three days, I journaled in my apartment while reflecting on the mentors who have meant the most to me, the mentors whose deep compassion and care I strive to emulate. I came across a video of one of the mentors I feel closest to giving a commencement day speech. She said:
“When working on the documentary about the Gloucester Virginia watermen, I learned that a Chesapeake Bay blue crab molts as many 20 times before reaching maturity. As learners and educators, we also go through molting. Growing and shedding old ways of thinking, working through feelings of discomfort and resistance.” – Sharon Zuber
I started to cry when I heard my mentor say that. The insight, while perhaps not that radical or that innovative, struck me deep. In hearing one of my closest mentors – someone I care about so much and someone who cares about me so much – talk about molting, I felt a shift in my heart. What if I followed in her footsteps, in her own self-compassion, her recognition that we can grow and change over time? What would that look like?
Maybe it would look like: instead of blaming myself, a victim in an abusive relationship, I could give myself love and understanding, that I did my best with what I knew.
Maybe it would look like: instead of blaming myself, a victim in an abusive relationship, I could blame the guy who took advantage of me and the patriarchy for teaching me that as a femme person, I should fix men, instead of encouraging men to fix themselves.
Maybe it would look like: instead of blaming myself, a victim in an abusive relationship, I could honor my own resilience and strength, that I have grown so much in the past four years.
I have grown so much in the past four years. I read feminist text after feminist text and apply their insights to my work and my relationships. I have deep, healthful friendships with amazing people who communicate with clarity and compassion and consistency. I do a better job of asserting myself and my boundaries and not letting men, or more masculine people, take advantage of me.
But I’m still growing. I occasionally develop crushes on men who don’t deserve two seconds of my time. I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel in all domains. I have a lot of work to do to educate myself and take action about various social justice issues.
I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from befriending that freshman hallmate. But I can’t. So instead, I’m telling myself this: I did the best with what I had. I’m doing the best with what I have. And I am, and always will be, molting.
Hello friends! I apologize for not responding to blog comments, I will as soon as I can. April is a hectic month for me because I am defending my thesis in early May and have a bunch of other responsibilities. But, I wanted to get this post out in case others have felt down on themselves lately. Sending love and strength, as always.