Back in March, I had a really terrible week. My paper got rejected and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish this semester, and the following day, my boyfriend and I broke up.
It’s not uncommon for a paper to be rejected, however, frustratingly, the comments I got were mostly aspects of it that I had been unhappy with, that I had asked for help with, but, perhaps given the short time frame had not got the feedback I needed to fix. Finishing this semester was always tight, and this was really the final straw – my internship this summer is probably better for my employment prospects than a masters degree, and I was risking going in there burnt out and distracted, which I can’t afford to do.
My boyfriend and I had been together for over a year and a half, in fact, he was one of the first people I’d met when I got to Ottawa. I always found this rather romantic, but I had been aware for a while that this meant my identity here was somewhat tied up in being his girlfriend, and most of the friends I have here are mutual. We had been living together, so this was a further complication. Fortunately, he had somewhere to go so I didn’t have to deal with a post-breakup cohabitation nightmare as well.
I don’t fail often, but here were two – huge – failures in one week. I crashed. I’ve been pushing myself so hard and all of a sudden I didn’t have as many pressing deadlines. I also didn’t have anyone to notice if I stayed in my pajamas all day watching My Family. I was physically ill from – I don’t know – exhaustion? Stress? Misery? I pushed myself so hard, for so long, that when it all came crashing down, I did too.
This is normal. But yes, this is when my posting schedule went to hell. It’s been on my mind – failure – so it was hard to write about other things. I didn’t have the perspective that I needed to write clearly, and without blame. Initially, my explanation was that we were married to grad school – and cheating on it, with each other. Because honestly? That’s what I had been feeling like, for months. Then I got angry – at the two 30-somethings who had spent most of last winter in our apartment to the point where one day we looked at each other and asked, “how did we end up parenting two 30-somethings?” – that should have been our honeymoon period. They ruined it.
And, of course, he blamed me too – for working too much, and for taking that job in Shanghai last summer.
I am 24 years old, and I am having trouble balancing my ambition with my personal life. I don’t have children. I don’t want children. Partly because I think all this talk of “having it all” and “balance” is a load of crap. We make choices. We prioritize our careers. If we date someone as focused, we might never get to see them. If we date someone less focused, they don’t understand our choices. If we prioritize our personal life, we risk giving things up, making compromises for something that ultimately may not work out. This cuts both ways, of course, but somehow – call me a cynic, sure – a career seems a more certain and reliable thing than our relationship. I know we’re not supposed to say it and there are women that manage but… I can’t see how having children can not affect your career. And what if they grow up to be traffic wardens? Or politicians? Then what? I hear you love them no matter what but I have a hard time believing that is true of traffic wardens. (Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (Amazon), by the way, is a fascinating exploration of women and marriage – and the compromises women make for family.)
I know very few grad students in relationships. Graduate school is not conducive to a balanced life, and as a result is often not conducive to relationships, other than those with anti-depressants, alcohol, and electronic devices.
So, in all, I’ve been knocked for six. And so, I’ve been doing less, whilst I try and regain my balance. It’s amazing; I’m properly living alone, for the first time in my life, and I have all this space – in my apartment, in my head, in my schedule, to just be. And of course I’ve used some of that in mindless TV watching – My Family, Lipstick Jungle, Brothers and Sisters and Big Bang Theory – but what’s been amazing is that when I’ve had to focus, I’ve created some of my best stuff. The other day, I woke up with the math clear in my head for a fractal. My workshop the other day was really successful, and I’m really proud of the content. I’ve read several books – including Women Don’t Ask (which merits it’s own blog post, and will get one). And I’ve been exercising more, and having the time to actual consider what I’m eating and when – rather than just refueling so I can continue to run about.
My life is changing, and that is really scary because it’s like starting over. But I think this pause is helpful – to take stock, to reevaluate. And I’m not going to change completely, but maybe I am going to do a little less, because when you’re constantly moving, you can’t see the view, and because doing less could mean doing fewer things better.