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Societal Expectations

Why do I still feel like I'm expected to choose between my career and a relationship? It's 2018.

Photo Credit: Inc

I’m 21-years-old, and I’m alive and well in the year 2018. A time to be alive for a woman. Being able to own property is cool, being able to receive an education, being treated as a person instead of an object (most of the time), and having fundamental human freedoms. Why is it, that in 2018, I still feel like I must choose between having a relationship and a career? It’s one or the other, right? That’s how we’ve all been trained.

In high school, I steered clear from the guys I grew up with. Why? I was going to go to community college and start my own life. Even though I was staying home, most of the others weren’t? So why would I want a boyfriend? Eh, to feel normal. No one ever asked me to dances or to prom, but I learned to be okay with that and love myself. Senior year, losing all of my close friends and what I had known my entire life hit me pretty hard. That summer I suffered and didn’t know what to do, but I never resolved to attempt to form a relationship because I had to figure out myself first. The idea was still to open my own photography studio. Just far away from my hometown where people would appreciate my art and pay for it, willingly.

Going to community college was okay, but I always felt like I was missing out on stuff. Having social media at this time really screwed me up. All I saw online were pictures from everyone I went to high school with having such a great time in college, and where was I? Sitting outside waiting for my English class to start and already wanting it to be over. Why was I here? What was I doing? Was photography still my passion? I saw how much Anne struggled and I still wanted to pursue it. Ten years down the road who knows what the industry will still be like—a warning many threw into my mind. It was fine as long as I at least earned my Associates.

One day it clicked as I was panicking. It hit me that a year from now I would have my associates but what the heck was I going to do after that? I had no money saved or a legitimate job. Driving 45 minutes for eight bucks an hour wasn’t worth it but I lived in such a terrible place that jobs were scarce, and it was just good that I had one. In order to avoid adulting, I needed to finally do what I should have done in the first place: transfer to a four-year university. Where would I go? Might as well go to the one closest to home that I was already accepted to and turned down their offer. A regional Indiana University campus about 30 minutes from my home. Why would I want a relationship? I steered clear from all of the weird dudes at the community college and decided to focus on myself and figure out what I wanted. I’m transferring anyway, and I’ll be in Kokomo all the time soon.

If you want to major in business, you’ll need about ten more math classes. What the heck? No! I couldn’t do that to myself. I barely passed my math classes in high school. The advisor was really nice and helped me figure out that I should major in something I’m passionate about. He unveiled the document containing the course demands for a new major called New Media Art and Technology. It would give me all the skills I needed to open a studio one day—so I became an art major, but with an English literature minor because I always loved reading in school.

So, that fall I took fifteen credit hours in a real college setting. This will anger some people, but community college was a waste of my time. I was not challenged, and I basically showed up and put forth no effort and passed. This new school was a slap in the face. Figured out that within the first two weeks I could never be an art major because they expect you to be able to draw—not what I wanted to do. I tried to learn Lightroom and Photoshop, and the essentials are digital photography. So, I spent that semester hating my major and the major classes I was in, except for my English classes. I always felt so much better whenever I walked into one of my English classes. In fact, I signed for three my first semester. Children’s Literature, American Gothic, and Recent Writing. Why would I want a relationship? I couldn’t figure out my next move in life, but I knew I did not want to keep the major I was in right now. I had finished all my general education courses, so I had to figure it out fast.

That first semester was rough. I did not have a lot of friends, and I kept to myself while I tried to do some soul-searching. I read classics and contemporary novels that semester that transformed me and caused my brain to stretch in ways it previously did not need too. The Elegance of the Hedgehog transformed me all while I found out I was a really shitty writer (thanks, community college for preparing me for a four-year university!).

American Gothic was my favorite class my first semester and the one I was most excited about. Gothic literature? I had no idea that was even a thing—you mean there are novels and short stories about creepy shit? Sounds like my kind of class. It was a 200-level class, so a lot of the people in there were in it for elective credit. I was there by choice, and I’m happy I was. That single class single-handedly changed the course of my life. OMG you mean knowledge can change the course of your life and not a boy? Like society expects it to? YES.

I had read Edgar Allan Poe before, but not like I had in that class. It really captured me, and I loved how twisted his writing was. It was a profound moment reading his collection because it made me excited to write a paper. Who was I? I was excited about writing an essay. It’s like the old Mallory had died and was replaced with a nerd Mallory. All my life, I felt like I had been missing out on this aha moment because high school English did not wow me like this class did. High school English was monotonous, and I was not passionate about it.

The professor who taught that class was my favorite. I loved all of my professors, but this one was the best. She was always so happy every single day, and you could tell she genuinely loved what she was doing. That’s who I wanted to be like and aspired to be, even if English wasn’t my thing. To be that happy and genuine was what I started to strive for.

Then one day, it hit me. Why am I not an English major? Those are the only classes I enjoyed, but I was terrified of having a degree that was pointless. What are you going to do with that English degree? Work at Starbucks for the rest of your life? I was so stupid. I had no idea how versatile an English degree could be, and all it took for me to change my mind was a one-hour meeting.

I had one good friend, and her name was Monica. She was in two of my English classes, and she was an English major. We talked about it, and she said I should consider English.

My soul-searching was almost complete (it’s still not complete today but when is it ever done?). I sent an email to my favorite professor just asking if I could set up a meeting with her. She never asked what it was about, but her enthusiasm about speaking to me made me feel better.

In the back of my mind, while all of this is going on, I keep thinking to myself that I’m a sophomore in college and I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’ve never gone on a date because no one has ever asked. What is it about myself that I need to fix to change that? Should I conform and start putting myself out there and care less about my classes? Why do I still feel like this has to be a choice?

My education and future vs. some dude

I feel like many young women also feel this struggle. The mom van or the badass career? A college degree or already being married?

Sure, some people can handle a relationship and even marriage while in college. I can barely take care of myself, let alone another person or be responsible for anything but my own schedule.

My big meeting day arrived, and it was two weeks before Christmas. The worst time of year for retail workers (which I was at the time) and college students. I walked up to her office, and she greeted me with so much enthusiasm and excitement that I was there to talk to her. She still had no idea, who knows I could have been up there to roast her, but she was so excited about it. I sat down and told her I think I wanted to be an English major and I wanted her advice. Her face lit up, and she told me everything I could do with an English degree and reassured me that if I wanted to switch that I would be much happier. That class and that meeting changed the course of my life. I instantly felt better but why did I still feel terrible about not having a boyfriend? It shouldn’t matter, but it still lingered. I didn’t want anything or anyone to get in my way of earning my degree.

So, I changed my major. It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

As a type this, it’s the summer before my senior year of college. I never thought I would make it this far. Truthfully, I transferred because I panicked about becoming a real adult. I had no plan and no idea what I wanted to do with myself. In fact, I scheduled a campus tour at a potential graduate school because now I want to become a professor. The idea of teaching others and sharing my love for literature sounds like something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. All while building life-changing relationships and researching and writing. I never dreamed I would be doing this with my life or that I would pursue a Ph.D., but here I am. So, why do I still feel like I need a man?

As I continue writing this, I can't help but think of all of the friends who have pressured me over the years. I am TERRIFIED that I'll fall into a controlling relationship and that man will cause me not to pursue my dreams. I'm TERRIFIED that being in a relationship will cause me not to move away from my hometown, or somewhere new for school. The last thing I want is to worry about a relationship when I should be packing my life up and moving on to my next step. Maybe, I'll get lucky and find someone who understands my fears, but until then, I'll just be terrified. 

Ph.D. or a relationship?

That won’t be me. I still can’t believe I have to choose between a career and having a relationship, but if not being in a relationship is what makes pursuing a Ph.D. possible, then so be it.

No one will stop me from earning that Ph.D., so bring it on.

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