Professing * Reflecting

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The heavily examined unlived life

I have been feeling like a loser in a lot of ways lately (but clearly I am a winner with the alliteration . . .wow). I do not know how it happened, but suddenly it seems like everyone but me has a vibrant, active, interesting life. I no longer have a busy social life. Whereas I used to have several circles of close friends, I seem to be alone most of the time these days.

Both New Kid and Dr. Crazy posted about the potentially solitary life of a professor recently, so I am coming to the lonely posting game a little late. Maybe their posts brought it into my consciousness, but I think feeling less connected to friends and more outside of my previous social circle started a little earlier. I just was not able to put my finger on what exactly was bothering me until others articulated it. Lots of folks had good advice for New Kid and Crazy on how to deal with isolation, how to meet new people, and how to find new activities. The problem for me is that I am established in my city, and I have friends. It's just that most of my friends have moved on--either to new towns or into new relationships, marriage, raising babies.

And where am I? Pretty much in the same place. Yes, I have an all-consuming tenure track job. In the past few years I have designed and taught a crazy number of new courses for my department. I have done countless service hours revamping programs, policies, etc. Then there's the assload of research, writing, and presenting at conferences on three different lines of research. So, yes, activity and growth in the career area, I suppose.

I have also had three important romantic relationships in the past three or four years, two of which were with incredible, brilliant, exciting men. (Yes--I am deliberately slamming The Boy of the Unbloggable Year as not an incredible or brilliant or exciting man. That relationship was a mistake, and I knew better and I hate myself for making it. All of this, though, will remain parenthetical until I begin to blog The Unbloggable Year.) I have not a single regret about being in two of those relationships, even though "train wreck" would be a massively understated way of describing how each of them ended. So personal growth in regard to romance? Not so much. I know what I want. I know what I like. I know what I don't want. I know what I don't like. But I have known these things for a while. And if you ask the Southern Family of Medusa? I am a sad sad spinster who is throwing her life away while her prospects for a happy fulfilled life shrivel as surely and steadily as her ovaries. And as much as I know that's ridiculous, it does get to me.

So why don't I do something about it, you say? Well, I am not sure what to do. Friendships and circles of friends have always formed organically for me, and I say this as a person who moved constantly as a child and as an adult. I have always been able to move to places and make a life, just like I did here. I guess there are ways to reinvigorate friendships and the life or lives I have or have had here. But then I think if others have naturally moved on to new things and into new circles, then why haven't I? And then I feel like a loser. On the job front, I could and probably should go on the market, at least to see. With a good kick in the butt, I could even get it in gear to apply for a handful on this year's job list. But as many of you know, feeling like a loser + going on the job market = not so very smart in terms of the self-esteem.

But then I think, "Wait a minute. I have plenty of self-esteem and self-respect and this feeling of loserness is coming from the outside and if I am feeling invisible and undesirable and freakish and alone, it's because culturally I do not exist." And I am so fucking tired of interrogating myself about what exactly my particular pathology or block to happiness may be. The whole idea of figuring out What I Want in Life and the project of Going For It is positively stifling to me.

Why? As anyone who knows me in real life knows, I have a perverse streak with regard to consequences. In a very juvenile way, you might say, I do not like to think about consequences. I am not cautious. I act before I think. I leap before I look. I accept marriage proposals with no thought that they might ever lead to actual marriage. The one thing I am hypersensitive to and very careful about is how my actions might affect others. Well, except in the case of the engagements with no intent to marry. In general, though, I like to question rigorously the project of cause-and-effect reasoning, especially when it comes to the results of my own actions. Incidentally this makes me the opposite of a control freak, as I actually want something to happen that does not follow directly from my actions. So you would think that means I am like a child who does not like to take any responsibility for anything, but in fact it ends up meaning that I feel responsible for everything. Actually the whole enterprise of trying to outwit consequences comes in the first place from feeling too much responsibility too much of the time, even when you are not responsible for what others are feeling or for the things that have happened to them.

I could go into the whole plight of the narcissistically wounded here, especially the psychological fallout from a child being responsible for the happiness of his or her parent(s) from a very early age. But that would be more examining than I want to do at the moment. The whole point of this post, I suppose, is the way I am going about examining my life and the ways in which that examination is keeping me from living it. If I am unhappy with my life, according to the conventional wisdom, I should make a plan to change it. I should identify my life goals and make a plan for achieving them. This all requires some soul-searching and a honest look at myself. Once I have my goals and my plans, I am set. While there are sure to be difficulties and obstacles, I can achieve what I want and plan to achieve.

But what if your plan is outside of "the plan," i.e. the culturally acceptable plan? Or what if cultural pressures make it impossible for you to be happy as you go about achieving your goals to happiness? You might say, "Hey, wait a minute, Medusa. You are a straight woman. You are culturally acceptable. Try being gay or poly. Then you will know what it feels like to be marginalized in terms of sexuality.". Potential point taken. But as a straight, sexually active, unmarried, childless woman with no real plans to marry (or not) or procreate (or not), I do not even have a subculture in which to take refuge. OK, I have "Sex and the City." I have Samantha. But I also have the nattering Carrie narrating my every move. I am both Samantha and Carrie. I have the freedom to act, but then I have to interrogate my every move. I mean, that's the whole point of Carrie, right? To interrogate women's behavior? Not to free them but to control them, or at the very least to make what women are doing okay for everyone else, which amounts to the same thing. Foucault, anyone? Incitement to discourse? (I am sure people have done work on this Carrie confession/interrogation thing. But, if not, I call dibs. It's mine, and I may be presenting on it in the near future at a conference near you.) Just how happy or fulfilled can you be under this kind of scrutiny, especially when it asks uncoupled childless women to confess their inherent unhappiness?

I do think I can have a vibrant, fulfilling life outside of "The Plan." But I can not help but to think (or to know, really, at this point) that the planning, the soul-searching, the identification of desires, the setting of goals is doing me more harm than good. Maybe I am being perversely irresponsible. Maybe I am being a child. Maybe I am being a stubborn brat. Or maybe I am just sick to death of thinking about what I am being.



Post a Comment

<< Home