Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Progress not perfection


I've posted here often about how "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I seem to run up against the same issues again and again. Nearly four years into starting this blog, I continue to struggle with disorganization, at home and at work, and, even more notably, with my weight.

BUT. . . the odd dream I had last Thursday night about my ex-boyfriend from college got me thinking a little about the past. (I've actually mentioned this ex in a post before, where I referred to him as Pig Farmer, so I will continue to refer to him as "PF" for simplicity's sake.) Upon further reflection, in thinking back to my relationship with PF and where I was in my life when he was in it, I realized that things have changed a lot. *I* have changed.

I first met PF in the fall of 1988, during my first semester of college. Our initial relationship only lasted a few months, but with the naivete of someone who is 17 years old and having regular sex for the first time, I believed we were "in love." He was discharged from the Army and went back home to eastern Kentucky while I remained in New Mexico. We didn't have a true long distance relationship, in that we didn't keep in constant contact. But we did keep in contact sporadically, and in the fall of 1991, he came back to attend college at my school. Our relationship resumed when he returned--actually, I flew to Kentucky to visit him less than a month before he moved back--and continued until the early spring of 1992.

In 1991/92, I was dead broke. Financial worries literally kept me awake at night. Just going to the grocery store for ramen noodles and beans often took more cash than I had on hand. I could only work part-time, due to my full-time class schedule, and good part-time jobs were hard to come by in the town where I went to college. I usually earned only a little more than minimum wage and worked no more than 30 hours a week.

My parents didn't really help me. My mom let me live with her a couple of times when my financial situation was especially desperate, and my dad sometimes had me over for dinner, but neither she nor my father gave me any money for school or to support myself. (Living with my mom and stepdad put a strain on those relationships, too, and was to be avoided when possible.) I was very much "on my own."

Also, by the time PF and I reunited in 1991, for the first time in my life, my relationship with my father was seriously strained. My dad remarried when I was 18, and for the first few years of his marriage, he and his wife had a rocky relationship: she left him twice within the first nine months of their marriage. I didn't care for her, not because she wasn't a perfectly nice person, but because she just wasn't (and isn't) my cup of tea, and I didn't like the person my dad was when he was with her. Some might argue that he was a *better* person, but all I cared about was that he was a different person than the dad who had raised me, the dad I loved.

In 1991/92, I didn't know where I was going professionally. I'd started college with the conviction that I would become a doctor, without knowing much about how to achieve that goal or what being a doctor would actually be like. As I got farther along in my pre-med requisites, began educating myself about what becoming a physician would entail and what the realities of that life choice would be, and prepared to take the MCAT, I became more and more convinced that being a doctor wasn't for me.

Officially, I was majoring in psychology, but that was only because I enjoyed the subject; I truly had no idea what I was going to do for a career. Doing anything that didn't involve at least a college education--and preferably an advanced degree--had never crossed my mind. I was at a loss.

As a result of these things--my financial difficulties, the strain between my dad and me, and my lack of career direction--I was also suffering from a lack of self-confidence. My weight/appearance had also long been an issue for me (and continued to be), but when I was secure in my family relationships, didn't have to worry about the basics of feeding and clothing myself, and felt sure about what I was going to do in life, I had had a healthy self-esteem in spite of my occasional feelings of self-loathing about my weight.

Truth be told, if I could go back in time and tell 1991 S that someday she would be the S I am today. . . . she probably wouldn't have believed it. I wouldn't say that I was depressed. . . not in the least. . . . but I was certainly at a place in my life where I couldn't imagine what my future would be like.

Now, I would never even consider dating someone like PF. He was (and is) uneducated, having barely finished high school. When we dated, at least after his discharge from the Army, he was not gainfully employed, nor was he actively seeking work. He made my lack of direction in school look like laser-focus: at least I was 3/4 of the way to earning a degree, albeit not a very useful one. He failed one class and dropped another of the four he took during his first semester of college--and attempted to conceal these facts from me.

PF also wasn't really all that attractive (though, to be fair, he was great in bed). And he wasn't always that nice to me: he stood me up once, early in our relationship, and on another occasion, made a comment about the size of my ass (which, I might add, was considerably smaller at 165-170 than it is today at close to 220). I discovered near the end that he had another girlfriend, of sorts, back home. . . . at least someone who was writing to him and sending him "care" packages (which he'd told me were from his grandma). If a man did these things to me today, I would kick his a$$ to the curb.

At 20, I didn't know or value myself enough to realize that I could do better. . . . that I DESERVED better.

It was the beginning of the end of our on-again, off-again relationship when, during a fight about his choice to hang out with some of his buddies rather than see me on a Saturday, I started talking about what I would expect from a man I would marry. When I told PF that I'd expect that man to consider me one of the most important things in his life and to prioritize his time in accordance with that feeling, to love me so much that he'd willingly put my needs before his desires, his response was that he didn't feel that way about me. . . that he'd never felt that way about any woman. . . and that he didn't think that I truly felt that way about him either.

He was right: I didn't.

I owe a lot to PF (and not just because of the hot sex). It was after this relationship that the light finally went on for me, and I never dated another loser again after him. I never tolerated much crap from any of the men I dated after him.

Honestly, raising my standards meant spending a lot more time single over the ensuing years, but I learned that I found that preferable to "settling." To aiming low. To being treated like a second-class citizen.

And it's not only my approach to my romantic relationships that has changed since then. I enrolled in the nursing program the next semester after my ultimate break-up with PF. Within two years, I finally finished college and got a "real" job. (I'll never forget how excited I was to earn $12/hour--wow! LOL) I found a way to live with my stepmom, which helped my relationship with my dad tremendously.

OK, so my career choice didn't end up being the "right" one in the sense that I found my life's calling, as evidenced by the fact that I went back to school to pursue a second career less than seven years after completing college. But I became a contributing, self-supporting member of society. An adult.

I found self-respect. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be. Ultimately, I found a man I love who is worthy of that love. . . . and yes, a man who treats me like I am one of the most important things in his life and who puts my needs before his own desires.

Yes, I am still overweight and still disorganized. But I've come a long way nonetheless.


TUWABVB said...

I found myself cheering for you along the way of this story - and you are right, you have become an amazing person. Granted, there are still some things that you would like to change - I think EVERYONE has that notion - but I love that you can look back on your life and look at the successes as well.

I swear, you changed my outlook with this post - thank you!

Mo said...

Fantastic post, my dear!

Valerie said...

Ah, the Pig Farmer. LOL It's fascinating to read that post, because I was so caught up in my own crap up in CT that I never really knew what was going on with you back home. I thought I was the only dirt poor one. :)

The GVZ's said...

I really, really enjoyed reading this post.