Thursday, June 26, 2014

One in Four

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As a freshman at JMU, I learned a startling statistic:

One in four women will become the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates.

...little did I know I would actually become part of that statistic.

I've never really said this aloud. These thoughts have been relegated to the ink of my personal journal and the etchings of my soul, so to type it makes it even more real and terrifying.

But I remember that night like it was yesterday.

A guy I had known for years wanted to see me. I was so excited and told him to meet up with me. I danced with him, flirted with him, and told him he could stay the night at my apartment.

Once we got to my bedroom, everything changed. I remember immediately feeling like he shouldn't be there. His heavily alcohol-stained breath became nauseating and over-bearing. And he became...forceful. I started shaking - my legs were trembling, uncontrollably, but he was oblivious to it all.

Horrified, I was too scared to say anything. I lay motionless, willing it all to stop, imagining I was someplace else. Finally, it became too unbearable and I told him, "No."

He laughed. Literally, laughed in my face and taunted me, asking me if I was too good for what he wanted. I thought to myself, "Yes, I am too good for you", but I was too scared to tell him that. So instead, I let him continue until he finally passed out and I could move to the sanctuary of my living room, ten feet away from the person who had just stolen every ounce of my dignity and worth.

When I got there, I didn't call out for my roommates or dial 911. After all, I had invited him over. I had flirted with him all night. It was his word against mine.

I felt....ashamed. And like I brought all of it on myself. So I curled into a ball and pretended like it never happened - deciding it was best to erase it from my memory and will it never to resurface. The only problem was, I quickly found out, it would never fully escape me. Images of that night still haunt me, eight years later.

I tell this story not for sympathy. I'm telling this story for the other woman at JMU who encountered a brutal sexual assault that made me sick to my stomach. For this woman who had to drop out of school because she had to face her attackers everyday. Fortunately for me, my attacker went to another school. I still saw him, but it was few and far between.

I'm telling this story because I'm tired of being silent. Sexual assault is NOT okay. As a graduate student studying college student development and counseling, I'm making it my life-long goal to erase this statistic. No woman should ever become part of a statistic when it comes to sexual assault - or have her integrity, choice of wardrobe, or number of sexual partners questioned if she ever becomes a victim of rape or attempted rape.

The administration of college campuses needs to start empowering victims of these crimes and sending the message that the safety of their students - regardless of gender or race - is of utmost importance. There should be a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, and I hope my alma mater, who I hold dear to my heart, adopts such a policy.

To my fellow victims: we can make a difference. Stay strong, and know that you are not alone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I hate THESE blurred lines

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Okay, so I have to admit...I kinda like Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Sure, it has severe misogynistic undertones, but I find the song to be extremely catchy and Mr. Thicke to be quite sexy, regardless of his duet with Mileybird. And yes, I'm aware this may make me a traitor to my gender but I'm accepting full responsibility for my complacence to this song.

HOWEVER, I do think it would be pretty kick-ass if there were a female version written regarding the blurred lines emoted by straight males. Most men will tell you that they are completely straightforward and there's no need to over-analyze or dissect anything they say or do, but I beg to differ.

Of course, there are some things that could be passed off under "Boys 101." You know - the "wait three days to call or text rule" after a guy gets your number so he appears aloof. Or those guys that strictly text after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night that you can immediately file under "he just wants to get to know me between the sheets". Embarrassingly, I fell for that one a few times during my undergrad years. Now, it seems so freakin' elementary. But when you are young and blinded by a cute guy who seems interested in wanting to hang out with you...well, you jump at the chance...

...And sometimes, I still do to some extent. Although I've learned to weed out the booty texters, even if I still feel like something is off with a guy I'm talking to, I'll give him second, third, and maybe even tenth chances. Text messages and in-person conversations will be dissected with my friends in Shakespearean-like analytic precision until we come up with some viable reason as to why something just isn't adding up.

But obviously, if it warrants that much analysis, there is probably some underlying message the guy is sending, and it's more than likely along the lines of "I'M JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU." But time and time again, I hold out hope that it's different. That I'm just being ridiculous. Or over-anxious. Or reading too much into things.

And asking the guy for clarity is absolutely out of the question. I've found if a guy isn't straightforward about his feelings, it's absolutely essential to appear lackadaisical and uninterested. Any sort of questioning as to a guy's intentions and you risk appearing desperate and/or needy, sending said Romeo running to the hills (hills meaning the next cute blonde).

It kinda sucks feeling so powerless, and like you're at the mercy of another person. And I'm sure guys have felt the same way to some degree before. But I just feel clueless in how to navigate these mixed signals. Should I start turning the other way the moment I sense them? Or do I keep giving people the benefit of the doubt, while holding out hope that one day, it might be different?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pain vs. Indifference

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One of my favorite songs has to be “Stubborn Love” by the Lumineers. It’s one of those songs that gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I hear it.  I’m actually listening to it on repeat while I write this since it’s the inspiration for this post.

There’s a lyric in it that goes: “It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all…the opposite of love’s indifference…” When I hear that, it cuts me right to the deepest part of my being. A hopeless romantic, my heart swells like a giddy school girl whenever I watch a cheesy rom com, and makes me believe that true, soul encompassing love might just exist, even if it’s just for those 90 minutes before my cynical mind takes over and reminds me of my past, and present, reality.

And as much as I sometimes wish my mind would completely overpower my heart and render me indifferent, there’s still a part of me that believes that this love that writers have written about for centuries and musicians have composed so brilliantly into their own personal mantras might actually exist. Hell, I even permanently inked the word love on my wrist because at the end of the day, I still think it’s one of the most important things on this planet.  

I know my experience is not unique. I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that I’m the only one who has experienced heartache and despair, but I often wonder if I’m being a sadist for continuing to put myself out there. Lately, I’ve been questioning if there’s a way to make myself emotionally vulnerable while still treading cautiously. Like some hypothetical shot of emotional Novocain I could inject when even a small portion of me starts to develop feelings for someone.

I’ve thought about this a lot since my last relationship ended a few months back. If there is even a miniscule silver lining to that experience, it’s that I’ve learned the importance of pumping the breaks. I’m such a relational person, that it’s difficult for me not to make decisions based on my emotions. But I’ve learned how sacred and fragile my heart is, and I’m not willing to wear it on my sleeve so freely anymore.

So as great as it is that I’ve recognized all of this, now I’ve got to figure out how the hell to actually be more emotionally cautious. It would be really amazing if a doctor could invent some actual emotional Novocain, but that’s probably not happening anytime soon. So until then I guess I’ll just have to figure it out through trial and error. Will there still be pain and heartache? Absolutely – I’m counting on it. But as the song says I guess I’ll just have to keep my head up and keep reminding myself that pain, no matter how deep, always outweighs indifference.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Holy Shiznit I'm About to Turn 30!

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As I type this, I have about 12 days left in my twenties. Embarking on a new decade has never felt so daunting, terrifying, and yet, incredibly freeing at the same time. I don’t think a ten-year span has brought quite so many life changes while shaping who I am and affirming who I want to be as a person.
Since turning 20 I have:
-received my bachelor’s from JMU (Go Dukes!)
-relocated to a city only that was only two hours north of my hometown but seemed like light years away in terms of cultural differences
-accepted my first full time/big girl job, complete with health benefits and a 401K package (and actually learned what the hell things like an IRA meant)
-moved into an apartment that didn’t have beer stains all over the carpet, a balcony that could potentially cave in, a sketchy landlord, and hoards of college students surrounding me (okay, maybe some of those things were still present)
-got laid off from a job I loved
-bought, well…financed a car and paid it off
-had my heart broken, and broke a few myself
-recognized that no matter how well you think you know a person, sometimes it turns out you never really knew them at all
-lost touch with some friends I thought I’d always be close with, but at the same time gained new friends who I couldn’t imagine life without
-mourned the loss of two grandfathers, who I think about everyday
-discovered that what I studied for four years in undergrad did not have an abundance of job opportunities, and decided to completely switch career paths
-realized how much I love my hometown, and moved back after spending six years in D.C.
-started graduate school
-watched countless loved ones get married and start families and began to increasingly wonder not only if that will ever be me, but also if that’s something I even want
-gained confidence and more assurance in who I am
I’m sure this list could span at least 10 more pages, but I think those are the some of the most important. I feel like my 20s could be more aptly titled the decade of fucking up and falling on my ass…and then brushing myself off and facing the next year a bit wiser and more prepared.
I guess I thought by 30 I’d have achieved some monumental milestone. I’m not quite sure what I envisioned, but maybe that I’d be a writer at some hip magazine, or have a book published, or maybe even just a passport full of kick-ass trips around the world. What I know for sure is no part of me imagined I’d be single, living with my parents, working two part-time jobs, plucking gray hairs that have just started to surface, and fighting dark, baggy circles under my eyes from spending countless all-nighters in the library.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve just been a spectator to everyone else’s successes, cheering on my friends while they accept promotions, buy their first house, get married, and start families. While I am truly happy for each and every one of them and honored that I could share in the celebration of such monumental events, I sometimes selfishly (and self-pityingly) feel stuck on the sidelines.
Recently, I’ve had to ask myself if I really want all those things, or if I want them because I think I’m supposed to want them. Here’s what I do know:
-I want to finish graduate school and focus on establishing a career. I want to continue writing, even if I never get published.
-I want to get my own apartment in downtown Richmond.
-I want to buy a piano and start taking lessons again.
-I want to travel. All over the world. I want to meet new people and learn about different cultures and soak up everything I can about a place when I visit, so that I feel that I’m leaving with a part of it.
-I want to hike every fall, ski every winter, start running regularly every spring, and go to the beach every summer.
-I want to help people, and volunteer more often.
-I want to care less about what people think of me, and become reliant on my own sense of self.
-I want someone to share this crazy life with, but I also know it’s not the end of the world if that never happens. If I’ve learned one thing from my 20s, it’s that it’s toxic to force anything, especially relationships.   
As much as I’m dreading leaving my twenties behind, I definitely feel a greater sense of peace and clarity as I think back on the last ten years, and a sense of excitement for what lies ahead. It sure as hell won’t be all rainbows and sunshine, but isn’t it more fun that way anyway??
 
 

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