I take the term “dance like nobody’s watching” seriously. I used to dance around my lime green bedroom so much that trinkets on my bookshelves would rattle and the furniture would shift. In high school, I flailed my arms in the aisles at camp during “energizers” with sheer recklessness. At college parties, I jump up and down frantically whenever a song I know all the words to starts booming over the crowd. I still dance in my car, in my room, at work and even on walks through campus.
But the second I get in my head, dancing is hard. Should I dance to get that boy to come talk to me? Should I try to tone it down, so people don’t laugh at me? Should I play it up, so that I purposefully make people smile? Other people begin weighing down my dances, dances that are first and foremost for my enjoyment. My movements are no longer free.
Life feels constrained like this – there’s pressure to be happy and pressure to be cool and pressure to be pretty and pressure to be successful and all this weighs me down but so much of it is due to my own thoughts. I tell myself that I’m not allowed to do things. It’s my own insecurities (and sometimes, my own lack of motivation) that keep me from doing what I want. I am scared of being laughed at, or being talked about – everyone is, to a certain extent.
It’s not just thoughts that weigh me down. I let my past weigh me down. I let my mistakes chain me in one place. I let my expectations weigh me down.
Through my teenage years, I haven’t allowed myself to be free from my relationships with guys – something I don’t talk about a lot online, but weighs down what I do and who I am. I feel pressured to fall in love in some dramatic fashion and get wrapped up in a romantic story that changes my life. I’m supposed to find my fairytale, right? I’m supposed to have a boyfriend by now. I’m supposed to be happy by now.
What am I doing wrong?
Why am I not good enough?
I hadn’t considered how debilitating these feelings are until the other day, in my feminist political theory class (side note: if you’re a UNC student and have any interest in feminism, I highly recommend it). We were reading a work by Marilyn Frye which examined whether or not you could be a radical feminist and still be a straight woman. In it, she redefines the word “virgin” – not as a woman who is pure and untouched by man, but as a woman not bound to or possessed by any man. A woman who is her own person.
In reworking the word, I considered how much I still felt owned by my past. How much my failures in my love life made me feel like a lesser person. How I still wake up upset about the past, let it consume my thoughts. How I blame myself for relationships not working out.
It made me realize how much I make myself miserable.
It’s really hard to learn to be gentle with yourself. At 20 years old, I’m just now realizing how bad I am about it. I need to forgive myself for my past, and not let it define me. Of course, you can say that you’ll practice this all you want, but the second something goes wrong, it can all fall apart. So maybe the key is for me to remember this idea of the virgin – a woman who is still growing, a woman who is just trying to do what she wants and not let anything hold her back.
Maybe all I should try to be right now is free.