Friday, June 5, 2009

I chose music.

- - This post is forever long; fair warning for you there. But it's one of the most defining parts of my life thus far, so... why wouldn't it be a long post, you know? - -

I have never actually written down an account of what happened to make me decide to go to grad school. I haven't for various reasons, but I feel like it all happened long enough ago that I can talk about it now.

To be quite honest, I had just planned to get married right out of college, move away from my little hometown and pop out some babies. The truth is that I really only went to grad school because I didn't have any other plans, and without any plans, it just seemed like the next logical thing to do.

Let me back up.

Ok... confession:

This isn't really the story of why I went to grad school. This is the story of why I didn't get married. They just happen to be the same story.

I met the man who was to become my ex-fiancé my freshman year in college. Our relationship appropriately started with him meeting my dad, shaking his hand and introducing himself. We were speaking at the high school where my dad taught, but in that moment, it felt like a first date, and it pretty much went from there. I barely knew him and he barely knew me, but that ended up being really beneficial for the longevity of the relationship. What I knew of him was that he was everything I thought I wanted in a husband: tall, Southern, conservative, Baptist, man's man kind of guy. He was also from a big family that I fell in love with upon first meeting. What he knew of me was that I was attracted to him. What he didn't know was that I was so glad to have found what I thought I wanted, that I would pretty much be whatever he wanted me to be to keep it. Tragically, I think that at the time, that's what I thought was supposed to happen.

Over the course of three years, he molded me into exactly what he wanted me to be: a quiet, submissive, nice, sweet, prim and proper woman. If you know nothing of me, let me let you know that I am loud, mean, cynical and have been known to curse like a sailor on occasion. Those three years of my life were so unlike my actual personality, that Seester once said, "You were not you during that time. I kind of liked you better, but you weren't you." (I have yet to understand the full implications of THAT statement, but I digress) I may tell some of the "wife-grooming" stories later. They're pretty interesting on their own.

Please hear me when I say that the whole stripping of my actual personality from me wasn't malicious on his part. And actually, it turned out to be vital in the figuring myself out process, as giving up everything about what made me me helped me to find out just what that was.

So from the tail end of my freshman year right up until I graduated, he and I were dating. We were dating and visiting his family and talking about getting married and how wonderful our little small town life would be. This wonderful life where he would go to work and I would stay home and clean the house and take care of the kiddies and all that. And it made me happy. It really did.

However, every one of the four years of my undergrad, I was also heavily involved in the opera in the spring. It was crazy. For the entirety of the fall, I was completely content with the housewife/mommy life that was ahead of me. But without fail, spring would roll around and that meant opera season. I would get so immersed in learning the music and staging and everything the production entailed, and a part of me would say, "You want to do this. You can do this." I just told that part of me to shut up and that I would be perfectly content and happy being a mommy and a stay at home housewife.

Let me pause briefly to say that the actual mommy/housewife life was NOT, I repeat, NOT the problem. I would still enjoy that, I'm sure, just as I would have then. The difference is that he thought opera was immoral or... well, actually, there's no telling what he really thought about it because, as he later showed me (and just in time, too), he would say anything to get what he wanted. He wanted me to be a stay at home housewife/mommy and wanted me to do so to the exclusion of anything else, probably because that is what a woman "should" do. Again, don't even get me started on gender roles and what is "appropriate" for a woman, because I'm actually kind of backward. I grew up in a conservative household and I still hold to most of those beliefs, so it's not some sort of feminist empowerment kick that made me resent his assignment of me to the role of housewife, either. It was his presumption that he knew what was best for me, and my erringly allowing him to exercise that control over me. I apologize, I'm rambling... back to the tale at hand.

I'll save the "How I Got Engaged, and Why It Still Sort of Irritates Me" story for another time, but suffice to say that we got engaged over Spring Break my senior year with plans to get married the following August (if you're counting, that's 5 months from engagement to wedding. Yikes). Then a funny thing happened: I learned how to sing. I know, I know... What the crap does that mean? It means that I subconsciously knew that I wouldn't have been able to really succeed the way I wanted to singing the way I had before Saturday, May 6, 2006 (totally crazy that I know the date, huh? Perhaps yet another story for another time). It also meant that until that time, I really had no concrete arguments against my assignment to housewife (arguments for myself, really). In any case, after the performance the next day, my voice teacher that I had been studying with for 7 years by that time came up to me and said, "Well, you finally learned how to sing!" So what did I do? I called the man (since he hadn't come into town to see me sing. Not bitter).

Me: I want to sing opera professionally.

Then-Fiancé: Well, you've never wanted to do that before!

Me (In my head): What the heck? Where have you BEEN the last three years? Remember all those times that I was all "Maybe I want to do opera... no, just kidding. I want to live in a tiny town and have a lot of babies."? Yeah, me neither...

Me (out loud): I just want to try it. And if I fall on my face, at least I will have tried and then I can get it out of my brain.

Then-Fiancé: Well, I hate to tell you this, but you'd never make it anyway.

Me: [...shocked silence...] I must have made some sort of disbelieving noise at this point, but it wasn't words

Then-Fiancé: Oh! No no, not talent-wise. You're just too lazy.

I think it was at that moment that I knew that it was never going to work with him. He was, and still is to this day, literally the only person in my entire life that has not endorsed the idea of me pursuing this singing thing. There was no way in hell I was going to marry the person in my life with that particular distinction. So I took a drive and gave him back the ring and ended it. We haven't spoken in several years (I am not really a person who stays friends with my exes, as a rule). He married about a year later and I wish him well. (Seriously. Why not? He didn't do anything but push me to do what I do now.)

The End

Just kidding. There is one other little thing. About a month after I ended it, I wasn't dating anyone (obviously) and was all lonely and sad (even though I did the breaking. It's still not fun, you know?) and so I started wearing the gold band that was originally intended to be his wedding ring. I know, it's a little (read: whoa...) weird. But I had already bought it and pawning it wasn't even close to worth it, so in the creepy and moderately pathetic haze that was that summer, I wore it on my thumb.

Then something snapped a little. It wasn't a big dramatic thing, but one day I just looked at that ring and all it represented with a sense of empowerment (and a healthy amount of cynicism) and reclaimed it. How? I had it engraved. I still wear it pretty much every day as sort of a memorial to that life and a constant reminder of the decisions I made that have brought me to where I am.
Wanna know what it says? Of course you do. It says:

I chose music.

**Edit: You know, after having re-read this just now, I realize that I didn't actually state what the biggest problem was. I have since discovered, through much hashing with best friends and living through other failed relationships, that the reason it wouldn't have worked was NOT because he didn't support my decision to pursue opera (though that certainly didn't help) or anything related to opera at all. It was a much, much bigger issue than that. He couldn't talk about anything. If he had a problem with something, opera for example, he really didn't know how to just say, "You know, for whatever reason, I don't like the idea of you pursuing this. Let's talk about it." After examining much of the rest of our relationship, it was truly this wonky aspect of the whole thing that broke the coffin. Or put the nail in the camel's back. Or something. Just to clarify a bit what was already a very long, slightly rambly and ranty tale.


Pop and Ice said...

Wow! I'm glad you escaped to music. I dumped a fiancee a mere 3 months prior to the wedding over his *plans* for me, but I'm not going to elaborate here. Just think Baptist, Dallas Theological Seminary and you get the idea.

You took the better road, for sure.

Mary Ellen said...

You chose music - and music chose you. Thank goodness (and whatever powers you identify as holy) for that.

Mary Ellen said...

One more thought - you might take a look at this book by a woman who had a similar struggle (different outcome - she was already married, and managed to transform the marriage along with her own growth): Waking Of A Woman's Voice by Heidi Hart.

adrienne said...

picture me jumping to my feet, funny little lacy cape around my shoulders, hands clapping awkwardly around folded glasses...

BRAVO! the post, the decision to honor your gift, and for coming up with such a clever way of repurposing the ring.

Anonymous said...

I love this. I really can relate to your wearing the ring that was supposed to be his wedding ring. It's so random, inexplicable, and human...I went through a stage where I couldn't stand to wear any jewelry, no earrings, rings, bracelets, nothing. Fortunately I got over that.

SassyLittleGinger said...

I practically yelped in excitement when I read what you had engraved on that ring. Seriously, that is amazing and empowering and priceless! i love it.

i've realized that you have to make sacrifices for relationships, but there's a difference between making a "sacrifice" and giving something up that will make you sit and wonder "what if i went that way" for the rest of your life. in your case, this definitely was not a sacrifice that would have been worth making! you are awesome!

Courtney said...

Thanks so much, you guys! I usually get a good response from this tale when I tell it at my performing arts heavy school and I have been more than surprised at the number of women that have had to do the same thing or very similar to pursue what they want to. Hopefully, out here in the great wide blog-o-whatever, if someone needs to hear that it's OK to want what you want, they can come here to get that info.

@Mary Ellen - I will definitely take a look at this! I actually read Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of Woman's Soul (Amazon here) in one sitting two days before I broke it off. Somewhat ironically, it was a graduation gift from HIS mother. It was just about the most perfect thing because it said everything I needed somebody to say to me at that time in my life.