Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5 and Part 6
I took sociology 101 having no idea what it was about, because it fulfilled a social sciences gen ed requirement and when I was trying to figure out my schedule for my second semester of college my friend said "Take Professor Battle's Soc 101 class, I had him this semester and he's really funny!" How different my life might have been if she had never said those words.
Professor Battle opened my eyes to a completely different way of viewing the world, a way that made SENSE and involved LOGIC and DATA and EVIDENCE and in which questioning was welcomed and respected. Quite unlike the evasive way my Rabbis avoided my tough questions in HS, I discovered sociology above all is about exposing the TRUTH about society, as best as anyone can measure the 'truth,' no matter how unpleasant that truth is, no matter how much it may challenge social conventions or make people uncomfortable. Professor Battle also made us all do an assignment where we looked up the application requirements for PhD programs in Sociology. And he shared some even more important information- the best PhD programs in sociology will pay YOU to go to school! (tuition/health insurance + a stipend).
At the end of the semester I went up to him and said "I'm declaring my major as sociology and I want to be a sociology professor." He kind of laughed and gently tried to tell me that not every sociology class will be exactly like his, and I should take more than one class before I made up my mind, but my mind was made up. I love learning about sociology, every day in that class was an epiphany, and the idea that I could actually make a (semi)decent living as a professor, learning about and discovering things no one has known about our society and the way it works, and then teaching them to other people, was the greatest epiphany of all.
I had recently discovered that I was actually good at school. After almost flunking out of high school I was shocked to make deans list my first semester of college, once I was able to take classes I actually was interested in taking and that were more challenging to me. I threw myself into school like I never had before, and throughout college I became entrenched in the mini-society that is academia. I served on the school senate as a student representative (a great place for people like me who love to debate/argue), on several school committees, was president of the sociology club, and took every sociology class I could. I got into the honors program and won several awards, both for academic merit and service to the school. I got a job as a peer adviser and ran student orientations and gave tours of the school to prospective students, and helped them register for class. In short, I fell in love with academia. The idea of being a professor fit right in with that.
To get into a graduate PhD program you have to have research experience as my Soc 101 Professor informed me. So the next year he helped connect me with another professor who was doing a project related to a topic I was interested in. And I started researching graduate programs for serious. My original idea of going to college, getting my degree and becoming a stay at home mom went out the window. I was going to be a sociology professor.
My ex fiance was not super thrilled by this idea. My parents weren't either- my dad (who also has a PhD) seemed genuinely confused by the idea of a woman having a career, and asked why I would want to go through all that training if I wouldn't stay in a career long term, and how I would ever be able to keep my job once I had kids and wanted to stay home with them. Cause the assumption in my household, and the one I had grown up believing in since it was so taken for granted, was that every woman wants to have kids, and wants to stay home with kids, and that the only women who don't stay home with their kids are the ones who can't afford to. He could not comprehend that not every woman wants to be a stay at home mom and was convinced I would later change my mind when my 'biological clock' kicked in. You know, cause every woman just drops their careers once they have babies- except for the 75% of them who keep working when they have kids.
But once I had broken out of that bubble and gone to college where people with a different set of assumptions about life, I thought more about staying home with kids all day, and the idea was not appealing at all. I mean I understand that some women like it, and that's fine, but I think I would go completely insane if I only got to interact with infants and toddlers all day long. My problem is not that some women are stay at home moms, but the assumption that EVERY woman wants to be one, and would be happy doing it. Once I began to question that assumption too, and thought about what being a stay at home mom would actually entail, the idea became very unappealing. I wasn't even sure if I wanted kids at all.
My mom also did not take my grad school plans very well. One of the first research projects I was an RA on involved stay at home moms, and I was more and more vocal about not wanting to be one myself once I graduated. My mom (who I don't think really understood what my research was about- she also called my field social work instead of sociology for YEARS) took the fact that I was doing research on stay at home moms to mean that I disapproved of HER being a stay at home mom (not true at all), and seemed to feel that I was rejecting her lifestyle by deciding to go to grad school instead of aspiring to be a jewish mother like her. After many years of being fairly close- in my teenage years my dad was the scary religious one and my mom was the one on my side- our relationships flipped. My mom started being kinda hostile towards me and we started fighting more and more. At the same time I got closer with my dad as I went through the application process and later grad school, since he had been through a PhD program himself and we suddenly had a lot more to talk about as a result.
Eventually my ex fiance and I had been dating 3 years and my parents kept 'gently suggesting' we should get married once I was done with school. So the summer after my Junior year we got engaged, had a le'chaim (engagement party) with all our family and friends and then started planning the wedding for the month after I was going to graduate college.
We started fighting more and more after we got engaged- I wanted to go to grad school and leave the area entirely, and then move on to who knows where after I was done with grad school to be a professor. Most professors end up moving to a random place anywhere in the country to get a job (which I did last year when I moved to the south), since colleges aren't all that common, and professorship jobs that fit our field and specialty are even less common, so we end up with very little choice over where to live until/unless we become more famous later in our careers. I was fully aware of this going in but I wanted to do it anyway- in fact the idea of moving off to random new places for grad school and then a job was thrilling to me (and in retrospect I'm very happy I did, everyone should try living in a different region of the country than they grew up in for at least a while). He wanted to stay in the same area and maybe have me move into his place, which I knew meant staying in the same Jewish community and going to shabbas and yuntiff at my parents house all the time, since he still was living 3 blocks from my parents. Although he was also OTD to some extent in practice, unlike me, he still believed in Orthodox Judaism, at least at the time (my impression is that he is completely OTD these days but we aren't really in touch anymore).
I also started having huge fights over the wedding with both my parents and my ex, frequently at the shabbas table. He and my parents wanted a completely orthodox traditional wedding. I did not. I was still in my "angry at religion and religious people" phase. I did not want to circle around him 7 times which I felt was like a dog circling its master's feet and challenged my dad to find a halachic (jewish law) source saying this custom was necessary to be halchically married, which he couldn't. I didn't want to have an entire ceremony in which I didn't get to say a single word. I didn't want my father signing me away to a binding engagement without me even being in the room in the chosson's tish. I wanted to give him a ring under the chuppah too. These were the main sticking points. I also wanted a simple ceremony somewhere outdoors like in the woods, with maybe a hippie jewish band (my choice was Soul Farm) but my parents refused to get that band and eventually talked me out of the woods thing too, cause you can't have a huge traditional jewish wedding with every relative in existence in the middle of the woods. We compromised by finding a hotel with an outdoor area for the wedding.
But eventually the fighting over grad school + the wedding was too much, and after he consulted with a few rabbis (but not me) my ex dumped me one day with no warning, the Fall of my senior year of college, the day after I sent out my first grad school application. I think that until then it hadn't been "real" to him, just something I had been talking about hypothetically for 3 years at that point and which we fought about all the time...or maybe he was hoping I would decide to pick him over grad school...but when I sent out my applications it became real and that was the final straw. This is pure speculation on my part, as he didn't really give me a clear explanation as to why he was ending our engagement. I was devastated that the relationship ended- for all our fights I still loved him very much at the time, enough to have committed to marrying him. Another important life lesson learned- love isn't the only important thing in a relationship. Having compatible goals and expectations about how you will live your life is equally important.
The breakup sucked majorly in a number of ways. Apart from breaking up just being hard and sucky in general, this breakup was PUBLIC. We had already had a le'chaim, gotten a huge stack of presents for the wedding, and my parents had put downpayments on almost everything for the wedding already. Like this wedding was PLANNED even though it wasn't supposed to be until around 7 months after that. My ex disappeared for a while after we broke up, leaving me to cancel reservations and wedding plans, return gifts and write checks out to people who had sent us money for a wedding present. Having to tell everyone I knew that we had broken off the engagement was humiliating and embarrassing and made me feel like a failure at life. The worst was the random people who didn't know we had broken off the engagement(/he had dumped me), and for months and months afterwards would ask about the wedding, which of course meant I had to tell all these people (lots of random strangers from shul) that we had broken up too.
About a week after we broke up my mom took it upon herself to inform me that "Now that I'm single again, I better not be bringing any non-orthodox men around the house and thinking that would be ok." We had a pretty big fight in which I basically said (again) that I'm not orthodox, I never will be again, and that I have no reason to date orthodox men who follow a religion I don't, so don't expect me to.
After my ex and I broke up, I had little reason to keep following Jewish laws. Until then he had been a conservative force on my OTDness since he still believed in everything even if he didn't keep it all, and wasn't comfortable with going 'further' than we were-- eating non-kosher vegetarian and dairy and fish (but not shellfish, like tuna and salmon), watching tv and playing video games in his apartment all shabbas long. A little over 2 weeks after we broke up I ate my first piece of non kosher chicken in Applebees in times square- it wasn't planned, we just happened to go there after me and my OTD brother and some friends couldn't get into a sold out pink floyd cover band show at BBKings, and I impulsively ordered buffalo chicken wings (with blue cheese dressing!) instead of my usual fish/vegetarian food. A few months after that I had my first non-kosher beef- a delicious empanada made by one of my dorm friends. The next year (when I was in grad school) I tried my first cheeseburger, and the year after that my first shrimp and the year after THAT bacon, crab, lobster, and scallops.
Each food was scary to eat the very first time- I had a physical reaction in which my heart would start beating really fast, my palms would start sweating, almost like a fight or flight reaction. I now use this as an example in class about what happens when people first break strong norms that they have grown up with. Norms are unspoken and spoken rules about how to behave and appear that are enforced through social sanctions, which are social rewards or punishments. Like when people look at you funny when you do something weird, you know that thing is "weird" and you don't want people looking at you funny, so you avoid doing it again. Norms are anything from "don't kill people" to "stand facing the door when you are in an elevator instead of facing the back wall" and "say sorry when you bump into someone" and vary from culture to culture. These norms then become embedded in your brain and neural pathways grow that tell you DO THIS or DON'T DO THIS, which are hard to change later on. Hence the physical reaction when first breaking major norms- that's your brain's way of telling you "WAIT, this is one of the things you learned NOT to do!! STOP or there might be social consequences!!" From such neural processes all of society and civilization is born. I still haven't been able to bring myself to try oysters, they are so foreign and disgusting looking and I can't get over that normative barrier in my brain. Maybe one day...
Getting back to the story, despite feeling devastated about the break up, I continued sending out my grad school applications. We broke up in November, I sent out applications and finished a very challenging Fall semester (I was taking 2 graduate level classes to help improve my grad school applications even more). I finished sending out applications in early January, after which I collapsed into a depressive episode for like a month since the break up finally 'hit me' when I didn't have work to throw myself into.
It was winter break and I stayed in bed most of the day and couldn't even bring myself to walk to the grocery store, so I lived off of muffins and ice cream from the dorm vending machines for a few weeks. I found a great cognitive therapist during that month and went to about 10 sessions in total, which in retrospect completely changed my outlook on life for the better. She helped me get over some major self esteem issues I had and taught me another important life lesson- that when people act like dicks, 9 times out of 10 it's cause they have some crap going on in their own lives, and it's not personal.
But being depressed for a while didn't matter, because all my grad student applications were out. And then I started hearing back. With (at that time) 2 years of research experience and high grades, I got into 8 out of the 9 programs I applied to, and every single school I got into offered me full funding. I could have moved as far away as Austin, Texas or Madison, Wisconsin, or stayed closer to home at NYU. In the end I chose to move to an ivy league university a few hours away from home, where I accepted full funding, including tuition, health insurance and at the time a $15k a year stipend.
I think going through that break up influenced my decision to not move TOO far away- Wisconsin all by myself with no partner seemed very scary, even though it was the #1 Sociology program in the country. The school I chose was only a few hours train ride to my friends/back home, but far enough away and expensive enough (over $100) that my parents couldn't try to force me to come home every weekend anymore.
I moved back to my parents house the summer after I graduated college for a very awkward few months during which I was now entirely open about not being religious anymore (although I still didn't openly violate any rules in front of them) and my mom told me not to talk to my youngest brother so I wouldn't be a bad influence on him 'the way I had corrupted my other brother' (really, me and my other OTD brother just went OTD together at the same time-he hung out in the same local OTD crowd I did, and he even ate non kosher meat before I did). My mother said after I left home at the end of the summer that was it, they wouldn't be giving me any more money help, and I couldn't move back home again, so I should go through everything in my room and take it with me because everything I left behind would be thrown away. I spent that summer biking everywhere to get out of the house as much as I could (would take long 10-15 mile bike rides), sorting through my entire life to decide what to move with me and what to throw away or donate, and getting ready to move to grad school.
After I moved my mom kept her word and threw away everything I left behind- my knee high steel toed doc martin lace up boots (those were expensive, mom!) and all my college artwork- I took a bunch of drawing classes in college for fun and took a class on figure drawing she disapproved of, which is why I think she threw all that stuff out. The next time I came to visit was Thanksgiving, at which point I discovered she had painted my entire room a different color and rearranged all the furniture, and as I said, threw out every single thing I had left behind. I felt like I had been erased from the house completely. The only thing to indicate I had ever lived there was my 8th grade class picture up on the piano.
To be continued...
One of my old figure drawings that I took a picture of before my mom threw it out.