In high school, I was a rebel. I ditched class, roamed around at night, ignored my parents’ calls. I drank, I smoked, I took the family car out for joy rides — I did it all. In the quiet suburban neighborhood I grew up in, my behavior was notably frowned on. To top it off, I wasn’t outgoing or friendly, and this deepened the isolation between me and the world around me. All in all, you could say I was the textbook case of a parent’s worst nightmare.
When you see me now, it’s hard to imagine that this innocent-looking Asian girl could have been this rebellious force. To be honest, I too am always shocked when my friends describe the batshit crazy things I did in high school.
Years after I graduated, I thought about what had driven me to act the way I did. And I realized the reason for my defiant behavior — I was just really, really lonely.
When I decided to marry my then-boyfriend after finding out about my pregnancy, my naive, 19-year-old self thought I would never be lonely again. After all, my husband would always be there for me, right? Well, not so shockingly, no.
This may be hard for people who haven’t been in a long-term relationship to understand. After all, it took me almost three years of dating and one year of marriage to realize that being close to someone, and having that physical proximity, is not a cure for loneliness. I felt alone when I had to wake up every two hours at night to breastfeed, pump, and change diapers while my husband was sound asleep — only to hear the nonchalant “why didn’t you wake me up?” the next morning. I felt unloved when he stared at his phone laughing while I talked about my struggles.
Needless to say, this was not the married life that I had expected. Echoing the stereotype of a needy wife, there were times when I repeatedly nagged my husband to “do better,” comparing him to “ideal” husbands who (only) exist in movies and on TV shows with precisely planned scripts. I was surely not the only person who wished their partner could do better. Among my married lady friends, we call the seemingly perfect husbands in movies and TV — who are emotionally supportive, always loving, and great at child care — “unicorns.” They are mythical creatures, nonexistent in the real world.
It sucked that my husband wasn’t a unicorn. For a 20-year-old girl who hated being left unattended and who had a wild side, motherhood was harsh. I was burned out mentally, physically and emotionally. It felt like I was walking a dark, endless tunnel by myself. I was more lonely than at any previous point in my life. Lonelier than I’d felt coming home to an empty house after elementary school. Lonelier than when my best friend in high school ditched me for her boyfriend. Lonelier than when I left my parents and brother in Korea to come to the United States at 13 and had spent every night crying, just wanting to move back home.
Back then, the only place I was able to escape my struggles at home was at my community college. In order to hold on to those precious moments of escape, I studied my ass off.
This brought me to UC Berkeley. And I still love going to classes — even those 8:00 a.m. lectures. They’re what keep me sane. Being free from wifely and motherly duties, even for a couple of hours, makes me a more positive, active, and most importantly, emotionally independent being. This doesn’t mean that I’m a bad wife or mom. In fact, after being devoted to school and finding my passion, the never-ending nit-picking toward my husband has dramatically subsided. I no longer depend on him to satisfy and fix my insecurities. On top of that, I’m able to spend way more quality time with my son, because I’m not constantly waiting for anyone to bring me happiness.
I still adore my beautiful son and (mostly) supportive husband. But I want to underscore the importance of having “me time” — time to solely focus on myself and my self-improvement. Because I’ve realized the only person who can cure my loneliness and help me understand that unicorns don’t have to exist is me.
May Choi writes the Monday column on being a transfer student-parent. Contact her at [email protected] .