Women and Detachment in the 21st century
Sylvia Plath said something about suffering being a religious sort of experience. Had this been two years ago I’d be able to recite the quote word for word — nowadays I’m too busy living it. Don’t worry, this is the palatable type of suffering. The kind where it makes me interesting, and approachable and human despite my unnatural obsession with how I presented myself.
There’s a catharsis that comes with having to wipe your tears in a certain way — so it won’t disturb your makeup, or watching yourself waste away in your own bed (not before performing a meticulous skincare routine). I curl my lashes before I climb under a blanket and sob. So that, on the off chance that I rise from my makeshift grave to head to the bathroom, I’ll be able to see the remnants of tears cascade prettily off the dampness of them.
My misery is addicting. I watch myself from above my body, like a guardian angel, or some man on a recliner chair mindlessly watching the television while licking the salt of potato chips from the palm of his hand. I will cry tears and I can feel my heart leap! I am so flawed, so tragic, so, so, so, consumable. I loved myself the most when I was sad enough to emulate the witty, sardonic but deeply troubled female main character we’ve all come to know and love (see: fleabag.) I love myself the most when I walk the fine line of ‘flawed’ and outright ‘repulsive.’
But, I’m not stupid; I notice the superficiality of it all. No one really thinks to make poetic diary entries when they feel unloveable. No one really lounges around in (consumable, palatable) silk pyjamas and a pint of ice cream. I know, deep down, that my misery is disgusting. But no one loves disgusting. No — they just love flawed.
So what? I was telling the truth that I love myself best when I’m parading the streets wearing my cynicism on my sleeve. It’s dry, witty, sardonic and points to my intelligence. I’ll laugh daintily at a man’s joke poking fun at the stock market, and I, in turn, will say something (that is most definitely dry, witty, and sardonic) about my country’s inevitable state of economic disrepair. And we’ll both laugh together, hoping that there’ll be some sort of lasting connection founded on our dryness, our wittiness, our sardonic nature.
Connections are never made that way.
I’ve fallen into cynicism through the way I make fun of myself. I’ll point and laugh at every emotion I’ve ever felt from a safe distance. I’ll let everyone know that misery had made its home in my shadow but I will never allow myself to feel it wholly. I’ll meticulously smudge my eyeliner, I’ll take thirty minutes to ‘throw’ my hair up into a bun, and I will utilize sarcasm to make the space between me and every negative emotion larger and larger.
For a time, I thought this made me desirable. I didn’t ‘bitch’ and ‘moan’ I laughed at myself while I rotted away in my own home. I smirk knowingly at my faults while being hyperaware of my existential aches and pains. I knew I could only feel flawed (rather than disgusting) while I was pretty. I was watching myself suffer from outside of the Bell Jar. The air has most definitely turned stale, in my makeshift cage.
I didn’t want to be desperate, so this detachment was my own sort of protest. I thought of myself as niche, academic and raw. I refused to mediate whatever was bringing about existential horror or dread or misery or fear. What would I be without this cool detachment? If I felt my own sadness fully I would have to be present, and I would have to speak about whatever I was feeling.
Which is completely humiliating! I’m a cool girl! To let yourself feel feelings is desperate and girlish. I was mature, I looked at the chaos and laughed, I let the river of life flow through me. Giving up is what real women did. Nihilism is something reserved for smart girls; intelligent girls.
Slowly but surely, I realized that I was somewhere else. I wasn’t present, instead, I elected to trap life in a glass enclosure. I laughed at it safely, from behind a pane of glass. I’ve tamed an animal, not by beating it into submission but by turning my back on it. I taunted it with my absence. Though, behind my knowing laughs, I think I missed it.
On the rare occasion that I tuned back in, I felt vulnerable. Not in the desirable way where I’d drink orange juice from the cartoon or stare at myself in the mirror — teary-eyed. But in the way where you feel that everyone is gazing upon your emotional nakedness, at the ugliness of the heart on your sleeve and scoffing silently before they leave you to deal with it on your own.
I was scared of appearing desperate by abandoning cynicism, I was scared I’d look uninteresting if I tried to better myself. Detachment makes you mysterious, but you lose hopes, passions, and love in the process (because who cares right?!)
And this is a truly upsetting realization. I was cutting myself with my own wit. Its sharpness grew by the day, by the hour, by the second. So long as I didn’t feel anything to the fullest extent I could maintain this charade.
Cynicism slices at you, it leaves you in dainty ribbons of skin. Your detachment will cut at you, it sears the flesh until it bubbles up — but for some reason, the wound never cauterizes.
So you will try again tomorrow. Surely it’ll work tomorrow.