Sex and the Ivy


Filed under: All About Elle, Blogging, Depression, Harvard, Mental Health, Uncategorized — Elle July 17, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Right now, I want to disappear. I haven’t felt this in a long time, perhaps because in the past year, I more or less succeeded in doing precisely that. I traded in Sex and the Ivy for a far less personal tumblelog. I left school and then the country. When I returned, I moved to Beacon Hill and avoided campus, final clubs, and the Class of 2009. My already shrunken circle of friends shrank even more. Agents asked me if I still wanted to write a book, and I would say this really isn’t the right time, but it’s on my mind and I’ll get in touch on my own, thank you. I guess it was reassuring to know that I was, in fact, still relevant. But for once, that mattered less than the sliver of privacy I’d found. Public and private life finally seemed distinguishable, and I was happy. I am happy.

When Harvard kicked me out of school last spring, I felt like the Ad Board didn’t believe or care about my story. Sure, I never did well in college, and hell, I admit that I was a pretty mediocre honors student in high school, but there’s a reason why I went from getting abysmal grades to simply not passing a class. That doesn’t just happen on its own. The problem is, I don’t know how I could have expected anyone at the time to believe me when even I thought my story was unbelievable. It was so unbelievable, in fact, that I called it a “story”. I thought of it as a book, perhaps because I was trying to write one, but also because there wasn’t any possible way that it was actually happening in real life. Yet it was.

I started Sex and the Ivy in the beginning of my sophomore year. At first, it was exhilarating to feel inspired enough to write everyday. It was the biggest high I’d ever felt and I still sometimes fear I’ll never replicate it again. But what I initially considered an incredible creative phase soon turned into the worst period of my life up to that point. Because I believed in the best in people, I wrote naively and with abandon. I wrote about my fears and my uncertainties and my insecurities. I always wrote the truth. Most of the feedback was positive but some people were critical, not in a constructive way, but in a purposely hurtful, malicious way. Judgments were made about my character based on the presumed number of sexual partners I’d had. Strangers felt justified in calling me a “slut”. Their IP addresses suggested they were posting from a computer connected to the campus network. For a period of about six months, I went through a series of highs and lows. Most of my blogging was done when I was in a slightly manic state. The rest of the time, I slept a lot, missed class frequently, and tried to extricate myself from most social activities. Someone, a professional, suggested I might be struggling with a high-functioning form of bipolar disorder. I met with a psychiatrist, decided I wasn’t that crazy (at least not yet), and promptly went back into hibernation mode until the spring. By then, I was doing better and just wanted to finish the school year so I could spend summer in New York. None of what I’m writing here is new. I’ve said it all before, so many times before that it doesn’t feel real now to look back on it.

Sometimes when I spoke to my junior year therapist about this, I felt like she didn’t believe me either. I felt like no one believed me, or at least they couldn’t feel what I felt. Back then, I thought I was going crazy, not crazy enough to take pills, but enough to question whether this constant feeling of being watched and judged was merely a mental affliction. I almost wanted to ask Sara if she thought I was actually making this all up in my head. In retrospect, what I considered unconfirmed paranoia at the time was pretty much confirmed by my junior year. I just didn’t want to believe it. But then you hear enough people whisper your name (or something that vaguely sounds like it) whenever you’re in the vicinity. You catch enough people looking at you. You catch pointing. And sometimes, you overhear something that no one intended for you to hear. What you used to wonder about, you come to expect. But I never learned the full extent of it and I never will, which is why I thought for so long that I was crazy in a very literal sense.

I want to point out that I have never, ever been harassed in person. None of these people who gossip and say or think or write terrible things about me would ever have the courage to publicly stand by their words. Every time anyone has approached me, they’ve been gracious and kind and polite; and though I am grateful for this, it also terrifies me, because I can’t put an identifiable face on my attackers. And yes, I do feel attacked.

It may have been an unhinged ex-boyfriend who put nude photos of me online two Christmases ago, but their dissemination was a collaborative effort between IvyGate and my peers. I know for a fact that people who personally knew me — as well as others who didn’t –  were sending those photos around while I was in hysterics at the end of fall term and struggling to finish papers just so I could finish them, just so I could leave the school and the country and all this inexplicable malice behind. When Patrick and I started dating last spring, I didn’t tell anyone but my closest friends about him. I actually kept my relationship a secret from the majority of my acquaintances. And yet, someone who knew the both of us, someone who must’ve seen us in public together or something, outed him on JuicyCampus. When it got picked up on AutoAdmit, online vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands and send indignant emails to Harvard professors and administrators demanding that Patrick be kicked out of his Ph.D program for a breach of ethics that never occurred. Thank god he was in a five-year relationship during the entire time he taught me or people might’ve actually not believed us.

I suppose the fact that I’m still blogging is a testament to my emotional strength or to my stupidity. To be honest, I’m terrified of returning to school this fall because I’m running out of the former. I’m tired of being strong and I’m tired of having to just put up with it and I’m worried that what’s happened thus far is the beginning, not the end. In retrospect, I’m surprised my 19-year-old self lasted as long as she did. I’m turning 22 next month and I’m getting too old for this. I used to get so many sexist or downright misogynistic comments that I became numb to them. I hit delete, delete, delete and moved on to the next entry. And now? When I read something terrible that a stranger has to say about me,  I stop and think about it. I think about them and the person they might be. I think about myself and what I’ve done to deserve this kind of scrutiny. I think about how a website could provoke concerted efforts by other human beings to make my life miserable.

Maybe blogging about my personal life means I’m “asking for it” but if my only crime is writing openly and honestly about sex and not having the decency to feel ashamed of myself, then yes, I suppose I asked for it. I realize now, two years late, that I was incredibly naive for expecting better out of people, out of humanity, as dramatic as that sounds. When I was 19, I didn’t think anyone understood me. Not my mother, who didn’t know about my blog. Not my therapist, who nodded at the right times and knew my secret resentments. Not my friends, who were often the ones I resented. And now I know there’s at least one person in the world who understands me, pretty completely, and I’m still miserable, just because a stranger decided to be shockingly inhumane tonight. How did I do it at 19? How can I ever write that candidly again if even a mere comment (or in this case, 15 of them in a span of minutes) conjures up all the unpleasant memories I’ve pushed to the recesses of my mind? I have never once regretted writing Sex and the Ivy, but it’s not until now that I’ve acknowledged the full extent of what I lost because of it. I spent most of college disassociating myself from my peers, physically running away (to New York, to Philadelphia, abroad), and questioning my own sanity. And sure, I was defiant, and more importantly, I was in the right. But what good is being right when you’re an unhappy, suspicious person? Now that I know the alternative, I could care less about my writing or what others see in it or what they see in me. I’d rather be happy than defiant on principle.

None of these people who have done me wrong will get their comeuppance. There’s no such thing as god or karma and even if there were, I’m not looking for justice. I’m looking for happiness, and thus far, I’ve only found it in a private life. I could wait endlessly for divine retribution, or I could try to be happy knowing what I know about human nature and what people are capable of. I could try to be happy the one way I know how. I could try to disappear.