At the Lake District, my lukewarm passion for my work could not survive the blinding brightness of my friends' full-on passion for theirs. It collapsed, it drowned, and I felt out of place because I felt like a fraud, like I didn't belong there. I thought my lack of enthusiasm was a consequence of my period, but my hormones are in balance again, and yet I still can't shake this feeling that I wrote about in my insomniac entry - this perennial dissatisfaction, this sense that I would rather be, should be, doing something else, this sense of incompletion; this gaping hole through which all my attempts at satisfaction and happiness eventually fall.
I have never truly felt like I belonged anywhere - not in Singapore, not in Cambridge, not really in London, not in Taipei, not in The Hague, not in Amsterdam. I feel out of place in the world. I don't know what it is that I am after, what it is that I am chasing, this elusive holy grail that would perform just the right magic trick to defeat this perennial dissatisfaction, this underlying unhappiness that never really goes away, no matter what I do. No matter what I do, it always comes back, cajoling to the fore a deep-seated boredom and restlessness that have plagued me for as long as I can remember.
What am I doing wrong? What am I doing with my life?
I am seized with an urge to quit the PhD. I'm in a crisis, fundamentally questioning why I'm doing it, but it's all futile because I simply do not quit, and I will see it through to its bitter end - even if my completion of it has nothing to do with passion or any wishful thinking of that sort, but a sense of obligation, of duty. To whom, though? My parents wouldn't hold it against me if I quit, so I can't pin this on them. It is all me - me and my warped thinking, my twisted ideas, my perfectionism demanding that I continue to force myself into a mould that doesn't quite fit, stubbornly and forcibly squeezing myself into it by way of all kinds of creative contortions of the body, no matter how much it hurts. My fear of failure, too; my fear of admitting to a weakness; my not wanting to be weak. Quitting is failing. Quitting is weak. I am neither a failure nor a weakling.
I will not quit despite realising the lack of fit between my PhD and I at the Lake District, the lack of fit flashing bright red like a warning signal when my lack of passion for my PhD was exposed by my friends' overwhelming passion for their work. I will not quit because I am not a quitter, and I will finish this no matter how painful it is, because I need to prove a point to myself. Nobody gives a fuck, the world will not become a better place because of it, but I need to prove a point to myself, and so I will not quit even though I am feeling the same regret that I had felt 12 years ago when I entered law school; and I will not quit even though I am wondering if I am making another mistake, locking myself in, almost irreversibly, a career path that I'm not sure I even want anymore.
What is this crisis that I am facing? It started, I think, when I sat in the house that we rented at the Lake District and looked out of the window, taking in the sight of the gently rolling green hills dotted with white sheep beneath a clear blue sky, and not thinking, 'What a great environment to write my PhD', but thinking instead, 'What a great setting to write a novel.'
But the two are not mutually exclusive, so why do I feel like they are? Why do I feel like I am not letting myself flourish, fully flourish, that I am not developing the best version of myself? I feel as if I am expending energy and time and money on something that I kind of care about, that I kind of like, but which I don't love. I don't love this. I don't know what it is: a fundamental mistake? a fundamental lack of fit? my perpetual boredom and restlessness taking over? Or is this just a temporary loss of motivation that every PhD student goes through?
There is a part of me that is struggling to come out, to regain control, to push aside and annihilate this rational being that pretends to care about philosophy and ideas. This part of me likes people, relationships between people, feelings, the truth of what it means to be human - a truth which can only be lived and experienced, not deduced a priori, in hazy abstraction, divorced from how we really are. I know that these two sides can co-exist in peace; indeed, they are mutually reinforcing, complementary, not contradictory as such.
Yet, I am frustrated by my life choices. I took the conservative and easy way out: opted for the safe degree instead of pursuing a risky passion, then letting this passion fade into the background where it has been laid to waste, festering in its own decomposed rot. I can't write anymore, you see. I simply can't. And because I am not writing what I really want to be writing when I write my PhD, it bears the burden of my unrealised ambition, my inchoate hopes, my childish dream of being a writer - always fantastical, never real.
I met Gareth on Sunday evening with the intention of ending things with him. I told him everything that I wanted to tell him: that I was hurt by his silence; that my obsessive nature couldn't let it go and focus on something else; that it was too much of a distraction. He said that I should have the kind of relationship that I want, and so he'd accept whatever decision I made. I grew wistful hearing that; it felt like a waste, and I told him as much: 'This feels like a waste because I really like you.'
'I really like you too,' he said. 'I think you're great. You're beautiful, charming, smart, kind, sensitive. I enjoy your company, and I love having sex with you. But I'm not going to make a case for why you should stay.'
'Because the pleasure that I derive from your company cannot make up for the stress that you feel when you're with me.'
Moments later, I found myself reciprocating when he took my hand, lightly tracing the contours of my fingers. I thought I had made up my mind. I hated how his lack of communication made me feel, and I didn't want it in my life anymore; and so I pushed him to meet me even though he said he wasn't free at first.
But we started talking about other things, and I told him about the sense of displacement that I felt at the Lake District.
It was striking how he seemed to understand me without knowing me all that well yet. 'Yeah, you're doing law,' he said. 'You should be doing something softer.' He did not mean something insubstantial, empty, fluffy. I knew exactly what he meant.
So it was, then, that I felt my resolve weakening as the evening progressed. I have thought of, and been convinced by, the many reasons I am so drawn to him. Here's one salient reason for our present purpose: in a rather strange way, I feel as if he understands a deeply personal part of me that no one has ever truly understood. That is, the beauty of the written word and why it matters; why it matters at an intimately personal level. He senses my struggles with my PhD - struggling to hold on to my flimsy interest, struggling to stave off the boredom; he noticed from the first time we met that I wasn't very happy with my subject. Back then (I say 'back then' but it was only two months ago), I wasn't nearly half as jaded as I am now, and I didn't even realise that I was exuding a lack of enthusiasm when I told him, in general terms, what my PhD is about.
We all just want to be understood, don't we? We would trade someone who keeps in touch daily, who replies to text messsages promptly, who doesn't cancel on us, for someone who understands us in a way that we'd never been understood before, wouldn't we? Or maybe it is just me. Maybe no one else would have felt her resolve giving way when he reached out, brushed aside a loose strand of hair from her forehead; maybe no one else would have felt a sudden vulnerability when he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, the tips of his fingers grazing, ever so lightly, her cheek.
My resolve succumbed to his touch. I don't even know how to describe what I felt in the moment: my hand in his, his hand on my bare leg, his lips on mine. Spellbound, maybe. Or maybe that is too sentimental, cheesy. Let's try again, then: annoyance at myself for not sticking to my guns, a creeping longing for him that overrode my annoyance, and fear of regretting a decision that I would be unable to take back. So err on the side of caution; be conservative; stay the course, even if it has been bumpy and sometimes painful, because it has also been real and authentic and deep.
'This isn't turning out the way you'd pictured it, is it?' he said with a laugh while clasping my hand in his hands.
'No, it hasn't at all.' Especially not when we ended up going back to mine.
He said to me before he left, 'Let me know when you've arrived safely at your destination.'
It's been 3 days since I arrived in Singapore and I have not texted him. He's not texted me either; but knowing him, after what I said to him before I changed my mind about what I was telling him, he's leaving it up to me.
Before he left, while we were seated at the edge of my bed, he asked, 'Will you be okay?'
'Yeah, I think so. I'll try.' A pause, and then, 'Can I remind you when you don't reply? Would that be annoying?'
'No, it wouldn't. Do I annoy you? Oh, I guess I do.'
And then: 'You'll be okay. You're robust; strong.'
Should I stop myself before I fall even deeper? I probably should. I haven't texted him because I hate waiting for his replies, and I didn't feel like tainting my time back home like that. This obviously isn't a good thing.
I was also thinking it over, wondering if I made a mistake on Sunday when I changed my mind. He's unlike anyone I have ever dated; and I am afraid of the changeability that he's told me he's comfortable inhabiting. I am afraid that he'd wake up one day and lose interest, just like that. There is a high chance that this will end badly for me. Even though I'm not at a stage where I want to commit, or even want to define the relationship, I want him to act in ways which are at odds with who he is. So I will have to accept him as he is, no matter how frustrating it makes me sometimes.
I should probably stop myself from falling even further. But I don't want to. I think he's worth it.