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Having it all

staff note

Over winter break I watched the film version of one of my favorite novels, "The Valley of the Dolls," and decided it was one of the scariest movies I've seen in a long time. Jacqueline Susann's 1966 book deeply resonated with me when I first read it the summer before I came to Duke. As a young woman about to leave home for the first time, I could see myself in the story's three main protagonists, each chasing her dreams in 1940's New York City. With endless hope and ambition in their youth, the women's lives devolve over two decades into substance abuse and depression. While I (thankfully) don't see myself on the same path as these characters, the fact that they don't make inherently wrong decisions makes their stories all the more compelling. Their mistakes are ones I could see myself making. It's not hard to become overly invested in a career, or to fall in love with a person that's bad for you. As my graduation day in May nears, the life decisions I make in the next few months and years seem all the more daunting.

Just as how a novel about New York women closed out my high school life, another group of New Yorkers is helping me through the end of my Duke one; I began religiously watching "Sex and the City" last semester. After especially stressful days, I'll pop on an episode (or two, or three) of the late '90s comedy series, and try to think about Carrie Bradshaw's life problems more than my own. The show follows a group of four successful women — a writer, an attorney, an art dealer and a PR executive — and the trials and tribulations they face as single women in a big city. Although I haven't personally faced the majority of the issues brought up in the series, it's easy to relate to their experiences. Half of the dating advice my best friend and I have given each other in the last few months has referenced the show in one way or another. Like "The Valley of the Dolls," the characters' mistakes are ones we can see ourselves actually making.

I'm thus drawn to the two stories because they're simultaneously my greatest aspirations and my worst nightmares. I want an amazing, successful career, but I don't want it to absorb my entire life like Neely. I want to look my best every day, but I don't want to be objectified like Jennifer.  I want a family eventually, but I don't want to sacrifice my career like Charlotte.  I want to fall in love with a handsome, mysterious man like Carrie's Mr. Big or Anne's Lyon Burke, but I certainly don't want the heartbreak and havoc they wreak upon the women's lives.

Twenty-one is a strange age to be. A chapter of my life is about to end, and the next one isn't yet written. I'm starting to hear of acquaintances becoming engaged, and people I knew in high school are becoming parents. I have friends looking for jobs or applying to graduate school all around the country, and I have no idea where they'll be next year. Or where I'll be, for that matter. The train to the real world is about to leave the station and I'm scared I'll send it down the wrong track.

With a myriad of big changes happening in my life very soon, there's one nugget of wisdom from "Sex and the City" that I hope to carry with me as an adult. Realizing she's in a toxic relationship, Samantha tells her partner "I love you too, Richard. But I love me more." In two sentences, she says exactly what the women in "The Valley of the Dolls" never could. She loves and values herself first and foremost and — though this self-love doesn't diminish her love for anyone or anything else — she settles for nothing less than what makes her truly happy. By loving me more, I trust I'll make (at least mostly) the right decisions as an adult. Mistakes will be made, for sure, and those can be scary. By loving the person in the mirror, though, I'll have something no one — and nothing— can take away from me.

So, do I feel ready for life after graduation? Not a chance. Am I scared of leaving Duke for the real world? More than I'd like to admit. But am I excited for the future, with all its possible ups and downs? As Carrie would say, abso-f*cking-lutely.

Jessica Williams is a Trinity senior and Recess media production editor. 


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