I’ve always been pretty nerdy. When other things in my life go wrong, school was always there to focus in on so I could even things out… I could just kind of go inside my head and solve whatever problem was in front of me. Finding the answers in math class or close-reading in English class were things I could count on to get right, so that’s how I identified myself: the nice girl who was good in school. People could always count on me for homework help or a study partner, and I was comfortable with that. Comfortable being the offbeat girl who actually stuck to her study schedule.

When I was in high school, I was always a little jealous of the “pretty girls” who never had a problem getting dates for the dances or making plans with cute guys over the weekend. I did date one guy for a while my junior year of high school, and I did experience that exciting rush of being asked to senior prom (by a guy who was probably the most fun prom date ever, so there), but nothing stuck for too long. Most of the time, I just ended up focusing on my friends and (surprise) classes. I’ve maintained a similar strategy in college, because hey, if it doesn’t seem broken, why fix it?

As I go through this whole process of growing into my single status, I’m realizing maybe my strategy is a little broken. I will always be a nerd, no matter what. I love that part of myself, but the inevitable soul-searching I’ve undertaken is showing me that there are a lot more parts of me that deserve time to flourish, too… and yes, one of those parts might just have a little “pretty girl” in her. I’ve treated the two as mutually exclusive in regards to myself and just kind of chose to place myself on the nerdy end of the spectrum because that’s where I was comfortable.

Study partners don’t typically have to deal with too much rejection, and avoiding rejection has always felt like the favorable option. If I didn’t look at myself as a potential “date,” I didn’t have to worry about what happened if someone didn’t look at me that way… kind of like my own personal shield to keep all those potentially bad feelings as far away as possible. I could just stick to the friend side of things and be safe, which was totally fine with me.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t always totally fine with me. The timing rarely felt right when there was a guy that I did like (in a non-study partner kind of way), which was kind of a bummer… then, my all-powerful “friend” shield wasn’t too much help. Being unsure of myself as someone “dateable,” I haven’t exactly made myself very available, especially with a running tape of “as if” running through the background of my thoughts every time I dared to try and think differently.

Like I said, I have dated and I have had a couple sustained relationships, but nothing has ended up working out. Part of the problem in not thinking of myself as the girl you date is that when I am the girl that you date, I always feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for him to find someone more “suitable.” I’ve also attracted some guys who treat me like a “project” to fix or guys who exploit that unsureness to keep me hanging on and waiting around. I’ve gotten into the mindset that that’s just what I’m supposed to expect from my romantic relationships, or that there’s something I’m getting desperately wrong. Either way, I’ve just kind of accepted feeling small and imperfect as something I deserve to feel.

My last relationship was a little different. He was a genuinely good guy, and seemed sure of me at a time when others weren’t. He showed me a lot about myself and showed me how a functional relationship could be, but eventually we ran our course. As he began to find himself, I began to lose myself and felt like I was being pushed further and further out of the picture. I kept telling myself things would get better next week, next month, next year… things would finally be better when I was Mrs. Successful, not needing to worry about succeeding myself because I was the Golden Boy’s wife…right? I reached a point when I realized that wasn’t the person I wanted to be; I didn’t want to be the Golden Boy’s girlfriend, I wanted to be a person who could be successful on her own, and I was forgetting how to be her.

That was a pretty big low for me, because in losing those parts of myself, I was losing the “me” I was most comfortable with—the me who was good at school, good at work, whose future was at the very least an incandescent lightbulb. It was terrifying to step back after our relationship ended and doubt whether or not I was the person I had always branded myself as: Was I capable? Was I smart? Was I going to get through life okay? I was filled far more question marks than affirmative punctuation, and for a while I felt a lot of anger toward our relationship for putting them there. I no longer knew if I could turn to that nerdy Katlyn, and I no longer felt secure in whether or not I was a good person… all I could think to myself was “Why does this always happen to me?” It seemed as if that question was only valid for so long before I had to start asking “What am I doing wrong?”

Questioning my most secure identity has put me in an extremely vulnerable place. I’ve felt as if I’m taking everything too personally, because it’s felt like the only thing I’m good at receiving is criticism. I’ve been afraid that I ended my last relationship because it was just showing me who I was: incapable, weak, and horrible. No one should ever feel like that. Some days that’s the person I see in the mirror, but the days when I see someone capable, strong, and good are definitely outweighing them. Bad relationships don’t necessarily mean the people involved in them are bad, sometimes they’re just bad for each other. I have a habit of locking myself into that unsure place, making it easy for others to feed on that and take advantage of me. Sometimes, they know what they’re doing, but other times, it’s just a bad match. My last relationship was just a bad match.

Nerdy Katlyn comes back a little stronger every time I successfully code a nested list in HTML, learn a new CSS command, or close-read Middle English. We’re still comfortable with each other, but we’re learning to let new Katlyns into the conversation. One of those is a Katlyn who is completely, totally “dateable.” She reminds me that everyone has their own “pretty girl” inside who’s worth taking to dinner, and paying attention to her is the only way to get anyone else to pay attention to her. Another Katlyn is one who isn’t afraid to demand more from the people around her—one who is strong enough to take no less than what she deserves. She reminds me that no one is ever allowed to make you feel small or imperfect, and if they’re doing that they don’t belong in your life. Nerd Katlyn’s best friend is the Katlyn who always dreams two sizes too big, the Katlyn who is insistent that success is out there and waiting; all it takes to get there is some hard work and a little elbow grease.

There are a lot more sides of me beyond “nice-girl study partner,” and going through this bizarre process of mental spring-cleaning is showing me that maybe it’s time to pay attention to them. That doesn’t mean I have to stop being a nerd or stop being nice, it just means it’s time to make room in my life for more, because I deserve more. I haven’t been demanding my worth from my life, and it’s probably time to start doing so. Having bad relationships doesn’t make me a bad person, and going through rough patches just means I’m getting stronger. Growing pains suck, but they’re just a part of that whole weird process of “growing up” and growing into who you’re supposed to be. I’m a kick-ass study partner, but I’m also a strong, kind, successful person who dreams two sizes too big and who looks super cute dressed up in high heels. So yeah, I’ll study with you, but I’ll go out to dinner with you too.

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