Editor’s note: This letter contains discussions of self-harm and mental health.
Editor’s note: This letter also contains spoilers for Gilmore Girls.
In Season 5, Episode 8, Rory Gilmore makes the decision to not return to Yale for what would have been the fall semester of her junior year of college.
Honestly, the first time I saw Gilmore Girls, I thought Rory was an entitled brat during Season 5 (which lowkey, I still think she is). How could she just leave after one person criticized her? Yale was her dream school! She was always a planner! This would completely ruin her life plan!
Throughout the series, Rory is constantly shown to be an overachiever, a hard worker and ambitious. She grew up desperately wanting to go to Harvard, then deciding on Yale. She fights her way into an internship with Mitchum Huntsburger, editor of the top newspaper in the country, during which he tells her she doesn’t have what it takes to be a journalist. Rory completely breaks down, steals a boat with her boyfriend and tells her mother that she’s not going back to Yale.
I thought about this character arc as I told my own mother that I needed to leave Notre Dame in September 2021.
Withdrawing from school in the middle of a semester was never something that I thought I would do. It felt like quitting, and I had never really quit anything before. Whenever I sign up for something, if I go to that first meeting, I HAVE to see it through to the end, even if I hate it. Finishing any responsibility I take on is just what I always thought I was supposed to do. I never thought that I had any other option than to keep doing what I’m doing.
Most college students at elite institutions of higher education follow the same path: participate in as many activities as possible in high school to get into a good college, participate in as many activities as possible in college to build a resume to get a job, find that high paying job immediately after graduation, rise up the corporate ladder as fast as you can. That’s just what you’re supposed to do.
But what happens when you’re covered in stress hives, unable to eat due to anxiety and blinking back into focus at 3 a.m. to find yourself holding a kitchen knife and mangling your thigh? What happens when you become a literal danger to yourself? Why are we supposed to keep working to the point of being in the goddamn trenches mentally and emotionally?
We are not conditioned to believe that it’s okay to take a break. Every moment of rest is spent stressing over the fact that we aren’t doing something “productive.” We value our education and labor over our health and well-being.
And that’s f*cking stupid. There have to be more options than “do” or “die.”
So, I would like to say I am sorry, Rory Gilmore. I was too hard on you for dropping out.
Maybe Rory didn’t have to leave Yale, but why do we feel so strongly about sticking with something you’re unsure about? Why not take the third option? Why not take a break to live at home (or I guess in your grandparent’s pool house) and do a whole bunch of nothing for a while in order to figure out who you are and what you really want to do?
Rory represents a very privileged sect of the population as someone who comes from money (shut up I don’t care about Lorelai being disowned, Emily and Richard are RICH and more than willing to drop bands on Rory whenever she asks).
But in my leave of absence journey, I realized there aren’t as many barriers to leaving as I thought. I got a partial refund on the semester, my financial aid transferred to the extra semester I would have to take, and my scholarships and loans did the same (without interest because I was still technically a student despite not attending). Leaving — taking a break — can indeed be a viable option. Notre Dame just doesn’t want you to know that so their four-year graduation rate stats can look really good.
I like to think that it’s brave to say “I don’t want to do this anymore. I am done for now” and walk away, even if it feels cowardly at the time.
Be radical and rest for a couple of months! Figure out more about who you are and what you want to do! Recover! Begin to feel like a real person again (then come back, if you want)!
Now I’m back and in awe of how much better I feel now compared to this time last year (thank you, antidepressants and therapy!) and all set to receive my diploma in January 2023. I do not at ALL regret taking leave.
Before my time off, I realized I hadn’t had an extended period of time without a looming responsibility since I was in high school. It was incredibly freeing to go home and know that the only thing I had to do was exist.
I think we all deserve to take some time to do nothing except exist.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.