Mathochism: Reporting versus bragging

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

When I decided to blog about returning to school to study math after years of fearing and hating it, I made a commitment to describe the whole experience. That included the good days and the bad, the aha! moments and the befuddled ones, the successes and the failures.

And frankly, I never expected it to go so well. I never thought I would pass the first class, and certainly never expected the dreaded Algebra would actually go so well the professor would seem disappointed I had not achieved perfection on the latest test.

But apparently, my blogging these successes (and I reiterate that my failures, should I be lucky enough to continue studying without interference, will be blogged also) means I have become a braggart.

I was pulled aside by a close relative tonight and informed I sounded like I was boasting because I wrote about my A average in Algebra so far. The fact that I dared to be happy about it (and frankly, this happiness is mixed with incredulity more than anything) was apparently an even bigger crime.

Now, this close relative has always had very high expectations of me, far higher than any dour math professor. This close relative has always expected perfection, and when I couldn’t deliver, has had no qualms about rubbing my face in it and making me feel ten times worse.

And if I did deliver, this close relative would give a certain amount of praise (usually with the subtext that that was no less than expected), but the moment I even remotely started feeling good about it, this close relative considered it their sacred duty to burst my bubble, to take me down a peg, to make sure, and this is a direct quote “you don’t get a swelled head.”

In short, this close relative has made an art out of patting me on the head one minute, and then, just when I’ve relaxed, slapping the hell out of me.

This close relative’s mad skillz in the art of the mind fuck are a big reason why, at age 6, I looked back at my life and felt like a failure. Why at age 9, when I committed the unpardonable sin of entering prepubescence and gained some weight, I felt like this close relative despised me for being fat. It is why I spent so much of my childhood and adolescence feeling like absolute shit. Why could I never meet this close relative’s obviously reasonable expectations?

How could I be so ungrateful? I owe this close relative my life, my education, my meal ticket. How could I fail so utterly at achieving effortless perfection?

To be fair, I cannot lay all the burden of my low self-esteem and failed ambition on this close relative. There were other abusive people in my life. And on top of it all, I had, and have, a serious physical burden to contend with.

Still, this close relative’s past and present behavior is the reason why I rarely call to chat. Why I limit in-person encounters to maybe once a month. Why I censor information about my daily life, because I know it will, at some point, become ammunition against me.

And it is why I now regret telling this close relative about my blog.

But what is done is done, and I am not going to stop blogging about my math experiment because of this close relative. And I am going to write about As, and Fs, and everything in-between. And if that is bragging, so be it.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.


  • Keep “bragging,” girl, you deserve it.

  • Aww, thank you!!

  • Their being related to you doesn’t give them a free pass to be undermining and emotionally abusive. (As you know.)

    That really sucks – I’m glad you’re taking steps to keep them at a manageable distance in your life. I still deal with the family “friend” who says racist and sexist things to me as though it’s completely normal.

    Take care!

  • Thank you Katie. Sadly, I’ve dealt with a number of people growing up who think they have the right to say whatever the hell they want to me, no matter how insulting, and if I don’t thank them, I’m a hypersensitive bitch who can’t take constructive criticism. Ironically, they are the most sensitive people I know, and are set off by a look, much less a sentence. Sigh.

  • I have had similar thoughts but decided that being open about getting A’s in math and science is a feminist stance. I am pretty sure that a male casually mentioning receiving an A would be much less likely to be perceived as “bragging.” So if I mention it, rather than openly brag about it, why should it be perceived any differently?

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