While attending a party with a man I’ve been dating someone offered me a glass of wine. I considered what I had already had to drink and bit my lip hesitantly. “Oh….I really shouldn’t.”
“If you want it you should take it,” my date said kindly, “I’ll take care of you.”
When he said those last words I was hit by two unexpected emotions. One was a sense of warmth and affection for this man (who I trust implicitly) who so quickly offered to take care of me. The other was a sense of self-directed anger for wanting to be taken care of.
In my family independence is one of the most valued characteristic a person can have. If you study my family tree you will discover a long line of strong and forceful women. They ran (and run) the show. That’s not to say that the men in my family aren’t important or encouraged to be successful but ours has always been a very matriarchal system. No one ever told me I had to model my relationships after those held by my mother and grandmother (and great-grandmother) but there was an unspoken message that permeated almost every aspect of my upbringing: independence is strength and traditional female roles have little to no place in this family.
I have always had mixed feelings about that message. I like taking care of myself and I like being in control but I’m also attracted to the idea of being able to occasionally relinquish some of that control to somebody else. These somewhat inconsistent desires have gotten me into trouble in the past. Take my relationship with my ex-husband for instance. My ex has always been extremely good at reading people and while he didn’t always respect my conflicting emotions he definitely picked up on them, understood them and used them to his advantage on more than one occasion. I remember a phone conversation that we shared a few weeks before he proposed. We had been talking about the future and various potential job opportunities when he paused and then in an extremely careful tone that spoke to his awareness of the importance of his wording said, “I will always support you in your career ambitions and personal goals and I know you are more than capable of achieving them, but I want you to know that I will make sure to always be in a position to take care of you should you ever want or need me to.”
Right then and there I knew I would marry him. The fact that he was saying this to me after spending the last few months subtly pressuring me to transfer from the school of my dreams to a university that was closer to him was not lost on me; but the rhetoric was so beautiful and so perfectly in sync with what I wanted that I was sure it meant he was my basherte (that's Jewish for soulmate).
As it turns out my ex-husband did not follow through with any of those promises. Those of you who have been following this blog have an idea of what I’m talking about. For those of you who are visiting this site for the first time I’ll just say that as it turns out my ex had a plethora of emotional and psychiatric issues that made it impossible for him to take care of himself, let alone anyone else.
When I left that marriage I didn’t spend a lot of time wallowing in depression. I had learned my lesson: there is only one person in the world who is responsible for taking care of me and that’s me. My mother is still basically the matriarch within the family but I’ve accepted the fact that when she goes (which hopefully won’t be for a very long time) I will take over that position. My son will be able to count on me to take charge when need be and I will not pawn my family duties off on anyone else no matter how I might feel about them romantically.
So why did I get all warm, fuzzy and freaked by my date’s statement? After all it’s not like he was offering to support me in the manner that I’d like to become accustom to. He was just saying that if I should choose to drink myself into unconsciousness he’d make sure I crashed somewhere that wouldn’t lead to severe back-pain or sexual assault. If you think about it that’s not exactly a huge life-altering commitment on his part. The problem is that while my divorce made me stronger in many ways it did not wipe out the emotional needs and desires that made me vulnerable to my ex-husband’s charms. And that is a difficult pill to swallow.
But maybe this pill isn’t so much a prescription drug as it is a really big vitamin. Once I get it down it’s bound to make me healthier and it has a low risk of side effects. I’m always going to be an independent person. I will never sacrifice my dreams for the sake of a relationship. That’s not the kind of role model I want to be for my son and to be honest it’s just not who I am. But every once in a while I’m going to allow someone else to take care of me and I’m not going to berate myself just because I like it when a man makes me feel safe.
I’m not sure if that makes me more or less liberated. It’s just how I feel and I’m learning to be okay with that.
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