If you’re reading my blog, chances are you are participating in the September blog challenge begun by Effy Wild. I’ve read some incredible posts as a result of her prompts, and the one she posted yesterday has really challenged me: “Write about something you used to believe that you no longer believe and how that shift in belief has changed things for you.”
I used to believe that I had to have a man, or more accurately, to be in love with a man, to be happy and fulfilled. Indeed, I thought I wouldn’t be a whole woman without a man. In my teens, it was a near obsession. Girls often got married right out of high school where I lived. Not having a boyfriend felt to me like being totally rejected as a female. It created real fear and panic that I was unworthy of love.
I’m not sure where that kind of thinking came from. My parents loved me. I wasn’t abused or mistreated. I had friends. I made good grades and did things with other kids. I just thought if I didn’t have a man, I wouldn’t be worthwhile as a woman.
I was born in 1951, that generation which grew up with the Cleavers, then James Bond and Star Trek and finally The Sensuous Woman and the Equal Rights Amendment. To say we received mixed messages about a woman’s role would be an understatement. I also grew up in the South with middle class parents and in a middle class community. My generation was the first in my family to go to college. My parents and my cousins’ and girlfriends’ parents were overprotective and expected me to marry and have children. About half of my cousins and family friends did exactly that.
I did get married while I was in college to my high school boyfriend. We should have broken up instead of getting married. He was a fun boyfriend, but he was not a fun husband. Four months after we married, my mother died. Then I had to go back to college for my senior year and student teaching. It was no way to start a life together. We actually lived together a total of eight months, and that was off and on. There were lots of fights. Some were violent.
After we separated, I continued to look for love. I really thought I would find “the one” and then everything would be okay. I’d get married, be a good wife, have children, keep the perfect house, take great vacations, etc. etc. In fact, I did fall in love again, really in love, but I think I knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t work out because he didn’t want to get married. I was caught in a dilemma: stay with the man I loved and miss out on the life I wanted or leave him and maybe get neither. I was too afraid to take the risk to get the life I wanted. The irony is that in the end, he left me, and I still ended with neither.
After that, I had other relationships, but I began to realize that I couldn’t depend on someone else to make me happy. Some of that was because I had begun to do a great deal of inner work, and I faced some of my fears of abandonment and being less than. Some of it, maybe a great deal of it, came because I began to see myself through my own eyes and not through someone else’s. I stopped putting up with things that drove me crazy just so I wouldn’t be alone. I set boundaries and felt good when I maintained them. I found I actually enjoyed doing my own thing on my own terms.
The really odd thing is, I think I have more love in my life now than ever before. I think about the people I love without constantly worrying they will stop loving me if I don’t live up to their standards. In fact, I wonder how I could have ever have loved someone who demanded such a thing.
I still believe all you need is love, but I don’t believe you have to have another person to make you happy. Oh, certainly, certain people can bring you indescribable joy and satisfaction, but if you aren’t able to find happiness within yourself, it is unfair to lay that burden on another person. It just won’t work. I enjoy the people in my life, but I also enjoy my solitude and independence. Even during my occasional bouts of depression, I am more apathetic than unhappy.
Let me be clear though, it isn’t that I don’t have people in my life that I love and that I need and would miss if I lost them. Likewise, there are people I’ve lost whom I miss. It’s just that my happiness is not dependent on some other person in my life. There is an inner core of strength inside me that just wasn’t as available to my conscious mind forty years ago as it is today. For that gift, I am thankful.