A good woman. In two stories…
I’ve only really loved two men in my life. I married one, I escaped the other. K was so mean. Truly. And I worshipped him. I hate to say that, but I really did. In the way that only needy women can worship someone who withholds from them over and over again. I think back on that relationship, and what I remember most is someone who would criticize me constantly. All the time. The criticisms usually revolved around my domestic capabilities, my submissiveness, my loyalty. Could I cook? Would I stay at home? Would I be devoted to supporting his career and children? The crazy thing is, I was, and always have been, fiercely loyal to and fiercely protective of my nest. Maybe not a great cook, true, but I take care of my own. These cruel conversations were never about me. I think he just wanted to tear something down.
But I remember what it was like to be ripped apart until I felt what I can only describe as a true and complete despair. And the pattern, for some reason, was that we would have these “arguments,” and then we would have to go somewhere. Dinner with friends. Dinner with his wretched mother (his father was long gone, having cheated on his mom many times and then finally remarried). It was a test, he said. Could I pull it together? Could I put on a happy face? Could I fake it? Because that’s what the real world was like, he said. And that’s what love was: being able to pretend. If you could pretend, you had power. Did I have power?, he wanted to know. Honestly, I didn’t. But powerlessness felt like love to me at the time. The worse he made me feel, the more completely I devoted myself to him.
And then I think of my own mother. Crazy. Opinionated. Complicated, and not usually in a good way. I think of the time my step-sister graduated from college. It was a family affair, and we knew my step-sister’s mom (my step-father’s ex-wife) would be there. Oh man, my mom did NOT want to see her. She pitched a fit. There was arguing, anger, threats. She let us all know how unhappy she was to be in the same room with this woman, and because my stepdad didn’t seem to give a shit about my mom’s feelings (and because my mom was, let’s face, already full-blown looney toones over the event), she kept getting louder and louder. She ruined the whole graduation and the family dinner afterward. It was terrible—even I could see that, and I was only a young teenager at the time. To her credit, my mom realized how childish she acted and she kept her shit together when my stepbrother graduated from college a few years later. But still, it made an impression. Who wants to be that? So loud, so inflexible.
Here I am. Forty years old, and love doesn’t look like pain to me anymore, thankfully. Jealousy doesn’t bring me to my knees. But I’m navigating a tricky situation, one that is deeply intense and troubling, one that has become so hurtful to me. In the past month, I’ve been told I am pushy, selfish, stubborn, and inflexible. I have followed my inner compass, knowing what feels right to me and acting on it in a way that feels caring and loving. But what to do when others don’t see our best intentions?
I’ll tell you what I have done. I’ve caved. I’ll do anything you want, I finally told my husband. Let’s grant the wishes of your dying father, and then we can dissect what’s left. It’s a brokered peace between us all. Mostly.
But one problem postponed is another problem revived. What does it mean to be a good woman? Many of my life experiences have taught me that I should be meek, apologetic, quiet, silent, passive, agreeable. I shouldn’t argue or assert, I shouldn’t state an opinion. I’m allowed to offer up a thought every once in a while, but I need to back down at the first hint of controversy—and God forbid I should ever come across as insensitive. Even when I’m right, I should defer. Let them speak to you like that. Let them criticize and cut down. The greatest sin is to fight back. Don’t you know, Lorilin, to love is to erase yourself?
But I don’t feel like disappearing. This garbage year has taught me something. This year, I’ve found my voice. I have advocated for my children. I have advocated for myself. I have spoken and taken no shit; I have spoken and taken all the shit. I’ve made gains, and I’ve also been told to shut the fuck up. Mostly I’ve discovered that I can say my piece and withstand whatever reaction I get. I can tolerate rejection, disagreement, contempt, irritation, and disapproval. I can be nobody’s pleaser but my own, and it can still feel right. In fact, it can feel pretty darn good.
There are compromises in marriage. There are compromises in death. Sometimes it doesn’t unfold how you expected it to. I’m seeing that sometimes you have to be gracious and forgiving, maybe even silent for a time. But I am no one’s meek woman. I’ll accept the labels, cruel as they are, and I will continue to follow my own internal compass. I’m not infallible, but I have no choice but to move in the direction that feels true and right to me. No relationship with another human is worth total sacrifice of self, no matter the circumstances. Love is giving, but love is boundaries, too. It’s all about the balance. Do no harm, but take no shit. That is my power. Agree or disagree, this is how I love.