Our independence, what we have fought for so wholeheartedly, has a shadow side I want to explore. I hear so many women and men talking about this lately.
Every topic has a positive and negative aspect – this is no exception, and I won’t be able to bite off the whole topic in one post, clearly, and so please add thoughts to the conversation below in the comments or reach out to me personally.
When we tout independence for women in our culture, that implies that women are able to provide for themselves, have top level jobs, raise their families, heal themselves or tuck away any unresolved emotional trauma, in order to do what needs to be done. We get it done, as women. We pride ourselves on this.
I found myself, in recent years, in this trap. I call it a “trap” for reasons I’ll explore here and elsewhere.
Five years ago, my ex-husband and I weren’t happy in our marriage, and had decided to separate. One day in the woods, I had an awakening of sorts where I remembered the true soul inside of me that I had silenced many years before, for reasons too vast to go into here. I woke up. I thought, “I’m going to LIVE AS HER!” And I have. It has been a long, deep journey back to her.
At that time, I had just become a school principal in a truly wonderful school – I’d say the position was somewhat coveted in this progressive school and because I’d worked my ass off (for reasons both positive and negative), at 33 years old I had this leadership role that I had gone after (win!). I bought a house after my divorce (with help, but, win!) and I was supposed to be “making it.” I looked like I was. But I really wasn’t. Because all the degrees and all the status and independence didn’t actually equate to financial sustainability…..
…. or connection, or happiness, or having enough time left over to even enjoy what I had, or being the mom I wanted to be, or healing the heartache that remained mine.
When we get caught up in the cycle of go-go-go, and let’s be real, most women are in our culture today (myself too to some extent still), we are not necessarily bettering our lives. Though we’re possibly more independent, and we are getting more done, we are suffering as well.
Independence and “I knew I couldn’t count on anyone. I didn’t need you anyway” (that was my own go-to protection when another man wasn’t stepping in the way I wanted him to) are actually also potentially evidence of a wounded, protective spirit.
And I’ll take a detour here to say this on the topic of men: How are they supposed to step in when we have such incredibly high and defensive standards? Our independence quite possibly turns men off, but if we take a true moment to get real about this, there are reasons for that. When women took on independent and leadership roles, we also took on masculine qualities of character. That’s another conversation.
I know a lot of single moms – entrepreneurs, PhDs, heads of household – that are actually pretty damn lonely. It’s sad. In one hand, they may be tasting success, and in another, there’s a lot of pressure that goes with doing it on your own.
And I don’t know this for sure, because we don’t talk about it, but I do wonder how many of these women are still taking money from Daddy. Because I was. Because that’s another trap. As women, we are told to believe in our independence, but we get mixed messages that also tell us to stay dependent, to Daddy or to husband or fill in the blank.
So because this doesn’t feel right, we fight against it. We rebel. “I didn’t need you anyway!”
Or did I? Do I still? I need relationships and connection. I need to be able to falter. I need to be able to slow down, lay my head on someone’s shoulder sometimes, be sexy as hell and have someone appreciate it, model healthy relationships for my son, receive touch at the end of the day, and so on. This is the true story behind a woman caught in the independence trap for some time, the story that I think more women are ready to tell.
The positive side of independence – we know it. We know what our mothers and grandmothers refused to tolerate and so they acted on it. I like that I can get a job that pays well in leadership if I wanted one. I like that I could go to school a few times and gain all that knowledge. I LOVE that I can be an entrepreneur now. I enjoy many freedoms that women just generations prior did not. I heard yesterday that a man still didn’t need a woman to co-sign on a second mortgage when her name was on the original mortgage, still in the mid 1980s.
I enjoy the freedoms and how far we’ve come. And, part of my work is actually to remind us that this set-up doesn’t quite have it all right yet – we need independence AND connection, collaboration, and meaningful interaction with other humans.
Our female bodies that have been pounding the pavement for independence could have a deeper story to tell us. Our bodies could actually be suffering, untouched, as a result of independence.
This old feminism actually has had a negative affect on our men, too, because they don’t exactly understand how to both support our independence and fulfill their biological role as provider. This, too, is a much bigger topic for another day.
We need to Lean In (v. & also reference to that book that sparked a movement that encouraged women to keep claiming independence) – but not only into how to achieve more success. We need to lean into one another. Into conversation, regardless of gender. Into a deeper, curious, sensitive investigation of both the positive and negative of independence. We need to lean across the table (after we get our asses to the table) and whisper something vulnerable, like, “Thanks for being here with me, human, in real conversation. It’s been a while.” Then smile.
(May 10, 2018)