When you grow up in a dysfunctional situation….and by that I mean one in which the concept of self and what it means to be loved and your worthiness for affection and attention…are not ideal to set you on the path towards a future of healthy adulthood…life can be confusing.
Now remember, I grew up in a time when most if not all women, were married and had the sole occupation of housewife. And, yes, that was what they were called. That is a pretty ancient term now, but when I was a kid, that was what I expected to happen to me when I grew up. I was preparing to be married and to have children.
I did have one role model of liberation. My father’s cousin lived next door to us. She had never married. She was a nurse. She owned a house. She was self-supporting. I didn’t think of her situation as odd. It just was. It was who she was. They had characters like her on TV. The librarian. The old aunt who had never married. Of course, men had what they called “bachelors”, or unmarried men who seemed to never get tied down by a woman. Their sexuality was never questioned. These people had simply never found the right person. It was a fate to be avoided at all costs. Or at least that is what we learned from TV and maybe the overheard whispering of adults.
I can’t speak for men, but for the women who grew up back in the day, we dreamed of our wedding one day. Pillow cases and half slips worn over our heads became bridal veils. Or somedays we used the same headwear to pretend we were nuns. Not a big job selection there. In any case, we knew what was expected of us. We were to find a man who would love us and who would pop the question so we could then select our detergents and make sure our coffee pleased our husbands.
I’m not kidding.
I remember anytime I told my parents that I had a boy who was a friend at school, it became a big deal. My dad would tease me and pretty much have me married off. I’m sure he would say he was not serious. but on some level, he was. The expectation was there.
And so I guess I began to look at boys in a different way. Almost as if they were the ultimate prize and not a person. And how to win said prize? When I was younger, of course, I thought that my prince would find me one day.
Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? Because we still hear about women fighting over men like possessions they have to have in order to survive. And those who are single….well, just look at the dating sites out there. People keep looking for “the one”.
We learn from storybooks and movies that there is a person out there who is just for us. We now hear people talk about twin flames. I’m not sure if that is a real thing or if that is more of a way to explain an obsession over someone. But we seem programmed to couple up and to not be alone. And the media, and our friends and family, tend to support this notion.
So back to excellent coffee. Yes, there were commercials that showed less than pleased husbands who live with their housewives who can’t make a decent cup. Shame. And her whites were not as white as they should be. Wrong detergent. Her glassware had spots. What was she thinking? And don’t forget she should look beautiful when he gets home from work. Catholic? Well, you owe him sex. And kids. And you better stay in shape because there’s that secretary in the office who he teases and perhaps pats on the rear…because nobody cared back then.
Perhaps like my dad, they will come home and share their sexual harassment with the family. “Nancy Jean the sex machine” was my dad’s secretary. And we laughed. Not sure how my mom, who was the ultimate perfect “housewife” felt about that. I don’t think she had the right to feel one way or another. And we as kids loved our mom but knew that she better not make dad mad because he was a mean drunk and when she “got him going” I was always terrified and ready to jump in to protect her if needed. I could not tune anything out. I was hypervigilant. I would sit on the stairs and listen to be sure it did not get out of control. I would sit there for as long as it took.
So armed with the knowledge I had acquired over the years, I had learned that I needed to prepare myself to be available to marry someone who chose me, be perfect, but overlook any and all of their faults including however they acted, whatever they said, whatever they chose to do, however they treated me, if they were verbally or even perhaps physically violent,…..all the while being tasked with holding it all together perfectly…..making sure to please husband (as I was responsible for his behavior) and in-laws and whoever else came to dinner.
Of course, to confuse matters, the first guy to come along was not there to propose. Neither were the next however many. But all you are told is “don’t”. Other than that, you are on your own.
Sex is such a secretive thing that nobody really discusses the “in between”. You’re told about strangers in trench coats offering you candy. You’re told not to go all the way before marriage. You’re told that one day you will fall in love and you will just know that person is the one who you have waited for.
They don’t tell you that someone you know who is not a potential marriage partner will want you to take off your clothes for them or that there are so many things along the way between holding hands and having sex. They don’t tell you that people can seem like “the one” and only be using that as a game. They don’t tell you that when you are with a guy and doing everything but and they decide they want the everything and you say no but they do it anyway that it is not the way people act when they love you even if it is an act people do when they are in love. They don’t tell you that you are not responsible for other people’s happiness, anger, and actions they choose.
I think what I am talking about is the confusion with boundaries. The way we learn what boundaries we have as we grow from children into adults. What boundaries are we entitled to? Are we not supposed to have any boundaries at all in order to be loved? If we push back, people we love could get mad and leave us.
How many of us who have been abused as adults grew up with an imbalanced sense of love, boundaries and respect? Or perhaps a misrepresented picture of what adult love should be?
When I was married, I remember knowing that my kids were learning from what they saw. Not only was it best for all of us at the time to get away from their father and my husband to do on our own…..to show them that we could survive as a family without the abusive member living with us….but I also felt I was showing them perhaps something my mother had not shown me….and that was it was okay to leave and that we could still survive.
It wasn’t until recently that I found the possible answer as to why that failed and what I had not shown them. And why, despite my attempt at shielding my kids from abuse did they still fall into the same patterns in their own lives?
I left. I slunk away without notice. My kids did not know anything was wrong between me and their father. I never pointed out to anyone when he was being abusive. When he pushed back my boundaries. Because I just kept things running in spite of his behavior. I kept running away. I ran away from their father. I kept them in the dark when their uncle was going through severe psychological issues. I shielded them and kept life normal. They never knew that I developed agoraphobia while raising them on my own. So just like me with my mother before me and her mother before her, my kids never learned how to set up boundaries. Because they never saw mine. They only saw the needs of others in the family that needed to be quieted and cared for so that things didn’t get out of control and unpleasant.
And ironically, my kids ended up seeing their father as being the victim. Not totally but that does play into what they perceive as normal in their relationships. And when I do try to set boundaries with people, people I have known….my kids included….tend to see me as mean and hurting someone…..and their dad as just a pain in the butt and me the one who did him wrong. And that does affect me.
I still suffer from all of these issues. It’s a process. And it’s still a process to show my kids the way. Even if they are grown. And it starts with the words….I allowed. Not “I caused” or “I was responsible for”, but what did I allow to happen because I have never learned how to love myself and to have that be enough. Because my boundaries change in order to risk not losing someone’s love. Because I am afraid. Because my mom is perfect and she didn’t live happily ever after so I don’t understand what I am supposed to accept from someone.
These are not supposed to be words of self blame. They are supposed to be words of empowerment. There is so little that we can control. But it is good to acknowledge what we have “allowed”. Because then we realize what we will not allow. For anyone. Under any circumstance. I think it may be the beginning of the making of our own protective boundaries. Predators test boundaries. And they will keep pushing past any boundaries that seem flexible. They will take advantage of our childhood dysfunctional ideals and play into them.
I tell you, I get tired of the way life can be. I get tired of being let down by people who I thought were decent. I get tired of waiting for that good man to find me and to find me worthy enough to bestow his love upon me. Yes, logically I know that I learned a lot of stuff I need to unlearn. Many of us do.
I think one of the worst things is to think you feel love and then to have it snatched away. Because it can make you feel….not like the other person has issues….but that you are unworthy.
How sad it is to live your life waiting to be worthy. Waiting for that trusted connection and true love that gives you the oxygen you feel you need to live and the happiness you have long sought. How good it feels to have bliss rain down into your parched soul. At last you are alive. You are worthy. You are loved because someone else says so.
It feels so wonderful…..until it doesn’t. And then you don’t know what to do because without that outward source of love, the sun no longer shines and the grass no longer grows and you feel like giving up because waiting for love to come into your life can make you feel so powerless over happiness. So you settle for someone instead who will define your boundaries for you. Because without someone else setting your boundaries, your anxieties don’t know where to end.
I don’t really have any answers. Well, perhaps I do but we all really have the answers to our questions in life. We don’t always want to hear the answers though.
The truth is being abused by a priest opened my eyes to the fact that evil can be anywhere and that I need to be on guard. Love is not a given, even when it seems like it should be the highest form of love. Seems like at that point the universe was telling me I wasn’t going to meet a good man at church….no matter what Dear Abby says. Lust and deception are there lurking under the veil of chastity.
We all want to be loved. We all want to be nourished and pampered and be that seed with the sun’s love, in the Spring….becomes the Rose…..but the reality may be we just have to “suck it up, buttercup”. That’s not such a bad thing. Not everyone can be a rose. There will always seem to be those people who have good fortune and a circle of love seeming to envelope them. Like hothouse roses. Let go of trying to be one. Let go of needing to be one. Just be you. Perfect as you are. Grow wild and free and unafraid of needing the care of others in order to thrive.