Because of the book project I’m working on The New I Do, I had heard from Melissa of The Long Haul Project, a young couple who, “on a journey to save our marriage,” have been meeting married couples around the globe and recording their secrets to marital happiness.
So I read through their blog and came upon an interesting post, in which Melissa describes a recent trip she took on her own (my emphasis):
We’ve fallen into gender stereotypes when we’re out together. He always pays at restaurants or the grocery store for some reason, even though we share a bank account and the money is coming from the same source. If anything breaks (electronic or otherwise) I don’t bother trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. I just call for Tom and he fixes it in seconds.
While it’s lovely to have such a smart, reliable husband who takes care of me, I worry that my independence has eroded. I come from a long line of not-so-independent women, and I feel like I’m fighting against a genetic “dependence default.” Traveling on my own reminds me that I’m capable and connects me to the importance of carving out time for myself.
Yes, I know that woman all too well, the wife whose “independence has eroded.” Mine did, too, because I had given up so much of myself; I just didn’t realize it until my second marriage was in trouble. But, why? It certainly was never asked or expected of me. No one told me to stop doing many of the things I enjoyed, but I did anyway.
When it comes to losing themselves in relationships, women seem to do that best. There are literally dozens of self-help books on the topic. Psychoanalyst Beverly Engel, author of Loving Him Without Losing Yourself, calls it the Disappearing Woman — what happens when women lose track of what they believe in, what they stand for, what’s important to them and what makes them happy just because they happen to be in a relationship with someone they love. Writes Engel:
No matter how successful, assertive, or powerful some women are, the moment they become involved with a man they begin to give up part of themselves — their social life, their time alone, their spiritual practice, their beliefs and values. In time, these women find they have merged their lives with their partners’ to the point where they have no life to go back to when and if the relationship ends.
Maybe that’s why when many women divorce, it feels so freeing. Suddenly, they have time to return to the things they love or find new ones. There’s no one to tell them not to do that, even if it’s their own voice inside their head that’s been telling them. They don’t have to please anyone other than themselves. And, of course, that independence, vitality and renewed passions are exactly the things that make her attractive to someone new.
So why aren’t we doing that in the relationships we already have?
Because we think we’re being nice. Actually, we’re being anything but nice — to ourselves and to our partner.
By tossing away our own passions and interests, women lose their authenticity. “She’ll pretend to agree when she doesn’t really agree, she’ll go along with things she doesn’t really believe in, and if she does that long enough, she’ll no longer know what she feels,” Engel says.
There can be no truly happy outcome to that.
And, the more we give up of ourselves, the less we are the woman our sweetie was attracted to in the first place, says Sherry Argov in Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl — A Woman’s Guide to Holding Her Own in a Relationship. “The nice girl thinks she’s giving up something to get something better in return. She gives up control over her own life. When the time comes for her to get what she expected, she winds up disappointed. In addition to being empty-handed, she’s depleted.”
We find ourselves in this dilemma because many women have been brought up to see a romantic partnership as the main event of their life, or so argues author and critic bell hooks. How many women do you know who will break plans or give up a favorite activity for a guy? Not that it’s not OK to do that from time to time or for certain situations; it’s just that somehow in the togetherness of coupledom too many women forget to have a life of our own. Instead, we look to our partner to fulfill all our needs — and get frustrated and resentful when he doesn’t. Then we see the problem as something wrong with him, and not us.
Now, we’ve made him the heavy. “You feel unfulfilled because you’re not being yourself, and it’s a burden for a guy to feel like he’s the center of your life,” the late therapist Martha Baldwin Beveridge writes in Loving Your Partner Without Losing Your Self.
Can a divorce be far behind?
But perhaps times are changing; in a survey last year of 5,200 singles, more women than men in a committed relationship said they “need personal space” and want nights out solo.
I can only hope they actually act on it.
- Have you lost yourself in a relationship? Why?