Let’s face it; the majority of women’s lives have been cultivated around the idea that we “exist” to make men’s lives easier.
In some capacity, whether large or small you may do it, too. It may be adding “women’s touches” to the home of your male friend or relative. Or it could be identifying ways to streamline your boyfriend’s “busy” schedule so he can spend more time with you. Perhaps you introduce the man you just started dating to new foods, or take your male bestie to his first pedicure. You saw that “thing” he (didn’t even know he) needed in a store window and bought it without hesitation. It is nurture, it is concern; it is mindfulness and thoughtfulness. And most importantly, it is the ability to make such effort look “easy”.
So easy, in fact, that our lives look exasperatingly difficult in comparison. He believes himself to not be a picky eater because he’s never noticed the two of you mainly eat at restaurants where he would not have to “pick”; meanwhile our mental gymnastics to decide on an establishment that would feature things we both like has been a long-standing joke. Crammed with details and minutiae, our lives look difficult simply because there is no one present in our lives to make it “look’ easy-that’s our job.
And personally nowhere was that more apparent than in my dating life; the minute it was decided that I “liked” a guy I immediately found myself invested in his well-being, setting out to make myself “useful”. Becoming familiar with his daily process and how I could make them more efficient; finding ways to add “value”.
This realization came from the need to take a deeper inventory of how I spent my time and energy. As a single woman I was baffled as to why I was always still so tired; apart from having to tackle the adult-ing stuff alone with less time and less help, I seemed to walk in a constant state of burnout. I withdrew from meeting people as interactions were increasingly draining. Dating was laborious; I was not built for the roller-coaster of endorphin rushes and let-downs. And as I noted where I chose to place my focus it became clear that I simply had no energy or concern allotted for myself.
The act of thoughtfulness requires energy. The daily process of being mindful; being cognizant of a person’s process, their movements, spotting “needs” that could be met, all take effort. The worry when they are not present, the absorption of their problems, all take energy. And yet we are often conditioned to do this with so many people- men in particular- that we encounter, that we reserve energy on purpose. It is no mistake that women, often socialized to do this for friends, lovers and bosses, are overwhelmingly considered for support positions in the workforce. It is a learned skill mistaken for an aptitude naturally created by DNA. And this thing, this thing I took pride in, placed my worth in-was draining me of vitality. Of life.
The refocusing of my concern was nothing short of revolutionary-even as I battled the guilt that came from intentionally not caring. But despite my guilt and fear, no one’s world crumbled from my lack of effort. To be honest, I doubt many people noticed I stopped volunteering my efforts. And while at first, people did bristle at “no” being added to my vocabulary, they eventually went back to however they conducted their lives without my assistance-which again, didn’t make anyone’s world crumble. And while my dating calendar isn’t as full as it used to be, it is largely free of the energy-vampires I used to attract, that gravitated to my need to show my worth in service.
It is new territory, believing myself “enough” separate from my aptitude in “service”. It takes time to drown out the din of voices that say you’ll be “forever alone” because you didn’t offer to cook for a man immediately after you met. It takes time to believe yourself “worth the effort” if you do not immediately rush to make yourself useful. But as I released the need to take every new person on, I noticed my energy improving. As I took back time I used to think on how I could add to everyone’s life simply because they were in my proximity I gave more thought to how my own life could improve. And as I gained energy back I found a newer resolve to give some of it back to the women in my life. Whether it was lending an ear, or sharing a meal, or putting in a good word, forwarding a contact, promoting someone’s work, it was a support and thoughtfulness often reserved to prove wife-ability I actively chose to reinvest in the women around me. And it has proven renewing and edifying in a way I did not receive when I simply poured energy out to prove my worth.
To be clear, I am not saying I stopped doing anything at all for the men in my life. And I’m definitely not saying I actively chose to instead over-extend myself for women. I am saying that I shut down my habit of immediately pouring effort to new connections out of fear that if I did not, they would see no reason to continue being in my life. And I then took that energy to invest in myself and the people who chose to not only stick around, but invest in me, support me, check for me. I let go of the thought that my assistance was needed to make a person’s life better-that’s quite an egotistic thought when you sit with it anyway-and allowed people to live their lives. I met people where they were-or left them where they were. And as people seasonally enter and depart, I found I was more accepting of their place in my story and forced less. What’s for me is for me, and people meant to be here do not require my essence as sacrifice.
I do realize for some this is no revolutionary conclusion, and believe me, I envy the selfish. I guess everyone is just figuring this life thing out as we go. Here’s to the journey.