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Standing Between Me and the World

I wonder a lot about relationships and what it means to be really a partner with someone, and whether it's reasonable to expect someone, anyone, to stand between me and the world.

That's the script, right? That men protect and provide? That that's what it means to make a unit, that you expect provision and protection. But what if that isn't the case? Where does equality fit into this?

I have needs for care and caretaking that I try not to judge. Needs that weren't met when I was young, maybe, or whatever. We all come into this world possessing abilities and skills, and also with areas of inability or lack of skill. What we can give and what we need, all as unique as we are.

This week I've been struggling to hold a lot of grief, about a lot of things: old stuff from childhood, things that happened in my marriage, very little of it to do with right now. Because right now is pretty OK. I have enough, I'm healthy, my kids are healthy, and we have all we need.

What brought it up was a discussion with my husband about something that happened a couple of years ago: I was hurt and I expected, at that time, to be protected by him from this hurt, and for a variety of reasons, it didn't happen. It's still happening, but not to me, and it is a situation that is within my ex's power to limit or stop, but for (again) a variety of reasons, he chooses to let it continue.

The feelings it brought up in me were grief and, oddly, worthlessness. I felt then, and felt again when we brought it up, that I wished he had stood between me and the problem, prevented it, addressed it, protected me. But he didn't, and this is what arose:

"If I had been worth protecting, you would have addressed it."

"I'm so sad that I'm not worth that to you."

"I've never been worth it to anyone."

"It must be something I'm doing that makes people close to me assume I don't need help, and therefore I never get it."

"No one is ever coming for me."

"I'll always have to do it alone."

"I might as well not even ask anyone for help."

It's illuminating to sit back and see how many times a day I go down that road, and how noxious it is.

It's also illuminating to see how often I want to offload the discomfort on to someone else, turn it inward on myself, or make it into a deficiency of some sort.

I'm doing my best to breathe through it, and not project it on to anyone else. I'm also trying not to let it turn inwards on me, or to see it as a deficit. It's hard. The last two of those tasks are the vastly harder ones. I can let go of his "shoulds" and let his actions be his actions and what he was capable of, but what I have a harder time with is letting go of the sense that somehow I caused it, that I can't ever expect care, and that this is somehow a reflection on my worth.

The scripts about protection for women are strong: when something painful happens, there is a script that you should have someone there to lean on. The knight in shining armor and all that. When I haven't had that, rather than seeing my own strength as enough, and enviable, I've chosen to see it as a deficit, or a failing.

"Unprotected" is one way of looking at it.

Warrior Woman is another. Eshet Chayil. Woman of Valor.

Three cheers for the essential truth that attitude is everything.

No one is coming to rescue me. No one is coming to protect me. No one is coming to back me up.

And this is not a problem.

I can show up for me.

I can protect me.

I can take care of me.

And it will be enough, because I'm skilled and capable, and that's a good thing.

I'm capable of handling whatever comes my way. Full stop. I am a woman of plenty.

One day, maybe, someone may come along who wants to stand alongside me. There might even be someone who wants to wrap their arms around me, to stand between me and the world, even for a little bit.

That sounds both delicious and terrifying to this warrior woman. I'm not sure where a relationship like that falls in the calculus of equality and independence.

I might even be ready to allow it one day. I just don't know. Right now, I'd rather do things on my own than ask for help and feel disappointed. My natural inclination is not to leave a space for anyone to help. I take care of it myself, because the surrender of control and outcomes and vulnerability is too much to bear. This is work I have to do.

I don't want to be some sort of faux damsel in distress (because let's just face it, that's not fooling anyone), but nor do I want to give the false impression that I've got it all handled, because I don't have that either. I have to leave the door open to help, but I'm just not very good at that.

My therapist calls this "cultivating the negative space", which means sometimes just not doing is a good thing. Leaving things undone, one more thing I'm not very good at.

It seems every time I turn around, my life gets smaller and smaller in size but the experience I'm called into is vastly deeper, richer and more challenging and vulnerable.

I'd say "Onwards!" but what I really mean is "Inwards!"