Butterfly Cauldron

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Power corrupts -- and leaves me perpetually single

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about dating. I don't date, personally. Not because I'm opposed to the idea. I'd be happy to have someone in my life. No, I don't date because I have issues with power.

My relationships with men are...difficult. I've internalized a lot of the lessons I was raised with and, though I fight them constantly, they're still there. Friendships with men are no problem. Hell, my best friends are usually male. But once a relationship turns romantic? Well. Things become difficult.

I've lived my entire life in the Deep South. I was raised a fundamentalist Southern Baptist. Everything in my childhood pointed me toward a decided, clear power imbalance between men and women. The women in my family are phenominal. They're amazing and strong and have such incredible minds. But every one of them, to a fault, give lip service to the idea that the 'man is the head of the household.' The men in my family are equally amazing. Not one of them has ever tried to take advantage of that "theory". My father would never dream of trying to tell my mother what to do or how to live her life. They got married right out of high school. My mother was the valedictorian, dad went to trade school. He told her, right off the bat, that if she wanted to go to college, he'd move whereever she wanted to go. No questions. But she wanted to have a family and stay home. So he was okay with that too. He never, as far as I know, pressured her to go to work, even when money was tight for us. (And it was. We were Louisiana poor.) My brother takes after our father. He got married young (22), but he's the one who does all the cooking, lots of cleaning and he's really amazing with his daughter. Neither of them are remotely redneckish or domineering.

And yet, all I can think of, when I get involved with a man, is when the competition is going to start? When is he going to start being patronizing? When is he going to pull a he-man act on me? When is he going to try to compell me to do something I don't want to do?

I know, in my head and through experience, that there are men in this world who don't act that way. I know there are men who value their female partners as full equals. But I just can't feel comfortable in relationships. I always feel like....well, they're going to start, any day now. Why don't I cook more? Why don't I clean more? Why won't I have children? Why won't I lose weight so they won't be ashamed of me? Why, why, why?

Instinctively, I feel a power imbalance. I know that in this society, if I had a boyfriend/husband, other people would look at me differently. I know they'd think of me a little better. But I also know they'd instantly begin deferring to HIM when we were in public. Does it matter that I'm the one making the money and picking up the check? No. The waiters always give the check to my male friends when we're out. Does it matter that it's my fucking car and I'm the one who does the upkeep? No, mechanics always seem to want to talk to my husband about it.

And I realize, in my head at least, that those things are not the fault of the men I date. (Because there's no way I'm putting up with some asshole who thinks he can just start making decisions for me.) And yet, that imbalance exists and I feel it. I know it's there.

I have a huge, incredible fear of being controlled. I always have, since I was a child. (The fact that the fundy church I grew up in did a serious number on my head contributed to this greatly. How is it NOT being controlled to be told 'do what God says or burn forever'?) I've never been particularly 'girly.' I don't like makeup or dresses or most Society Approved girl things. Those things have never appealed to me. And yet...and yet I fear that I'm being disapproved of because of it. On one level, I simply don't care. Strangers disapprove of me? Fuck them. What does that matter? But someone I love? That's a different matter all together. So if I meet someone, and I love him, and he's thinking "I wish she'd wear a dress" or "Why isn't she more /normal/?" that's just....something I can't handle.

Add to that the fact that I have a chronic illness that is difficult enough for me to handle, let alone have to worry about what a BF thinks of that fact that I'm sick all the time. My head understands that I'm still an amazing woman, with more than enough to offer anyone...and yet there's this sick, sinking feeling I get whenever I think of being in a relationship. I want that, on one level, and on another I simply cannot do it.

Part of me thinks this whole thing is just crazy. I've never, nor would I, date a man who would see me as anything other than a fully equal partner. And yet it's a very real thing, this inate power imbalance when I'm in a het relationship. I've been through counseling to deal with the issues from my fundy upbringing, but I just can't seem to shake this.

So, how am I supposed to find someone to share my life with, if I'm constantly internalizing this shit? (Okay, yes. I could date women exclusively. But that seems a coward's way out, if I'm only doing that because I'm too afraid to be involved with a man. Whoever I'm involved with deserves to have my affection for themselves, not because of their gender.)

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posted by Zan at 11:24 AM

5 Comments:

I've kind of struggled with the same things, especially coming into my own as a feminist. I dated a guy a few years ago, when I was still in high school, whose mother was a feminist and she was what I would call my "feminist mentor". She was a huge inspiration to me and always thought her egalitarian relationship with her husband was so cool. But for whatever reason, none of this rubbed off on my boyfriend, and he resented it. He hated that I formed a friendship with his mother over feminism, and resorted to calling us "man-haters" and stuff like that. It was amazing to me that someone who grew up with a feminist mom who shared an equal and in some ways androgynous partnership with his father could have such a ridiculous attitude.

I've been pretty weird about dating men ever since. The last guy I dated was really progressive, a social activist and very into the fact that I was a feminist, but I think when it came down to it he was sort of intimidated by the fact that I was physically stronger than he was and that I stood at eye-level with him. He had some serious issues with his own masculinity, and that's never good.

Dating women exclusively, like you said, isn't going to help, it is sort of a cop-out. Plus you can't just turn off your attraction to men. But honestly, in my experience, relationships with women have always FELT differently... they immediately felt equal and there was never that sense of a crazy power struggle. That coupled with the fact that the female anatomy is way hotter than the male one definetly helps! I would honestly love to find a long term female companion that I could really connect with but finding guys to date always seems so much easier. Boo.

3:57 PM  

Exactly. Relationships with women just feel...equal. I don't feel like I'm having to defend myself or my opinions or whatever. And I really love women. I would be happy if I met the right one, ya know? But, true enough, I can't just stop being attracted to men. And yeah, they are easier to find, aren't they?:) I just don't want to sabotage potential het relationships because of this....whatever the hell it is.

4:15 PM  

Haha... one day... we'll find the right man or woman!

4:23 PM  

I keep telling myself that ;) I'm still young, after all. And I'm not one of those people that 'needs' a partner, but still...I could use some really steamy sex }=)

4:41 PM  

YEAH! Steamy sex. I could definetly use some of that.

5:50 PM  

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