Thursday, June 22, 2006
Power corrupts -- and leaves me perpetually single
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.)