This morning, I came across this Tumblr post on my Dashboard, and knew immediately that I had to talk about it here.
When I started dating, I had this kind of Romeo and Juliet, fateful, romantic idea about love. It was almost that you were a victim – that there was a lot of pain involved and that was how it should be. Shakespeare said the course of true love never did run smooth and I had a sense it had to be painful. It was such a revelation to realise it shouldn’t be that way and you get to choose who you love and who you give your heart to. - Emma Watson
Gods, reading this was like a punch to the soul. Not only do I really look up to Emma Watson, having essentially grown up at the same time as her, but her quote strikes such a chord with me because this used to be me. I grew up surrounded by the same tragic love stories that she did, and I believed every one of them. True love was out there, and it was something women had a duty to find. Walking over the equivalent of emotional hot coals, or at least the willingness to do so, was necessary in order to say you were really in love with someone. And no matter what else women chose to fill their lives with, searching for “The One” would (and should) always e on their mind. Otherwise they would be consumed by loneliness and get really sad when they were invited to their friends’ weddings. And of course, those rare few women who rejected these ideas would eventually run into someone by accident (or design on the part of their friends & family) who would put them through Hell, but would of course end up being their One True Person. The common thread in these stories was always Love is Super-Important, and You Must Suffer in Order to Love.
I also grew up surrounded by stories of women resenting the men they were with; particularly their sex drive. To this day, I remember listening to the radio one night and listening to the DJ read off a letter that had been sent in for a Q&A session which consisted of a woman asking if there was any diplomatic way for her to tell her boyfriend that his insistence that they “do it” at least twice a week was too much for her. At the time, my youth meant that sex was a distant and mythical thing that loomed in the far-flung distance of my “adulthood”, which meant that I was truly and honestly shocked by the revelation that you would do such awful things with each other twice a week. That was way too much! I remember ranting at the radio and declaring angrily that once a month would be too much for me. (Oh, younger self. You’re so cute.)
Add into all of these messages the ever-present spice of the “love-hate relationship” (Han & Leia is my favorite example of this) and I grew up believing in four major rules when it came to affection:
- Suffering through unwanted sexual attention and activity was the price of having a relationship.
- True love brought with it great pain and/or suffering.
- Love was unavoidable, and no matter how much I resisted it, someday it would find me anyway and take over my life.
- Fighting constantly with your Significant Other was a good thing. It meant there was passion, and “Bickering like a married couple” was just a sign of affection.
Are you cringing yet? I sure as hell am.
To be honest, these were only a few of a myriad of confusing and awful messages I received throughout my lifetime regarding sexuality and love. (Oh, let’s not forget that you can’t love someone without sex, nor be friends with anyone of the opposite sex without wanting to secretly bang them.) Most of these messages I received from books, some from television shows, a LOT from “age appropriate” movies & rom-coms, and even more from internalizing the messages conveyed by stand-up comedians. (Generally male ones complaining about “issues” in their relationships.) I think we as a society forget that children are like sponges–they soak up any and all information around them, because they don’t have any filters yet. They also don’t tell you when they’re integrating conflicting beliefs into their minds, because they think that’s just how things are. I thought my beliefs, fears, and frustrations were perfectly normal. It never occurred to me to talk about them, question them, or even think about them. These messages were everywhere, therefore they must be normal. And, most people in a relationship seemed “unhappy”, so if I was unhappy, then I was doing it right, wasn’t I? (Those who weren’t unhappy with their partners either were liars or cheating, of course.)
The result of all this crap floating around in my brain meant that when it came time for me to set foot in the bloody arena of love, sex, and relationships, I ignored my instincts. I made choices based on my fears instead of my needs. And I allowed things to happen to me without comment because I thought that being uncomfortable and unhappy in the bedroom was simply the Price I Had to Pay for having a boyfriend. I also stayed with someone who was wrong for me, all because I thought our constant fights and disagreements were a Good Thing–after all, hate comes from love, right? It’s all fruit sprung from the seed of Passion, and passion is good. It keeps relationships “alive”. And once you’re told that someone loves you, then you have a responsibility to return their feelings, regardless of whether or not you have to spend a week of soul-searching in order to dredge up an emotion that might tangentially be considered love.
Oh, and if that other person you’re with leaves? It’s your fault. Entirely. Which meant that I was constantly frightened about my weight, my skin, my looks, my attitude, my availability emotionally and physically…because, obviously, the burden of keeping Everyone Happy was on me. If I failed, then I would have to just shut up and take it, because after all who can blame a man for wanting to leave someone he no longer finds physically attractive? (After all, we’ve all heard nightmarish tales about a woman who “lets herself go” or “gives up” once the relationship is set in stone, because a woman who doesn’t want to constantly appear attractive deserves whatever she gets.)
Still cringing? Yeah, me too.
Thankfully, I pulled my head out of my own ass and figured out that all of these misconceptions were just that. I stepped away from the relationships that were wrong for me. I set boundaries. I no longer accepted heaps of emotional pain simply as a matter of course.
And you know what? I’m a LOT happier now, because it’s never too late to change. Relationships are a choice. Love is, too; albeit one that’s a lot harder to resist. (Stupid hormones…>.< ) And no matter how in love you are, or how long the relationship has been together, you always have that choice. (Which is probably why there are so many people in our world today yelling and waving their arms trying to warn people against the “dangers” and “evils” of things like divorce) It’s not wrong to ask for what you want, or what you need. It’s never wrong to set boundaries and to stand up for them if someone crosses one.
And more than anything: You do not have to suffer for love. Ever. It’s not required. You do not have to go on a Grand Adventure of Feelings in order to reach the mythical land of True Love That Lasts Forever and Never Hurts. Maybe sometimes it happens that way, and that’s fine, but that’s not the way it has to be.
Trust me on this one. I tried Suffering for Love, and all I got was this crummy T-shirt.
how sad it is that we create a society where we raise boys to base their self worth on whether or not they can trick unsuspecting women into sleeping with them and we raise girls to base their self worth on how long they lasted until they were tricked