“You don't know how to be a woman."
Those were the words an ex expressed to me during an argument out of frustration. In his opinion, I was too much of an “alpha woman." When I asked him what that meant, he responded with the flat response: “It's not my responsibility to teach you."
I think it takes a lot to shock me, but I was genuinely shocked by that comment. The shock was not only in him having the audacity to fix his lips to say those words to me, but also in the fact that I, no matter how I tried my damnedest to be “my authentic self," my boyfriend had his own ideas of what defines a woman.
In my efforts to be a “better woman," I tried to explore whatever ideas he had for me, reaped up on “what it means to be a woman," “how to keep a man," and other literature learning about what other people thought I should be.
I actually wanted to understand his thinking and to see if he was right, and if something was “wrong with me."
Now let's think about this: what business does a man have telling a woman how to be a woman? No matter how many women he grew up around or how in touch with his feminine self he might be, a man doesn't know what it means to be a woman.
Up until the age of 26, I had always been attached to male energy in a romantic sense. Even though I never realized it until a long period of choosing to be single, I found my confidence and sense of validation within the context of these relationships. Realizing such a truth was initially so debilitating, that when I chose to be alone, I had to relearn how to validate my own self.
How could a woman who seemed so confident and self-assured have to go through a process of validating her own self? Because I, like many women, had the problem of looking at myself through the eyes of whomever I was in a relationship with at the time, instead of through my own eyes.
With space and time alone, I realized this process of validation that we have is often due to a skewed and unhealthy sense of womanhood imparted on us by our upbringing and peer groups.
The Warning Signs
- You change the way you look because that's what he prefers.
- You give up time with your friends, loved ones, and doing things that previously made you happy because you want to make sure he knows you care.
- There are values that mean a lot to you, that you compromise on, in hopes that he will one day be on the same page as you.
- You tend to get depressed or feel low esteem if he does not acknowledge your efforts.
- If a relationship does not work out, you feel high levels of guilt.
- When you have a disagreement or he gets mad, you often ask, what's wrong with me? Now of course we must be accountable for our actions, but we can't always be responsible for other people's reactions.
- You don't feel attractive unless men compliment you.
- You don't feel like you're a suitable partner, unless you're in a relationship.
- When the topic of your goals and hobbies come up, you feel the need to succumb to pressure if he believes you shouldn't be doing them.
- You believe your man completes you, you would be nothing without him, or a large portion of your confidence is centered around how good of a girlfriend/mate/partner/fiancée you can be.
Although these signs are more applicable to women who are unmarried, it can be applied to women of all walks of life with issues of self-perception dependent on the men in their lives. As a woman, I realize it's very common for women to define their womanhood and femininity based on how they're received from others, especially from men. It took me three years to own this truth, give it up, and walk away from that pressure.
When we're in relationships and aren't secure in ourselves, we unknowingly look to define ourselves according to the state of the relationship, be it healthy or unhealthy. Now if you feel like your sense of self is pretty clear outside of a relationship, and while in a relationship you learn to still connect to yourself and maintain a sense of your own identity, you probably have healthy relationships.
For those who have challenges with obtaining healthy relationships, one of the biggest problems comes when you are living out these ideals and looking to your partner for validation, but instead they critique, criticize, belittle, ignore, or even betray you. When those actions are present in any relationship, one will lean on the consideration that they're not good enough and that something is wrong with them.
If you're being what you believe is your best self and someone is not responding in a way that may be ideal or healthy for that matter, it can shake you up, and be a punch to your esteem. Not only that, but if you're not clear of who you are, you work tirelessly to obtain the approval of someone who will never see your worth, leading you down a very dark path.
It's dangerous to mold yourself to fit in anyone's box, especially if it's a box you're trying to fit in to get the love and affection you so deeply desire. We weren't meant to fit in a box.
We were designed to be unique and serve our individual purposes. We are all unique and feeling the need to define ourselves by other people's standards and ideals, if they are actually not aligned with us, is essentially a state of imprisonment. When your identity is tied to anyone outside of yourself, you threaten the beauty and uniqueness of your existence. Our identity and sense of self or worth becomes arguable and malleable, depending on whatever is going on or whoever is in our life. When those possessions, people and titles are gone, so is our sense of self.
For someone like me, who has spent a lot of time being in and out of relationships, it can be tough to define yourself for yourself because you automatically attach your identity to that of your partner. You are not who someone decides for you to be. You are who you believe yourself to be.
Right now, I am so single. And, despite the fact that I appreciate and honor the beauty of a romantic relationship, I am grateful that it's been an interesting and well-traveled journey getting to know and fall in love with myself.
I had to discover beauty for myself.
I had to discover confidence for myself.
I had to discover womanhood for myself.
I know a lot of women who sacrifice getting to know and love themselves for the “privilege" of being the woman that a man “selects."
Relationships can be beautiful mirrors that offer reflections of our most hidden selves. In relationships, we can discover depths within ourselves that lay dormant. Our partners can bring out the best in us, and make us realize what areas of ourselves need work.
In our relationships, we hope to grow and evolve. At times, relationships can be difficult, challenges and situations can stretch us past our comfort zones. So love yourself and stay in a relationship with yourself, as you connect with and share your best with anyone who comes in your life thereafter.
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