Monday, December 6, 2010

#reverb10 - Day 5 - What I gave up.

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I'm a little bit behind, which I don't mind, but it's worth it to me to try and stay on the tail ends, rather than falling further.

This summer, I gave up what felt, at first, like part of my independence. Serious stuff for someone who self-identifies as feminist. I lived, for the first time, with my Splendid English Lover (SEL), across the pond, while working on a research grant. It was a very new thing for both of us, as we've always been long distance with short visits that for reasons I won't go into here. (no, nothing scandalous; just not my story), haven't actually included spending the night under the same roof. It was a very new thing for me, since I've never lived with anyone with whom I'm romantically involved, and haven't lived with family of any sort for more than ten years. I haven't even had roommates for the last four, excepting the kitty, who has yet to pay the rent.

I figured that I would buy groceries, buy a lot of my lunches out -- not add tremendously to the expenditure of the household (and by tremendously, I meant "as little as possible") -- so I was rather taken aback when the SEL proposed that I should raid the fridge for lunches, and let him know when I ran low on GF cereals, crackers, etc. It felt foreign to me to allow someone else to buy those things for me; moreover, it made me think of living as a teenager with a controlling family whose rule was "as long as you live in our house and we provide for you, you follow our rules."

I wrote a couple of days ago that not providing for myself and being completely independent made me feel like I ought to be shot or shoved off of a tube platform, or even that I ought to jump myself. Before you tell me to check myself into a mental hospital, stat -- no, I wasn't about to accede to the little voices in my head. Hearing them, acknowledging them, and dismissing them is what I've found to be the best strategy. Writing today, though, I can acknowledge that crumbs! -- that PTSD from a difficult adolescence is still with me.

And so I found it rather challenging to accept the SEL's caring for me. He made me gin & tonics when I came home from the archives, baked me gluten-free puddings; fried eggs for me some mornings (though he also taught me to fry my own*). Other mornings, if I seemed to be forgetting that I was allowed to have fresh fruit from the fruit bowl, he'd simply slice a plum, and offer it to me.

Does it sound bizarre to you that I would forget that I was allowed to have fresh fruit? I suppose it does, but I often did. I thought of it as the best food, and thus that I should not allow myself to partake of it. No one had suggested anything of the sort, of course, but my subconscious, it is mighty and twisted.

I even found it nervewracking that he would make us both dinner at the end of the day. What if I like this too much?, I thought. What if I find that I'm incapable of cooking for myself afterwards?

I didn't find that allowing someone else to make me dinner destroyed my own ability to cook, or reduced me to some former shadow of myself. That shouldn't be surprising, though it is to me, sometimes, when I contemplate it. It's an index of how thick some of my mind-forged manacles are; how difficult it is to finally allow them to slide off my wrists, even when they've been unlocked for years.

I could write much more about this** -- but I mustn't -- there's too much to do. What I did find, though, quickly:

1. the SEL is a wonderful cook, and not coincidentally, wonderful at plating. Apropos of this, gooseberries are the best summer fruit ever.

2. Power and equality in a relationship are far more complex than I had previously thought; there is no calculus that will simply measure equality based on who is cooking dinner and who is chopping vegetables. It is wonderfully relaxing, by the way, to end the day by chopping vegetables, without having to worry about what is going to happen to them or when they have to go into the pot. It is lovely to make dinner with someone else; lovelier still to be a test case for things like whipped cream spiked with single malt whiskey. Beauty is someone who will allow you, every once in a while, to fry him an egg in the morning.

3. I am defined by much more than my own ability to be traditionally domestic. This is a very good thing for me to learn, because honestly, when consumed by research and dissertating? I'm not a great domestic. Dishes sit around unwashed; and I eat raw veg, cheese, and fruit, and crisps, because they're quick. There's nothing wrong with this -- as a diet, I could do a lot worse -- but I know that part of my consternation this summer was feeling that I wasn't meeting standards of femininity; and feeling that I ought to be able to excel simultaneously in both areas (careerism and domesticity) at once, even though I resent mainstream patriarchal culture when it suggests that I am failing by not being able to do this.

In short, what I gave up wasn't my independence at all, but instead some lingering stale gender traditionalism that benefited neither me, nor the SEL. His abilities and instincts for caring and cooking ought not be marginalized merely because of his gender. I gave up, too, some old nightmarish mind games from my past -- preconceptions that were only hurting me, when I didn't even realize that they were still so much a part of my everyday existence. I fear they're not wholly gone -- when I am my own enemy, I am at my most tenacious -- but I am more free of them than I have ever been before; and that is something that I want to remember.

*Yes, as appalling as it will sound to those of you who know how much I love to cook, I had never learned to fry an egg, and always been rather terrified of getting it wrong. A study in contradictions: that would be me.

** I should certainly, by some logic, explain how I was fitting into the household, since I had my own domestic work to do -- but that is another story for another time.


  1. Ah. For someone who's been not-very-independent for a very-long-time, this still lands for me.

    I think you're right, that power and equality are complex in a relationship, because it doesn't mean independent/together - and the structures we negotiate (now that we are allowed to negotiate) are as personal as the people in the relationship, and they change over time.