I promised you guys "a vengeance," but I don't know that I have avengeance in me. Instead, I have a cautionary tale. Or maybe a bildungsroman. Or maybe a voyage of self-discovery. Or maybe a story of grace. How about a work in progress?
This whole process (of being underground and unhappy for so many years, then of coming out of that, then of trying to get divorced and become myself at the same time) has been all about finally understanding that I am not, nor do I have to be, a Good Girl. That's an entire dissertation, so let me give you just one little piece for today.
I was having a bad 36 hours of feeling not very attractive, and that made me think about how my own sense of attractiveness has changed over the years. For a long, long time all I thought about was how I was perceived, whether others thought I was beautiful, sexy, thin, alluring. Even when I was at a woman's college reading John Berger and steeping myself in the idea that I could be the gazer instead of the object, I still didn't internalize it.
Looking back on the decisions I made, the relationships I had, it was never about me or how I felt. it was about wondering how I would fit in, how the other person felt about me. Which may have been why I wasn't a long-term relationship kind of girl--I wanted to please, but then couldn't stick around because something was wrong. I just couldn't be all in, because I'd made my decision on what the other person wanted instead of how I felt. I didn't even let myself think about what I really wanted, because that would have been too scary and dangerous.
Even when I got married, it wasn't about what I wanted, what I needed, how it made me feel. It was about picking the person who looked right, and who seemed like a decent bet. It was "time to get married." So I did. No one has a soul mate. No one can see to the real me, and no one would want to anyway. Play the hand you're dealt.
But then, somehow, I started feeling like what if I was enough, just as I was. What if there was something inside me that was reaching out, that needed connection, that needed more? I started getting almost obsessed with Jorge Ben music, the sexually romantic melodies and lyrics
Procura-se uma noiva
Que goste de fazer carinho
Encostando a cabeça no meu peito
E ouvir meu coração dizer baixinho
Eu te amo, eu te amo, eu te amo
and with "my cowboy singer" Josh Turner and his cowboy ethic about love and relationships. The idea of connecting so intimately because it would give me pleasure was something new and scary to me, but I couldn't stop exploring it. It felt like everything I had been was coming apart at the seams, but I couldn't not know anymore.
The period right after I told my kids' father that I needed to get out of the marriage was one of the most bizarre times of my life. On one hand I was feeling guilty and sad but on the other hand I felt so free and almost deliriously joyful. I started feeling sexy in a way I'd never felt before--powerful. I was lush, ripe, on the verge. I started buying clothes that showed myself off, and sexy shoes not suitable for pushing a stroller. I looked at men with new eyes, wondering who they were and what they were like, if I'd want to be with them or whether they'd bore me.
And this feeling flowed out of me so other people could pick up on it. My friends (old and new) told me how beautiful I was suddenly. Men stopped me on the street to compliment me or hand me their cards. I felt like Janie with Tea-Cake, able to wear my hair down, long and thick and wanton.
At the same time I was going through this period of blossoming, I was the only woman in my office, and the guys there were retraining me for the world of men. What was reasonable, what was right, what was expected on both sides. They're a hugely disparate group, but all are chivalrous, kind, funny, and real. Most are married, and seeing how they interacted with and about their wives (and one husband) was eye-opening. I felt like my whole life had been about punching holes in important documents, only to find that I'd misjudged by half an inch, so none of the holes lined up with the other pages to go into the binder. Instead of making a core so the pages could be held together, the pages were preventing each other from being fastened.
How could I process all of this? The private sexy me, the public sexy me, the private and public Good Girl who'd accepted and asked for far less than she was worth? The PTA mom, Moxie, church committee chairperson? The woman who was undergoing a huge spiritual renewal of being claimed by a God who loved her even, especially, broken and failed?
I'm still processing it. I still struggle at times with the idea of "Will I be loved? Will someone find me attractive?" But knowing what it's like to be in the wrong relationship, I now know that it's not just about being desired, it really is about desiring and being desired. I wonder if, once I'm free, I'll go through a selfish phase or truly not caring how I'm thought of, or if the emotional work I've done on myself will render that unnecessary.
How do you process it? This figuring out that you are not who you thought you were? Who you'd been programmed to be? That mothering has changed your core or allowed you to start to shed the layers that hid who you are supposed to be? How do you know your own worth?
I know I'm not the only one has gone through this, who is going through this right now. Even if you chose the right partner, there is still the crucible of motherhood that hones you if you let it, but boils you down if you resist. How do we go through it and come out on the other side knowing we're not the Good Girl anymore, but allowing ourselves to be all the angles of ourselves--good, bad, angry, joyful, sexy, inspiring, powerful, vulnerable?
You're watching me write my story. How do you write yours?