Nina's Blog Follow Nina's blog
8/10/2011 8:50:40 PM
Did you ever have one of those moments where you "woke up" and said, "Wait a minute...what happened to me? When did I lose myself to everyone else's needs? Where did I go?"
If you're a woman over 40, there's a good chance that, at some point in your life, this happened to you. This epiphany-slash-giant question mark happened to me several times. But then the thought would slip away because I was so sleep deprived from the baby, then small child, who wouldn't let me get a full night of shut-eye or from running around trying to do what was expected of a home-maker when I actually had my own business to run... Everyone else came first.
In the book-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love, Liz realizes she lost herself somewhere in her marriage and may have a habit of losing herself to men whenever she falls in love. After her divorce, when she meets the hunky Brazilian, she's scared to death to make any sort of commitment to him. She's just spent the year finding herself again and he could throw a major monkey wrench into her newfound sense of "balance," as she calls it.
I would think it was just me and Liz suffering from this problem if I hadn't watched dozens (hundreds?) of episodes of What Not to Wear. It's not that I'm that stylish, it's that the show gives me something similar to what I get from a romance novel--lots of drama and/or humor followed by a happy ending.
And in half to two-thirds of the episodes, there's a scene like this: Clinton and Stacey ask the poor woman who's been nominated by friends and family, "What happened?" Wasn't there a time when she thought she was important enough to take care of?
At that point she gets a far away look in her eye as if she's pulling up some long-forgotten memory of herself and starts crying. She's spent so much time taking care of her husband, kids, parents, job, etc., she hasn't even had time to take a good look in the mirror. It soon becomes obvious that it's not just a fashion problem, she's let the rest of her dreams die a slow death. She doesn't even feel like herself anymore.
As women, I think most of us are genetically predisposed to nurturing others, even those of us who don't think we're particularly talented in the areas nurturers are supposed to be talented in.
As I've said before, when I was a little girl, I didn't dream of weddings and husbands and children in my future. I always saw myself living alone in a giant house in L.A. In these daydreams, I was a writer or someone involved in the entertainment industry in some way. The only other person who was a regular in those fantasies was the maid who cooked and cleaned so effectively that I never even saw the kitchen of that fantasy house.
Yet, when I fell in love with my first husband many years ago, it happened to me, just like it did to so many others. I got sucked out.
I've tried to trace back to the point when it started. I guess that must have been when my high school boyfriend only liked us to hang out with his friends and not mine. I obliged.
I did make sure I got a college education before we married, but after insisting he get a transfer to a bigger city where I would have a chance at a job in my field, I capitulated and went to live in the town where he worked. (I later learned he'd never really tried for the transfer he claimed he'd applied for.)
For me, though, I'm not sure any of those were as big as giving up my name. I'd never planned to change my name, yet it only took a bit of guilting on his part--as a pleaser, I'm a sucker for guilting--and I had a whole different moniker. When I became a different name, I think it solidified the idea that I was a different person and allowed me to forget the ambitious over-achiever I once was.
Most of it happened gradually, though. I tried to cook meals because I thought I was supposed to. I constantly had my husband in mind with every decision, although he didn't seem to think of me when making his. Then I had a child and the rest of me was sucked out in such a huge way, I couldn't even remember who I was in the first place.
My daughter had health problems and needed her mother, so I quit my regular job. My parents moved to town to be near their only grandchild, which was nice, except that there were now four people I felt I had to either care for or please.
I was creative enough to find a way to make money that kept me available to my daughter and allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom as far as she was concerned. I had to be all things to all people.
But I stopped playing my guitar and singing. I stopped writing songs. I stopped wearing quirky, funky clothes and started shopping at Old Navy. I lost all ambition for anything that would make me feel like I accomplished something...for me.
"So what?" You may say. "That's what I did. Isn't that what we all do?" And that's exactly my point. That is what most women do. If we're lucky, we wake up one day and start to find ourselves again, usually after the kids are pretty self-sufficient.
It occurred to me the other day that I needed to think more like a man. Instead lumping all the work, home and family stuff together and priding myself on how much of it I got done that day, I should pride myself on how much money-making work I got done--especially since I'm finally getting to do the work I love for a living--and also on how much I'm able to not do because I can either afford to pay someone else to do it and/or I delegate it to another family member.
Can it possibly work? Well, I've finally got a regular cleaning lady. And I'm sending my daughter on quick trips to the grocery store now that she has a license. And the biggest of all for me is cooking. My health condition demands that I eat well most of the time, but I loathe the process of planning, getting, and making food more than anything else on this earth. (When I say this, I mean I'd rather be required to let a snake slither across me every day--or a rat scamper over me--than deal with what's for supper.)
I remarried a couple of years ago. My new and improved husband always says he hates yardwork and hires others to do it. One day, I thought, "I hate dealing with food every bit as much as he hates yardwork, and it's an issue every day." So, I'm picking up many of our meals from the only organic restaurant in the area.
I haven't figured out a way around all the constant appointment-making for 3 (sometimes 4) people and two dogs--doctors, dentists, hairstylists, chiropractors, veteranarians, groomers, kennel. Then there's the pest control man, a/c guy, pool repairman, appliance repair/delivery people, handyman, plumber, yard guy, Uverse repairman...well, you ladies know the drill.
I guess my longterm goal can always be to do so well as a writer I can afford my own wife (or at least a part-time personal assistant).
Anyway, this whole "losing yourself" theme was the inspiration for Abbie's fears in Don't Make Me Make You Brownies--now available! Unlike many of us, who were somewhat unsuspecting, Abbie meets Rick and sees a new, different life racing towards her like a freight train and her instinct is to run for the hills. She's scared to death of losing herself, or getting "sucked out," as she thinks of it.
But, of course, me being me and all, I had to torture my heroine in the funniest way I could come up with.
So, did you get sucked out? Or were you brilliant enough to keep your balance through it all? Or are Liz, Abbie, and I the only ones who've thought about this?