I’m lucky in the sense that I never observed any controlling behavior in my parents’ marriage. I never heard “ Where were you, Are you wearing that, You shouldn’t have bought that” etc. I didn’t grow up with the whole the man is the head of the household and the woman is a subordinate mentality. I rarely saw my mom defer to my dad on anything. They made decisions together and had different roles at different points of my upbringing.
I tried on the whole acquiescing to my husband thing in my first marriage because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was cute for a minute to have a “leader” other than myself. In my first marriage, I think the fact that my husband had cheated on me before we got married influenced my decision to fall into a more traditional role. At the heart of it was the idea that maybe if I held him as the leader of our family, the gatekeeper of the relationship, the wearer of the pants, then he would be more likely to remain faithful and we could live the life I knew we were capable of. My first husband wasn’t controlling as far as my comings and goings but he did have a very strong opinion on how he wanted me to look. It was important to him that my nails and toes were done and he preferred me to wear more form fitting clothing. He hated that I preferred sweatpants to bodycon dresses and tight jeans. Designer labels were very important to him and he would often buy me Gucci shoes or Prada sunglasses. Now I realize that those purchases were more about him than they were about me but at the time it was look at these expensive gifts, my man loves me. When that marriage ended I was 30 years old. I was humiliated, sad and stressed about the divorce but I also felt an incredible sense of freedom. I remember walking out of bankruptcy court feeling like a blank slate, ready to rebuild my life according to my design.
My parents had their own individual lives within our family unit. They were not a super couple-y couple. We did many activities and took a lot of family trips but they didn’t have regular date nights and rarely went on vacations with just the two of them. In my parents’ marriage I witnessed love, respect and unity, not necessarily romance. I knew they loved each other and I knew they loved me and that was and still is really all that matters.
My husband and I on the other hand are super couple-y. We share a lot of common interests and we love being in each other’s company. There’s not too many people I would rather hang out with than him. We have always been very physically affectionate, always hugged up or dancing close out in public. At home we exchange lots of hugs and kisses even on the days we are like two ships passing in the night. I always feel deeply loved and protected when I’m with my husband. No matter what we are doing I know he wants me to have the best possible time. Despite all of this, there is also a deep need for me to have experiences in this life that are just for me. There is a desire for me to feel as though I can seek adventure and move about this world freely as an individual if that’s what I choose. I reject the idea that taking the role of wife means I should abandon my social life outside of marriage, follow an arbitrary set of rules that dictate how a wife should behave or make myself smaller in any way. As much as I enjoy activities with my husband I also enjoy doing things by myself. I have always enjoyed dining alone, traveling alone and even attending sporting events by myself. As much as I feel secure within the commitment we have made to each other, it’s important to me that we define our boundaries, not society. I don’t ever want to feel like a ball and chain to my husband. I do not want him to be with me out of obligation and duty, I want him to be with me by choice. I want us both to choose each other every day. I listened to a podcast and the host said “ We must be willing to take or leave people before we can take them beneficially”. He went on to say that if you need a person in your life, everything becomes a manipulation to get them to stay.
I had to sit with that for a moment. On one level I understood it completely. I’ve been working on the art of non attachment in my own spiritual practice. It’s brought me tremendous peace to come into the understanding that nothing is really mine. I don’t have ownership over anyone or anything in this life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the part of me that was like “ How can I take or leave my husband I made a vow to love him forever!, that doesn’t even sound right!”
After contemplating for a while I came to a place of agreement with that statement as did my husband. I feel very fortunate to be in a relationship in which we can speak about these things openly. I believe my husband wants me to be as expansive as possible and I want the same for him. There is something very beautiful about being married and free. Being supported, not constrained. Being loved fully without being smothered. Having him by my side because that’s where he wants to be and vice versa. Communicating clearly not because anyone needs permission to do anything but because of the understanding that our choices affect one another and we consider each other’s feelings.
My views have changed since the beginning of our relationship. Admittedly, early on I was looking through the lens of fear. My husband and I were friends before we started dating and he was aware of the lies, deceit and manipulation that defined my first marriage and I was aware of acts of infidelity that took place in his first marriage. Imagine being deathly afraid of being lied to and cheated on again and falling in love with a man that has confided in you that he has done both of those things. It’s scary stuff and in the beginning I was paranoid and overprotective of the relationship. Honestly, it felt wrong. I was never the “who’s texting you, let me see your phone” type of partner in a relationship but that’s exactly who I was at that time. I remember how yucky it felt to me but I was acting out of fear. I was trying this new behavior on and even though it made me feel like a character in a Bravo show I just couldn’t bear the possibility of being deceived by someone I loved again.
I remember one argument in particular when I glanced at his phone and couldn’t read the message but saw all types of emojis. Clearly it was a woman and I needed to know Who tf is texting you all these damn hearts and smiley faces. It was indeed a woman that he had been involved with and this brought up our first conversation around access. At the time my thought was that no woman should think it’s ok to text you, especially with heavy emoji usage. If women feel like they can just pick up the phone and hit you up, you have not done a good job at letting them know you are in a relationship and that there is a boundary. No member of the opposite sex should have access to you, especially not one that you’ve been previously involved with.
I was attempting to create some type of fortress around our relationship, putting us in a bulletproof plexiglass house that no one else would ever have access to. Actually I was trying to create a fortress around him. Because he needed it. He had transgressions in his past and couldn’t be allowed contact with the outside world lest he slip back into old ways. I, however, was the shining example of faithfulness, having never cheated in an adult relationship, therefore I needed no such boundaries. I could be trusted, so there should be no restriction on who I was able to interact with. He pointed out the absurdity of this to me and I had to sit with it. ( He has the uncanny ability to point out my ridiculousness in a non assholish way) My behavior was unfair, it was fear driven and it cast us in these one dimensional roles that we are so much greater than. After many deep conversations walking in the park, laid up in bed and at the breakfast table we came to an agreement on how we would proceed in our relationship. It was very empowering to define our own boundaries together not based on fear, past relationships or societal norms. We are committed to each other and committed to the idea that we are two individual human beings that are here by choice.
It’s crazy how much in the year of our Lord 2021 people still say things to me like ” Your husband let you go to Vegas by yourself?, Your husband allows you to post those pictures? “ I’m a grown ass woman dawg. And he loves that about me. The concept of being allowed, granted permission, or authorized to do things has always rubbed up against my spirit. I’m thankful to have found a man who stands strong and secure in his masculinity and doesn’t feel the need to restrict my freedom to validate his manhood.I’m also thankful that I was able to let go of the idea that he needed some restriction imposed on him and that that in itself would make me feel secure. There are never any guarantees when it comes to another person.The best we can do is create relationship structures that feel most supportive, safe and empowering to us and I’m glad we’ve been able to do that.