Your Own Happiness...
Ok this one is for the girls...sorry guys! Not trying to alienate anyone over here but this phenomenon seems to plague us more than it does you...
I talk to a lot of women about their relationships. I talk to a lot of men also. There are themes. Sometimes they contrast. Often the female themes and the males themes are present at the same time, and appear incongruent...but I have found, at least from my perspective, they really aren’t.
What I am about to talk about is true for all genders but today I am going to write about it from the female perspective because I have recently been privy to a lot of women struggling with the awesome responsibility of owning their own happiness.
Women my age, or older, have been raised to think about others.* Like before we think about ourselves. It started young and then just continued. It was fine for us to want the more manly things like power, employment and control. But we were never supposed to put those things before family and relationships.
I am privileged to coach women of all ages. Women older than me, women much younger and I will tell you the things that plague them in their relationships are different. Women my age or older seem to have a very hard time valuing their own happiness. It is like, for us, our happiness is something that comes later (if and when there is time, and believe me, there is almost never time!). Partner, kids, family, job all happy? Then maybe we can think about what really makes us happy...which is kind of funny because there is still really a lot of pressure to just be happy because you have a partner, kids, family and a job. What the fuck else could we possibly want?
To be a person. Just in our own right. Filling no other role except that of human being.
For those of you who know, you know. And for those of you not picking up what I am laying down...you make my point!
One of the major things wrong with my marriage was that there was no room for me as a person. If I was being a wife and doing wifely things, all was well. Once I became a mother, my role expanded and I was ok so long as I was mothering or wifing. And that is what took up most of my time, these two roles. They dominated my life so completely that I became invisible in my own life.
When I separated and returned to the dating pool, I went back into my history to find some photos for an online dating profile. I went back years. And there was not one single photo of me alone and very few of me in any photo at all. There were almost none of us as a couple either.
Now I will fully own that I hated photos of myself back then so I admit some culpability. But in thirteen years, my husband never once thought that I was worthy of a stand alone photo, being included with the family or of our love as a couple.
Let that sink in.
I will tell you that was a very bad day!
But it was telling, painful, but telling.
I was not important enough in anyone’s life, including my own to have my presence there memorialized. I was a backdrop, a landscape for the lives of others. That was a very depressing day.
But, seeing it was actually what made me realize why I had been so unhappy. It was not my life anymore. It was like I leased out my life to my husband and kids. They were my life and that was all I had. Them. And none of them really valued me at all because I didn’t value me at all. I was just always there doing the stuff and picking up all the shit and they just got to do what they wanted and I ran around trying to make it all happen...for them.
But once I had the courage to leave, I saw exactly why I was so unhappy all those years. Yes, in part, it was who I was married to and how we engaged with each other. But I picked him. I married him and I allowed our life to be set up as it was. I was not married to a tyrant. I had a say, and if you have ever met me, you would know that I had a large say because I am a mother fucking force.
But I didn’t know how to own my own force. I just knew how to lay it over the forces of others, to align my force for the betterment of others. I did not know how to stand alone and hold my own. So much easier to be the backdrop, than fight for the limelight reserved only for center stage characters.
But leaving caused me to have to evaluate this. And, I came up with this very revolutionary idea for myself. That I should be as important in my own life as any other person. Even my kids.
Now I had no idea how to go about this, so I made a lot of mistakes which will be reserved for another blog on another day. But I left and then had this vague notion that I was worth showing up for myself, in my own right, no other title required other than member of the human race.
I see many a woman lost on this front. So much easier to be the cheerleader and the quarterback. Orchestrate and praise. Orchestrate and praise. So much less riding on the decisions made. Someone else always telling you what to do and you execute. But, at least for me, it wasn’t really living.
I learned that I had dreams, needs, desires and things that I needed just for myself. I always wrote but it was sporadic and infrequent due to my demanding life of taking care of everyone else first.
Slowly, over time I reclaimed my life. And I will be honest, it is hard to keep it reclaimed. I struggle still in my relationship with my kids and when I have had a partner. I still get lost so easily. Such an old habit to put myself last, or not at all. Easier to just put my head down and do shit for others and fill the days than to stand up and own this life that is really only mine.
And I have learned that if I stand and make the broad proclamation that I am worthy and own my own happiness...then I have to be willing to make hard choices that fly in the face of what others want for me, demand from me or think is best for me. Sometimes, I have found, that owning your own happiness makes you pretty miserable for awhile.
But, but, the payoff for enduring those days and perhaps weeks (months) of discomfort are immense. Today, I live for me first. What I want, what I need for me. I fill myself up first and then think of others. May seem selfish and society really does a good job of making us feel that way, but for me, I know that the only way I am any good to anyone else is if I have done the things for me that make me happy, peaceful and content in my own skin.
I have learned that I have a happiness baseline. And it includes the following:
Gym (daily would be better but I am not there yet)
Connecting with others (daily)
Listening (to me, to you)
These are my ingredients for a happy life. Doing these things over and over and over again. These things make me happy. Oh and clothes. Clothes and shoes make me happy. I cannot even describe to you how putting together an outfit for myself makes me feel. Perhaps, this is shallow but it really does it for me. And I really do not care what you think about it. It works for me so I am going to indulge.
To wrap this up, being happy isn’t as easy as the universe would have you think. For me, happiness, my own, has come from a lot of pain, hard work and soul searching. I have had to confront some pretty harsh realities about myself, how I show up and how I relate to others before I think I ever got a passing understanding of what it is was to be Erin happy. Like in my mind, body and spirit happy just being me.
And I have learned that it takes a lot of courage, and disappointment (mine and others) to really be willing to be responsible for your own happiness. But the payoff? Oh the fucking payoff is immense. And gratifying. And totally worth all the effort.
*I am NOT saying that women born after me have been raised to NOT think about others, just that society and expectations changed. Gender roles changed. Equality didn’t come overnight, but it has grown since I was born.