MawMaw told me that the divorce problem started when women started working. Now, this was back when I was in college, so I don’t think the divorce rate was nearly what it is today. She went on further to say that when women went to work and found out that they could earn an income, they started to believe they didn’t need a man. I actually think she was right. In my opinion, maybe divorces should have been happening all along but they didn’t because women thought they couldn’t survive without a man or the man that they had. I also know that as women moved into the workplace there was more availability for women to meet other men just as men had all along had the opportunity to meet other women – often their secretaries – and had affairs. So, yes, MawMaw was probably right.
I got married pretty soon out of college because I didn’t trust my ability to make a living and support myself without a man. I met someone older than me, and I felt very secure in that. One of the reasons that it took so long to divorce him was that I was absolutely terrified of making it on my own. Could I make enough money to support myself? Could I handle the responsibilities of living on my own? Truthfully, my first husband was gone all the time, so I was doing it anyway. But, we did have his financial income. I was seeing a counselor the week before I started my career at Whirlpool, and I was telling the counselor about how unhappy I was and my hopes for things to get better. My counselor wisely jettisoned me into reality by saying, “Sharon, things may never get better. What if they never get better?” I physically felt this cage fall down from the ceiling – like one of those round birdcages – and it trapped me to the floor. I could not move. That things might not ever get better had never crossed my codependent mind.
It was a couple of years before I made the move to divorce, and I had established myself in a career at my company. I felt comfortable enough that I could take a risk, and I did. I remember looking at apartments, and I got terrified again. What am I doing? I wanted to run back home and say I’m sorry, I can’t do this. But, I had already crossed the threshold that I couldn’t go back in my heart. I just hadn’t made it over the threshold where I felt I could move forward. So, I just kept walking forward in fear.
A friend of my sister-in-law’s was trying to make a decision on whether or not to divorce her husband. My sister-in-law asked me to write up something for her on how I made the decision. The main thing for me is that I was never sure it was the right thing. I’m still not sure it was the right thing. There was never a moment where I felt totally comfortable and ready to do it. I had fits and starts and back-peddling and running forward. I had no idea what it would look like to be single. It’s just that once that cage door opened, and I escaped, I couldn’t return to that small enclosed world anymore. I had no choice but to make it work. I still remember the day when I was driving down Kingston Pike in Knoxville, and I felt like a single woman. It was a couple of years after my divorce, and I no longer felt severed. I felt whole.
It took a lot of strength to move on. As a woman, I am built for relationship and home-building. It goes against every nerve in my body to walk away from a relationship unless there’s abuse, and even that proved to be hard. I had to tap into faith that I would be okay no matter what happened. I got my strength from other women who had walked the same path. I did it better the second time around. I knew how to get help and how to get through it. But, that first time was scary. I had never lived single, and I didn’t know how. Momma was married. Every woman I’d ever watched did life married. I had to chart my own course.
My feelings are what kick my butt every time I need to do something. They keep me tied to people I don’t need to be with. They keep me scared. They are powerful and change all the time. When I hear men talking about women controlling their feelings, they have absolutely no clue what they are talking about. Their experience with emotions is nothing like ours. Yes, they have them, and emotions are powerful. But, women are driven by our emotions. Men are driven by goals and a life purpose. It’s not in our nature to override our feelings. Our goal IS to stay in relationship and cultivate relationships. It’d be the same thing to tell a man to disregard his drive to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that men back away when relationships get too strong and start to impact their ability to function within their life’s purpose. Women get into trouble when we try to override that and make the relationship more important. We need each other for balance. They teach us about following a vision, and we teach them about their need for love and support.
My strength in handling life as a woman came from learning to ride with my emotions. I had to learn to process them in a productive way. I had to respect the lessons they were teaching me and start making changes. Because it was so hard to emotionally leave the men in my life, I’ve learned to be much pickier and more selective over who I let in to my heart. Some people tell me that I’m too picky. Maybe I am. But in most cases, I don’t want what they have. I don’t follow advice from people who have something I don’t want. I just know how hard it is for me to get myself loose, so I take my time making sure that a man is safe, loving, smart and interesting. It takes time. I’d expect the same from him. I’m learning to put a little more space in my relationships. I’m learning to test a little more. Yes, MawMaw, I don’t believe I need a man. But, it’s not because I can make my own money. It’s really because I can make my own happiness. I’d like to have a man around and all that implies. But, a relationship is not food and water. I can live without it. Knowing that in my soul is what gives me the strength to wait for what I really want and not settle for something less. And, if I don’t get it, well, so what? We just don’t get everything we want, do we?