Saying goodbye to Miss Independence
by Christy Sillman
I’ve been stuck in a funk. A true gloomy funk. At first I thought it was the Northern Californian valley fog, which can stay around for days, and then I rightfully thought it was all my recent medical issues. But I’ve been through worse fogs and worse medical issues.
Then it hit me, in a drama queen-esque outburst at my husband, that I’ve recently lost something I treasured and honored in myself – my independence.
Being single for a long time has many advantages. One in particular is the ability to look at the other relationships around you and analyze what you like and don’t like about them. Through watching many of my girlfriends, one major theme arose that contributed to their relationship woes: dependence on a man.
Dependence for happiness.
Dependence for money.
Dependence for self worth.
Dependence for all interpersonal interaction (i.e. their boyfriend is their only friend).
My mother has been a fabulous role model for me. She is a very independent woman. She not only supported my father through medical school, but also raised two children while working two jobs and putting herself through college. Talk about a super woman. Their marriage always seemed to work to me, and what I like is their independent goals, independent outside activities (Mom with her girls nights, Dad with his golfing buddies), and an extremely supportive partnership – they’re stronger together than apart, but can stand alone within the strength of their relationship.
So, when I finally got over all my commitment-phobia issues with my would-be husband Steve, I paid close attention to how our relationship functioned. We were never the couple who canoodled in the corner at the party. We worked the room separately with the occasional wink or sly arm around the shoulder. We supported each other’s goals, and made individual dreams that involved and included each other. In a true commitment-phobic and independent way, I made sure that even when we moved in together we lived with either my brother or my best friend for the first three years. In case we broke up, I wouldn’t be the one who had to move out.
We didn’t combine finances or make any large purchases together until after we were married, and I spent a good chunk of our relationship developing a career for myself that would always allow me independence should something horrible happen. Steve supported me through it all, and I truly believe without his support I never would have reached for such career aspirations.
With the birth of our son Noah, and the resulting damage to my heart during the post partum period, I’ve had to depend on Steve far more than I’m comfortable with.
The dramatic outburst involved a recent snowboarding trip that Steve had planned many months in advance and was really looking forward to. The Thursday before this trip, my cardiologist called and said that my last test was abnormal and I needed to start a new medication that evening. The medication caused my congestive heart failure symptoms to increase to a debilitating level. I was completely torn between asking him to stay and help me or letting him go snowboarding for two days.
Steve has done so much for me and Noah, and deserves a weekend away with friends. There was no way I could ask him to stay. At the same time, I could barely make it up the stairs, was having frightening arrhythmias, and really didn’t feel it was safe for Noah to be left alone with me. I came up with a plan to spend the night at my parents’ house, but really wanted to be in the comfort of our home. I told Steve to carpool to Reno (thus restricting his ability to come home) and assured him I wouldn’t be mad at him later on for going away. Never make promises you know you can’t keep.
This depressed me more than ever. How did I become this person who couldn’t even survive a weekend without my husband? I’m now so dependent on him to help me with Noah and to be my caretaker. I like to do the caretaking — I’m a nurse for God’s sake.
Through many dramatic conversations, I acted super female and didn’t say outright, “I want you to come home tonight” and felt frustrated by his inability to understand that coming home would be the right thing to do. He acted super male by thinking that when I said “I really don’t want to ask you to come home and I really want you to have a weekend away, but I’m scared and upset and wish you were here,” it meant, “Have a good time, see you tomorrow afternoon”.
In the end, I flat out asked him to come home. He hitched a ride with people he barely knew and came home to be with Noah and me after a fun day of snowboarding. I felt super guilty that he didn’t get the night and next day in Reno at the casinos like he’d planned, but was relieved to have him by my side. I cried the whole next day, feeling pitiful, lame and mostly bad for Steve that his new life includes being my caretaker.
I kept apologizing to him for my lameness, and true to his amazing self he told me, “It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into when I married you Christy. Sickness and health, I said those vows and I meant them.”
Maybe it’s time to redefine my idea of dependence in regards to relationships. Marriage is a partnership —a loving contract that one will drop everything (like a snowboarding trip) to be by the other’s side. This level of commitment cannot be abused. We must respect each other’s need for independence, yet recognize that a 10-year long relationship will naturally breed dependence, especially when health is involved. Instead of fighting it, and confusing the heck out of Steve, I must recognize my limitations and be honest with him about what I need.
On this Valentine’s Day, I have to let Miss Independent go. She will always be the guiding force behind how I approach my marriage, but not the rule. Dependence isn’t such a bad thing, especially when the man is so dependable.