I’m Taking My Fucking Power Back

I spent most of my 20s in relationships. I had my first “serious” boyfriend at 19 (he was 29), and I poured all of myself into it (including money, lots of it) to somehow gain a speck of independence I had been craving for so long. It lasted not even a year — but I didn’t see the beginning of a pattern of dating men-child who were looking for a mother, rather than a life partner.

I had one more serious relationship before meeting M. This one was possibly the healthiest one I had. He left me because I didn’t make him feel happy anymore (or so he told me). Which is fair, now that I am older and wiser. It was entirely his prerogative to do that. I ended up doing the same.

And then not too long after, when I was 23, I met M.

It lasted 9 years.

Not all of it was bad. Some of it was good. Sometimes very good. But even when things were at their best, they were never amazing.

Now that I have a little hindsight, I’m trying to come to terms with what the relationship has done to me. And one of the things that it did do was empty my life of meaning.

This week this article by Laurie Penny in The New Statesman made the rounds on Facebook. I was particularly struck with this passage:

You see them everywhere — exhausted young women pouring all their spare energy into organising, encouraging and taking care of young men who resent them for doing it but resent them even harder when they don’t. You see them cringing for every crumb of affection before someone cracks and it all goes wrong and the grim cycle starts again. You can fritter away the whole of your youth that way. I know women who have.

I am 32 going on 33. I spent 9 years of my life feeling selfish and uncaring for wanting to do things for myself. Like study. Like write. Like not spend my days cooking, ironing and cleaning for him. (Because somehow working from home means I’m a homemaker. I WORK from home, but I still fucking work.) One day I’ll have to tell you about the Great Cleaning Lady Fight…

Even though he said he supported my decisions and my choices, it was always grudgingly, especially if it came at the cost of his comfort. His food. His clean and ironed shirts. His ability to buy whatever he wants without care for budget. (And I brought in more money than he did, most of the time.)

Nothing frustrates me so much as watching young women at the start of their lives wasting years in succession on lacklustre, unappreciative, boring child-men who were only ever looking for a magic girl to show off to their friends, a girl who would in private be both surrogate mother and sex partner. I’ve been that girl. It’s no fun being that girl. That girl doesn’t get to have the kind of adventures you really ought to be having in your teens and twenties. It’s not that her dreams and plans don’t matter, but they always matter slightly less than the boy’s, because that’s what boys are taught to expect — that their girlfriend is there to play a supporting role in their life.

Somehow, the fact that I applied for a job that he had always dreamed about, and got through the first hurdle while he didn’t, made him angry.

Somehow, the fact that I was unhappy in our relationship because we didn’t have sex wasn’t as important as the fact that he didn’t want to have sex with me. And yet I was still expected to be the same as I had always been: sexual and sweet and caring and selfless.

Somehow, the fact that I thought we hadn’t been a couple for a long time baffled him when I broke up with him. “That’s not how I see it,” he told me. And is that supposed to make me feel better, I wonder? Because youdon’t feel like our relationship is dying, that I should stay just one more month, one more week, one more day, one more HOUR, just to see if you could FINALLY change when I’d been asking you to change for years?

Hell no.

My search for meaning

One of the things I have tried to find since I left grad school in 2011 is meaning. What is the meaning of my life if I can’t read and write anymore? What is the meaning of my life if I can’t live by what I’ve always done best? What is the meaning of my life if I can’t pursue intellectual interests because somehow I’ve got to support our relationship, his needs, his feelings, his life?

For five years I languished between life and death, being in a kind of academic/career limbo that never ended up anywhere. I always found myself looking at what I could do next. Public relations. Library science. Marketing. MBA. And I’d all but given up by the time I decided to break up with M, because I couldn’t find anything that would be unassuming enough to still let me take care of him and shoulder all the emotional labour associated with our relationship.

The work I’m doing to support myself right now is… fine. I don’t work much (10–15 hours a week), make generally enough to have my own apartment and pay my debts and have an okay social life, and use my writing skills on a daily basis. For MONEY. (Yes I know.)

But I am getting bored. Because what I’m writing about isn’t life-changing. It isn’t stuff that you want to bookmark and reread. It pays the bills, but it isn’t meaningful.

My purpose in life is, has always been, to make a difference. Somehow I thought I would find satisfaction in making a difference in a single life, the life of my partner. But I know that my needs are bigger than this. I want to help many people. I want to change the world, if only a little bit. I want to make the world a nicer, more accepting, more welcoming place for everyone — especially the LGBTQ, the kinky and the poly. I find I want to write articles and books and give talks and do research about things that matter.

Like sex. Like relationships. Because everyone has to deal with that. It’s important. It’s universal.

And it’s fucking meaningful.

So, like Penny, I want to have adventures and write my ass off and make a difference. I want to meet people and have amazing experiences that are not circumscribed by the box of a relationship.

I’m almost 33. I’ve given enough of my energy and meaning away to unappreciative partners.

I am NEVER giving away that power anymore. I am NEVER letting another person leave me reduced, shrivelled and dried up.

I am never giving up my freedom again.


Cross-posted from my new blog, The Story of A. Do give it a look and subscribe!