“We know what the world wants from us. We know we must decide whether to stay small, quiet, and uncomplicated or allow ourselves to grow as big, loud, and complex as we were made to be. Every girl must decide whether to be true to herself or true to the world.” ~ Glennon Doyle Melton
While vacationing on one of those themed cruises featuring well-known musical acts, I became the unwitting observer of an interesting relationship dynamic: He was a gospel singer with undeniable swagger, a handsome face, and a buff body to match. She, a statuesque beauty who could have easily been mistaken for a famous supermodel.
Day 1: The celebrity gospel singer strutted around the vessel, wife in tow, proudly introducing her to all as his “rock”—the reason behind his success. She stood behind him smiling serenely as he worked the throngs of people clamoring for his autograph. The handsome singer was witty and engaging, and definitely in his element.
What I most remember from that night was his wife’s smile and how it never left her face…not once.
Day 2: The singer was often spotted chatting it up with other artists and fans at a series of tables that had been grouped together in the ship’s main restaurant. His second most frequent hangout was poolside, encircled by a bevy of female fans, basking in their admiration of his shirtless physique.
This was his routine for the entire length of the seven-day cruise. Not a big deal, except for the fact that he pointedly ignored his wife and three adolescent children whenever they happened to be in his field of vision. Their attempts to gain his attention got them nowhere.
Day 3: The radiant smile of the singer’s wife had long disappeared, replaced instead by dark, oversized sunglasses that hid most of her face. However the glasses did nothing to hide the quiet fury emanating from her, causing many to take notice.
I worried that the singer’s wife might catch wind of all the conspiratorial whispering going on around her. Maybe this is why she spent most days sitting stiffly in a chaise lounge by the pool, her face a death mask, arms tightly crossed, head stationed in the direction of her target.
How did it make her feel to witness her singing Adonis husband flit from person to person, gifting each with his undivided attention and charm while being so obvious in his disregard of her?
Meanwhile tongues continued to wag as more people became aware of the couple’s silent drama.
Disembarkation Day: As cruise goers crowded buffet lines for one last hoorah, the artists were making their final rounds, giving endless autographs and posing for pictures. Noticeably absent were the singer and his wife who’d been dubbed by those in the know as “The Train Wreck at Sea.”
A young couple with their two young children waiting just outside the airport baggage claim area: He was purposefully turned away from all the activity going on around him, fully immersed in the conversation on his cell phone. She, clearly annoyed, struggled to keep numerous pieces of luggage upright while herding the kids away from the curb. Meanwhile the desperate glances she shot in his direction went unseen.
Eventually the couple’s awaited transportation pulled up. And as if on cue, he dislodged the phone from the side of his face and began mechanically shoving luggage into the back of the vehicle. After slamming down the trunk, he quickly brushed past her, still avoiding her gaze, and hopped into the front passenger seat.
She remained standing at the curb a few seconds more. It was difficult to discern the mask clouding her features. Was it anger? Disgust, maybe? Whatever “it” was, she obviously needed a moment of recovery before stepping off the curb and throwing open the rear door of the vehicle to join the kids in the backseat.
CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?
My former neighbor was a woman who seemed to effortlessly juggle the demands of raising three rambunctious adolescent boys along with pulling down a full-time gig that required her to commute one hour each way. She had a lovely house with a well-manicured lawn that she spent every weekend maintaining. Her spouse lived there too, but his appearances were not as frequent. I guessed that he might have been a traveling salesman or a long-distance truck driver.
One day while looking out my front window, I was startled to see my former neighbor power walking up and down our street. This was definitely not her M.O. For all the years I’d lived in the neighborhood, she’d never once breached the boundaries of her property line—at least not on foot. And now here she was singing loudly and off-key and power walking! Something was amiss.
In the months before my former neighbor and her children disappeared forever, I watched as she pushed herself up and down our street each day, power walking as if her life depended on it.
In hindsight I realized she had been in rescue mode.
The quiet noise that emanates from my former neighbor’s house is almost deafening, but I’ve gotten used to it. Ten years later she has not returned…nor have the boys. The spouse now spends more time at home. These days his flashy car seems permanently rooted in the driveway.
Were these women from the previous scenarios raised with certain beliefs pertaining to their assumed roles within their families, their relationships, and even the culture at-large?
Did they, like so many women, accept as Truth, the myths passed down through the generations about a Woman’s Place?
…that it was their responsibility to be the maintainer of all relationships?
…that they were solely accountable for any flawed aspects of said relationships, and therefore must take the blame when a relationship goes off course—even when there’s been emotional, physical, or verbal abuse towards them?
…that it’s their character that will be called into question every time?
…that in the face of the inevitable attacks on their femininity, they must be the “dignified” one if a failed relationship involves a man? And that these attacks may include varying degrees of the following insults?
- That She should have paid more attention.
- That Her personality was “too strong,” rendering Him powerless and worse…emasculated.
- That She “let Herself go.” (Although no one wants to acknowledge the numerous everyday realities She takes on—the housekeeping, the child rearing, the parent-tending, the money earning, and people pleasing, to name just a few).
ADVOCATING HER TRUTH
I wondered what my former neighbor saw when she looked into the eyes of her partner. Whatever she thought was being reflected back, pushed her to walk long and hard to regain what she’d lost in his eyes. She walked to make him see her again. But what she saw in his eyes wasn’t her truth.
I’ll admit I didn’t have the guts to do whatever it took to “save” my relationship as advised by the people who sincerely wanted to help me. I didn’t want to do the things my former neighbor was probably advised to do like “get back in shape,” change my hairstyle and/or color, do more, be more. To what end?
On the other hand, I hated that the Me who was in transition — the fat me, the unsexy me, the unmotivated me—was made invisible in another’s eyes…
Invisible like the woman at the airport with the sad, desperate eyes.
Invisible like the woman on the ship who was crowned a “rock” by her partner. Appropriate considering that he went on to treat her like an inanimate object.
Do we choose silence over the advocacy of our truth?
I believe the Universe was trying to get my attention in a big way by making me aware of those particular relationship scenarios. There was no way for me to un-see or un-feel any of them because they hit too close to home.
I needed to decide whether to continue holding contempt and anger in my body due to my acceptance of unacceptable treatment within my relationships, or be willing to advocate for my truth.
I wanted to make the necessary changes—both inner and outer—for me, not “them” because the truth was, the changes that mattered, the ones that stuck, were the ones having nothing to do with what I imagined I saw in someone else’s eyes.