Recently I separated from my husband for a while to move in with my relatives. In the interest of doing what I felt best for my daughter, however, I came back- if only temporarily. I also came back because I was still unsure and frightened of what I would do if I stayed gone and as of yet had no way to really survive on my own and live the life I was accustomed to. My husband had promised me that he’d take care of me and not let anything happen to me if I did come back. I know I cried when we got closer to home. I couldn’t even drive. I didn’t want to come back and face the same circumstances and abuse I had endured, but for the moment I simply didn’t know what else I could do. I told him I’d give him a set amount of time to change our circumstances the way he promised to do or else I’d be forced to leave again. I still might leave again to move in with my relatives if I found some way to survive, at least until he changes our circumstances (instead of waiting around in a bad environment while he does so). We’ve changed our schedules and made other arrangements for our child. It helps that she’s a lot older as well.
It’s a scary thing though leaving the only life you’ve ever known, but sometimes circumstances make it impossible to stay. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love those we leave. For instance, you may love a family member of yours, but, due to their wrongful behavior be forced to show them the door to protect yourself, your assets, or others that you love. It also doesn’t mean that reconciliation could never be possible in the future. Sometimes relationships actually get better after a period of separation.
I thought about what my life would be like. I know my mother keeps saying “You’re X years old!!” What she really means is, “why haven’t you done something with your life” and “you should have a good college degree and career by now.” But what she doesn’t understand are my old-fashioned beliefs. Maybe when I’m middle-aged and the kid is grown and my fertility is waning, etc., I might start some career or something to pass the time and gain some “fulfillment” in my life. But I know that I chose the life of staying home, of living under the constraints of traditional patriarchy, in exchange for the benefits it offered me. It’s made me softer, more docile, more feminine, and happier in many ways. It’s given a stability to my life and to the life of our daughter and brought wealth and prosperity. But I know there are many things I’ve given up. You exchange one kind of freedom for another, one kind of “slavery” for another. Nothing truly comes for free in this life. Do I want to work under fluorescent lights every day in exchange for being able to walk away and easily do my own thing? To be more stressed and deal with the harshness of the outside world? If it comes down to it, of course, I might have to. If the benefits of leaving outweigh the risks of staying, I might even choose to. If I had that career it would be so easy to do. Saying goodbye becomes easier. I could grab my things and get an apartment on the other side of town, find someone new, go out whenever I wanted to, etc… I could become just like the modern woman, but it’s something that just makes me sick inside though. I never wanted to be like the modern woman.
There is a frustration to being dependent on a man and sometimes a whole lot of mental pain involved. It is harder to get away from abuse and bad circumstances, it’s true. I chose to be pampered and cared for and looked after. I chose to look after the home, maintain a nice figure, take care of the child and look pretty in exchange for being rendered more helpless. Less stress means a smaller, more feminine waistline, beautiful long hair (that’s had to grow back out some after enduring some previous breakage and damage), more demure childlike ways and an innocence of heart and soul. It makes for femininity, it makes for complementariansim.
Contrary to what we are often told this isn’t anything new. We’re always told that women never had any rights, etc., etc., but the reality is that women have long had grounds to separate from their husbands, even since medieval times, and it was never uncommon for women in the past to separate from their husbands to either be with another man or to move back in with their family. In the past a woman would be able to be supported by male family members or a new husband if she was unmarried or left her husband, as well as her ex-husband being required to provide some support as well in most cases. Looking back to the 20th century, a lot of married women even had degrees or would work after divorce too. There have long been risks to financial dependency, and the issue of “what if something happens to your husband” is not a new issue by any means and has been discussed many times. But who’s to say that career wouldn’t fail me in the future and leave me just as hopeless wondering what to do? I could build up a career and have a nice degree only to be left jobless a decade from now. I feel as well it would limit my options in men, as most career women and independent women have a lot of problems having meaningful relationships with men. Men may say they want an independent woman and women may say they want a man who treats them as an equal and on and on, but life doesn’t always work out so smoothly that way.
Emotional pain is just as real as physical, and oftentimes brings with it physical symptoms as well. For the housewife it isn’t just about it being a “problem that has no name.” Sometimes people get restless, but sometimes the issues are greater. As women we are different than men, and our needs are different. I don’t know that it ever gets easier. I live a life of being cared for and not having to worry about anything. Sometimes we make the choice to live with a certain amount of pain and discontentment, and sometimes we choose to leave. Leaving means the loss of security and the life we are accustomed to, staying means enduring the discontentment and pain. Is this our only lot in life or are humans just not meant to live this way? It’s what we give up for modernity, for tradition, for stability, for comfort, for financial support, for protection. Patriarchy oftentimes means restraint and the forfeiting of certain rights in exchange for a different set of rights and in return for the numerous benefits and protections that it offers. But it is not a perfect system and human relationships do not always run smoothly. These are the choices we make in life, these are the sacrifices we make.
I asked my mother what I would do next and her response was to finish college, get a job and just “live my life.” I just curled up and cried as it sounded like a fate worse than death.