Among the most outstanding memories from my yoga retreat in India a few years ago were my conversations with the women I met there.
As I was taking a long, overdue break from my decades-long marriage and my role as a mother, these conversations became an unexpected mirror reflection for me.
While I contemplated breaking free from my own marriage, eager to focus on my own needs and abandoned dreams, most single women I spoke to felt lonely and inadequate without a family of their own, and couldn’t wait to settle down. Even the recently divorced women seemed less interested in taking “me” time, and instead focused their energy on meeting the next partner, convinced that what was missing in their prior relationship would be delivered to them by the next one.
We all long for deep connections, based on respect, mutual support, and understanding, yet despite the readiness to put in the work, very few of us seem able to create this in reality. As many couples struggle with misunderstandings, resentment, disappointment, and even mistrust, we often think that the problem is in our choice of a partner.
Women consistently put in disproportionately more effort to make relationships and family work. So when partnerships fail, we tend to blame men for not showing up for their commitments at home, their inability to relate on an emotional level, and their overall self-focus.
We give a lot, but the effort we put in often comes from a place of sacrifice toward a specific goal and not really from our own sense of unconditional love.
We need our sacrifice to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated, and rewarded. We usually get our sense of being appreciated by our partners from material rewards—like jewelry, a bigger house, or an expensive vacation—while the advertising industry supplies an endless stream of ideas and pictures of what love and appreciation look like.
We come into relationships with a very long list of expectations and mental images of what it all should look like.
Centuries of patriarchy have instilled in women a belief that our lives are only valuable in a supporting role: as someone to bear children and take care of both them and the men who help us pay the bills. The state of our families is still among our most prized possessions and today’s proliferation of social media allows us to showcase them to our heart’s delight. When it looks good in pictures, it validates the hard work it took us to get there.
We approach our relationships with a consumer attitude. Just like the right status symbol, husbands and children serve as our accessories—a box to tick off on the list of items one should have in a successful life.
Always putting our family members first, we systematically sacrifice our own self-care. So when our “investment” in them does not produce the results we depended on for self-validation, we get depressed and feel like failures.
This need for outside validation is at the root of most of our problems.
We condemn men for their inability to relate on a deeper level, yet our own relating to them remains superficial, based on calculation, seduction, and manipulation.
A woman “unattached” is still looked down on in most societies, so we go through great lengths to capture and hold the attention of a man. We strive to please, to prevent the possibility of abandonment, so that we may feel safe, protected, and secure. We wish for deeper connections and greater intimacy, yet we focus on the surface.
Women spend billions of dollars annually on our appearance. Via cosmetic surgery, elaborate makeup, spa treatments, clothes, and accessories, most women focus enormous resources to attract the male gaze, because in the world of Tinder, “the look” is what decides the possibility of contact. We create a persona, a fantasy self, fully adapted to the wishes of those looking.
As we, in turn, read off the list of attributes of our potential mate, we control the appearance and achievements of those with whom we consider forming a relationship. Those that do not make it past face control are not allowed into our lives.
But what about that magic we all say we want though? What about unexpected chemistry during a conversation? No one leaves future to chance in our world of tightly controlled appearances, which hide a deep sense of inferiority.
The surface is all we show and it is often all we want to see, not realizing that when we do not communicate from our core, sharing our real and vulnerable selves, our relationships cannot become fulfilling. The absence of true connection leads to despair and loneliness, depression and addiction, which increasingly plague our society.
Women were never taught that the most important relationship we need to cultivate is the one with ourselves.
It is about owning who we are independently of our relationship status. Accepting the natural shapes of our bodies in full appreciation of the myriad of functions they perform to make our lives possible. When we respect ourselves, we are in tune with the signals our bodies and emotions send us and are able to honor our needs before we become burnt out, ill, or depressed.
A lot of the frustration and rage that I felt in my own marriage stemmed from the sacrifice I believed was required, as I was compelled to make it all appear perfect. It was not the actual being there for my family that I found unbearable—it was that I did it completely disregarding my own needs, whether they be the need for rest or for the pursuit of my dreams.
When I allowed myself to reorganize and re-prioritize my life to include myself in it, my whole attitude shifted.
Learning to attend to my own needs without guilt raised my happiness level. Making time for “me” required letting go of expectations that things be perfect at home. When I no longer feel that I must forfeit my life to make my family thrive, I tend to my commitments voluntarily and with joy. I give when and because I want to, not for anyone else’s appraisal or approval. Thus any act of kindness or appreciation from another feels like a gift, and not a condition for my well-being.
Women fight for equality and loudly demand to be respected, but we cannot expect others to do that which we are not willing to do for ourselves. We must learn to respect ourselves by honoring our own well-being and purpose in life.
It is a difficult and painful time we live in, a time of great looming changes. There is a lot of suffering and angst, because the old way of “doing life,” via outdated gender roles, is no longer working.
As women come into their power and enhance their warrior status, men are dealing with their own change and transformation. They’re also lonely, wounded, and lost, committing suicide in ever-increasing numbers.
Let’s be realistic: there will always be friction in relationships. But clearly we need to initiate new patterns and directions in the way we relate, communicate, and stand up for what is true, and stop sacrificing who we are for cultural prejudices and expectations.
We need to learn to communicate with less aggression and more compassion as we work together through the inherited disorders and dysfunction. With tolerance and commitment toward a common goal, we can heal the emotional wounds of both the masculine and the feminine and evolve from codependence to interdependence.
That is where the real sense of security can be found: in union and deep, intimate relating, the opposite of the external forms of security—money, beauty, youth, peer pressure—instilled in us through generations of patriarchy.
Women can help lead the way to this future through personal responsibility, self-respect, and clear and compassionate communication As each woman heals herself, she transforms all of her relationships, which then become her agents in the world beyond her home—a positive, contagious virus of change.