I was taught by example that women are to fit nicely into a man’s world.
We were made, after all, to be helpers, according to the doctrine I grew up hearing. There was sometimes the use of the words “equal partners,” but what this really meant was, if the dice had to be tossed in a decision, we supported our men. We followed where they went. We put their dreams, careers, and “callings” ahead of our own.
We made their lives easier.
One of the first times I butted heads with this expectation was when I was dating a guy, way back in my church days. The only reason we were really together is that, of all the young people we were around, we alone had the same compelling desire to live in Africa. We shared similar ambitions and visions for our lives. And there was, pulsing between us, an underlying tension that felt a lot like competition.
In our conversations about a potential future together, he made it clear what role his wife would play in his life: ever-loving support staff. There wasn’t any room in his vision for an equally ambitious woman to pursue her own dreams unless they didn’t interfere with his.
At the time, I was still so steeped in the indoctrination I’d grown up with that I accepted these terms, all the while waging an internal battle. I dodged a massive bullet when he broke up with me a few months later.
I’ve dodged a lot of bullets. I’ve taken some hits, too, hemorrhaging from the heart until I freed myself.
The truth remains, I’ll never fit nicely into any man’s world. I’m not an easy woman. And by that, I simply mean I’m not a wallflower. I’m not the frosting on a man’s cinnamon roll.
For the men looking for a partner who will offer the maximum amount of pleasure for the least amount of change and emotional investment, guess what? I’m not your gal.
And that’s no partner.
I come into a man’s life like a small earthquake, shaking things up. I am relentless in my desire to know and understand what makes my partner tick. I want to learn how to speak his heart language, to know his soul, and perhaps to help him uncover what may impede him from letting himself be known in this capacity.
I view communication—conflict included—as invitations, not threats, to deeper intimacy. Accepting these invitations is how we interpret ourselves for each other, and in doing so, move toward the other.
An ex once told me I’m the embodiment of everything he’d dreamed of in a woman. I received this with both awe and trepidation because this man didn’t actually know me that well yet. I only hoped it would hold true with the passage of time and challenges.
Of course, it didn’t.
The dream collapsed hastily, as such dreams are wont to do. There’s nowhere to go but down from the loftiness of dreams.
I learned that such words are generally only true from a distance. In-person, they are a mirror that often frightens us.
I am the dream that, once realized, a man doesn’t know what to do with; the falling star that, upon being caught, burns his hand if he doesn’t know how to hold it. I don’t behave as he imagines. I don’t stuff my emotions. I don’t make myself small.
I give from a deep reservoir of love and I expect the same in return. I am forever pursuing growth. I am not disheartened by hard conversations and the intensity of emotional intimacy; these are my bread and butter.
So, you see, I’m not interested in being the woman of any man’s dreams. I want to be the flesh-and-blood reality he cherishes a little more each day as we unmask our truest selves with the other.
I want the experience of who I am to be more fascinating and precious than a dream.
And I don’t want to be required to fit myself neatly into someone else’s life for the sake of making things work.
I still believe in romantic love, but I’m not sure I believe I’ll ever find a love who makes space in his life, in his heart, for this kind of partner—to build something wholly new together from the ground up.
A love who celebrates and welcomes all of who I am and believes the expansion of his life is more beautiful and true than what he had before.
A love who is as willing to cross the miles for me, physically or emotionally, as I am for him.
And you know what? If this love doesn’t exist for me, I’ll be just fine. Because I know now that this life I’m living alone is already spilling over with love.
And even better—it’s far from a dream.