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My Own Identity

In my mother's generation, when women married their identity often moved into the background, with them taking on the role of "Mrs. John Smith", not Mrs. Mary Smith, and certainly not Mary Smith. My mother signed everything as "Mrs. John Smith".  First and foremost, that's who she was and how she saw herself. 

This went one step further with the man of the house not only making most of the decisions regarding the family and home, but also being the one whom things were done to please.  My mother cooked the foods my father liked. If he didn't like it,  it wasn't served at our table, except at the rare times when he was away. 

Both of my parents were depression-era farm kids.  After being discharged from serving in the Navy during WWII my father worked for various businesses, eventually landing a job as a partsman in a farm implement dealership, and then in his thirties, reaching the point where he was able to buy his own dealership in a small town about 100 miles from where we had been living.  Thus, he became a self-made businessman and did very well. 

 Dad's idea of what befit their upper-middle class status carried over into Mom's appearance.  He  preferred subdued colors for her clothing... beige, gray, brown, etc. She didn't own or wear pastels, bright colors or prints.  Her hair was done in the "beauty shop" fashion of the day... curled and starched in a style that lasted all week long. I do not recall ever seeing my mother with her hair wet and down.  Even if we were swimming at the lake, she stayed out of deep water so her hair wouldn't get wet!  Dad liked her looking "sharp", maintaining that image was incredibly important to both of them. In fact, he felt that my choice to continue wearing my hair long and straight long after I was married was highly inappropriate. :-)

Whether it was food, furniture, cars, or clothing, what we did, or where we went on vacation, father chose.  Mom's choices were limited to what flowers she planted, what was being baked on Saturday for Sunday's dinner, etc.  She would not have thought of arguing about his preferences, and I now find myself wondering if she liked things that way too, or just went along with what he liked to please him.

I realized after I left my last ex that had fallen into her pattern... I cooked what he liked to eat. If I liked it, but he didn't, it wasn't served.  He didn't like bright colors in house decor, and he hated light from windows.  Everything had to be blocked off and dark.  In fact he had our bedroom so well sealed off from light and air that mold began to take over from the dampness of the master bathroom.  In fact at one point it was making me quite sick.

If he didn't like to eat at a certain restaurant or shop at a certain store, we didn't. If he wasn't interested in visiting someplace I wanted to go, we didn't go. Yes, I could have argued on any of it, all of it, and sometimes I did protest. But in the long run it wasn't worth it. If things didn't go his way he was miserable to be with and it was certain to be an unpleasant time. In later years, when his drug use increased, crossing him became fuel for violent outbursts that were scary and left our nice home battered and broken. 

I remember one period of time where he was wanting to go to bed at 7 PM at night. I didn't get home from work until after 5, and wasn't tired.  I wanted some evening relaxation/recreation time.  He was furious and broke a door frame and a light switch making the point that it was lights out... NOW!!  No negotiation or even rational discussion was possible in those days. I learned to keep my thoughts, feelings and preferences to myself.  

By the time I escaped that marriage, I didn't even know who or what I was anymore.  What did I like?  What did I want?  What did I enjoy?  I had no idea, my identity was truly lost.  It took a year of painful struggle to pick up the pieces of my life and reassemble them into something that began to reflect the re-emerging me. In fact that's what I called the blog I wrote back then... "Picking Up Pieces". How appropriate!

I consider myself to have a strong personality, but until the last few years, I was not nearly as bold in asserting what I wanted for my life.  I married men who were masters of controlling behavior and verbal abuse, shredding my belief in myself, and warping what I saw as right and wrong. They told me I was worthless and unworthy and sadly, I grew to believe them.

I am so very blessed now, not only are John and I amazingly compatible in our likes and dislikes, so much so that we rarely disagree, but we also both realize the importance of each of us being able to express our own identities and enjoy some of the things we love individually.  John chose beautiful pastel colors for the walls of our rooms... colors that I love too.  His daughters were amazed he didn't chose something more subdued like mocha!  All the windows flood the rooms with light, and are framed with only soft white sheers.  I choose the things I like to wear, and he chooses his, and we appreciate each other's tastes.  We enjoy most of the foods each other grew up with. He likes sauerkraut and I love grits!  We are both  homebodies and prefer to spend most our time with each other, but we allow each other the freedom of time off on our own too. Everyone needs to get away by themselves now and then!

When either of us wants to do something or purchase a larger item, we discuss it, talk about the pros and cons, but the bottom line is that we don't "parent" each other, we make our own decisions and also do things we enjoy independently... his is an active member of his Masonic Lodge, I am a devoted blogger. We don't share those activities, but we acknowledge the value they add to our partner's life.  We each have our own bank accounts, and although we have both signatures on all accounts for emergency purposes, we don't monitor what or how the other spends, we  pay the bills collectively.  I think that everyone needs some spending money to call their own that they don't have to answer for!  (Note: This does not mean hundreds of dollars disappearing for drugs or other addictions!)

If a person really loves you, they should love you AS YOU ARE, not as they wish you to be.  We shouldn't marry with the goal of remaking our partner into our preconceived image, however "improved" we might perceive it to be.  Relationships should be loving and accepting of who you are, after all, that's what attracted you to the person in the first place!  If mutual love and respect are strong, the changing and growing that takes place through the years will strengthen the bond between you rather than weaken it.  That's why it's important to choose someone with qualities and values that are important to you!

Take an inventory of your  life and ask yourself how you express your individuality within your relationship, make sure that you get to be yourself, and do the things you enjoy... and try some of the things they like and do as well, you might develop some new favorites... like guns and grits!  The important thing is to never allow anyone to completely extinguish the light of your own personality. Don't let them belittle or bully you into believing you are all "wrong" and need to change to suit them.  Don't dwell in the shadow of another, come on out and let your own light shine!

13 comments:

  1. This was an interesting post, Josie. The way you describe your parents makes me think that they were very well harmonized in their likes... and that your mother accommodating your father's wishes - was her liking in itself - and so she was complete. But I guess it works out that way because it was done out of love.

    To me it sounds happy - but if I were to find myself forced into sacrificing... I wouldn't be able to handle it!

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    1. You made a good point, Bozo, that it most likely was my mother's choice to accomodate my father's preferences, and to an extent that isn't a bad thing. We all do some of that in our relationships. I do know that at times when we were clothing shopping for her, she would look at some brightly colored item with a bit of longing, and then say she knew he wouldn't like it. I also remember "family" vacations that were planned around dad's idea of fun, with little thought to what might be enjoyable for the rest of us. I think I grew up resenting his uber-control methods of running things, and not allowing input or disagreement. To this day I get defensive is someone tells me what I must do and it's not to my liking... ask me, but don't order me!!

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  2. Don't dwell in the shadow of another! -- powerful.

    and don't put your dreams in someone else's pocket.... :)

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    1. Oooh, I love "don't put your dreams in someone else's pocket", Louise! No one is going to nurture them and appreciate their value like you will, and there are also folks who will try to snuff them out. We do our very best, shine our very brightest, when we follow our own hearts.

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  3. It's interesting how true it is, that women often get with men who have similar traits to their own father's.

    After I ended things with the Lil man's dad, I was determined to break the pattern, unlike my three sisters.

    When I was 13, a friend at school said that all that she wanted to do was get married, have babies and make sure that her husband was well taken care of. Pouring her identity into her husband and kids, makes her happy. I just think it's a shame that her core being, revolves around others. If she suddenly found herself out in the world alone, I doubt that she would cope.

    Arrgh! I could write a whole essay when it comes to responding to your posts. Thanks for sharing this Josie. :)

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    1. It's funny Lily, because my first three husbands were so very opposite of my dad, or so it seemed to me at first. But now, when I look back at it, I see that they did have the same predominant feature... control and condemnation. I never felt good about myself with any of these men! John is very much like my dad in ways of taking care of things, providing for me, and being responsible, but he is the total opposite when it comes to how he treats me and how he handles relationships, he is so very kind and supportive, and loves seeing me try something new!

      I agree with you totally, that if one sees their total identity wrapped up in pleasing another, it's a sad life. I love to make Papa Bear happy, but I also find pleasure and enjoyment in things I like about me and enjoy doing... blogging would be a good example. If anything, it cuts into our together time, but he is supportive because he knows how much it means to me. He likes hearing about the people I connect with and the things we share.

      I think my mother was pretty lost after her three girls left home, she really didn't have much of a life outside of that role and Dad wasn't really a fun guy. I suspect my younger sister would also have a hard time of it on her own, my spirit has always been more independent, perhaps because I had to be.

      You are welcome to comment as long and as much as you like on my blog posts Lily, I totally enjoy reading what you have to say!

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  4. I can totally relate to this post as my first marriage was very controlling and I lost my identiy. I rebelled for several years after my divorce . I also notice as I age my prefrences change also and my identity evolves

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    1. I know that those of us who have experienced very negative and controlling relationships have a fierce drive for independence and self-identity, Kristy. It definitely took me some time to trust Papa Bear's good intentions for taking care of things and us, he is the first man who takes my wants and needs into account, just another reason I treasure him. He also recognizes that I might possibly have something intelligent to suggest and contribute too!

      Most definitely our preferences and identity changes thru the years, I am a much different person now than I was back then, and I like this one much better too!! :-)

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  5. When I read things like this it makes me realise how bloody lucky I am to have met and married the right man first off......I have always had my own bank account and it has only been the last 7 years that I have not had money of my own and now have to relie on Tim for money most of the time and yes he can be a right tight ass on a day to day basis that said he can also be very generous at times. But most importantly is that I am still in love with him and he with me. I have never been Mrs Tim Meadows I am Jo-Anne Meadows and the older I get the more ME I become if that makes any sense.......lol It is great that you have at last found the right man for you someone who loves and accepts you for you that is so important. Tim loves me just the way I am even if I do complain about him a bit he is the love of my life and I am allowed to complain about him........lol

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    1. This was wonderful to read Jo-Anne! There are no perfect spouses, none of us are! To have found someone that holds your hand as you walk thru life, with all the ups and downs, is a blessing indeed. Love that lasts seems to be more and more rare, and it sounds like you found the perfect mate for you. They all make us tear our hair out at times, I don't even like myself much sometimes! LOL But if they make you're glad you are there with them 95% of the time, I'd say that's pretty grand. And yes, the older we become I think the more we become comfortable with who we are, and others can pretty much take it or leave it! We don't try so hard to please everyone but ourselves. That's a good thing! I am blessed too, to have finally at last found someone who loves me for me, good and bad and all!

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  6. Why would you go and inspire me when I have to get ready for work? I don't have the time to respond properly!

    I'll get back to this!

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    1. Happy to see you stopping by Monkey, eager to see what you have to say about this one. :-)

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  7. I think it is so important to maintain one's identity in a marriage - it is so easy to concede to the other person's needs and lose part of yourself in the process. I am fortunate in my own marriage that it has pretty much always been an equal partnership but I have seen family members and friends become shadows of themselves due to an overbearing partner. Sadly, a lot of the time the dominance occurs due to one person having more money than the other and feeling therefore that they can call the shots. I am so glad you are in such a great place now, Josie. It makes me happy to know it!

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Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)