Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Providing and Nurturing in Relationships

I was thinking about the common idea that we have to look after each other in relationships. 
On one hand, that seems to be one of the fundamental functions of relationships. When I am sick, the Guy wraps me up and cooks me food and makes sure I'm comfortable. He is so good to me that I often enjoy being sick (especially as it often seems the only break I get from work!) When I am depressed, he wraps his arms around me. 

But it doesn't make the sickness or the pain go away. 
Even in this respect, as in all others, the sexism ingrained in all of us often shows up. Men are supposed to take care of partners and daughters and mothers by providing for them and ensuring an adequate and continuous stream of earnings. (Sisters, not so much, because their husbands and sons are supposed to be providing for them.) Women are supposed to be taking care of husbands and fathers or in-laws by cooking and cleaning and nurturing. (If she also has a job, well, that's great in 'broad-minded' households, but that shouldn't take precedence over her family.)
I go so far sometimes as envying women my age whom I see staying at home while their husbands work. (I'm not even considering mothers here. Parenting - especially of young children - often seems like a full-time job. There's of course the question of why it's almost always the mother who quits her job to be a full-time parent, but that's a separate issue.) Sometimes, especially after a stressful day at work, I wish I could sit at home and cook and clean and read instead of worrying about getting that document completed on time. 
But those are moments of weakness. If I were alone, I would provide for myself. Why should I be weaker or less capable if I have a partner? 
Not to say I would never consider taking a break from a full-time job. But I wouldn't embark on that with the thought that after all, it's the Guy's duty to provide for us and what I do is just an 'extra'. My work is as important to me as the Guy's is to his. I am immensely grateful to have a partner who understands that, who finds it easier to understand and like me because my priorities are similar to his. 
But even leaving the sexism aside, why should we expect anyone - a partner, a friend, a relative - to take care of us? To help out in tough times, yes. Everyone needs a helping hand once in a while. But once we are adults, shouldn't we take charge of our own lives?
We move out and stop depending financially on our parents. We start cooking and doing our own laundry (well, many of us do). Why then expect to start depending on another person again, because we're in love with them or have married them?
I know I depend on the Guy maybe much more than is healthy for me. I hate going out alone, running errands alone. I am happy doing the laundry at home, though. So we both often end up doing tasks we are comfortable with. It might be comfortable, but I admit it's probably not the best way. 
I hated it when the Guy went away last year. I had a tough time. I hated being alone. I had a couple of bad experiences and ended up being scared and angry. 
But I also felt a kind of peace I hadn't felt in years. I remembered why I had loved living alone, I remembered how much I enjoyed the solitude and the silence. 
And I remembered how liberating it feels to do everything for yourself, even though I hated dragging myself to the doctor when I hardly felt well enough to walk. 
But as I'd said to myself what seems many years ago, when I was a teenager, I want my love to make me stronger, not weaker. 
The Guy and I derive so much joy and comfort from being with each other. But comfort can weaken by making you secure and lazy. We want to drive each other to be the best we can be. We slip sometimes, but that is what the goal we strive towards. 


Sukhaloka said...

That makes me think. Thanks.

dipali said...

Much of it seems to relate to life stages and locations. Although I had been self sufficient financially before we got married, my husband took up work in a country where of a foreign couple only one partner was given a work permit. Children arrived, locations and equations changed. Some jobs were then pursued, some given up. Older members of first his and then my family required nurturing and care. Then there have been several changes of location. So the aborted career never really took off again. Yes, I would ideally have liked to have a career and income of my own, but given our circumstances, my husband and I are generally content. I guess there is no single universal solution.

Unmana said...

Suki: I'd love to know if you arrived at any conclusions.

Dipali: No, I don't think there is. Every couple/family needs to sort it out for themselves. Speaking for myself, I want more independence - but that seems difficult to achieve, given the current comfort and intimacy that I don't want to give up on.

Laksh said...

Thought provoking. I've often wondered and written about it in jest but it does really make one question the dynamics of the relationship.