So, everyone who knows me, knows that I am a bit of a TV junky. I have my tried and true favourites that I simply can't miss (ALIAS, LOST), my faves that I can watch in re-runs for the rest of my life and still not get tired of them (Seinfeld, Sex and the City), more recent complete mind-numbing obsessions with deep, slightly ridiculous emotional ties to characters (Six Feet Under), and even a couple of guilty pleasures, mostly reality-based (Rock Star INXS, Canadian Idol (I have been known to vote), Survivor). Since I have been unemployed, I have been discovering all sorts of new television programs that have captivated my attention. One of these has been Starting Over. It's a reality show that situates several women in the same house where they begin self-help projects in order to overcome emotional and psychological dilemmas. I know what you're all thinking, Jenn's cracked up, but it's really good! I was skeptical at first, but once I started watching I was hooked: I wanted to know what steps were next for these women, how they were progressing, and whether they would be able to truly change their lives. I also enjoy watching because I can find bits of myself in a lot of the women I watch, and I like to see what self-help exercises they are encouraged to do, so I can see if that is something I, too, could learn from.
So, I was watching this for most of the summer, and this one woman in particular, Layne, was really striking home with me. She was looking for the "perfect man"… Mr. Right. She had a very stringent set of criteria by which she would measure men she met to help her determine whether she would be interested in continuing to spend time with them. The list was quite extensive, and involved physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological criteria. Two things stuck in my mind from watching her work through the issues she had surrounding men: One was the idea that she wanted to "be married", but she didn't have a specific target for that desire in the form of an actual person. The other was the idea that you could really fall in love with just about anyone, as long as you choose to love that person.
The wanting to be married thing is really pervasive for women. Most women will say that they would like to "be married one day", and idealize the notion of marriage – what it will be like, look like, feel like, to be married IN GENERAL…. not to one person in particular, but to be the wife of a faceless non-entity. The role of "wife" seems to be one that can easily be imagined by many women without the benefit of an actual husband!
I admit this is a concept that I have fallen prey to. I still have romanticized notions about marriage, and what it would be like to be married…. to someone, someone I obviously haven't met yet. I can picture in my mind's eye what it would be like to be in that scene, to know that I am a wife. Of course, the romanticized version does not include any of the unfortunate circumstances many women find themselves in today: domestic abuse, spousal rape, emotional neglect and abuse, marital infidelity, finding out terrible things about your husband (porn addictions, alcohol or drug abuse, gambling addictions, pedophilia, homosexuality, eg.). No, the romanticized version always has me smiling, happy to be a "wife", secure in knowing that someone has promised to love me forever.
As I have examined this mental picture of social conditioning, I have come to see how silly it is to want to be in an intimate relationship without actually having someone in mind to be a partner. I think it's one thing to want to marry the person you love, the person you have been with for some time, etc. But to just plain want to be married? doesn't make much sense. So, this is something I am working through on my own: I now am reframing my conceptions concerning marriage, so that I now believe that I don't know whether or not I want to be married, because I have not met someone appropriate to whom I would like to be married. It is also forcing me to reframe marriage and the role of "wife" that has been socially constructed for me, and most women, from an early age. I know that I want to be me; just me, in all the various roles I may inhabit in life. If one day, I become someone's wife, I will not cease to be me and start to become "wife", but I will be a "wife" in whatever way is most authentic for me.
The second idea, that a person can fall in love with most anyone, is much more difficult for me to grasp. I too, like Layne, have ideas of the "perfect man". I too have an extensive list of qualities I think would be important for the person I fall in love with to possess. I have thought of this as a good idea: having standards is a good thing! There's not point in "settling" for someone who has qualities that drive you nuts, or that just don't jive with your sense of the good life. However, there is a conflict of underlying concepts here: waht about the idea that LOVE is something that happens to you, that it is a force outside of you, something magical and mysterious, something that you "fall" into, a force stronger than you, that "you can't help who you love"? The notion of fate, I suppose: soul mates who must be fated to meet, whose destiny is written in the stars. I would argue that this conception of love is widely accepted by most people. This whole idea of having a list of qualities is in direct conflict with this notion of love as an uncontrollable force: either you can choose who you love, or you cannot. It seems quite clear to me that it IS possible to choose the recipient of one's love; people make these sorts of choices all the time. This takes the power away from love, in a way, and puts it in our hands.
If you take away this idea, that love is a force outside of you, then you are left with the only other possiblity: that love is actually inside of you. And if it is inside of you, and has been all this time, then it is not sensible to be waiting for love to find you. All that is constructed on the concept of love being something that happens to you crumbles when you look at love in a different way. If love is inside me, then I already have it; it's just a matter of expressing it. And really, is there a wrong way to express love? (Aside from stalking….) if we begin to think of LOVE as a VERB, an active word rather than a passive noun, a thing, then LOVE takes on a whole new meaning. Since I have LOVE, it is inside of me, it is only a matter of CHOOSING to express it to someone in an active way. And really, this opens up the door of potentiality for anyone to be the recipient of my love, so long as I choose it.
This is still a concept I am working with, this idea that I could potentially LOVE anyone. I'm still working with this notion in light of particular preferences I have for specific qualities in people. But it is an enlightening idea… could I really love anyone?
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