By Jaimie Seaton
A few years ago at Thanksgiving, when I asked my then-husband to lift an unusually large pot of potatoes off the stove for me, two elder female relatives pounced.
“You don’t need him to do that,” said one as she grabbed the pot of boiling water and rushed it to the sink. “Do it yourself.”
“He likes helping me,” I replied. “What’s wrong with that?”
That launched them into a refrain I had been hearing from them since I was 5 years old: You don’t need a man, you should be independent and rely only on yourself. To need a man is weak and decidedly un-feminist.
I had idolized both these relatives as the epitome of cool, modern womanhood my entire life, and their disapproval stung. I wound up in tears in another room doing shots with a male contemporary, who comforted me by saying that these women were simply bitter from their divorces.
Perhaps, but their sentiments were familiar. Raised in the 1970s during the heyday of women’s liberation, the message I received was that men were superfluous. A liberated woman didn’t need anyone, least of all a man. We could fulfill ourselves, and if we needed another, we were deficient.
Now that I am divorced, I’m receiving the same message from well-meaning friends. At lunch a few weeks ago I confided to a good friend that, despite working seven days a week and raising my two teenage children solo, I’m lonely. She replied that I needed to focus on myself and stop looking for a man. As a writer, I spend a great deal of time alone, much of it in self-reflection. If I focus any more on myself, I’m going to cross the line into extreme narcissism.
When I’m not writing, I’m cleaning, tending the garden, taking the dogs for a walk, volunteering, helping with homework, paying bills, sending out invoices or doing one of a million other things necessary to run a house and career. To save money, I heat our home with wood, which entails endless hours of tending the fire, and rising at 4 a.m. to ensure the house is warm when the children get up for school.
I’m certainly not helpless around the house. I know how to bleed my hot water heater and install a thermostat. Last month I power-washed my deck and stained it a warm chocolate brown. I’m proud that when something breaks, I Google how to fix it before calling a professional.
Here’s what I can’t do: I can’t embrace myself at night. I can’t hold my own hand at the movies or when strolling through town on a warm evening. I can’t be a shoulder to lean on after a particularly rough day, and I can’t high-five myself when things go right.
For all my self-sufficiency, I still need a man, and I don’t think that makes me weak. I think it makes me human. At some point, needing others became something to be ashamed of, as if needing love were akin to some crazy addiction. I’m perfectly capable of getting through the day without a man at my side; I’ve been doing it for years. But I would prefer to have a partner. Not because I need a man to validate me or to fix my life but because I want to share my life.
Years ago my son asked why nearly every song he heard on the radio was about love. I told him it was because love is so elusive, and something we all crave. Since the dawn of civilization, poets, musicians and artists have pondered the intoxicating joy and gut-wrenching heartache of romantic love. We all yearn for that connection. That’s why so many of us are willing to risk being vulnerable and even having our heart torn in two in our quest for the contentment that comes with being loved and loving in return.
I’d like to think that as our society has become more open and embracing of all different kinds of love, the simple truth of needing another is no longer seen as weakness. But when I told my teenage daughter about this essay, the first words out of her mouth were: “That’s sexist.” In the sermon that followed, I heard echoes of the elder female family members in the words of my bright, strong and independent daughter.
I know single men who run rings around me in the kitchen; have successful careers and full lives; and yet they still desire a committed, romantic relationship. They express the same feelings I have. The issue is not one of sexual politics; it’s one of vulnerability. Admitting that we need another person is perhaps the bravest statement any of us can make.
This article was printed with permission by The Washington Post.