Continuing on with the reading of Gift from the Sea. I should start every reflection post with this explanation. Quotes from the book are in plain font and my thoughts are in italics.
I believe there is, after the oyster bed, an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, like the sunrise shell; a not a functional, dependent one, as in the oyster bed; but the meeting of two whole fully developed people as persons.
Such a stage in life, it would seem to me, must come not as a gift or lucky accident, but as part of an evolutionary process, an achievement which could only follow certain important developments in each partner.
Hmm. A development. An evolution. I am stronger than I ever knew before. I am more beautiful than I ever believed before. I have confidence. I must speak up for myself. I must speak up for my children. I cannot take everything to heart. I have to consider the circumstances. I can be spit on and remain patient. Well, only if it happens from a child because that is who usually spits on me. All of these things I have learned through the romantic period and this current period in our marriage and parenthood. I need my husband. I need him a very functional way. I cannot take care of everything. Three children…”you must be busy;” “you sure have your hands full,” etc. The comments from strangers never end. But I like our interdependence. I don’t see it as a weakness. Mrs. Lindbergh affirms its value. This is a stage in our marriage. And it has a purpose. It is an evolution. As I look, I can see and I understand.
We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.
Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.
I don’t have to be afraid. He talks to me less because he is an introvert and he is overstimulated, overwhelmed by the ceaseless noise. Once 7:30pm rolls around and the last rascal is ready for bed, I can see, on most days, his longing to collect his thoughts, be alone, relax. On other days he seeks me out, want to talk to me, wants to share ideas with me. We went on a date for the first time in quite a while. It was during nap time. Ordinarily we both rest, in some way, during this time. I knew we did not have to talk. We walked. We visited our old haunts. I knew it was not a failing that we did not dive into intense conversation now that we were free to do so. I have to write these things because I know them and knew them, but there is ever a temptation in my mind not to trust this ebb and flow. Some times we will be functional, sometimes it will be romance.
Let us return to that thought of the meeting of two complete people. The romantic period taught me my need for him. Though it feels that need deepens, in other ways, I find myself quite capable of doing myself what I never dreamed possible. If there weren’t these children, I’m sure I would see it better. I can see I am more complete, less insecure (though still plenty enough insecure to deal with). And so when we pass through this period, on the other side, we will be more complete, we will have more to give to each other. It is a very good thought.
He [Rilke] foresaw a great change in the relationships between men and women, which he hoped in the future would no longer follow the traditional patterns of submission and domination or of possession and competition. He described a state in which there would be space and freedom for growth, and in which each partner would be the means of releasing the other.
How beautiful. I see that with us.
For we are, actually, pioneers trying to find a new path through the maze of tradition, convention and dogma. Our efforts are part of the struggle to mature the conception of relationships between men and women—in fact all relationships…every advance in understanding has value.
We are not following the paths of our parents. We forge a new way based on tradition, convention and dogma. It fits us. It does not fit the mold. I am primarily at home. He is the primary cook. I clean. We both take care of the children, but I primarily take care of the baby. Some of it seems so traditional, and yet some of it puts tradition on its head.
In fact, I wonderful if both man and woman must not accomplish this heroic feat. Must not man also become a world to himself? Must he not also expand the neglected sides of his personality; the art of inward looking that he has seldom had time for in his active outward-going life…
A relationship with a woman can change a man so much, and vice verse, if the relationship is doing what it ought. Then comes the peace, the silence. That stage I have yet to see. There would be more time. If we are ever seeking growth than once that time comes we can grow to enjoy the virtue we have been struggling so painfully to practice. I must be strong and independent as I prepare a meal or take three children to the store. He must be soft and gentle in the face of irrational emotion. This will serve us well one day. I’m sure of it.
It cannot be reached until woman—individually and as a sex—has herself come of age, a maturing process we are witnessing today. This is the essence of “coming of age”—to learn how to stand alone. She must learn not to depend on another, not feel she must prove her strength by competing with another.
“Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” After the fall, the temptation was for woman to seek after the man, to need him in an unhealthy way, to not be her own person and recognize her strength. His temptation would be to treat her as an object, to rule over her as he would an animal, not to recognize her genius and contribution. As time passes, there are more opportunities for women to realize their potential. I am the daughter of a feminist who would never label herself as a feminist. I’m trying to swing back, a little closer to the middle, taking the good from both poles of tradition and modernity.
In the past, she has swung between these two opposite poles of dependence and competition, of Victorianism and Feminism. Both extremes throw her off balance; neither is the enter, the true center of being a whole woman.
It will be a continuum process of correction, we will always swing too far whenever we swing. As individuals we can seek to find the middle way, the center, the understanding of who I am as a person. Men and women complement each other, but they must recognize their wholeness separate of each other as well. That is integral gender complementarity (search for Sr. Prudence Allen’s writings for more on this). God meant us to be complete, yet to learn from each other. It is wrong to say “these are the qualities of a woman” and “these are a qualities of a man.” That breaks us into fractions (fractional gender complementarity), unable to be complete. The concept that to be brave, bold, aggressive is part of man, but put a woman in a protective stance for her child and you will see “mama-bear.” Did she ever seem more womanly than at that moment?
How nice that Tom Cruise can say “You complete me.” If it stopped there, the relationship would be terrible indeed, ever dependent on the completion she provides him. I can say less dramatically, “when I met you, I saw in you something that would draw me to become whole, a complete person.” What a beautiful thought. “When I met you, I saw an image of who God intended me to be, and I knew, walking with you, I would find it.”