|BWS Stories - "Go Your Own Way": Discovering Midlife Passions|
"Go Your Own Way": Discovering Midlife Passions - Wanting
Cinthia Ritchie is from Anchorage, Alaska. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News.
An old friend called the other night to talk about her marriage, which was sinking toward a rough spot. She felt stuck, mired down so deep she often woke up at night unable to breathe.
“That’s when it hits me,” she said. “All the things I’ll never have.”
I started a joke, something vague and not at all funny, when she suddenly asked what I wanted.
“World peace,” I quipped, but she didn’t laugh.
“No.” Her voice was fierce and low. “What do you really want?”
I didn’t answer. Not because I didn’t know, but because I couldn’t. My throat choked and my eyes watered. I was unable to tell her the small, simple things I want: to be less restless; to buy a small house; to adopt a second child; to be happier with who I am.
After I hung up, I sat in the kitchen and thought about how many times people have asked me the same question, and how many times I’ve shrugged and acted as if it didn’t matter. As if I had everything I wanted. As if my needs weren’t as important as keeping the peace or risking exposure or, most likely, having to face the idea that I haven’t tried as hard as I might to make sure I have the things I certainly deserve.
I wasn’t always this way. And more and more I wonder when I lost the ability to voice what I want. Maybe it was after I had my son and was forced to put his needs before mine. Or maybe it was much earlier, in that hazy, shadowy time between girlhood and adolescence, when my friends started wearing makeup and styling their hair and, afraid that I might be left behind, I believed I had no choice but to copy them. I’m sure it began slowly, the way deviant behaviors usually do. One small discarded need followed another. Perhaps there was even heartbreak the first few times. Maybe I even felt angry, curling my fists and raging against this betrayal.
I hope I put up some type of protest, however small and inconsequential. I hope I didn’t let her go easily, that fierce, headstrong girl I used to be. Sometimes when I am hiking or messing around with my son, I can still feel her inside me, locked away and half-hidden by doubts. I recognize this in many of my women friends. The girls we used to be are lost somewhere inside the women we’ve become. They’ve been pushed down each time we casually, almost haughtily, dismiss what we want.
“That wouldn’t look good on me,” we say with a wave of a hand, or, more pointedly, “No, really, I don’t mind.”
Of course we do mind. We mind terribly. It’s exhausting always doing things for everyone else, pushing yourself aside and pretending you don’t need something when you really do. And though it was a taboo subject for many years, we’ve begun to circle around it as we’ve gotten older, narrowing in and then retreating with a laugh, a shrug, a small embarrassed cry of recognition, as if the topic is forbidden yet compelling. As if, like the biological clock people speak of, we realize that time is running down and if we don’t shake off our hesitations soon, we won’t have time for a second chance.
Perhaps this is common among women my age, this fear that we won’t be loved or admired if we’re selfish enough to demand the things we want. Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll be seen as cold or heartless, the way women are often labeled when they speak up for the things they truly believe. Or maybe we feel it isn’t worth the guilt and confusion that accompanies change. Whatever the case, keeping silent about our needs has become so ingrained that it’s like an elbow or a knee, something much depended upon but rarely given thought. Something we don’t focus on until we feel a pain and realize, with a sudden spark of recognition, that yes, there really are things we want. Things we must allow ourselves to have.
I imagine that asking for these things will be much like beginning an exercise program. I will build up confidence one uncomfortable moment at a time. There will be pain, and times when I will fumble and fall and wonder about the point of getting back up. I will be sore and parts of me will ache and cry for me to stop. Perhaps I will even bleed until I build calluses over weak areas. But it will be worth it. Anything will be better than remaining silent and watching the years float by with the dulled expectation of safe choices.
So when another friend called a few nights ago and asked, after a long conversation about relationships, childhood, and mothers, what I wanted, I closed my eyes and thought, “A chocolate brownie. A silk nightgown. A friend who will never leave.”
“I want,” I finally admitted, “someone to sit beside me and hold my hand.”
It wasn’t everything, of course. But it was a good way to start.