On my thirty second birthday, my German friends and I were seated around a table discussing relationships. I told them I was looking for a good man, but I could not describe exactly what a good man was. All I knew was that he couldn’t take me for granted, or expect me to be a servant. He must treat me with respect and let me be who I am. When I say no, he must not force me to do something I don’t want to do. The other women agreed.
Crystal, a tall blond, divorcee and a successful business woman said, “I have no problem telling a man no.”
I knew this wasn’t true because she left a dominate husband. When I brought it up she insisted she had now learned to say no. She couldn’t explain how she had learned.
Eva, 28, had a top high fashion job. She had broken up with her boyfriend because, like her father, he was a dictator and patriarch. She’d left home at 17 and rarely went back. “I can’t stand the way my father treats my mother or the way he treats me when I come home.”
Ivett, married to a dentist, lived a life of luxury. “A woman must shut up and serve her husband,” she said. “I have no right to deprive my children of their present life-style. If I divorced my husband I couldn’t afford to live like I do. My mother taught me that a woman’s place is to rear children, support her husband’s career and look good. When I tell my mother I am afraid my husband will hit me again in one of his raging fits, she says smile and keep your opinion to yourself, make him feel good. She said she did this with my father and as I could see, they had a wonderful life.”
Ursula recently divorced was my partner in the boutique. She told us that all she did was cook and clean, take care of her two children and surrender to her husband’s excessive sex drive. “My mother told me how lucky I was to have a husband because I was fat. When I was married, my house was spotless because I was afraid my mother would show up unexpectedly.
“It seemed to me that I had adopted my mother’s attitude, even though I never believed that cooking and cleaning were a woman’s highest priority. My priorities were reading, education and travel. As a child I had to read novels in the bathroom. At 14 I mentioned I would like to travel. My mother choked and said I should consider finding a husband. If you don’t get married soon, you will be fat and old. I didn’t have to look for a husband because my mother found him and told me I should consider myself lucky that he would marry me in spite of my figure.”
Each of these complaints reminded me of my life in some way. Deep inside I knew that I was no different than my friends. Yet, I wouldn’t admit I had a problem. To me, being dependent meant surrendering. I saw enough of that in my own mother. I had two businesses, made enough money to live the way I wanted, drove a Mercedes and could afford to buy what I wanted. The best thing of all was that I never had to submit to anyone. Yet, was I just trying to convince myself? What I didn’t say was how vulnerable and fearful I was. I still couldn’t voice my own opinion in relationships. I wanted to learn to live a more fulfilling life, but from whom? My friends had the same problems I did.
We met as a group for the last time before I left for America. I raised a question. Were we all disrespected by our parents, and did this play a part in our relationships? This heated discussion about respect and self-respect lasted until 4 a.m. None of them could connect their submissiveness to their childhood.
I couldn’t share the fact I learned to be obedient out of fear. I stole out of fear, I let my father touch me without defending myself, out of fear, I did as my mother said, out of fear she wouldn’t love me.
I learned to lie and be submissive until I was 32.
I began to tell the truth when I met Sigurd in 1981, a man who gave more than he asked in return. For the first time in my life I felt like a woman, not an object. I was told I had rights and that I was beautiful and intelligent. He respected my wishes.
One evening he asked why I didn’t express my needs and I had no answer. I didn’t know my needs. Nobody had ever asked before. It was a strange concept to me and I had to learn my needs. Step by step I erased the negative imprint of expectations others had of me and replaced them with what I believed was right for me.
The healing process started gently. The fear of feeling unworthy left me. My confidence grew, my attitude towards life became positive and people around me spoke about my golden aura. I started holding my head up high. I felt loved for the first time. Although the shadows of my childhood were still there, I was able to feel and express my feelings.
I know everyone has a chance to change. This means learning to respect and love ourselves.