Haunted by unlived history, #3
I grew up thinking love would heal everything. I also grew up believing no man in his right mind would ever love me enough to marry me.
I wasn’t a flirt or a party girl. Though I didn’t feel ugly, I didn’t consider myself pretty. I was a quiet and diligent student, a budding musician, intelligent, pleasant, and deeply ashamed.
- Ashamed of the way my father treated me
- Ashamed that most people didn’t seem to want me as a close friend
- Ashamed when teams were chosen and I wasn’t anyone’s first choice. I was better than the last choice, but not by much.
I was also ashamed of our family’s social status. Yes, my father was an ordained pastor. No, he wasn’t a regular, full-time pastor. No, he didn’t have a regular, full-time income.
I sometimes thought about becoming a single missionary like some of the women missionaries I knew. That way I wouldn’t have to bother about all that social stuff. Or men.
But then there were those few boys and men who seemed to like me. Sometimes whether I liked them or not. Maybe the love thing could work for me. Maybe I didn’t have to be single all my life. But aren’t there better choices out there?
This was the beginning of my up and down history of secretly falling in and out of love with men. In no way did I want to appear needy, or look like I was chasing after them.
In the early 1990s, as part of an assignment for survivors of sexual abuse, I made a list of 30 men and boys who made an impression on me from childhood.
Then I began studying the list, looking for patterns. Of the 30 men and boys,
- 16 were romantically attractive to me
- 15 were men or boys I wanted to impress in some way
- 14 were artists, poets, musicians, and/or actors
- 13 appreciated and loved to listen to my piano playing
- 12 pursued me (I didn’t pursue them)
- 12 affirmed me as an individual, not as an object of their self-interest
- 10 were ordained ministers or leaders
- 6 were employers/supervisors
- 6 took advantage of me
- 4 raised fear in me
- 4 were pursued by me
- 4 I disliked intensely
- 4 were ‘soul mates’
- 3 overtly punished or humiliated me
Thinking about my relationships with these men and boys helped me make large and small changes in my relationships with men. For example,
- I changed some unwise habits in order to maintain healthy boundaries as a professional educator and a church member.
- I learned to recognize and honor my intuition when things didn’t feel quite right.
- I recognized that being an agreeable, good girl woman was getting me in trouble by feeding unhealthy patterns of overwork and exhaustion. Though I made progress on this one, it wasn’t resolved until I retired in 2011.
I’ve written earlier about not having dreams for myself. Big dreams. The kind that orient life in a clear, even exciting direction. Most of my life I’ve lived by lists. Checking off long to-do lists with no big dream at the end. Just more long lists.
I want something better for myself. Today I hear my history with men fairly screaming something I couldn’t hear back then.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2018
Photo taken in Newton, Kansas, July 1958 – Not yet all my first cousins on my father’s side.