Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: my history with men

Living and Loving the Last Chapter

No more unlived history for me. I’m in the last chapter of my life. Which means my last opportunity to live a full life instead of the half-life I’ve often pursued as a good girl/woman.

First, in honor of my mother, I owe myself at least two changes:

  • I must fall in love with myself. For better and for worse; in sickness and in health; for as long as my life shall last; honoring and respecting myself; cherishing my body and honoring my spirit.

I think of it as marrying myself. Loving myself the way God loves me—just as I am. And the way D promised to love me—just as I am. If I can’t do this, my ability to love my neighbors as I love myself is greatly impaired if not dealt the kiss of death.

  • I must relentlessly pursue my dream of being a writer. Not past dreams, but my dream for right now. For this last chapter of my life.

All my adult l life I believed in my skills to help others attain their dreams. I did not believe in my ability to go for large dreams of my own. I was ‘too busy.’ Especially when it came to writing. I was busy giving in to fear, disbelief, and the call of tasks needing to be done.

My mother’s later years included several strange episodes during which she lashed out against my father with language I didn’t know she possessed. To my shock, he backed down. I’m hanging onto those few brilliant moments when I believe my mother put her own well-being and her own wishes first and communicated this in no uncertain terms.

I don’t foresee a fight like this with D. I do, however, foresee standoffs with myself for which I’ll need grit and guts.

Second, I must do for myself what I did for all those 15 boys and men I wanted to impress.

For years, beginning as early as 5th grade, I offered them a list of invaluable services. No cost and no contracts. Why? Because I desperately wanted to feel needed, alive, appreciated, attractive (at least not repulsive), and less lonely.

So what did that look like?

  • A listening ear, empathy and feedback
  • A sounding board for men’s ideas
  • Interest in their lives and their dreams
  • Affection and emotional support
  • Admiration and affirmation of their importance
  • New ideas—mine—free of charge!
  • Proofreading and editing skills
  • Feedback on how to improve their arguments, their writing, their sermons
  • Uncounted smiles and nods of agreement and understanding

In other words, like millions of other women, I gave away what I desperately needed for myself.

Ironically, even though these men affirmed me, I didn’t believe them. Not because they weren’t telling the truth, but because I didn’t believe that in the long-run, what I had to say or write really mattered that much.

Today I’m offering and making available to myself the same tangible and intangible services. Yes, I still have D. His love and loyalty are in place. The missing person in this picture isn’t D. It’s Elouise.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 February 2018
Image found at

Haunted by unlived history, #3

Renich Reunion in Newton, Kansas. I’m in back, just left of center. My first cousins as of July 1958 (more on the way!)

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.

Haunted by unlived history, #2

Wedding Day, 11 September 1965

When I married D I believed I’d found the answer to all my problems. I was ecstatic. Finally I had a life of my own, and a man who would love me and not try to fix me. It might not happen overnight, but eventually I would be my own woman, doing my own thing. And D would love me no matter what.

Two weeks before we married, in 1965, I told D I was afraid he would leave me behind. Here we were, getting ready to marry and move to Boston where he would pursue a graduate degree. But what would I pursue? No, I didn’t have anything in particular I was dreaming about, though someday I might want further education.

In 1973, we ended up in California with two young children, and both of us enrolled in seminary. I was ecstatic. Maybe I would find myself at seminary.

Yet my sense of being on the sidelines of life grew. Especially as D received work-related assignments to travel, while I stayed home caring for our young children and pursuing my seminary studies.

I went through periods of exhaustion, depression, bouts of anger, resentment and resignation. I felt trapped, misunderstood and lonely. Any kind word or smile that came my way, especially from men, was more than welcome, though I felt uneasy about this. Wasn’t I supposed to love D and no one else? And wasn’t his love for me more than enough?

Seamlessly and unknowingly I enacted the script of my mother’s unlived life. Not just a script about still needing love and affection, but a larger script about not having or following my dreams, not believing in or taking care of myself. I was too busy taking care of others.

I didn’t know or believe in myself, or my ability to go after large targets and impossible dreams. When opportunity knocked, my habitual responses were self-defeating.

  • Too busy to take advantage of opportunities
  • Afraid to put myself out there for consideration
  • Disbelief in my demonstrated gifts or potential
  • Feeling less than qualified
  • Changing the subject as quickly as possible
  • Finding out how I might help you follow your dream

I was in trance mode—caught in a waiting-game that feels like being on a train that moves yet never arrives because it has no known station.

I watched and cheered as other women and men pursued their dreams. I wrote hundreds if not thousands of reference letters on behalf of others. Yet never once did I write a letter in support of my dreams. I was living my mother’s unlived life. Doing what I could to support others, and choosing not to pursue anything strictly for myself.

So how does my history with men fit into all this? More to come.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2018
Photo taken at our wedding, 11 September 1965

Haunted by unlived history

A couple of weeks ago I uncovered buried treasure. I’d stashed it away in a large envelope of notes I typed and wrote out in the early 1990s. The notes were about boys and men who made an unforgettable impression on me from childhood until the early 1990s.

This wasn’t simply a list of names. It was an itemized, annotated, categorized and coded treasure trove of information and reflection under several headings. Men I hardly knew, plus the real world of men I knew all too well.

I didn’t write this out on a whim. It was part of a therapy exercise for survivors of child sexual abuse. A way of getting to know myself better—by way of reflection on men who made an impression on me.

But before getting into that, I want to tell you about something else.

Several days ago I read about the way our parents’ unlived lives make an impact on us. Especially on our internal lives. This means that even though I appear normal on the outside, I can quickly numb out, withdraw, or shut down internally when I’m uncomfortable in a relationship. In fact, I’m skilled at this, even though it’s also a source of anguish.

The next morning I woke up and almost immediately burst into tears. My mother’s unlived life included her unlived life with me. I have no memories at all of my mother hugging, cuddling or touching me affectionately. She was industrious, resourceful, creative, and an attentive caretaker when I was sick. She was not, however, spontaneously or overtly affectionate.

My body and spirit grew up craving affection. I can’t count how many times my mother bent over to kiss me goodnight and kissed the air above my cheek instead. It still gnaws at me. A gaping hole in my heart that makes me wonder whether I was really loved.

I wasn’t simply running away from my father’s unsafe touch and punishing, overbearing, demeaning ways. I was also starving for my mother’s touch, affection, guidance and wisdom. I needed a safe haven in which I didn’t have to impress anyone, or get sick so I could be comforted.

Behind my history lies my mother’s history with her mother, my Grandma Z. One of my mother’s sad mantras was “I never had a mother.” She was correct. Grandma Z ran away with another man and divorced her first husband when my mother was very young.

My mother grew up without being cuddled, hugged or celebrated by her mother. Grandma Z favored her younger son, and treated my mother more like a toy doll. A plaything to dress up and display proudly. Not a little girl to listen to, love, comfort or encourage.

So there I was years later, a young woman. Uneasy in my body and spirit. Needy and pushing away at the same time. Haunted by my mother’s inability to affirm my body and my spirit. I didn’t think anyone would want to marry me. I also thought that having a man love me would heal my heartaches and take away the pain.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2018
Photo taken when I was 9 months old, 1 month before my father returned from the TB sanatorium; July 1944 in Charlotte, NC

being at home

being at home
in her spacious small body
the caged bird sings

My life has felt unusually restricted this winter. It seems outrageous. Here I am, an adult woman with my working years behind me, and ‘nothing’ to do but record thoughts going through my mind.

I’ve almost finished my slow reading of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’ve been on the lookout for times when the caged bird sings. Times when it seems there’s no way out. No way to reverse what’s happening. Until someone begins singing or writing or speaking, creating a different reality. Intangible yet real.

In addition, this morning I read the following lines from a favorite book on writing.

We can travel a long way and do many different things, but our deepest Happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences. It is born from letting go of whatever is unnecessary, and knowing ourselves to be always at home.

Sharon Salzburg, quoted in Gail Sher’s book, One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, p. 36, Penguin Group 1999

As Gail Sher puts it, “Home is where writing happens. The writer’s desk is a miniature world. Self-contained. Hopefully quiet. Anywhere else is somewhere else.”

It’s easy to write about somewhere else, or wish I were somewhere else. In someone else’s body or circumstances. I’m as prone to wandering as anyone. Besides, I think I’ve already had more than enough to say about myself.

Yet here I am today, feeling a tug to say more. In particular, more about my relationships with men. And saying it in a way that sets me free. The way Maya Angelou’s words about her life set her free.

Though my life might seem tame when compared with others, I used to think I would rather die than talk about my history with men. This past week I pulled out notes I made years ago that will help me do this. It’s important, because I believe my history with men was driven by things I was looking for. Not by something inherently wrong with me.

In the end, I want what sometimes has felt like a cage to be part of my home. The platform from which I sing.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 January 2018
Image found at

%d bloggers like this: