Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Too Independent?

While moving house this weekend, several people offered to help. One actually did (most kindly, even though she was sick, she drove the thirty kilometres to my house and bullied me into actually packing), but I had declined most offers. When I went to one friend's house for dinner on Saturday, he asked me if I'd manage, since he was one of the people who promised help--but in the way he wanted to, which was coming to oversee the movers in the evening, regardless of the fact that I was moving in the morning--and wasn't going to deliver.

I looked at him and said, of course I'll manage. I always manage; what's your point? I've always moved house by myself. (Except when I was living with dragonfly, when she and her then boy helped. But even then. I just benefited from her presence cos her boy was helping her.)

He looked a bit shocked and said, maybe you're too independent.

It's a lesson I've learned well now: I'd better be able to do it myself because what's the alternative when people let you down? Curl up in a ball and refuse to move? The only people I know will always be there for me, regardless of anything else, the people who I can call at 2am and say please, come and help me pack up my glasses, and they will come, are my parents. And Scoo, of course.

But it made me think about it. I realise that I wasn't quite as cynical about this pre-BBot. (Hee shall I create my version of BCE and CE: BBB and ABB?) I put a lot of pressure on that relationship, maybe because people have let me down in the past, and I somehow thought that a boyfriend wouldn't--surely it's in the job description? I guess some teenage and early-twenties relationship experience would have helped eh?

When I was moving house in 2009--about four and a half months into our relationship--BBot swore he'd dedicate the entire weekend to helping me pack and move. He was buying my couch off me as well, so he'd come and oversee movers for that, etc. My parents asked me if they should keep the weekend free to help, but I blithely told them there was no need; I'd got it--my friends, more importantly, my boyfriend, would help.

The Friday before the move, there was a mad house party. As I've said in the past, BBot didn't make much effort to get to know my friends, especially at that point. I knew that it would end up being like a frat party, with everyone completely smashed and behaving outrageously. I also knew that he would neither indulge in that kind of behaviour nor enjoy watching other people do it. I told him. He insisted on coming anyway. Predictably, he did not have fun. He got increasingly upset as the night went by, and I got increasingly drunk and crazy. We got home, and the next morning he wouldn't look me in the eye or talk to me. I tried very hard to coax out of him what the problem was--I figured he'd felt excluded and rejected and was upset. He yelled at me, telling me that I was crazy. We were all behaving like spoiled college kids. Didn't we realise we were adults and should behave like adults? Grow up! he exhorted me. I was pretty hurt, so I got angry and told him that he was being ridiculously judgemental, and I had told him not to come! He left. I didn't hear from him for two days--the two days he was supposed to be helping me move.

I called my mum and ran home to be fed and cossetted a bit, and she came back with me to help me pack. My dad came with the movers and oversaw them and took the truck back home with all the stuff. I made two trips to my new place with my stuff, and dumped it. Eventually, BBot showed up, with his flatmate, to collect the couch. I was thinking wtf dude? He skulked about and muttered to me how he felt left out and alienated by my friends, and he was sorry he hadn't answered the phone or even called me, but he really did need the space.

That might have been the beginning of the end. We managed to drag it on a while though eh?

The effect this incident had was twofold.

First, that's the first time in my adult life that I had fully put my trust in a guy, and he crashed that plane well. Second, that was the first time I had put all my belief in our relationship and he kinda pooped on it. Especially because he kept saying it was my fault for taking him to that party. I don't think I was ever able to put that much faith in him and his commitment to our relationship ever again, which is why he probably felt he was not man enough for me etc etc.

The thing is, the universe gives women very contradictory signals. On the one hand, you're not supposed to put expectations on people because then you'll be disappointed and it'll be your own fault. On the other hand, women must be frail and delicate and need men. You may say I'm simplifying it, but even if one looks at the middle ground--be self-sufficient, but don't be incapable of asking for help--once you've been let down enough times, regardless of emotional effect, you kind of just get used to doing it on your own because it would never get done otherwise. Also, some sorts of gender-based divisions of labour are hard to incorporate in your life simply because you do live on your own for a long time before there is a man to kill the spiders or change the tyres*. You can't live your life unable to do these things until a guy comes along! And once you're in the habit of doing it yourself, you're in the habit. It's hard to change. The older you get, the harder it gets. Of course, one hopes that the older they get the less men care about this stuff. I'll keep you posted on that.

I do know women, like Dragon, who are totally capable but manage to exude this aw-pore-lil-me thing that has men flocking to drive them places, buy their drinks, carry their bags and help them with this, that and the other. I just can't do it. What you see is what you get. Growing up, Amma taught us to be self-sufficient--always be able to carry your luggage on your own. Learn to change tyres and lightbulbs. Try doing it on your own first!--and so I had to learn to ask for help.And once I did, I found it's harder to deal with help being refused or, worse, promised and then denied, than with just having to take care of yourself. So I can't deny that a large amount of my independence has more to do with fear of those two things than with actually being self-sufficient. Deep inside, I *do* want to be able to sit back and rely on someone. I just don't want to deal with the crashes, or even test a relationship that much.

*Completely random choices; I realise there are many kinds of roles and thingies. substitute whatever works for you.


  1. First, it was utterly shameless of 'friend' to ask 'you managed?' after the fact. If he cannot be bothered to actually help, you'd think he'd have the good sense to just STFU. It would take a massively thick skin not to get the jibe in the "I always manage". Yeah, everyone will manage - and if they can't they're unlikely to call someone who's offer of help is so conditional - but that's hardly ideal.

    About BBot, I think he was reacting to some insecurity which he couldn't articulate and being your boyfriend, I think not coming to party should not/would not be the desirable option, but regardless of fight and whose fault it was, flaking on the move is pretty unforgivable. Even more shameless is coming to pick up the couch later!

    About independence, everyone needs to be independent for their own sake. But yeah people who give off the air that they can manage get taken for granted - not just by men. Like the 'being available' thing, it's more pronounced with men, because these behaviours are part of the mating game, but with anyone, if you get pegged as someone who can manage, then people tend to think 'hahn she'll manage'. There's no solution to this one though - you don't actually want to cultivate false helplessness that might dangerously morph into true helplessness.

  2. well he was asking before the fact and he is a bit shameless...
    and exactly, i don't want to cultivate the false helplessness, for that reason, but also because i am *not* helpless and i hate this whole idea of pretending to be something you're not while courting and then being all surprised when people aren't who you thought they were.

  3. Totally be self sufficient for your own self and because that's good for everyone, male or female. But be open to offers of help, i.e., let people join in without feeling bad about it. To rephrase one of the last bits: you should be able to rely on someone/people but don't want to 'sit back'. That's moving into helplessness territory.

    C. A.

  4. Acrosticus, total agreement. It's just not easy to execute, and harder to deprogram as you get older. You can't deny that it is socially acceptable for men to not need to ask for help, and women don't tend to take it as a personal judgement on their womanliness. Most guys I know will tell me straight that yaar, you're toh too independent, you have to make a guy feel like he's the guy.

  5. of course of course.but you don't want guys like that anyway. though as the flatmate says she only knows a handful of Indian guys who are neither nasty nor patronizing. sigh.

  6. HELL YEAH! it's disturbingly genetic. and am quite sick of the play helpless advice...well elast she's over there with you sot heres non indian guys in the markt as it were

  7. What The Bride said.

    What the hell is 'too independent' anyway? I'm dealing with my shit as any sane and sensible person would, what's to take offence or be surprised about there?!

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  8. exactly my point dewdrop. but i do think there is such a thing as too independent, when you don't know how to ask for help, even when you need it. in this case he was surprised that i felt no worry about dealing with movers alone--i even rode in the tempo with them because i don't have a car and they didn't know the destination, and it's not easy to follow an auto.