Dependence Daze

When I was younger I was fiercely independent, both financially and in spirit; I was as career oriented and ambitious as many of my male peers, if not more so; I didn’t ever harbor childhood fantasies of skipping down the aisle in a big white dress; and the maternal gene clearly got lost on its way to me.

But when I met Mike, I developed this irrational desire to be married. I was 33, still had no maternal feelings, but wanted to create a special, permanent bond with this man. Not because I wanted to be looked after, or provided for (although that is exactly how it has worked out!) but because I wanted to have a level of commitment with him that I had never had with other boyfriends; I wanted to mark that how we felt about each other was different.

But the irrational desire to be married didn’t change how I saw the world, how I saw my opportunities as a woman. And Mike certainly had no sexist expectations of a wife (if anything he dreamt about being at home whilst I worked).

Then one day everything changed: not me, not the inside, not my spirit or my values, but my outside world came crashing down. As CFS took over my body, I was physically unable to work and could no longer be the person I wanted to be; I had to learn the art of dependence. I struggled with this immensely at the beginning, it was such an alien concept to me; I was so used to having my own money (a lot of my own money).

And yes my health has improved, but not to the point that I have been able to return to my ‘big’ job. Recently, I have started venturing into freelance writing work, but I am not doing anything significant (yet…!). So essentially for eight years I have been a ‘kept’ woman. It still shocks me that this is where I have ended up.

As a result of my situation, I have ended up taking on many traditional female roles, not because my husband expects this, or because I have suddenly become a muffin making domestic goddess, but because he works long hours and this is what’s fair. But my beliefs haven’t changed: I still believe in a woman’s right to lead her life in any way she sees fit; I certainly don’t believe in traditional roles, I believe in choice. But can I still claim my feminist ideals if I don’t work? If I don’t contribute equally to our finances?

Of course, now that I am older, I understand that the black and white ideals of youth develop into shades of grey, as life complicates itself around those views. In my late twenties, as I stood in my swanky city centre apartment for the first time, proud to have bought it on my own, it never occurred to me that my future choices would be limited by illness.

Most of the time I don’t think about my dependence, or rather lack of independence, because I have learnt to focus on what I can do; and because human beings are adaptable and after eight years I’ve adjusted. I know that sometimes to the outside world I look like a ‘lady of leisure’, or a housewife (these roles are the antithesis of what I ever aspired to be), but I don’t worry about these observations, because I know my truth and how I have ended up here.

But when I stop to think about it (which I don’t allow myself to do very often, but I am reading a book with a strong feminist character at the moment, which is taking my mind down this road) I do feel a huge sense of loss for all that wasted potential in those difficult CFS years. And that sense of loss is eased by writing and working on taking that forward, but unless in the future I can find a way to be successful with it, I will be in danger of becoming a housewife with a hobby, a long way from my independent past.

As a young feminist I didn’t understand that not everything would always be in my control – with my ambitious career goals, I thought hard work was the only strategy I needed. As it turns out, I was completely wrong. But I was also wrong about dependence: it is not my enemy, or the awful thing I thought it would be. I am not made to feel less of a person by my husband because I no longer have a career, he does not use financial power to control me, it’s just how life worked out for us. And I have experienced the type of love and trust with a man I never thought I would experience; a type I don’t think I knew existed. How can I feel angry about that? I will never forget how lucky I am to have someone who supports me in this way.

And despite everything that has happened, I am still me, I still despise domestic life and cringe at the thought of being a housewife, I still aspire to be successful – it’s just not been as simple as the young me thought it would be. But when the time is right, the young feminist inside me is ready to come back out…

6 thoughts on “Dependence Daze

  1. Under your circumstances Karen, I feel it is absolutely essential to maintain your feminist ideals despite the fact you fell like a “kept woman”. I do not think your marital status should ever change the way you think. I am a feminist as well and have ME/CFS but am not married. I still however do whatever I can to promote women’s right’s (like being very outspoken about the ridiculous political debate raging in the US about woman’s contraception).

  2. Hi Karen,
    I think its very important for a woman to maintain independence, in whichever way that is. I do feel women get a rough deal. It’s far more acceptable it seems for us men to do things we wish to without public opinion being against us!. I really think that some women almost help that along with a desperation to have a partner even if they are not suitable. People should be accepted as equal regardless of sex, maybe one day that will happen. So yes, you retain your independence as well as your partnership, they are both valued x

    • Hey Rog

      How are you? Hope work is not too manic right now for you…

      Thank you for sharing a male perspective. And yes I’m sure you’re right about women not always helping themselves.

      Partnership AND independence sounds like the perfect balance.


  3. You have very fortunate circumstances, Karen, as you appreciate so eloquently, and have tremendous dignity.
    I’m completely dependent on my partner for all my needs because of my m.e. It is by my own standards, the worst case scenario as someone who used to adore her indepedence, but, hey, that’s life, and I refuse to let it bother me any more. Things like worldly aspirations and ambitions have had to go by the wayside for me.
    That’s not to say that I don’t still have dreams, but this experience of severe illness has changed me and the kinds of dreams I now have. I dream of being a yoga teacher, for example but I don’t do any yoga. I reason that in my imagined future life this would give me a sense of satisfaction, but I’ve nothing to base it on other than idle musings and the fact that the idea of doing ‘normal’ job might turn me into a kind of zombie.

    My life has changed so drastically, that my only ‘role’ now seems to be to regain my health first, as well as to support my partner who also has m.e.; and throughout all of it, my strongest role has always just been to be totally myself, however cheesy that sounds, and however badly I’ve played the role.

    You can’t become institutionalised when you have m.e., because it’s a very sensitive and individualistic illness whether you like it or not. I’ve never learned to compromise my individuality though, just because my ego is too big. (I know I have to work on that to evolve :-)….)
    I don’t think any circumstances can change our essential natures unless we willfully desire it, and if we were once feminist we aren’t able to not be feminists just because our circumstances change. At least, that’s my experience.

    I believe women are pragmatic, rescourceful and adaptable; it is just in our veins, and whatever life throws at us we will encompass creatively. You perfectly demonstrate this. x

  4. Hi Paula

    Thank you for another very interesting comment.

    I’m sorry to hear that your M.E. is so severe, that must be extremely tough. And as you say, when our health is challenged in this way our priority is to get better, as it should be.

    And it’s so interesting to me that when our worst fears are realised, we find other ways to experience joy, or it throws up other parts of us (yoga teacher dreams, writing dreams) that we didn’t know where there. I have fallen in love with writing, and that would never have happened in my previous fast paced, independent life.

    Yes, Paula women are all of the things you say they are – aren’t we amazing!

    Good luck with your recovery journey…


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