I have not dated seriously in the age of Facebook. I've never had the opportunity to set a profile picture of the boyfriend and me on the shores of Nassau drinking Mai Tai’s, or the thrill that must come from changing my relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship” (or even better, from “in a relationship” to “engaged” or “married”.) I've watched many love lives play out on Facebook through pictures of date night and status updates to the “the best boyfriend on the planet” quickly revert to ambiguous messages that read “don’t take people for granted. No matter how much they love you, people eventually get tired.” It got me to thinking about a forgotten relationship status: Taken. For granted.
This is an easily identifiable problem in a relationship that can create a vacancy that leaves you feeling…well, single.
There is a clear and evident pathology in the way I approach my role in romantic relationships, a trend in my habits that can set me up to feel taken for granted if I am not careful to tend to my own needs. As a woman, the nurturer in me never takes a backseat to anything. I am predisposed to tend to the needs of others as I juggle multiple projects, hobbies, ideas, activities and household responsibilities in addition to facing the demands of two jobs and the challenges of a rigorous law degree. It’s enough to convince a person that I am Super Woman and that all this comes easy. Before you know it I have “loved” a man into a position of dependency that has left me feeling taken for granted. (Read my post “Some Assembly Required” for evidence of such. I am also going to use this as my excuse for not posting over the last few weeks. So there).
I am the perfect Photoshop version of both my parents. A face just like my Mom’s but with the physical build of my Dad (womp, womp, womp…) Moreover, I possess the strong desire to build and sustain a home as my mother coupled with the painstaking work ethic of my father. I don’t have the personality to be “housewife” like mom; I need to work to feel complete. Yep, "need". And this makes the likelihood of feeling taken for granted in a relationship even higher as I strive to do it all. I believe strongly in gender roles. Call me old fashioned. But my grandmother used to make me serve my brother when we went to her house for dinner and I hated that “ish”! So I've got some scars! At 9 years old I would yell, “He ain’t my husband!” We “women” couldn't serve ourselves until every male in proximity had been served. But I guess she was preparing me for the role she believes a woman should play as it relates to a man. And I must say it’s stuck with me. Though, I don’t serve my brother anymore, I make his girlfriends do that. (Awkward in-law moment: "Aren't you gonna fix his plate?" Heh, heh, heh. Kid sister wins again! But , I digress...) I grew up in a household where my dad was the sole breadwinner, and my mom was a homemaker. It was my mom who cooked each meal (except when my dad and I would pretend to be Julia Childs and make breakfast or lemonade –our specialty.) My mom helped with science projects, taught me to fold laundry, cleaned, and paid the bills with the money my dad brought home. She insured there was nothing my dad needed to do when he came home from his strenuous blue collar job except, eat dinner, watch the game, read his Bible, play Barbies, with me, and cuddle with her. It makes me wonder, “Mom, did Daddy ever make you feel taken for granted?”
The feeling of being taken for granted can happen at any stage in a relationship, in the beginning, in the middle, and can very well be the issue that brings a relationship to its end. We can take a person for granted without even knowing it, expecting that they will clean the dishes, or pay the bill, mail that birthday card, set the doctor’s appointment, answer when we call, or forgive us when we've done wrong. Whether it is intentional or not, being taken for granted is a painful feeling that can turn into a vicious cycle that will make you feel insignificant and may affect your self esteem as you inevitably give more in hopes that the person on the receiving end will one day recognize your commitment. Before you know it you will have forfeited your own happiness, and need to be taken care of by busying yourself taking care of someone else.
Here is my simple piece of advice if you feel like you are being taken for granted, make yourself a priority and other people will make you a priority too. It's like commercial travel when the stewardess tells you to secure your own air mask before you assist others. Even your child's! This is extraordinary advice that applies to an amazing number of life's challenges. No, it's not "selfish" or lacking in empathy, charity, volunteerism or devotion to your relationship. It's not "don't help others", but rather "Secure your own mask first." What good are you to anybody else when you are on your last leg?
When you look back on the mistakes you've made. The times you gave a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th chance, and those chances are squandered still. When you forgave though you've never heard “I’m sorry”. And kept hope for a change you’d probably never see. When you've sacrificed more and went against your better judgment. Don’t ask yourself “What was I thinking?!”
Ask yourself, “What was I learning?”
You cannot love someone to your own detriment. That's not love.
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