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So You Want My Support?

May 31, 2004

by

To a Poor Little Well-to-do Victim of Emotional Abuse:

 

"So you are a lifelong victim of spousal abuse. Your husband had it so easy with you, you were so naïve, right?  Well, there’s a price for everything.  I paid a price too - a price you happened not to be willing to pay. You never had to deal with being a single mother; you always had a husband to show in the very society you wanted to approve of you. You never had to leave your birth community, look for greener pastures, risk it all because of an inconvenient burning need for dignity and the emotional well-being of your kids. You had a mentor all your adult life. You are a published writer thanks to his work (you told me). You are not working as a receptionist because of him; he paved the way for the work you do together. You have led a comfy life; don't even know what a boss is."

 

Indeed, the little woman is neither more nor less fortunate or ignorant than you and me - she just happened to make a different choice. She's little but not stupid: she does have her perks. After my conversation with her and having asked my usual uncomfortable questions, the questions that no one asks, it became quite evident that all those times she had remained silent and complied, and pretended to believe he had a point in his verbal attacks, all those times she didn't answer him with the wit and self-respect I answer, when she could have asserted herself and didn’t, it was not just ignorance of her rights - she knew what she was doing, it was calculated victim-hood. She knew her options all right. And she chose. She could have made it irrelevant, ridiculous for her husband to continue with such incriminations and abusive comments. She could have shut him up like I shut him up so easily in a few exchanges when he tried his controlling tactics with me the other day and she appeared so awed at my skill. But she knew the Professor doesn’t do assertive women, she knew he'd leave, and that wasn't in her plans.

 

Sometimes I wish I had acted the little woman part at least for a few years in my life. I would have gotten ahead working gradually more and more at what I am good at and enjoy, my life's calling, rather than having a pressing need to make a full salary from day one (if you have a chance, see the movie "Frida" - the perks of knowing when to shut up in order to move up. Though the movie tries to give the opposite idea of her, to portray her as an independent woman with a lot of authenticity principles, to me she falls in the category of the typical female-charm exploiter and up-the-ladder manipulator.). But I never wanted to pay the price, compromise my self-respect. That was my choice;  I don't expect anyone to have sympathy for me for its consequences.

 

It angers me when these women suddenly pop up as dignity-seekers after the kids are all grown, the house is paid for, the friendships established, the profession entrenched. NOW they remember he has a bad character and they have a dignity... and NOW they remember you and I are so awesome, so insightful, so accomplished in our own right. We know so much about abusers and how to deal with them and get out of their traps. Why didn't they remember their dignity before? Too busy raising a family and enjoying the perks of a solid, conventional life in the warm nest of society, ah? They didn't have a

"dignity" in their thirties, it was not as convenient as now in their fifties.

 

So you and I have all this information for them, all this accumulated experience to share, we feel so clever, we’re going to teach them what they never knew before.  But they have a paid mortgage, children, and a whole community of connections and support from birth that you and I don't have.

 

What angers me is not their choices; that's their problem. What angers me is that I am called a Heartless Bitch if I don't pity them and reach out to support them now that their lives are in crisis because they have decided to change their priorities. One of the things that angers me most is when I am manipulated and pressured by society to pour sympathy where I don't think it's deserved, where my giving sympathy negates all that I am, all that I've chosen to face and put up with.

 

Which reminds me: I also had a rich husband once. One whom I left after one year of marriage because I felt I couldn't both be married to him and keep my self-respect..  And no one taught me from their experience.  I made my choice based on my gut; I had a self-respectful and a loud-talking gut that was willing to function on less food for the sake of more dignity. 

 

Conversely, there is, for example, my cousin: she married Prince Charming at 18, a rich heir who would pick her up from college in the trendiest car of the time (she so loved being the envy of her classmates, riding off at night while the other students waited for the bus under the rain in the bus-stop). He was very handsome, wore the right clothes, lived in the right place. Such a gentleman, so respected in the community, and such a serious suitor, wanted to get married right away. He loved her for her beauty and conventional sweetness, "as a woman should be loved". So what if he didn't have any college education or many cultural or humanistic inclinations while she was a highly educated, well-read, cultured person with humanistic and personal values? No one is perfect, right? So what if he had shunned his brother for life because his brother had married a woman whose race and past history Prince Charming didn't happen to approve of? That's only natural, right? So what if he was capable of turning his back on his closest ones without feeling a thing? Who is 17-year old HB cousin Greentea to comment that this may be a bad sign and maybe reconsider your choice of a future husband? Who's asking her, the woman of the inappropriate comments! We have a Prince Charming here, you little inconvenient brainy cousin! So what if he didn't give a damn about the people who were important in her life then, and treated them with disdain. So what if she had to abandon her world to be in his? Who looks at tiny details when Prince Charming is providing the dream?

 

Now, after having lived like a princess for 25 years, having had all that I never could even dream of (not only money: the secure backup of a man, servants to make her life smoother, the approval of her family and home community because she never rebelled against their values, a work-free life, the admiration of her peer group and her family for having landed such a husband), he ruins them financially in a most irresponsible way, and goes off with a 20-years-younger hairdresser. He forgets completely about their teenage kids, takes his ex-wife’s little savings right before divorce is final, makes a new baby he cannot feed with the new woman, and my cousin is so..........SURPRISED!

 

"She's having a hard time and she needs us, Greentea !", say others in my family. Well, so sorry, I beg to differ, even if that makes me a Heartless Bitch. I cannot give sympathy to someone who already enjoyed the perks of one world and now, when that stage has ended, because it was obvious it wouldn’t last forever, she is coming to me so I can teach her how to enjoy the advantages of MINE.

 

Where was she when I was having to share a room or an old scruffy apartment with whacko room-mates in a remote community at age 28, unlearning all my socialization and learning how not to be a doormat? She was shaking her head at me and rejecting me. Where was she when I was walking foreign streets in the middle of the night, trying to

learn a new language, looking for some waitress job, knowing I likely would never have the money to bear children? Where was she when I was living with strangers and struggling to develop new relationships because I had to keep changing my communities in search for the things I believed in: my independence, self-respect, genuine intimacy? Where was she when I was having to learn new customs, and accept being the outsider, the one who has to adapt? Where was she when I would write a happy letter back home to announce I was able to go one more week with something to eat (while just one of her various subscriptions to women's magazines would have ensured my biweekly groceries' budget)? Did I ever get a letter, or any other kind of note from her? No - not that I ever hoped for financial assistance, but I DID spend a few years hoping for at least a letter of encouragement or support). But then she was busy being Mrs. Plush Penthouse over the sea, just out of the en-suite Jacuzzi, watching the soap-opera as she wore her diamond and gold jewelry for the cocktail party (I saw it) - and making sure she didn't have much exposure to ME, the rebellious cousin.

 

So now the poor victim has decided to make a change in her life, live in dignity. It's perfectly valid, but it doesn't automatically make her a victim worthy of my extra work and support.  Just as my own choices and their consequences didn't make me eligible for her sympathy and extra work back then.

 

Sometimes I fear that we (the ones who chose the unconventional path) are so ready to give these new "victims" sympathy and embrace them because during all those lonely, anguished years of our wandering, we so yearned for these peers to understand us, to make us feel we had someone back home.  Yet we were invisible to them or severely judged all along. Hard to believe, but during our fight to survive, what hurt most was the fight against that ingrained inner voice that said we weren't as good as THEM; that there was something right with them and wrong with us.

 

And now the miracle is happening! Now they suddenly remember us, and they UNDERSTAND us! Now they say they wish they had been like us! Our dream has come true!  Suddenly they have time for us, they treat us nicely. Finally, they see our point and don't look with contempt at our struggles to lead a different life.  We finally get the validation that we so craved from them all these years - we have strived and thrived and overcome all that was thrown in our faces, but one thing still remains unhealed: we still yearn for these women's approval. So now here they come, and some of us readily make

room for them and go out of our way to help, because they, poor things, are going

through a hard time and are not used to making it without help.  Well, sorry, but NO. Even if it makes me a Heartless Bitch by society's norms. NO!

 

I refuse to waste my pity and energy on people who are tackling a new stage in their lives after having squeezed the perks of the stage they're leaving behind. Does she share her paid-for mortgage with me? No, wait, that's hers! Does she share her kids with me? No, that's the fruit of her work. Does she share her jewels, her lifelong friends with me? No. On the contrary: she prides herself in having a million friends (many of them from kindergarten, since she never had to move away) while she thinks there's something wrong with me because I hardly have any likeminded souls around me. She invites me to her (jointly-owned with her abuser) home and she shakes her head when I say, matter-of-factly, that I will never be able to afford owning my place. She doesn't understand how a person can NOT have anyone to eat dinner with. Well, excuse me, if she had remembered her dignity back then, and had taken the road less traveled (against all opposition), like I chose to do, it's likely she wouldn't have a family or lifelong friends wanting to have dinner with her tonight either!  The life of an authentic person is more paved with rejection and isolation and less with cheering crowds.  Though I personally wouldn’t change it for anything - not that my natural personality left me a choice.

 

Her heroism was different from mine: she was good at putting up with abuse, hiding it from everyone, telling the right lies, paying the price for comfort, inventing herself as a 'RESPECTABLE' citizen.  Only, now that she has all that secured, she wants MY perks: She wants "dignity", independence, assertiveness. She left her emotionally abusive husband. Ok. Fine. I applaud you, I validate you, but go get a dignified life for yourself on your own. I don't have time to help you, I have more important things to do than keep my arms stretched so that you don't fall with your nose on the ground as you learn how to survive without a daddy at 54!

 

This is one of the things my family despise me for: that I don't lavish sympathy when I don't think it's deserved, that I think critically, that I ask questions, that I need more facts to convince me before I am ready to declare someone a victim in need of my help.

 

Greentea




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