UPDATE - Rebecca R -
[Disclaimer: long email-sorry]
I came to your retreat to figure out why I was unsettled in life despite having what I thought I should want. I knew that I was unhappy living in a world where no matter what I accomplished in terms of career or personal growth, friends, family and even acquaintances would look at me with an air of pity upon learning that no, I am not married and no, I don’t have children. This has always made me uncomfortable. It felt like I was the only person not in on the joke or who couldn’t see the image in the Magic Eye. What I’ve learned is that the ones who believe in marriage and traditional family as the ultimate in personal fulfilment have been duped. I started thinking about this when you talked about becoming more open to the idea that one can get similar love and fulfilment in life through many ways that don’t include becoming a wife and mother. Like many other women in the room, this was a tough one for me. I had always thought that this was something I should hope and strive for, and that my life wouldn’t be complete without it. What I see now is the enormity of the social pressure put on women to marry and reproduce and the negative consequences it can hold for those who buy into this myth.
I work as a menopause specialist and have examples of these consequences walking through my door each day. I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out sooner. Women come to me hoping I can help them with the physical symptoms of nature putting an end to their reproductive years. What ends up happening in many cases is me trying to help them grapple with the depression and anxiety that comes when for a woman's whole life, she tied internal happiness to the external concepts of family and marriage. At this time in her life, the children have usually left the nest, and her marriage may not be the endless fountain of love and happiness that she hoped or was promised it would be (if she is still married). She may have aging parents that now present a whole new demand on her time and energy. Although it is by no means hopeless, I find it incredibly heartbreaking that these women have lived out possibly their best years believing a lie that restricted them from knowing and becoming their true selves.
When I lived my life looking through the lens of this concept (marriage and family ideal), I made decisions that weren’t in keeping with who I am or what I want in life. I stayed in a job that burned me out because I felt it was a duty and looked good on paper. I stayed in a relationship where I felt alone and unseen because I felt that at this time of my life, I should be settling down. If I can fall for it, anyone can. Having this veil lifted is the greatest gift I got from the retreat and for that I can’t thank you enough.
Within a few weeks of returning home from Florida, I broke up with my boyfriend, moved out of my house, and quit the part of my job I hated. My slate couldn’t be more clean and I’ve never been happier. Fortunately I have lots of professional opportunities and my task now is figuring out how to make my job work for me in that I find ways to accomplish the goals that are important to me in other areas of my life. I enrolled in a distance education course that will give me more of that freedom and flexibility. I have started to nurture the creative parts of myself that had been left untended- dusting off the SLR camera on my shelf and taking a photography class. I’m cooking again, something I absolutely love but had stopped doing because my ex never encouraged it. And of course, travel (sending this to you from Greece).
Do I still hope to one day find a partner I’m excited about and have a family? Of course. But I am now focused on finding and cultivating love in a broader sense. I’m working on surrounding myself with a life so full that I will never consider settling ever again.
I read “Becoming Wise” by Krista Tippett and came across this passage that I think sums it up:
“Strangest of all, on this planet, is the way we continue to idealize romantic love and crave it for completion- to follow those love songs and those movies...This is the opposite of a healing story - it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. I have love in my life, many forms of loving. As I settled into singleness, I grew saner, kinder, more generous, more loving in untheatrical everyday ways. I can’t name the day when I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word. And here is another, deeper carelessness, which I am absolving in a spirit of adventure: I come to understand that for most of my life, when I was looking for love, I was looking to be loved. In this, I am a prism of my world. I am a novice at love in all its fullness, a beginner.”
You are empowering women in perhaps more ways than you even realize. I would love to one day be able to help out on the retreat because I believe this work is so important. I volunteered for the Retreat Elite so maybe our paths will cross again.
Matthew, Stephen, Steve, I’m speaking for womankind (I’m sure they won’t mind) when I say thank you from the bottom of our renewed heart.
Lots of love