Confession time. My name is Sam and I have a problem with authority. Not a problem with authority figures, just people speaking authoritatively at me. Even more specifically: “You have to.” Do I now? Do I? Because as soon as somebody tells me a thing is always done a certain way, I am scrabbling to find a different way to do it. I don’t have to do anything you say, because I am clearly a toddler and you can’t make me. Tradition, eh? Not my tradition!
It’s embarrassing, and I feel it coming on every time, so I do my best to reign in my knee-jerk reaction and find a reasonable, mature middle ground…though, as my patient husband knows, it might take a day or two of me moaning and groaning and kicking my feet around the house first before I give in to a perfectly reasonable request.
I know the root of this behavior. It only goes back about seven years, and before that I was the most amenable person around. Like, “I don’t mind one way or the other, so let’s always do it your way” type of amenable. Now, there’s a long answer and a short answer to all this. The long answer is one that I haven’t decided whether to blog about, so I’ll leave it aside for now. I might change my mind in the future, as I gauge the sort of community I’m reaching out to with my little slice of the web here (she says hopefully). I used to be a huge over-sharer, but the Internet is not the same beast it was in my youth.
Look, I’m stalling already.
Since the long answer is out, here’s the short answer: before I was with my now-husband, I spent a solid five years in an emotionally controlling relationship, which only ended when I hit rock bottom depression and the fallout of leaving finally seemed minimal compared to the consequences of staying.
Leaving was transformative for me. A precious kernel of my identity is now wrapped around the fact that I said no and can say no whenever I need to. If an innocent suggestion comes across too much like an order, I get defensive and contrary and turn to stone. It’s like my autonomy is being challenged and I have to prove to myself over and over that I control my own life and nobody can make me do anything I don’t want to do.
See? Like I said. I’m back to toddler level boundary development here. At least, as far as I can tell, this is the only remaining baggage I carry from that relationship (she says hopefully). And I’m not a total domineering nightmare. I welcome second opinions and well-meaning advice. I like brainstorming with other people on projects and plans. It just has to come at me without that little imperative.
Here are examples of my prickliness in action:
“You have to do X for Y holiday/rite of passage.” Guess what I have to say to that? NO FLOWERS AT MY WEDDING. NO MONEY GRUBBING CASH DANCE, EITHER. NO TURKEY ON THANKSGIVING (on this one I sometimes relent). I DON’T WANT ANYTHING FOR VALENTINE’S, I DON’T WANT ANYTHING FOR MOTHER’S DAY, AND WHAT THE HELL IS A PUSH PRESENT??
I have strong opinions on everything and I will Google everything you say and find a small detail to correct. (Charming, I know! But I was right, wasn’t I?)
“You have to water this plant every day.” Yeah it’s going to die, why did you gift me something that takes effort?
“You have to go to the doctor.” I’ll live.
The one plaguing me most recently, in response to my husband and I alternating our work schedules and utilizing the bare minimum babysitting necessary for us both to keep our jobs: “You still have to have a life.” (Usually coupled with encouragement to leave town)
Do I? Do I now?? Welp, I’ve been challenged, looks like I’m not going on vacation for another twenty years. Sorry husband, see you again one day. But really: I’ve got a job, and a baby, and I see my friends once in a while, and I’m writing a book (she says hopefully). That’s enough life for now.
Let’s skip the rest of the examples and assume that any imperative involving childcare will get my hackles up. You do you! But if you try to tell me I’ve got to do something I just yell GROOOOOOT and form a protective Groot ball around the baby. I then float away in a self-contained vehicle of twigs and lights, and that is the end of that conversation.
That’s my deal.