The Myth of the Better Half, (Part One)
From time to time in my life, I have shown up at a bar or restaurant by myself, and—as I stood beside the ‘Please Wait to be Seated’ sign—I have made eye contact with the host or hostess, and been asked:
It doesn’t have to be a loaded question, but to me it often feels that way.
“Yup!” I’ll say, (too enthusiastically.)
“Just me today!” with a cheerful laugh, which is meant to reassure them that I feel great about my life, and they shouldn’t worry about me because I really—seriously!—do have friends with whom I go to restaurants and bars and such places, so my being alone on this particular occasion is completely, 100 percent, a choice.
I have chosen to write about this phenomenon now because it so often feels awkward to me, and it bothers me that it does. I wish I was confident enough not to feel at all awkward about going out by myself, and I wish it was a more common occurrence in our society to see someone—and especially a woman—hanging out in a public place by herself.
I am coming at this issue from a very specific angle, because I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about relationships and about the way that female lives throughout history have been defined by them. I just recently had a long-term, committed relationship come to an end, and part of the reason I think it was healthy for both of us in the long term (despite it being quite painful in the short-term) is that I had lost track of who I was as an individual. I found that I had—almost alarmingly easily—put much of my life on hold in the service of the “we” of the relationship, and then I was puzzled by the feelings of bitterness and resentment that plagued me. Most alarming of all was that I seemed to lose touch with some core part of myself that was trying to get my attention about these parts of myself that I was abandoning. I simply stopped listening to my intuition because it seemed to threaten a relationship that was close to my heart. It felt too dangerous.
So I plugged up my ears.
And—although I hate to admit it—part of my fear was about leaving a very comfortable spot behind and about being single again when I hadn’t been single in about eight years. I realized to my horror that I was worried about leaving behind my status as a partner because I had wrapped myself up in this identity in a way that helped me feel safe. I had been ‘chosen.’ There lingered within me, (though I hated to acknowledge it even to myself), a fear of being single. I realized that yes, even in 2015—and even as a staunch feminist who was ready to defend the freedom of women everywhere to define their own paths and their own lives whether or not this included marriage and motherhood—even with all of this being true, I was terrified of growing old alone; of being left out once all of the couples had been formed and sanctified; of not making the cut and not being chosen as somebody’s wife.
When I realized that this fear lurked within me, I was at first filled with rage. And then, I just felt very, very sad.
What I wish to write about is what I have come to think about as “The Myth of the Better Half”, a pervasive and influential storyline in our culture in which we go out in search of an ideal partner who will complete us and make us whole. I think that it is a particularly dangerous myth for women (although I could be wrong–I’ll have to think about this one more), and I have personally experienced how this myth perpetuates a nagging sense of self-doubt and a persistent, troublesome lack of fulfillment. When I hear people introduce a partner as “my better half”, I feel sad. Why, when we pause to acknowledge of a partner’s beautiful contributions to our life do we feel the need to diminish ourselves within the equation of the relationship?
To be continued.