When I got to Mom's house, the guys were sprawled out on all of the living room furniture and the floor, watching TV. Eventually the girls gathered in Mom's bedroom, lounging on the floor and the bed to chat without the noise of a TV. Male bonding vs. female bonding, at its best.
My sister Joelle's family was visiting from Idaho, and the girl talk covered everything from rodeo queen contests to shopping to working to dating to men to marriage.
When Erika received a text as she was lying across the chest at the end of the bed, she covered her face with her hands, and groaned. "My friend is having guy trouble," she revealed. "I told her she should just let them all go, and start over. Why does she even need a guy right now?"
I thought about that. I've BEEN thinking about that for several weeks.
There sat my mom, married five times; divorced once, widowed three times, currently married. I think the longest she has ever been single is six months, if that. Then there's me; married twice, divorced twice. And my sister. Married once, and keeping it that way. Erika dates. She isn't saddled with a boyfriend. And little Kiana, eight years old, was just soaking in the experience of being included with the big girls' talk.
When I was 25, I jumped into my first marriage with a near-stranger five weeks after meeting him, thinking this was my only chance at being a wife. He was the first guy I dated more than twice; it must have been a sign, right? (Yes, I know how bad that sounds.) The marriage lasted 22 years, but I knew after one week that we were not a good match. We were two good people who had three great kids, but the marriage wasn't exactly made in heaven.
After the divorce, I was on a mission to find a man with whom I could share my life. My strategy was to find someone who was an opposite of husband number one. Within a week of the finalization of the divorce, I did just that. We were an item within a few weeks, and married 18 months later. That lasted four years.
You may wonder why I felt like I was incomplete without a man in my life. I came hard-wired for connection, right out of the chute. My therapist implied that my abandonment issues stemmed from my parents' divorce when I was ten. I grew up seeking male attention like it was water.
Can I just tell you how pleased I am that I have been single for five whole months now? I took some time to just be by myself before I put myself out in the dating world again. I haven't jumped into a new relationship, half-cocked, ready to settle down with the first man who showed interest. (Believe me; I'm as shocked as you are by that revelation.) I now know that I don't have to have a man in my life to be whole. Why couldn't I have learned that when I was Erika's age? The important thing is I'm learning it.
What I have learned is that when we give up who we are to fit in to the life of another, we lose ourselves. We don't need to fit in anywhere. When we know our value, when our self-esteem is healthy, we know we belong, just as we are. There is no need to change who we are to have others accept us.
That night when I went home, I wondered if our conversation would have an impact on my beautiful nieces. I wish I'd heard the things that we had discussed when I was a little girl.
I wish someone had told me that I am enough, that I don't need anyone else to complete me. I wish I had understood that a healthy relationship takes place between two individuals who have their own lives, their own opinions and interests, and maintain their identities even after becoming a couple.
Erika and Kiana heard my telling about a friend who keeps trying to remind me that men are not the main course in life; they are the dessert. It falls to me to live a full life and make myself happy. When the right man comes along, I will know it because he won't need me, either, but he will want me, just as I won't NEED him to feel complete. I'll already be whole on my own. "Men are the dessert in life, Denise." I'm trying to let that sink in. I may want to share my life with a man, but I don't NEED one to be happy.
After Erika returned to Idaho, she sent me a graphic she had found on Pinterest. "The smartest thing a woman can ever learn is to never need a man." I don't think I'm going to have to worry about that girl. She's smart, and she knows she is just fine, just as she is, whether there is a man in her life or not. I'm a pretty proud aunt right here, and I'm taking notes.
Little Kiana, were you listening? You are perfect, just the way you are. You can be happy whether a boy is interested in you, or not. You are beautiful, smart, strong, and whole, whether you are single or part of a couple. Take care of you. Be happy, be active, and live with your whole heart. Listen to your big sister; she has a good head on her shoulders. One day, you may want to share your life with a good man. Just remember, in the banquet of life, men are the dessert, not the main course. Choose well, Sweetie.