“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
As admirable as martyrs are, it is no doubt that most of us have secretly wondered if there is something wasteful about self-sacrifice and defeatist attitudes, that compel people to self-immolate just to make a statement. After all, if a life is worth living, nothing should come in the way of happiness, personal growth and expansion. Suffering is a temporary condition for everyone, but some people make suffering into a life-long drama that never concludes in a happy ending.
Sure, we all have temporary bouts of misfortune, and wallow in misery for periods of time long enough to reassess, readjust, and march forward. Without suffering we cannot grow, we can’t overcome, and can’t self-actualize into thriving beings who appreciate all that life has to offer.
Nevertheless, some people never move past the suffering stage, accept it as a permanent condition, and when offered medicine, reject it as if it is somehow more admirable to remain in pain than move on.
As a keen observer of the human condition, a dabbler in psychoanalysis, and a self-actualized hedonist, I can’t help but wonder, what is going on with the female sex. Throughout history, we have been known to suffer more than our fair share, and most of us have unfortunately accepted the myth of being born the weaker sex, therefore destined to feel pain more profoundly than our counterparts.
While most of my American friends are confidently making strides in self-discovery, expansion, and independence, friends from other cultures are stubbornly fixed to traditional “values”, be they gender stereotypes, or religious mores that dictate a proper attitude for a woman is to fear free love, relationships and sex, as they guarantee pain, rejection and insecurity. Though the concept seems old fashioned and even prudish, the attitude that a woman’s heart is somehow too weak to handle loss, rejection, or an end of a relationship, still pervades our culture. The few of us who have successfully managed to shed that insecurity, and actually enjoy each and every relationship, no matter how insignificant it is, are still met with criticism. Yet most of the critics are not men, our biggest detractors are women.
Men, I have found, love the self-actualized woman. They admire women who “run with wolves”, lead their own lives, enjoy life’s gifts, and make no apologies. These women don’t protect themselves from pain and discomfort, they dive right into relationships even when they hold no promise of commitment at all. They don’t fear loss, or waste time psychoanalyzing each lover as if he is the end all, be all. Instead, they just live and enjoy every moment of it.
Women, on the other hand, are the biggest detractors of self actualization. They, in fact are, what is holding our gender back from shedding Victorian attitudes towards love, sex, and relationships, and are promoters of drama, emotional hardship, and suffering, simply through their insistence that it is the feminine way to be. When faced with a friend who has taken a new lover, and is enjoying him purely and without concern, women are quick to point out that there is something wrong with her, that without fear and agonizing insecurity, she is being self-destructive, especially if she doesn’t obsess about commitment.
This attitude is slowly dying here in America, but is alive and thriving in other cultures. My conservative friends insist on protecting themselves from men, by rejecting the ones who do not promise commitment, marriage and babies. They view each relationship that didn’t conclude in a proposal, as a tragic failure. Worse yet, the men are accused of stealing something precious from them, whether it’s their time, their heart, or their ego. In each case, the relationship ends with suffering, commiseration, and male bashing.
And this is what I don’t understand about women (even though I am one). Why do some women act like they are owed a relationship? When they don’t get that eternal pledge of allegiance they want, they act like they have been robbed. Contrary to what you believe ladies, no one owes you the commitment you fantasize about. Since when are you entitled to a human sacrifice?
The whole point of relationships is to get to know one another. A relationship is an inspection period, where both parties get to sample the goods before making a commitment. And here is where the perspectives differ. Women who are free and open to love, understand that there are no guarantees. We must kiss a few frogs before finding that prince, and until we find him, we will have a good time anyway. And if we don’t find a prince, we’ll slay our own dragons.
Women who suffer, want guarantees that they will not be hurt. Though they say they want to take the relationship slowly, they are actually counting on that walk down the aisle from the first date. At that point, the minute a man doesn’t conform to their list of requirements, he is guilty of everything from being a psychopath, a womanizer, a compulsive liar, to a sex thief. But really, with that attitude, isn’t a hit and run tactic the only option for a man who does not want to meet your Victorian expectations?
Women who suffer see themselves as victims of unscrupulous men. These women are moraled and principled to such high standards that even the pope can’t meet. The suffering is ingrained in their persona, that they view themselves as martyrs, and their heartache as an agonizing laceration that bleeds for years. No new experiences can mend them, and rather than lick their wounds and march forward, they see their sainthood in that suffering. When they meet a woman who shuns suffering, enjoys her life, her loves, and her experiences, they roll their critical eyes, and accuse her of all kinds of immoral and lascivious things.
A woman who knows herself, refuses to bitch, or accuse men of not granting her commitment, is a woman who is truly alive. She accepts that each man is not prince charming, nor does he have to be. Relationships are merely a journey, or a road to self discovery. Along that road there will be princes, frogs and wolves, but each has something to teach.
It is experience, whether in life or in love, that shapes who we are as human beings. Without experience, we are infantile creatures who insist on a lifetime pledge to love, honor and obey, and demand a human sacrifice instead of a healthy relationship. Yet culture dictates that a psychologically healthy woman must have far less experience than a man. With less experience come ignorance, insecurity, fear and desperation- symptoms women have suffered from for centuries. And while in the past, it was a necessary part of our upbringing, today, it is a handicap that almost guarantees a woman will attach herself to any male, and insist on his protection, devotion, and obedience. When she doesn’t get that fairy tale she has been taught to save herself for, she suffers an emotional breakdown that paralyses her from moving on.
Some of us have seen past this contrivance to reign in female emotional development, to the point of infantile dependence on a man for personal safety and happiness. Blame it on culture, religion or patriarchy if you want, but analysis will not change anything. What will change the situation is encouraging women to expand, make their own rules, and enjoy their own decisions.
By encouraging the women who can enjoy life and relationships, rather than the ones who can’t, we can create a situation where we lead by example. After all, there is no better teacher than someone who is doing well, thriving and expanding to create her own version of personal happiness.
To be clear, suffering is a sign that something isn’t going well. It’s not something to accept, identify with, or base future relationships on. Suffering is something to recover from, learn from, then walk away from. If relationships bring you nothing but emotional pain, there may be nothing wrong with the men in your life. It may be worthwhile to explore your belief system and filter out the attitudes that no longer serve you.
After all, we live in the twenty-first century, when it is unreasonable to wait for a knight in shining armor to rescue and bring emotional stability to our lives.
A woman is far more likely to meet an excellent man, by being excellent herself. That excellence doesn’t stem from suffering or martyrdom, it comes from experience, maturity, exposure and worldliness.