In need of putty.

by mssinglemama on August 7, 2011

My mother, a bona fide thrift expert, a finder of all things worth finding, hands me a copy of Gloria Steinem‘s Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem.

“I got it for free,” she says, “Isn’t that amazing? And I’ve always wanted to read it.”

I pick up the book and open the cover. I love the smell of books, and even more I love feeling them in my hands. The pages of this book are dusty, the corners folded. Key points are underlined with a steady hand. While I’m sure most women my mother’s age have heard of it, I have not. I find this tragic and add it to the running ticker in my head, a check list of everything in the world I want to experience or understand before I’m too old or too dead.

It’s an impossible standard because the more I learn about something, the more I realize I don’t know about another. But still, I wonder often how much shorter that list would be had I never allowed my life to be derailed by men. During high school, college and the career that followed I always had a boyfriend or a man I was dating. The relationships, all failing, ultimately took time away from other pursuits. Here’s just one example, after graduating from Ohio University’s esteemed journalism program I declined an internship offer with the Associated Press’ Amsterdam bureau. Partially because of a job offer in Columbus, but largely because I couldn’t imagine being apart from my boyfriend at the time. The boyfriend quickly became an ex-boyfriend and I have regretted the decision ever since.

Why have I always been so vulnerable to being completely and absolutely distracted, often to my detriment, by the men who enter my life? Do I have self-esteem issues? And what does that say about me as a mother? For those of you who have read my eBook, Ms. Single Mama Uncensored, you know about my realization shortly after my divorce that I had been dating the wrong men my entire adult life. I vowed to never choose a man again for the wrong reasons.

I have felt ever since that my choices and subsequent relationships have improved dramatically–but, here I am, still single. Nothing wrong with that and I’m not kicking myself with regret. Here, where I am now, is a very good place to be. But, I am still feeling little echos of need. Of needing someone just to have someone, to feel wanted. And that scares the s&*t out of me, because that feeling of need, that feeling of filling some void inside of me that no man can ever really fill is what always gets me into trouble.

I want it to go away and I can’t afford the therapy bills, so I start reading, hoping Gloria has some answers.

She has me within a few seconds, gripped by a quote from her own Mother that “Children don’t belong to us. They are litle strangers who arrive in our lives and give us the pleasure and duty of caring for them–but we don’t own them. We help them become who they are.”

I look at Benjamin who is curled up on the couch next to me, my little stranger.

I lean over to give him a kiss and then whisper, “I love you more than anything and no matter what.” It’s a phrase he has understood since I started saying it when he was three. No matter what.

I had always assumed he knew that I loved him no matter what, but it was my mother who enlightened me to the fact that I had to say it out loud. That with children that young, as Steinem explores, unconditional love is the only thing that matters. My mother, like Steinem’s, also overcame her own personal childhood trauma to give all six of her children endless and unconditional love during the formative early years of our lives and I still don’t know how she found the strength. I feel drained enough with just Benjamin, constantly keeping my temper at bay. It’s hard; modern motherhood and it’s a wonder half of us are as sane as we are.

I look at my mother now as she models hats she found thrift shopping. One is from Morocco. It’s a giant sun hat and I agree with her that it is quite possibly the most fabulous hat I’ve ever laid eyes on, but then she pulls out the second. It’s even more stunning. Black and wide with a tastefully, faded flower on the side.

“And this one,” she says, “This one just makes you want to smile.”

She smiles then and her eyes seem to sparkle, the bright blue jumping right out and into my heart where I’m smiling back. Forever connected, and it all starts in the beginning of a child’s life.

Then I ask her if I can borrow the book…

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Romance vs. Love: What’s the difference? | Single Mom | Single Mom Blog | Ms. Single Mama
November 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kamila August 8, 2011 at 2:58 am

I believe we are too hard on ourselves as women and mothers. It is not necessarily that we need and depend on man. What we need is to feel safe, secure and cared for, we need hugs and kisses, we need warmth and to be held tenderly in the night and morning … come to think of it, it’s all the things our children need (which we provide them with on a daily basis), so are we wrong to need that as well …. mmmm I don’t think so. This is only my humble opinion.
Kamila – a single mama

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mssinglemama August 8, 2011 at 8:55 am

Kamila, I agree with you entirely. Feeling safe and secure, cared for and unconditionally loved is a basic human need, even as adults. However, in my opinion, the gray area comes when we need another person to fill this void, when we can’t fill it ourselves. That’s when, in my personal experience, we choose the wrong men for the wrong reasons. I will let you know what Gloria Steinem thinks of all of this when I finish the book. But yes, there are clearly healthy needs and wants from relationships with men.

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Anna August 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I think we use this word “need” in the wrong way sometimes. Is it possible for me to live my life as a single mom happily? Yes! Do I “need” a man to be “happy”? No! However, I love my boyfriend more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and it’s pretty hard to imagine my life without him right now.

I think of this whole divorce/single mom process as a dark tunnel that you just have to go through, and that your perspective is very different when you come out the other end. Looking back at myself as I came out of that tunnel, I remember all of the advice about “find yourself, love yourself, be yourself” (with the implied “without a man” on the end of it). I also remember the loneliness of not having anyone to share my life with, even though I was deliriously happy being a single mom.

I wrote a poem about this fine line between “need” and “want”, and the last two lines are:

“I do not need anyone to define who I am
But this fish sure loves to take a bike ride.”

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Julie McDonald August 8, 2011 at 7:32 am

Kamila, so kind! And I agree.

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ASHLEY MAYHEW August 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm

This post is very poignant to me as I am at a crossroads. My son’s father left us two years ago. Now, two years later..he might come back into our lives. I thought I would be thrilled. Because I have always thought it would be wonderful and a fairytale. But now, I am having reservations. Partly because I know one of the major reason I would have him back is it would be better to not be alone. To have someone to defer to. So our nights are not so lonely. I recognize that longing to be love and wanetd, especially by my son’s dad. It’s confusing to say the least. I hope you get your answers.

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Glenda August 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Unconditiional love for our children = forever, for always, no matter what. And I’ve always told my kids that too!

Let’s us know about the book!

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Lara August 8, 2011 at 5:59 pm

This doesn’t completely relate, but something about your post got me thinking about how we know ourselves as women – how knowing ourselves help us know others. Anyway – search TED talks for Eve Ensler’s “Suddenly, my body”. It’s amazing. It made me forget for a while about the ways I’ve divided myself from others and instead highlighted our universal connection. Something about this post made me think you’d like it.

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rachael August 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm

i loved this post. i think i needed it. i, too, have always been derailed by men. example- i gave up living in atlanta and getting my degree in graphic design for a boyfriend. i moved back home to my small town. to this day, i wish i had stayed there and experienced college. i guess there is a reason i came home; i wouldn’t have my son otherwise. he is luke’s dad. but still… i always sacrifice myself for men so undeserving. i’ve since made my own decision that i’d never date “my type” because obviously, that type is never good for me. and my only relationship since then was a really healthy one. i’m feeling the need again.. and you’re right, that is never good. i wonder if i’ll ever feel content with being alone? if my child is enough? but unfortunately, children leave and then what?

sorry. this is so long. i’ve just been thinking about the same things. my mom is my best friend. so i can definitely “feel you” on that as well.

xo

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Angi August 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Thank you for posting this. I read Gloria Steinem in high school. My favorite quote is “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Thanks for reminding me what a great role model she is. I’m going to the library to check her out again!

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Hope Campbell August 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I tell my daughter “I love you no matter what” every night before she falls asleep. I think its neat that someone else says a similar thing. I have been saying since she was 3 when her dad and I divorced. She tells me the same thing and I hope she really means it.

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Melissa August 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I will be checking this book out too! I’ll download it to my Kindle! I also have the same issues with the WRONG man. so frustrating! I have chosen the last two years to remain single. And its great this way! I took away all the pressure of finding/keeping a man in my life. And you know what? I am finally, finally content with life just the way it is. My kids are great, and last week I finally broke down and adopted a dog. LOL he is the only man allowed in my bed for now!!

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anton August 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I really love this one..Looking for partners? Why don’t you try this site? http://1mate.org/

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