I’m a woman in my early 30s. I was one of the employees who got laid off after my employer lost a big account. I’ve found a new job, but it’s not on my career path and it pays terribly. Still, it’s a job and it pays. I live with my boyfriend and we’ve always split the expenses, but he’s trying to persuade me to keep looking for something better and to let him pay the bills until I find it. He keeps saying he’s “happy to do that,” but I just can’t stomach it. I’ve always supported myself and taken pride in not being the sort of woman who sponges off a man, and I’m not ready to start now. –Fiercely Independent
If only giving you a hand financially worked like giving medicine to a dog; then your boyfriend could just grind up some money and sneak it into your food.
The guy gets that you’re in a relationship, not a tiny little welfare state. He’s offering to help you not because he thinks you can’t manage by yourself, but because he thinks you shouldn’t have to. That’s what being in a relationship means – two coming together as one, not one going it alone while the other one waits in the parking lot.
Though being “fiercely independent” is great if you’re the lone survivor of a shipwreck or your car swerves off a lonely mountain road and you need to eat the passenger seat to survive, if spurning your boyfriend’s help is any sort of a pattern, it’s probably hurting your relationship. By refusing to show the vulnerability it takes to accept help, you keep the relationship on a “So, what’s for dinner?” level emotionally and tell your boyfriend he isn’t really needed. In time, this should lead him to the obvious question: “Well then, why am I still here?”
Sometimes, aggressive self-reliance is really fear in a Wonder Woman suit. Our “attachment” style – our way of relating to those close to us – traces back to our mother’s (or other primary caregiver’s) responsiveness to our needs as infants. If you could count on her to soothe you when you were distressed, you end up “securely attached,” meaning you have a strong psychological base and feel comfortable relying on others. If, however, she was unavailable or rejecting, you become “avoidantly attached” and develop a habit of self-protective distancing. “Can’t count on anybody” becomes “Don’t need nobody.”
The good news is, even if mommy was the next best thing to an ice floe, there’s no need to resign yourself to the effects of that. Research finds that a loving partner can help you break out of avoidant attachment by continually behaving in supportive ways that challenge your belief that you can’t count on anybody. You, in turn, need to risk revealing your emotions and needs and trust that your boyfriend will be there for you – perhaps starting with accepting his offer of a financial cushion. Over time, as you see that you actually can rely on him, you should develop a more secure foundation – and come to understand that true strength involves being confident that you can walk tall, but sometimes being okay with curling-up-in-a-fetal-position tall.
(c) 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon