My husband and I got engaged over 19 years ago. I was so thankful to hear that he had asked my father for permission to marry me before popping the question, not because I was my father’s property of course, but because I respected that my father had been first in my life up until that point, and now this man would be stepping into the role of the man that I would love above all others. I remember my then baby-faced fiancé telling me that my father had told him only, “She’s fragile, you have to take good care of her.”
At the time, and even today, that sentence makes my heart squeeze. I had lived on my own for a few years by that point. I had paid my own bills, got myself from point A to point B with no assistance, and often been the person others went to for guidance. I was a helper, and hardly saw myself as helpless, let alone fragile. But there was something in those words that resonated with me, and yes, at that time, maybe that’s what I wanted, someone I could be fragile with, someone who would take care of me.
Over the years, marriage didn’t go quite as I expected. My parents have a very traditional relationship, with my mom staying home and taking care of most of the domestic things, and my dad going to work and filling the provider role. My parents are attached at the hip, and it doesn’t matter if it’s grocery shopping or a trip to the BMV, they do it together. My in-laws on the other hand, each worked outside of the household and we’re relatively independent of each other, enjoying their own circles of friends and hobbies. Unknowingly, my husband and I each brought these very different expectations of what a normal marriage looks like into our own relationship. These definitions of a “normal” husband/wife were the rules we measured one another by.
There are so many moments I remember thinking of my husband, “You were told I was fragile. You said you’d take care of me. What is happening here?” The moments when he allowed me to mow our grass…shouldn’t he come and take the handle of this mower from my hands and let me go sip some lemonade??? The moment he didn’t hold the door for me, or left me to accomplish a task on my own, or when he expected me to assemble our furniture or shelving. I felt puzzled by this, and not because I didn’t want to do these things, but because I hadn’t expected I would have to. It wasn’t the story I had told myself about marriage.
There’s something else here too that was happening in my heart and mind. All my life other people had defined me. I had been defined by those around me as smart, as funny, as pretty, I was nice, I was the baby in my family, I was fragile. There were negative stories too, the “I wasn’t”. I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t independent, I wasn’t brave…all of these definitions creeped in and made up the person I thought I had to be.
Our loved ones see a lot of who we are. They see us from a perspective that we don’t see ourselves, and often they are privy to strengths and weaknesses that we may not even be aware of. But even our mothers, fathers, siblings or spouses don’t see all of us. They view us through their own lenses, the lenses of their relationship with us, the lenses of their life experience and the lenses of their personality. There’s truly only one person on this planet that can define us, who we are, who we’re capable of being…and that’s ourselves. We decide who we will be.
34 years of life and 13 years of marriage have taught me a lot about…well, about me. While our spouses don’t define us, I truly believe God puts our partners in our lives for very particular reasons. They teach us so much about ourselves. My husband often believed I was stronger than I thought I was. He thought I was more capable than I had dreamed of. And although he was once told I was fragile, there are still times in our life together, that I wonder if he thinks I am unbreakable.
Through these circumstances, through his faith in me, his expectations of me, I have found some very powerful truths about myself. The woman I am today is very different than the girl that stood at the alter all those years ago. I may still be nice and funny and all of those things, but I am not fragile and I’m not interested in having anyone take care of me.
Through this life, through all of the hard, impossible, heartbreaking things, through all of the joyous, amazing, life changing moments, through all of the quiet, mundane, everyday happenings, I have found myself. My definition of me.
Strong. Stable. Sure. Powerful. Determined. Positive. Reserved. Loving. Kind. Happy.
I have also learned that my character summations of those around me don’t define them either. My husband, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends….they’re capable of more than I could ever dream for them. I am careful of what labels I give them, knowing that I see only a small part of them. They are more than they show the world.
What if we gave every person this freedom? The freedom to define themselves. The freedom to be just who they are made to be. What if we each gave ourselves this freedom, a life for ourselves without definition from others? What could we be capable of?
I ask my readers, what label has someone, maybe even someone who loves you and means well, what label have they given you that you will shed and leave behind today? Begin today redefining yourself and become the person you are capable of being, not the person you feel you have to be.