by Faye McCray
One afternoon, early in my career, one of my co-workers, “Susan,” came into work visibly upset. Her business suit was wrinkled, her skin was colorless and she was wearing flip-flops instead of her usual work pumps. After she stayed in her office for what seemed like the entire morning, I went to check on her. Susan sorrowfully divulged that she had just found out her husband of fifteen years had been having an affair. She confronted him about it and rather than showing remorse, he turned around and walked out, leaving her alone with three beautiful daughters, all under the age ten. Susan was broken. She came from a conservative, religious family, her parents were still married, and she had been with her husband since she was in college. She had never even anticipated the possibility of her marriage dissolving. I sat with Susan until her tears subsided and assured her,
“You can do it. You don’t need him or anyone else.”
As a product of a single parent household, there was no question to me that she could do it. After seventeen years of marriage to my father, my mother not only raised my brothers and me alone, she went back to school and attained undergraduate and graduate degrees. While having a husband around on warm nights was nice, women did not need men. Wives did not need their husbands.
Eight years of marriage and two children later, I realize how damaging that reasoning was to my marriage. For years, I behaved as though I was a single mother dwelling within a marriage. I did it all: full-time attorney, freelance writer, cook, housekeeper, homework reviewer, finance manager… all while ignoring my husband’s futile attempts to help. Meanwhile, I’d collapse on my bed each night as if the day had been one long trauma, my body actually aching from all the different directions in which I’d been pulled.
Truth is, I believed needing a man made you weak. Men are unpredictable. Relationships are fleeting. Despite being married, I built my life as though I were a single mom because deep down, I believed I inevitably would be. I feared becoming too comfortable in my reliance on my husband because I didn’t want to become weak. However, I am learning that admitting that I need my husband takes strength. It takes strength to admit I need his love. It takes strength to admit his presence is just as needed as mine is in the development of our children. It takes strength to ask for help. Sure, it would be easy for Susan to say she did not need her husband. He not only betrayed her, he abandoned her. However, faulting her for needing her husband places the shame on her. In reality, the only shame rests with him for not living up to his obligation as a husband.
The idea of needing a man still conjures up images of Shug from The Color Purple chanting, “I’s married now” as if marriage somehow affirms one’s womanhood. This weekend, when I saw The Best Man Holiday, I still had to stifle that voice inside me that agreed with Nia Long’s character when she told her boyfriend she didn’t need him. As an independent, educated woman, being okay with needing my husband means distinguishing need from dependency. When I say I need my husband, I do not mean he is essential to my survival or I would somehow cease to exist without him.
Needing him, for me, means recognizing his value to our marriage. It means recognizing he is essential to our mission as parents. It means recognizing he is a necessary part of our future. Needing him means being vulnerable enough to let him know how much he matters and not treat him as though he were an expendable luxury, as if I keep him around for when I need something heavy lifted or someone to keep an eye on our children.
It was an important step in my marriage and crucial to the development of our sons. As future men, I never want them to question the importance of their role in their family unit.
While being raised by a single parent has given me immeasurable power as a woman, it is an uphill battle to teach myself to relinquish the control of my self-made matriarchy. My vulnerability has a profound impact on both my husband’s view of his role in our family and my ability to enjoy the benefits of the marriage partnership. We need him. I need him. And that’s okay.
BMWK – what are your thoughts on the idea of “needing a man?”
Faye McCray is an attorney and author living with her husband and two children in Maryland. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Binghamton University and law degree from Howard University School of Law. Connect with Faye on her blog, www.fayemccray.com and follow her on twitter @fayewrites.