What It Means to Be a Woman (or a Man)

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Passion to the Third Degree.

We learn what it means to be a woman— or a man— usually from our parents, our primary role models for our sex. And we take what we learn into our adult relationships and pass along this coding to our own children. Usually what we learn— and what we perpetuate— is something deeply hidden, something in our subconscious that we’re never even aware of.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

I learned what it means to be a woman from Mama, who is truly one of the nicest people on the planet. She is a loving, loyal, steadfast, and firm salt-of-the-Earth kind of woman with an internal energy force that keeps her going in spite of tremendous hardship, in such a way that defies explanation. She’s almost 80 and I can’t keep her off the tractor, the barn roof, under the house or wherever else there is work that must be done.

But when I say I learned what it means to be a woman from her, those aren’t the traits I’m referring to.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was an empath as a child and picked up on the emotions of those around me. What I felt from her that others probably never saw and what wasn’t openly expressed were strong, intense emotions just below the surface. There were so many things that she wanted so strongly, but she was denied them, either by herself or by the circumstances around her. She “made do,” tamped down the emotions and did the responsible thing, and lived with the fact that many of her dreams would never find fulfillment.

That echoes the dichotomy I found within myself via astrology—the incredible ambivalence of intense feelings of love, creativity, and passion constrained by the equally intense need to be responsible and trying to find a balance between those two sides of my nature.

What I learned it means to be a woman is that if you feel things intensely and passionately, those things will usually not be fulfilled. You will want, but you’ll probably not get it. Intensity and lack are connected.

What I learned about men from Daddy was something that most people also didn’t see, and that was his detachment. It wasn’t that he couldn’t “attach” because he was very attached to his mother and certain things, but within the family, he was detached in a way that some people might consider to be the “absent father.” Not that he abandoned us physically or wasn’t around, but he was too walled off and detached to be very involved in what his wife and kids were feeling. For some men, it seems that nothing bothers them because they’re so detached that they don’t let the intensity of feeling get through and for others, it seems everything bothers them and yet they never truly connect with the people they love.

I see this pattern in my now defunct marriage, in my parents’ marriage, and to some degree in my ex’s parents’ marriage. It’s been modeled for my kids, as well. I see my parents’ relationship in myself, too, the part that is my mom’s desire for appreciation and love and my dad’s way of detaching and going somewhere else mentally. I myself want to know that I am loved and have the security of being loved when I need/want it, and yet, I also want the freedom to do my own thing without someone clinging or hovering, and who knows when I’ll want either of things and whether the person I’m with will understand which polarity I’m in at the moment? I’m just beginning to understand it myself.

So seeing these patterns and how they play out in my life doesn’t change the past, but by acknowledging that pattern, I can choose to break it and change my present and my future. It is possible to be a woman and feel things intensely and be fulfilled in those areas. That’s a new way of thinking for me.

I can also recognize that one of the things I understand about what it means to be a man is that men, when they feel something strongly or perhaps when they feel anything at all, will detach. Perhaps by knowing this, I can accept that I can have a partner in my life who has the ability and the incentive to “attach” rather than be with me physically and be detached emotionally.

Of course, it’s a marriage of yin and yang, isn’t it? The way for me to find fulfillment in those areas of intense passions— breaking the pattern of what it means to be a woman— means my partner will not be detached, or what I’ve before understood to be what it means to be a man.


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