Darling, I know that you
must think I’m just a fool.
I spend my time questioning
all the good you do.
Well, I’ve been around,
I know that nothing
ever comes free.
So fess up now,
Or darling, forever
hold your peace.
I’m not a believer;
What I see
is usually what I get.
I’m not a believer;
But I haven’t seen it all yet.
— Emily King
“I got it,” he says.
I freeze. My fingers are still poised over the keys of my laptop, where I’d been silently agonizing over which flight would both fit within my limited budget of frequent flier miles (which still exceeded my current cash flow) and get me to our upcoming out-of-town rendezvous on time. That is, until three little words and a quick purchase from Mr. Gray Area instantly solved the dilemma…
I got it. This is the type of gallant and—thanks to the freelance dance I call my life—currently much-needed gesture that threatens to make even the most self-sufficient woman weak in the knees. A scene from Sex and the City inevitably popped into my head as I marveled at his lack of hesitation and obvious ability to “handle it”. While both refreshing and disarming to a woman like me—so well accustomed to handling everything herself—it inspired mixed feelings: Is this what it means to be “taken care of”—or simply cared for? Was I an ungrateful wretch for daring to look this gift horse in the mouth, and find myself as unsettled as I was appreciative?
Now, before I play myself out as a girl unaccustomed to nice things—or nice treatment, for that matter—let me state for the record that I haven’t been the paying party on any of the umpteen dates I’ve recorded here in the past year (first dates are generally convenient for women that way). In fact, it’s not even the first time I’ve allowed a man other than my father to pay for my travel, though that might be considered one of the perks of having a self-made millionaire in your personal circle of platonic friends.
Indeed, this wasn’t even the first time Mr. Gray Area had demonstrated his chivalry and generosity. He’d also furnished our room and board on our two meetups prior, making our burgeoning “vacationship” especially relaxing for me.
So, what was it about this moment in particular that was giving me pause?
The truth is, I’ve never completely trusted men’s generosity. I was never encouraged to, since it couldn’t be consistently relied upon; or worse, often came with strings attached. Raised to be wholly independent by both my mother and my father, I was never the girl who assessed her suitors’ value in net worth, let alone the type who seeks out “arrangements“. And while some of my friends’ teenage years may have been spent angling to attract the guy with the best car or biggest allowance, mine were spent watching my mother’s second husband live off of her earnings for years after his own business failed, depleting my college savings in the process (which I’d end up paying off myself, years later). It was an unspoken lesson in codependency; the kind I subconsciously feared ever participating in.
But as we know, life often has other plans for us than the ones we make for ourselves. If my adult life has indeed been independent, it has also been deeply humbling, at times. From reaching great heights of financial and career success have come equally great fumbles and falls, and I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t often wished that I had someone in my life willing and able to pick up some of the slack, and relieve me of the frequent exhaustion that can result from being an exclusively solo act. While at this point, Mr. Gray Area and I are still just checking each other out, couldn’t this gift simply be considered a case of getting what I’ve long been asking for—for once?
So, is this about control? Admittedly, I’m most accustomed to being the caretaker in relationships; I’m the planner, the nurturer, the cheerleader, the trusted advisor, and ironically, frequently often the more financially stable partner, much to my long-term detriment. But if I’m honest, even my economic autonomy hasn’t always protected me from the type of codependency I once swore to avoid, and emotional entanglements are often far more difficult to disengage from.
Perhaps this is simply about fear. My steadfast independence may not have always kept me stable, but it has given me the illusion of being “safe”; somehow believing that not depending on a man will protect me from being disappointed by him (despite that theory being disproven repeatedly throughout my lifetime). For someone so fixated on feeling safe in a relationship, disappointment can feel like a death I’ve already experienced too many times, and am not sure I can handle again.
And maybe that’s the challenge being presented here: to accept generosity without cultivating expectations; to learn how to be cared for without codependency; to allow myself to stop equating my womanhood with complete autonomy and control. Ironically, this may be my next opportunity to “lean in”, and a necessary step in developing the vulnerability I’ll undoubtedly need, if I’m to allow someone to get close enough to have the kind of relationship I claim to want.
But for now, it’s just about taking a deep breath, taking my fingers off of the keyboard—and my hands off the wheel—and simply saying: “Thank you.”