ON NOT GETTING WHAT WE WANT AND LEARNING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT WE HAVE BY CAROL P. CHRIST


Many women’s dreams have not been realized. How do we come to terms with this thealogically?

Although I am as neurotic as the next person, I am also really wonderful—intelligent, emotionally available, beautiful (if I do say so myself), sweet, caring, and bold. I love to dance, swim, and think about the meaning of life. I passionately wanted to find someone with whom to share my life. I did everything I could to make that happen—including years of therapy and even giving up my job and moving half way around the world when I felt I had exhausted the possibilities at home.

For much of my adult life I have asked myself: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find what everybody else has? Even though I knew that there were a lot of other really great women in my generation in my position and even though I knew that many of my friends were with men I wouldn’t chose to be with, I still asked: What is wrong with me?

I started thinking about this again recently because the book I am writing with Judith Plaskow–tentatively titled God After Feminism–involves reflecting on God in my life. So far I have written about my life up to the point where I left Yale. I began to dread the next chapter because I knew I would have to address my failed marriage and my hope that my relationship with the Goddess Aphrodite would help me to find my true love. The vulnerability and desperation I remember in my younger self made me wish I could just erase that part of my life. But I did write a book called Laughter of Aphrodite, so I can’t.

Last week I found an article that said that in only 1 in 720 relationships is the woman taller than the man. I am over 6 feet tall and there are very few men in the world over 6 feet 3. I wrote gleefully to my friend Cristina: It really wasn’t me! My chances of finding a partner were slim to none to begin with! She wrote back: It most certainly was YOU and also ME and all the strong women who really do not need men so very much that we will …compromise so we could have a man no matter what. Why do you blame yourself for not accepting uncaring or deeply unsatisfying relationships?

I actually did marry a man who was over 6 feet 3 who adored me and was proud that I was both tall and a feminist. He was not my intellectual or financial equal, but I don’t think that would have mattered if he had been my emotional equal. When my husband rejected male dominance, he replaced it with a kind of passivity. Whenever I pushed him to express his feelings, he retreated, saying that he had learned from Eastern spirituality not to express anger or any other strong emotions. In the end, this was deeply unsatisfying to me.

The Dance of the Olive Grove by Judith Shaw

I have to admit that my friend was right that I was unwilling to accept an unsatisfying relationship. The fact remains that she and I and many other women I know who affirm embodiment and sexuality have not found satisfying relationships. The real reason for this is that women have changed and most men have not caught up with us. A few women are lucky to find men who have. But there simply are not enough of them to go around. Accepting this fact has not been easy.

My failure to get what I wanted and thought I deserved in terms of either career or marriage was a bitter pill to swallow. It forced me to rethink the message of my childhood: if you try hard enough, you will succeed—I think I can, I think I can, I thought I could, I did. In fact the stubborn reality was that I couldn’t.

When I emerged from my dark night of the soul and years of depression, I came to understand a truth that is one of the bedrocks of my spirituality: Life really is not about getting what we want. I am not talking here about self-emptying, self-sacrifice, or giving up the ego, so much as about a profound re-centering of focus away from me and my wants and needs–towards my place in the web of Life. The corollary for me is: I am thankful to be alive. I give thanks daily for Gaia’s gifts, for Life itself, and I am grateful to be part of Life.

I say I have become a kind of Buddhist because I no longer put my-self first. Yet I have not given up desire. I still have goals and hope to achieve them. I believe that each of us, human and other than human, has unique contributions to make to the whole. At the same time, I try not to let my failure to achieve any particular goal cloud my vision. I dreamed of finding that special person to share my life. It did not happen. I dream of all the people living life in peace, but I also know this may never happen. At the same time, my ability to dream—and to know that I am not the only one–is one of my unique contributions to Life. Blessed be.

Art by Judith Shaw, The Dance of the Olive Grove

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute



Categories: Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, General, Goddess, Relationality, Women and Community

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13 replies

  1. Lovely essay. I still remember the day we shared stories about what “fun” it was to be in graduate school at a time when women weren’t supposed to be as smart as we were. As you say life is not really about getting what we want and then you add that you’re not talking about self-sacrifice (which is what our mothers seem to have believed) but about recentering, I say, “BRAVA and blessed be.” We all need to get this point and recenter and refocus ourselves and give thanks for our lives. One thing we can give thanks for is your books.

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  2. Yes I agree very nice thoughts, well put Carol and you are not the only woman. Recently I’ve been reading bell hooks, “communion” I haven’t finished it yet but as I was reading it, I thought about so many things she states in the book, that are so relevant to us women. For example when were little girls how we want to be loved, especially by our fathers and then later in life by the men we share our lives with. Unfortunately we never truly have the love we deserve from either man and as women grow they come to find material items and power is much easier to work at getting then love. I can see how true this really is, just as well as for those couples who appear to have a relationship we as women adore and want for ourselves. Who’s to say that any woman is really getting the love she needs from the man she is with. I ‘m sure if I scouted the world and asked every woman, if she felt completely satisfied. I’d probably have more no’s, than yes.

    I’m 44 years old I have 12 more units to complete my B.A degree then I am moving to work on my M.A when I’m done I hope to have a satisfying career, even though it’s late in life for me and since time is not on my side, (I still have a better chance at having a career than I do a man), however I’ve come to choose the more important aspect, is not love with a man (which is what any woman wants) but a solid career to secure my own life as I grow older. I, like you have come to terms with realizing I may never have the love I deserve from a man I want to share it with and being a lesbian is definitely not in the cards. I can accept being alone, as long as I have what I need to make my life fulfilling and satisfying for myself, as I don’t believe in self sacrifice.

    After experiencing the many men through out my life they have all shared the same common problems, insecurity, selfishness, lack of understanding women, lack of education, confidence, consideration, for some manners, they want to be understood and for a woman to coddle them as if they were to be adored like a child, they have lost their power as men, because being with a woman who maybe smarter than them self is to competitive. My theory on men to be with a woman who is strong willed and strong minded flattens their ego, this might be the reason most of them date young girls, at least for those who can afford it:-) I think what is really important is women like our self’s coming together as friends, talking, giving each other support, working and collaborating together, I know it doesn’t compare to a hunk of a man who will adore his woman, but its doesn’t hurt to have those quality friends.

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  3. Carol:

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful story – your rawness and vulnerability are palpable.
    I count myself as one of the (minority) “lucky ones” that you mentioned (meaning that I have found a life partner who is not intimidated by my intelligence and strong personality and whose model of marriage is egalitarian and who aspires to “equally-shared parenting” with me). I tell his mother whenever I see her (in fact, she’s staying with us right now) that it is because of her. She trained him to look for a partner (not a Stepford wife), to be fully capable of doing all the housework, to be willing to sacrifice for his wife and not expect it only the other way of around, etc.

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  4. You have beautifully articulated one of life’s most important skills – the practice of recognizing with gratitude what we have rather than living in regret for what we don’t while remaining curious and sometimes even excited about what’s to come.

    We Western second wavers have lived such culturally and socially complex and transitional lives. Once the old relational rules that kept people in check were questioned and at least partially dismantled, all kinds of relationships entered uncharted territory. In my view, deep authentic relationship, which is what I think we want, is filled with cycles of hard work and disappointment as well as great growth and happiness.

    In my hard won experience, lesbian partnerships are just as fraught with difficulty as heterosexual ones, but with infinitely more processing. ;)

    For me, one of the greatest gifts of Goddess has been a deep recognition of the primacy and inevitability of cycles – in our bodies, our emotional, mental and spiritual lives, our relationships, the Earthly seasons and Celestial revolutions.

    Amen, Ase, Blessed Be,

    Ann

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  5. There is a lot of food for thought here. It seems, at least to me, that what you are doing is some re-framing of who you are, what you want, and perhaps comparing to what you ‘ought’ to want. It also seems to me that you are articulating that you have indeed had love, and success, in rather great measure but that perhaps it doesn’t quite equate to what your or society at large recognize as ‘success’, particularly as regards relationships. I would suggest that success in our lifetime has been a moving, fluid target. The world today is so different than what it was a couple of decades ago, and simply surviving well and moving forward is an enormous accomplishment.
    I will say that I blinked a few times at the title of your new book – it sounds like an assumption that feminism is dead or an accomplished feat. Feminism is rather alive, although perhaps morphed, splintered, and multiplied. Is the book intended to be about personal journeys, thus your experience of God after a particular period of feminist activism or ?? The title seems to play into the hand of those who would like to label feminism a failure, at least to this very active feminist. But, I’m sure your intent is otherwise.

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  6. It was so surprising to read that so few women marry shorter men. Both my brother and father are married to taller women.

    I’m not sure we get everything we want in life, but I do know that the times dealt women a great hand in feminism. I considered myself very lucky to have been a part of the golden age of radical lesbian feminism, but also an age of my own making. I don’t believe men can come on this journey of radical liberation of women. Their time is long past, but it is a shame that such a large majority of women still feel being partnered with a man is that great of an ideal. This never made sense to me, and I think when women just walk away from patriarchy in the home as well as the world, we might see a radical change in men. But only after women stop serving them and enabling them in the home. That is the challenge of just what it would take for women’s liberation to achieve its ultimate goal…. the liberation of women. It’s why patriarchy has such a grip on the world, the oppressed live under the same roofs as the oppressor. This just isn’t going to work, we need to go further.

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  7. I can’t help but think that a lot of our disappointment about relationships comes from a romanticized image of them. With hindsight it is a little crazy making. Also, in my research lately I found that Arthur Janov, in a book called the Biology of Love, said that the role of the mother is to love a child and teach it to comfort itself. I noticed as i worked on learning to love myself and comfort myself a great deal of my desire to find a partner disappeared. I have come to believe that poor mothering (connected to patriarchy) has led many of us to look to partners for something we really needed to get from our mothers.

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  8. Sharon, I think you have a piece of it. I know when I felt the room fill with love as my mother died, my life changed. I had spent so much time thinking I wasn’t loved, but at that moment I realized that I always had been–maybe not by that one special person, but by my Mom and grandmothers and lots and lots of others. So the other piece of it for me anyway, is that our culture and the myth of romantic love have taught us that we are not OK especially as women without romantic love and sexual fulfillment and a soul mate, all rolled up into one. In my experience when I stopped looking for love only in one place (with a romantic partner) I discovered that the world, my world included, is filled with love, and there is enough to go around, it just may not take the form we thought we were looking for.

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  9. Lindsey, thanks for sharing so much of yourself. Bless your journey.

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  10. Discussing relationships and desire for a life partner within the context of feminism and religion is often times controversial in the same way as admitting you failures are. Your personal story reminds me of my mother and many of her “2nd wave” feminist friends who have had their marriage disintegrate, but never give up the idea of finding someone to spend their lives with. The issue of compromising is important when thinking about how many women and even feminists compromise their sexual desires, political beliefs, and even religious beliefs to be with the man or woman they love. To me, I have been in relationships where I did feel that I was compromising my feminist identity and others where I have not. Having someone as your “emotional equal” is vital to a healthy relationship and sustaining your feminist identity. Yet, as you mention this is hard to come by in today’s society because men have “fallen behind” so to speak. It is clear in both my generation and past generations that many women have stopped settling for men who are just “good enough” and desire to find men that are their equal in all aspects. The single and/or divorced baby-boomer women have often times compromised in their marriages and past relationships are now finding a new sense of empowerment in which they feel comfortable being alone. Yet, their comfort in being alone is surpassed by their desire to have a partner to fulfill their emotional and sexual desires. They don’t “need” a man, but often times would prefer to have a partner, but only one who truly fulfills them otherwise they are satisfied being alone. Although from my experience, in the back of most of these women’s minds is a desire to find a partner to share their life with. Thank you for this great piece I am going to share it with my mother and her friends in hope of them realizing that there is comfort and camaraderie between women, not competition.

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  11. I really enjoyed reading your article, and I relate so much to having to make a change in thinking about all that I don’t have that I think I want or deserve, to being grateful that I am alive today and that I truly do have so much. I make a gratitude list every day with at least 10 things I am grateful for. The items range from basic needs to the people I have in my life today, to laughter, to just plain old willingness to do my day to day activities. And I have discovered over a little span of time, that sometimes, I don’t really know what I want, and I actually don’t know what I need, either. All that I know is my discomfort level goes way up when I think I am not getting something I deserve or want. I have had to learn to separate needs from wants, and to recognize that all my basic needs are met. I get to be grateful for that today, because I am well aware that there are many people whose basic needs are not met daily because they do not have the privileges I have. Acceptance and gratitude allow me to see things I would not be able to see otherwise, for instance just how privileged I am.

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  12. Carol I really like your article. I feel often society makes us want what we can’t have. But I think it’s good to practice being grateful. I find that writing down the things that I’m grateful for helps me be thankful for what I have today.

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  13. I’m excited to hear, Carol, that you and Judith Plaskow are writing a book together. What a wonderful treat for all of us, I am sure. However, I’m concerned that your working title is _God after Feminism_. For many people that might indicate that we are in a post-feminist era, something I am sure you don’t mean.

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