My dear friend Carol Lee Sanchez once told me that the women of the Laguna Pueblo– whose culture is an egalitarian matriarchy–taught her that women must choose their men, not wait for the men to choose them.* This was a new idea for me, and though I was attracted to it, I found it difficult to assimilate. The reason I did not understand what Carol Lee was teaching me was that I was still operating out of a patriarchal binary: either the man was in control, or the woman must be.
Like many otherwise independent women, I have often reverted to a kind of passivity in love affairs. As a girl, I was taught to wait for the man to choose me. As a feminist I knew better, but I didn’t know how to change this cultural pattern, especially when most of the men I knew still expected –even if only unconsciously– to be in charge. In addition, having learned that a man who wants an independent feminist woman is hard to find, I often gave up on ever finding a man. Not actively looking, I would be pleasantly surprised when a man took an interest in me. Then, all too often, I would give myself to him, hoping that he was the right one.
The times they were a’changin’ as I was growing up, so besides having learned that women must let men take the initiative, I was also learning that sex is free and fun and that it can be natural and right to sleep with a man on the first date. Not having fully understood my power to choose, I often ended up giving too much too soon, with heartbreak the result. One of the things I did not understand is that sex is a narcotic, clouding the powers of judgment that would otherwise tell us: wait a minute, the man you are having fabulous sex with is not treating you well.
Having recently entered into an affair of the heart after many years of not even wanting one, I am beginning to understand what it means for a woman to choose. It does not mean that she is in control of the situation, because in any relationship, whether a friendship, a working relationship, or a love affair, no one is ever in control: it takes two. Nor does it mean that a woman must pursue the one she has chosen in an aggressive way.
For a woman to choose a lover or partner, she must be whole within herself. She must honor and love herself. She must know that she is beautiful as each of us is in her own way and that she is worthy of love. She must know that she can survive and thrive whether she is on her own or with another. Only then is she free to choose.
In order to choose, she must use all of her rational and intuitive faculties to take a good look at the person she is interested in or who is interested in her. Is he a good man? Is he free? Is he capable of giving and receiving love? Is he reliable? Is he strong in himself? Is he trustworthy? Is he kind? Only if the answer to these and other questions is yes, should a woman choose. (If you are interested in a woman, change the pronouns.)
But once she has chosen, the story is not over. It has only begun. The chosen one must also choose. A relationship is a dance. Sometimes one leads, sometimes the other, sometimes you act, sometimes you wait. The future unfolds as each chooses freely, each and every day. To accept uncertainty and to be open to the unknown is possible, easy and joyful, when you love yourself and know that you will survive and thrive, regardless.
*Carol Lee’s advice was offered in a heterosexual context, but it can be applied to all relationships.
Thanks to Vanessa Soriano who wrote, “I told my girlfriends last night what you said about choosing the man from a place of discernment and wholeness, and they just about fell over in their chairs with the biggest AHA’s I’ve seen in years. It was awesome.” Thanks to Vanessa for giving me the courage to write this piece.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer and educator currently living in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. FAR Press recently published A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Carol has been leading educational tours based on the religion and culture of ancient Crete for over twenty years. She is active in the Green Party Greece and has run for office in regional and national elections. Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger.
19 thoughts on “Claiming the Power to Choose Our Lovers and Partners by Carol P. Christ”
Excellent questions to pose to oneself as one ponders the choice of a lover. I would like to inscribe those questions in every loving, opening heart! Wishing you joy!
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Thanks Carol, I like that you said choose our lovers, in the plural. There are people at FAR whose writings I have come to love, including yourself.
I remember an essay by Judith Plaskow called FINDING A GOD I CAN BELIEVE IN. And that was a major question for me too at one time. I so wanted a spiritual journey I could love. Finally I came upon a blessed path that opened that door for me called Taoism, and where Tao is Nature — I already loved nature with all my heart. One of the Taoist teachings says:
The thick river ice
Begins to break
The mountain well, too,
Starts to thaw
Allowing me to scoop up spring.
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Thanks Sarah, for reminding us of something I learned years ago–that love comes in many forms and not always in the form of a couple relationship.
“As a feminist I knew better, but I didn’t know how to change this cultural pattern, especially when most of the men I knew still expected –even if only unconsciously– to be in charge. In addition, having learned that a man who wants an independent feminist woman is hard to find…”
Oh, I did so identify with this personal story. I hope that women everywhere will listen to the wisdom of your words. Thank you Carol.
I think it is almost impossible to find men, (and like you, I have not been looking) who don’t expect to be dominated or to dominate the woman that they are in relationship with… I too have a male friend but find it exhausting to keep taking a stand as a self directed woman although I respect myself too much to do otherwise.
Everywhere around me I see the same dynamic playing over and over – sometimes consciously or unconsciously. One partner has to be in control. Our Patriarchal system seems antithetical to balanced relationship…
I am delighted to know that you, at least, have found someone with whom you are in resonance!
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One of my female heterosexual colleagues and I will discuss, from time to time, marriage within a patriarchal social structure. We’ve both concluded it just doesn’t work well. Takes way too much effort to insure our autonomy.
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You couldn’t have said it more effectively, Esther. Marriage or attempting genuine relationship within this patriarchal structure simply can’t work for most of us.
You are reminding me of a line from Adrienne Rich I have always love, “there is a passivity we mistake for gentleness in the desperation of our search.” I didn’t write about that here, but I have recently realized that far too many of the men I have been involved with were “lost boys” who had no capability of commiting to an adult relationship.
Oh Carol, you are so right… and Rich understood this. Most men seem incapable of comprehending what having a relationship really means…
I agree with you here Carol where you say: “One of the things I did not understand is that sex is a narcotic, clouding the powers of judgment.” And sometimes the partner will demand too much too soon, and it can shut down the time you need to develop a lasting friendship built on trust.
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May this relationship provide you with joy, safety, and love.
This reminds me of those cultures, ancient and modern, in which relationships were or are truly egalitarian and women were or are truly free to choose – this is a wonderful guide to creating those while still living in our society that is so antithetical to women’s right to choose a partnership in which she is completely free to be herself and exercise self-determination. Brava!
You are so right, Carol. Your experiences have echoed my own. I wish you well with your new relationship.
Beautiful! Thanks for a great post!
Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your heart’s journey into this new relationship. And great questions to ask when embarking on a new relationship. I would have been well served to have asked them in the past.
Aint that the truth!
Lucid good sense as usual