I remember an afternoon a few years ago, talking to my then-boyfriend about my previous experiences in an open relationship. I let my ex have sex outside our relationship while I maintained sexual exclusivity; not out of obligation, but because I was good with having one sexual partner (I preferred to flirt heavily and go on the occasional date with someone else). I’ll never forget my then-boyfriend’s grimace when I told him I didn’t “settle for” the arrangement but suggested it; and how my ex and I sometimes joked about the other women in his life. “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” he’d said. “I just don’t understand why you would do that when you’re worth so much more.”
Our relationship ended shortly after that conversation. The Cliff Notes: I broke up with him because I didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend (at least not in the cookie-cutter way that I’d been his). For a while, him referring to my open relationship as the “dumbest thing I ever heard” gnawed at me. I took issue with my decisions — decisions I logically explained — being disregarded as a case of stupidity from a man who claimed to think the world of me. As more time passed, “you’re worth so much more” stood out more. Having my value determined by what I meant to someone else — opposed to what the experience of the relationship meant to me — infuriated me.
I thought of that conversation recently as I watched a TEDx talk by one of my favorite bloggers and feminists, Justine Musk.
In the talk, titled “The Art of the Deep Yes,” Justine said the following:
Women are not the heroes of big stories, epic stories. We are instead the wives and girlfriends, the mistresses and mothers, the femme fatales and manic pixie dream girls in somebody else’s big story. And that somebody else is usually a dude.
When I heard this, a light bulb went off about how many times I’d allowed my entire being to be defined by what I meant to the men in my life. I’ve been a girlfriend in a monogamous relationship, a significant other in a non-monogamous relationship, a ride or die chick, a long-term friend with benefits, a girl on the side of a committed relationship, the “friend” the guy really wants to bone on the low and is just waiting for his chance…I could go on.
However, no matter what place I’ve been assigned in someone else’s story, I have always been the Hero of my own. I’ve gone into every relationship as a whole person, with a whole story, and remained such long after the tears dried and the relationships ended. Titles or lack thereof in the lives of those men never determined my worth; what I gained from my time with them and who I became in the process did.
We live in a world that tells women “you are who you sleep with” and at some point, we (women) fall into the trap of defining ourselves on someone else’s terms. Remember to come back to your own story; where you are the Hero and the situations you meet are not the sum of who you are, but plot points you can use to shape your character however you see fit.
Don’t let the world rob you of your story.