Photo: Mood Board/REX USA.
The other day, I needed to scan a document. Usually my boyfriend works the scanner for me, but he was at work. I emailed him to ask if he could explain how to do it, while also Googling to see if I could figure it out myself. Lo and behold, the instructions I found online were actually pretty easy; I was shocked. Why had I been so afraid of figuring this out myself?
But, then, I hit “scan" — and only a very small, totally blank square had actually been scanned. I tried it again. And again. And again, until I was ready to resort to violence. I felt stupid. And then, my boyfriend emailed me with a great idea: Take a photo of the document with my phone. I did, and that sufficed.
I was relieved to have sorted it out, but still annoyed with myself that I hadn’t come up with a suitable solution on my own. That incident felt like a microcosm of the larger issue I struggle with in my first cohabiting relationship: I hate relying on my boyfriend. When I do, it makes me feel helpless, as if all the independence I racked up living on my own in New York City for 16 years fled out the window the minute I moved in with him.
I know that’s not literally true. I do plenty of things for myself, and if I expected him to wait on me hand and foot, we’d both get sick of the arrangement — fast. But, emotionally, it feels like a slippery slope. I rely on him to scan documents, drive me around (we live in suburban New Jersey and I don’t have a license), and DVR my favorite TV shows — and it makes me feel guilty for not knowing how to do those things myself.
Photo: Cultura/REX USA.
Let me be clear: I don’t expect us not to do favors for each other, or not to help one another out. That’s part of being in a relationship, and both of us enjoy it. Plus, there are plenty of things one of us is better at, or enjoys doing more. He loves to cook, whereas I'm more of a chips-and-hummus-for-dinner person. So, he makes most of our meals, with occasional help from me. Meanwhile, I love washing dishes, so I do all the hand-washing. My boyfriend does rely on me to do certain things, and he always asks nicely. Both of us make sure to say "please" and "thank you," and we mean it.
And, yet. There’s still a level of discomfort here, for me. I think it's because there's a difference between asking for help and needing someone to do something for you because you can’t. The latter is where I start to feel nervous and trapped, because if I rely on him for those things and he’s unavailable — or, worse still, if we break up — I’m screwed. For me, the issue isn’t so much about an equal division of labor as it is about a fear of becoming dependent.
I'm afraid that no matter how much I may strive to give off a strong, independent, feminist appearance...deep down, I need someone to take care of me. That's partially true (and possibly okay, even if it doesn't always feel that way). Because there are times when I do need help, whether it’s a fresh perspective or a short-term loan or physical aid or technical knowledge that I simply don’t have. However, "needy" is not a word I want to use to describe myself — and if I ever have children, that's not how I want them to see me.
Here's the thing: I know there's balance to be found between "needy" and "unable to accept help." However, striking that balance isn't always intuitive for me; it feels like the moment I ask for help, I’m giving up any semblance of being my own person. My boyfriend constantly reminds me that “we’re in this together," which is an unsettling remark for me to hear. But, why? Because I’ve never had someone close to me say that, let alone mean it?
I’m working on being more comfortable asking for help. When we moved recently, I thought I could pack all my stuff alone, but as moving day approached, I realized it just wasn't going to get done. Even though my boyfriend was far more anal about the exact right way to pack a box to maximize space, and even though we had our share of arguments about what to keep and what to toss, I was ultimately grateful for his help. I still hated that I needed it, but I was grateful — which is what I try to keep in mind, as a sort of mantra for moments like this.
Becoming overly dependent on another person still feels like a worst-case scenario to me — like I will wake up one day and not be able to solve any problem, be it big or small, on my own. But, I certainly don’t want to go to an extreme and become a total ice-queen who doesn’t let anyone (especially the person I love most) help me because I’m afraid of the long-term consequences. So, although I may not have found my independence comfort-zone quite yet, it's a work in progress — and I'm working on it.