From the time I was a little girl, I strongly felt the most important thing for a woman to be was financially independent -- able to care for herself and her family, if need be. I came to believe in this imperative as an eight-year-old, after witnessing my mother carry on after my father’s sudden death.
Just as African-American women have done for centuries, Mama had always worked outside the home. As a young single woman, she had earned a living as a writer for various black newspapers; and after becoming a wife, she taught high school English and helped Daddy edit and publish our family’s newspaper. Consequently, I had always had the example of a “working mother” to emulate. But when Daddy dropped dead of a heart attack at age forty-nine and left Mama with four young children to rear, it became abundantly clear that her college education and work experience were the saving graces that would allow her to provide for us.
I found myself in similar straits when my marriage ended in divorce seven years after the wedding. My husband’s drug addiction resulted not only in the destruction of our marriage, but also in his inability to pay child support for our kids, who were then two and four years old. Fortunately, with the possibility that I might someday have to go it alone in the back of my mind, I had finished college and graduate school and launched a journalism career, so I was able to support my two daughters without his help.
In my youth, I had seen my mother sitting at the kitchen table night after night with her ledger, trying to figure out how to pay the bills by “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as she called it. She clipped coupons, drove from one supermarket to another in search of bargains, and ferreted out opportunities for low-cost summer camps and after-school activities. Following her lead, I got creative and found a way to give my daughters ballet and music lessons, vacations, private schooling and college educations, all the while inculcating them with the idea that women must be independent. What I didn’t know was that I was providing for my girls a model of a life without an essential element: the love of someone you can depend on. In other words, in elevating the idea of independence, I neglected to understand or appreciate that “dependence” (which includes the word “depend”) is not solely defined as “the state of being subject to another,” but also as “reliance” or “trust.” I had unintentionally taught my girls not to trust anyone, even those who might love them.
Today, both of my now-adult daughters have views about marriage and divorce that were shaped by their upbringing in a single-parent household. To my dismay, the married daughter casually tossed around the “D” word within months of her wedding, and the unmarried daughter combines a jaded opinion of men with a strong belief that marriage is outmoded. Having grown up without a father, they have come to believe the feminist meme “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
Last year, after more than two decades alone, I fell in love with an old friend, a man I had known and admired from the time we met thirty-five years ago. I was blissfully happy at last. The only problem? He lived in California, and I lived in Georgia. After months of flying back and forth across the country, we decided that we needed to be in the same place if the relationship were to survive. He asked me to consider moving to Los Angeles.
Although I had accepted an early-retirement offer from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution two years earlier, I had ended up back in the workforce in a lower-paying job as a development writer for Morehouse College. He, on the other hand, was a well-compensated tenured professor at a major university and the holder of a prestigious chair. It was a no-brainer, but I couldn’t just quit working because I had bills that needed to be paid. Proving to me that he was serious about our future, he offered to provide the financial support that would free me to start a new life with him and give me time to write the book I have long wanted to write. In return for taking care of me, he asked only that I take care of him, too, while creating for myself a satisfying and fulfilling life.
So, last summer, in pursuit of happiness at age fifty-eight, I quit my job, said goodbye to my friends and my church family, converted my home to rental property and moved across the country to live with my beloved. In other words, I took a leap of faith that I could depend on this man to do the things he promised to do -- to love me and take care of me for the rest of my life. So far, he has been true to his word.
As anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows, love is more than a romantic ideal; it requires patience, understanding, communication, flexibility, trust and commitment. For me, though, giving up the life I had built to be with the man I love required much more. It required a completely new mind-set.
I had to let go of a deeply held, lifelong value forged in youthful innocence and confirmed by adult experience. I had to set aside my fear of dependence and embrace faith in an unimaginable future. And while my partner and I have worked out an arrangement that will protect me if anything should happen to him, it took a lot for me to trust someone else with my well-being.
It has not been easy to make the transition from independent to dependent, but as a woman of wisdom, I have learned that there’s more to life than being able to pay your own bills. And though I spent twenty-five years as a proudly independent woman, I now know that life is so much better when you have someone to share it with, someone you can truly depend on.