Feminism, Rebirth and Throwing Away “Mean Man Music”

I don’t like Linda Ronstadt’s sad music anymore.

Or Patsy Cline’s, or Bonnie Raitts.

I was riding in the car recently, looking for something to sing along to. Now, I admire all the vocal talents of the above female artists. I love the challenges they pose for me, as a (very) amateur singer when I want a vocal workout. I popped in my Linda Ronstadt CD, let the wind blow in my hair, and sang along.

I had a good time with “You’re No Good.” I mean, who couldn’t like that song? That’s a great send-off song to any guy who’s messed up one too many times. As I sang it, I visualized one or two men that I would have liked to have sang it to.

Then, I stopped.

You know, I used to love drama. Even when I said I didn’t love drama. I’d see my female relatives stirring up the relationship drama pot and swear that I’d never be like them.

Oh, but I was.

I just did it in my own, creative, equally dysfunctional way.

I sought out the guys who were former addicts, but who still acted like addicts—the ‘dry drunks,’ if you will. I sought out the men who had an unresolved grudge with their mothers dating back to when they were three years old.

Or–the guys who had never forgiven a woman in their lives for dying, leaving or exploiting them. The ones too broken to love. The ones who took their revenge out (perhaps unknowingly) on every new woman they met. Especially the ones, like me, who longed to love them.

Those type guys were my specialty.

I believed that if I were just good enough, loving enough, long-suffering enough (with an emphasis on the ‘suffering’ part) that my love would transform them from empty shells of humanity to functional mature men, capable of healthy and functional relationships with women.

Wrong answer.

I found men who saw my educational credentials and wanted free therapy. I willingly complied, thinking that romance and therapy should somehow happen together. In our society’s seeming addiction to psycho-babble and reality shows, I wonder if I didn’t come by that idea honestly. We see women on movies and television all the time trying to ‘sort out’ their men’s heads, when, really, said ladies should be sorting out their own.

Women are often socialized to love ‘helping.’ We love to ‘nurture.’ We love to intervene. C.S. Lewis once said that hell for men would to have scalded milk spilling everywhere and to be asked to do something about it. Hell for women would be to be told they could not clean up the mess. I think there is some truth in this.

However, each individual is responsible for their own personal mess. Part of building character (which I believe is a life-long process) is doing as much for oneself as one can. Inter-dependence is a good thing, but no one should have the full weight of a broken person on them. Its not good for either party.

Once I started laying bare my idols of enabling and seeking inappropriate relationships, really looking at them, I think more changed than just the men I found myself attracted to. I started realizing that if someone wanted to be stuck in life, that was their choice.

It’s that rule of self-determination that is pounded into social workers. People have a right to make bad choices. They even have a right to do things that ensure that they will die alone and lonely.

The hard part for me was to let go. If I didn’t try to ‘help,’ didn’t that make me somehow not quite ‘nice?’ Not quite womanly?

When I first started working at my current position, I wanted to rescue everyone. I poured time, talent and resources on people. I begged them to change enmeshed, ingrained ways of looking at life. I shared painful parts of my life to encourage them that change and progress was possible, even from the bottom of what seemed to be a pit.

A very few listened.

Slowly, something changed. I would see someone repeatedly making the same mistakes, and I was less likely to preach, worry, or cajole them. I would feel great sadness, often commit it to prayer, but I would silently give them the permission to make that bad choice.

It stopped being about my need to rescue and started being about their right to live their lives, even if those lives were not as good or functional as they could be. I remembered how many years I repeated the same patterns, even knew I was repeating them, but was not ready to change. Nothing could have changed me either–I had to be ready.

Slowly, I learned my enabling was not helping my clients or others in my life. It was just delaying the problem’s solution for them.

Back in the enabling days, I loved the soulful words of Ronstadt, Cline, etc. I loved the idea that skillful words would somehow appeal to a closed and sinful heart, made hardened by years of selfishness.

However, when singing those words, as much as that made me feel like I somehow had a sisterhood ,  I didn’t see an overflow into my personal life. The men I sought remained hard, selfish, self-serving. When confronted with what they did, they found a way to turn it around and blame me or others. Slowly, I realized—the only person I could change was me.

That was a beginning of a re-birth for me. I became, in a good and healthy way, a feminist. A woman who was free to be a woman. Embrace her talents, know her worth and stand up to anyone trying to hold her back. That’s what good feminism is about. Not man-hating or trying to be a man. I LOVE being a woman. I pretty much always have.

I just had to learn how to love being a healthy woman.

I don’t know when I stopped listening to the wailing of the princesses of pain. When I stopped heart-brokenly singing along with Bonnie, “I can’t make you love me.” But I do know when I started arguing back to the lyrics.

Instead of agreeing with a pop or country hymn about reforming some unwilling man, I was thinking, “Why the #*$$ would I want to?” Why would I want to force anyone to do anything?

I wanted someone to love me because he couldn’t  help himself. I wanted the kind of love that is sweet and natural, something that comes from long acquaintance. Something that cannot be manufactured or ‘made’ to happen.

I still liked the challenge of making my voice break while singing ‘Your Cheating Heart’ like Cline. However, the song’s words deeply disturbed me. If a man wanted to be with another woman, why should I stop him? Why should I try to win him back?

Being myself, something that no other woman could ever be, should be my only means of competition (if I chose to compete at all.) If a man wanted the empty life of this flavor or that flavor, instead of what he had with me, then I should let him have it–but only that–not the best of us both.

Why waste my soul, body or time on someone who I would later sing (or want to sing to) “You’re no good?” Why enter a relationship or even try to enter one where the results made me later wail: “When will I be loved?”

As time passed, some other songs I once loved fell by the wayside. I no longer wanted to hear James Ingram tell some hapless lady that he didn’t have ‘the heart’ to love her, ‘the way she wants him to.’ I didn’t want to hear him sing in amazement that she was ‘a lady to the end’ when he broke up with her. No, I wanted better in my life. I knew I was worthy of better. And part of developing that ‘better’ was changing the information that was going into my head.

I changed, without really noticing (until recently) what I listened to. These days, I choose songs, especially about love, with a positive and healthy message. Fun, at times, flirty songs. Nothing that smacks of desperation or a lost cause.

If I listen to a love song, its not a ‘mean man song’ sang by a wailing woman. It’s not a song that could be sung by a ‘mean man.’ It isn’t about unrequited longing or frustration. I listen to Joe Cocker sing, “You are so beautiful.”

I listen to the Little River Band sing about a couple who got together in the 40’s who are still going strong in their later years, and “Reminiscing.” I listen to Paul McCartney who once claimed (shortly before her death) that every love song he ever wrote was for his first wife, Linda.

What I pull into my head is fairly representative of my thoughts, beliefs and views about who I am. If I dwell on songs that sound hopeless, it is likely that is because I lack hope. If I prefer songs about relationships that go only one way, it is possible that I have not tried the unknown road. That path where, instead of chasing after the known and impossible souls, I look for the one who might have been there all along, who always thought I was wonderful, the one to whom I have nothing to prove.

I carry myself with the light of truth. That truth being that I am worthy of good things. That I should not be the only one giving good things in a relationship. It’s not my job to be someone’s therapist, whipping boy, or target. It’s my job to be loved, and to love in as equal an amount as possible

That’s rebirth. And I guess my ‘mean man music’ is on its way to the Goodwill.

I don’t need it anymore.