I was listening to music the other day, and the song “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks came on. I haven’t heard it for over a decade, but it still evokes emotions from the time period when I was first away from home. I was in college, surrounded by a million friends, and yet I was newly motherless and had the unsettled feeling that the future was unknowable.
In many ways, I felt like I do today. Of course, the circumstances are totally different now, but many days I feel lost in a similar way that I did almost 20 years ago. When I heard the song again, my heart lurched.
Cowboy take me away
Fly this girl as high as you can into the wild blue
Set me free, oh I pray
Closer to heaven above and closer to you
Of course, the song is a love song. I can remember listening to it over and over again after breaking up with my long-term boyfriend at the end of my college days. It is the type of song that makes you yearn for something else.
When I heard the song the other day, I sang along, and I felt that same emotion – a yearning for something else. But it wasn’t particularly for a new lover. Instead, I realized that what I was feeling was this:
I want to be rescued.
I want a cowboy – or really any other man – to come and rescue me from my life. Of course, I want Shawn to do that most of all, but since he’s unavailable, I just want someone – anyone – to come and save me.
Save me from single parenting. Save me from being the only person who deals with my kids’ emotions. Save me from taking the car to the damn repair shop yet again. Save me from being the only person who’s arriving solo to parties in my neighborhood. Save me from the guilt I feel when I can’t attend yet another event at the kids’ school.
Save me from my life.
I mean, I guess everyone has times when they feel like they want someone to come and save them, and I’m sure no one would think it was abnormal that I want to have someone come along and help me find a new life.
But why do I expect a man to do it?
And why do I feel so insecure without one?
I’m not talking about wanting a partner or a lover. I’m talking about an insecurity that is so deeply rooted in my psyche that I am just now – over ten months since Shawn died – starting to pick it apart.
I texted my friend Julie about this topic the other day. She teaches gender studies at my school, and I was trying to understand why I was feeling so down about my life. “I mean, I know it’s crazy,” I wrote. “How can being alone for less than a year erase all of the confidence I gained after 15 years with Shawn?”
She texted back, “15 years of happy coupledom but almost 40 of being a woman in this culture. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.”
Initially, it made me laugh. But then it made me think. Wasn’t she right?
In centuries past, widows were often quickly remarried for practical reasons. But now, that’s not the custom (thank God!) Still, it’s an uneasy feeling to be a widow in today’s world. I’m a single woman, alone, and all the potential judgement of others pales in comparison to what I feel about myself.
I’ve never really been alone. In fact, these ten months may have been the longest time I’ve been without a partner of some sort. Maybe that’s because I like people too much, and I like the feeling of being devoted to another. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that society has conditioned me to feel insecure without a man.
Yes, all of my empowered friends try and dissuade me from this particular insecurity, and yes, I believe that I can make things okay for my kids without ever finding another partner. But the unease remains.
I spend my days teaching high school students. We talk about history and government but we also talk about power, inequality and injustice. My students understand that we live in an unequal world, and we often discuss how we can work towards making it better. Recently, as we scrolled through images from a protest downtown, we saw a sign someone had made that read, “smash the patriarchy.” It led to a great discussion about what the protester was trying to say.
When I talk about systemic issues like racism and sexism with kids, I often emphasize that it’s not just about getting a small number of people to change their frames of minds. It’s about all of us becoming aware of the lack of equity in our society. You don’t have to be a man to believe in the patriarchy.
Because deep in my psyche, I know that there is a part of me that thinks I’ll never be okay as a single woman. That I need someone to come and rescue me. Specifically, that I need a man to come and rescue me.
I hope I find love again someday. But before that, I hope I get to the point where I can face this fear, and believe that I don’t need someone to save me.