I Am Not Your Mother: An Essay on Love, Self Worth and Boundaries

Femininity, Freedom and Its Correlation

What does it mean to own your divine feminine energy? When I picture the word ‘feminine’, I think of: resting, allowing, flowing waters, the warm and fertile earth, a womb, flowers, nature and cycles of birth and death. I think mostly of freedom of expression. Of the innate desires to be sensual, of the senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. My belief is that femininity and freedom go hand in hand. It can only flourish if it feels safe enough to express itself. And safety means freedom. The freedom to be however you are meant to be, in whatever state you are in at that exact moment. If you think of nature, how it is perfect in its wilderness. How it cannot be tamed. How it can transpire, transform and grow in even the most volatile of landscapes and climates. I think of how my own femininity has evolved over the years. How it, perhaps, is a lifetime of growth. I think of the ways I have felt unsafe and unable to express. How I am settling into my own power. 

The Women Before Me

The women before me taught me different versions of femininity. From leaving their ancestral homes, a country filed with culture, language and customs they knew for a land unknown. They taught me how to adapt, nurturing their family in their own hardened ways. My mother taught me that femininity meant being a powerful entrepreneur, working, traveling and raising three children. She taught me that it meant deserving quality clothing and products, lotioning your skin into supple submission. She taught me it meant being a tiger in a meadow of lambs, sitting up straight and spitting fire amongst a table of men. My paternal grandma (Ma Ma) taught me it meant obedient faith, stoking the flames of the stove, methodical chopping of ingredients, tenderly washing and folding the clothing that protected her family from the elements and love of traveling with her church group. My maternal grandma (Paw Paw) taught me it meant raising six grandchildren in a tenement apartment in Chinatown while their parents were working from sun up til sun down, cooking luncheon meat and egg omelettes to suit their Americanized tastes, knitting itchy wool sweaters and vests and focusing your entire existence on sacrificing for the greater good of the whole. My grandmothers taught me that it meant raising families on their own, while their husbands laid six feet under the ground. The women before me taught me it meant paving your own way with whatever means you could. They taught me discipline and delaying gratification. They taught me that love meant stability and safety and raising a family. A husband was a means to an end: someone you raised children with, someone who helped you pay the bills, someone who invoked fear into their chaotic ways. The women before me had their own opportunities and challenges, living a life that seemed filled with hardship, long nights and suppressed emotions. There was no time to feel. There was only one thing on their minds: survival. They taught me of their sacrifices and told me little of their stories. It seems that these stories were more like skeletons in the closet. Memories that they would rather not relive. Things that were better left off unsaid. 

I learned in witnessing the relationship between my mother and father that dysfunction was normal. That arguments were explosive. That things got physical and it was ‘okay’. That problems never really got resolved, just slept on and forgotten the next day. Apologies and affection were nonexistent. I learned that love hurt, caused sadness and required extreme efforts in upholding instead of support and mutual expressed respect.


The Ways in Which I Crossed My Own Boundaries

I miss the dream and future building we used to do together over the dinner table, in the countless car rides, in cafes and restaurants, on walks. I wonder if it was real or just imaginary banter for you. How I dreamt so seriously, as if my very existence depended on it, drawing up blueprints, architect and contractor, and the rest was just a fictional account of what could have been for you. I wonder if you took my ideas seriously or thought of them as entertaining as your favorite televisions how. 

I think of how, in the beginning, I admired having someone with a car who could take me places, pick me up, bring me to restaurants and pay for meals but couldn’t respect a ‘no’ when I didn’t want your hands under my shirt, attempting to undo the clasp of my bra. How I am angry and upset you crossed my boundaries, but even more so at myself for not holding them strong enough to stop you from witnessing my nakedness. How I faked multiple orgasms just so sex could be over as soon as possible. How I would lie awake at night, while you were sleeping after ejaculating, thinking nothing and feeling numb. I am angry and upset at my inability to leave after the first night (and the relationship) because feeling wanted felt so good. How I wanted you to drive me home afterwards but you wanted to sleep after sex instead. And when you finally dropped me off at my parents’ house, I let you convince me to pack a change of clothes to go back to your apartment so I could play a role. How it felt so good to feel so bad. I felt defiant and rebellious, sneaking out of one control room into another. One repressed environment into another.

I think of the time I went to celebrate Cynthia’s birthday at a club instead of going off to a weekend in DC, you got upset at me, withholding affection. How I told you I enjoyed embraces, hugs, affection and you told me that I once said I didn’t enjoy PDA so that was the reason you no longer wanted to hold my hand or sigh into my neck. Or when you got upset after seeing photos of me wearing a bra top at a desert rave in Nevada. Or when you got mad that I wanted to hang out with a male friend and you got angry. How I gave up friendships because it felt better to be small and fit into your version of love instead of holding strong into my center. Because being together was somehow better than being alone. How all of these incidents made me feel shame about my own sexuality. How it taught me that my body was your possession. It was an object to be owned. A private space for you to view instead of a vehicle of my own spirit. 

When you came home from work and removed your leather shoes, socks and undressed into your stretched out undershirt and pajama bottoms, running to the kitchen to prepare dinner tenderly, kissing me briefly on the lips, I felt so lonely. The way you prepared and ate your food was the way I wished for my heart and soul to be devoured. When you sat at the television, sinking into the too soft cushions, watching men move a ball across green fields, I felt myself longing to be observed as intensely as a football match, having you cheer me on as you did your favorite team. Or how, some nights, I laid awake at night, wondering what I was doing in a bed next to someone who could make me feel so loved and so lonely at the same time. How I felt afraid to ask fro what I needed because these bids were rarely answered. When I left on a flight to another continent, I wish you used one of your ten vacation days on me, accompanying me to the airport to say goodbye instead of taking the 7:45AM R train to downtown Manhattan. And when I finally started to love myself and left you for the first time in six years, I felt like I could finally breathe.

Not that everything was bleak. There were moments of true authentic love in between all of these dark clouds. There’s always clear skies after the rain. Rainbows after a heavy pour. Day after night. There were moments of peace spend sitting on beaches and in nature. Of gifting time, presence and presents. Of watching movies together. Of actual good sex. Of laughter, giggles and spontaneous adventures. Of growth. Of learning about each other and our own inner worlds. Of building something together. Of dreaming. I learned that loving shouldn’t be difficult. Maybe I made it that way because that’s all I knew. I offer gratitude and compassion to all of these experiences because they have given me something that money can’t buy: wisdom.

My Resolve and Discovery of Self Worth

In these months, I have acknowledged my own hand in the destruction of my self worth and my own shadows. How both of us had a hand in doling out abuse and unhealthy behaviors. How these were learned patterns from our childhood, repeating in cycles, digging us into a dark hole that seemed impossible to climb out of. How love and hate are two sides of the same coin. I take responsibility for the ways in which I have hurt people in my limited understanding. How I am currently learning and expanding the ways in which I can extend love in every situation. I feel that a lot of these issues stemmed from my inability to love and understand my own self. In this observation, I learned that letting go is sometimes healthier than trying to work things out together. That it’s okay to do both. Maybe not at the same time. I guess we both loved as best as we could and when I wanted us to fly, you didn’t want to let go. So I decided to soar on my own. 

When I say ‘no’, it is not a sentence for you to test my boundaries with. I am not here to fulfill certain expectations: to cook you dinners when you come home from work. I am not here to do your laundry, fold your clothes or iron your shirts. I am not here to give you compliments when you do something well. I am not here to teach you how to be a man. I am here to love and to be loved. I am not here to fulfill your Oedipus dreams of fucking your mother. I am not here for you to play out the dramas of soothing your childhood traumas. I am here to grow together, intertwining our worlds to build something sustainable, loving, unconditional and lasting. I am learning that it better to be alone, to cultivate a deeper understanding of my subconscious, before engaging in a relationship. The propensity that we have as humans to hurt others is great. However, our ability to love is even greater.

In these days of traveling and meeting other dreamers and explorers, I find myself understanding how I view my self worth. What I am deserving of. I am tired of men policing my behavior. I am tired of tolerating these actions. In my acceptance of these behaviors, I am enabling the mistreatment of my femininity. How unsafe I feel to dance in the open. How I am afraid to be sexualized by the hungry eyes of depravity. I am not a painting in a museum for you to have a reaction to. I am the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth. Nourishing. A warm womb of creative potential. A brilliance that shines. I think of the days that I have spent lounging in the nude under the sun, loving this physical body, releasing limiting beliefs, fears and anxieties that I carry. Ingrained beliefs that may not actually be mine.

I think carefully, now, of what I want in a relationship and love. How romance is something that should exist like an eternal flame in the building of two worlds colliding. How I deserve to be respected and admired. How my intuition should be trusted and used as a guide. How I want to build a dream and an empire with or without a partner. I am grateful to the men who have shown me the ways in which I should be loved and also in the ways I should not tolerate. In spending time with myself, I notice the ways in which my cup is filled. My peace of mind and solitude is far too priceless for me to give up easily anymore. I have gathered that a partner should complement your own divinity and uniqueness, instead of suppressing your shine. Most importantly, I have learned that we should give because we want to, not because we have to or because we expect that it will produce a certain result. Even so, I am always learning. I am learning that it is okay to remove yourself from situations that no longer serve you. That it’s okay to be selfish in understanding what gives you clarity and peace. That you shouldn’t lower your standards. That you should treat yourself like your own best friend. Take your own advice.

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