Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Switching gears

People are complex - and fascinating because of it. I am by no means the first person to ponder this; there has been scads of research, tomes have been written, even religious dogmas created to recognize the inherent dichotomies that exist within people. I have explored very, very little on this topic. In fact I've never given it much thought before at all.

The changes in my relationship life recently coincide with some changes in my professional life, and I am finding that I need to better understand the dichotomies of me, maybe not to rectify them, but perhaps to manage or harness them. Like everyone, I switch back and forth to the most appropriate and useful person/persona for the situation. But sometimes one trait asserts itself at an inopportune moment, in my work or my relationship.

I did not take Women's Studies in college, although I was certainly in college during the right time for its influence to be pervasive. I never considered it much because I wasn't interested in entering the business world (or politics, journalism, etc), nothing with a glass ceiling waiting to be broken. But neither did I reject the notion of women pursuing those things; I grew up swearing I would never marry or have a family. I majored in a traditional "hard" science. My classmates were, by and large, men (or boys - what are they at that age?). I just did what I did and it never seemed to fit the proper mold for either camp.

The same is true now, there are several different aspects to my professional life. Part is a very traditionally female caregiver position, in which interpersonal relationship, empathy, and nurturing are crucial. Part is a much more male dominated, what is traditionally viewed as masculine world, involving analyses, science, math, etc... At the risk of sounding immodest, I have some ability in each of these areas. I also have a pretty good handle on jumping back and forth among these roles - the types of attitudes, ways of thinking, ways of approaching things. It helps that they each have distinct settings/contexts, that helps with switching gears.

As far as my traits and my relationship life, I can't begin to define the term submissive. I haven't seen a consensus yet about it in fact, and I'm certainly not going to try to be the one to nail it down. Nor will I try to make myself fit any particular description I have seen "out there." Furthermore, I'm still discovering things about myself, how I respond to things, how things make me feel, what judgements I make about things. But there is now much more of a dichotomy in this area of my life than I think had existed before. But what is the opposite trait to submissive? Certainly in this case, not dominant - maybe assertive, independent, I'm not sure. Clearly other submissive people function independently, assertively, perhaps even aggressively. So are these the contrasts to submissive?

Previously, no one would have said there was a bit of me that was submissive. In fact, besides my husband, I still don't think anyone would. Now, there are many aspects of my realtionship with my husband in which submitting does feel right. (It still makes my head spin to think about what a change this is, and how it either appeared out of the blue, or was there all along and I never realized - but that is a different pondering.) Trying not to get tangled up in symantics or details, I would not say that our arrangement is one in which I submit in all things. I do in some areas, and overall I am certainly more respectful when I disagree, and I try to listen first before I react (that wasn't always the case), but for reasons I may try to parse out for myself another time, it just isn't everything, all the time. It is also, of course, ever in flux, evolving.

Unlike at work, where the context is clear, therefore which role/nature/traits should be playing are clear, it is trickier with this relationship thing. First off, I've never had to think about this before, I was always free to just react, just do. I am just learning that there are two parts to my nature, and what each of those entails, how to differentiate them, and how to choose to act based on one trait or another. I now have to stop and decide how to respond. But certainly, in many things, I act independently, of my own mindset. Most of the time this is no problem. Sometimes though it leads to friction because we each had different expectations of how each of us should act. Sometimes the irritation is only on my part, I am taken by surprise by the fact that i "got it wrong." I am also sure there are times when he is irritated by the mis-matched expectations, and doesn't let it show.

Maybe I will learn to function mostly from a submissive stance - I honestly don't know if that is what my husband would want, if it would work, or even what that would really mean. Maybe as I come to understand it all better, it will no longer confound me. Maybe I will re-integrate everything into one nature and operate only from that perspective - although people are complex and I think there is something to be said for being so.


  1. I think submission has it's time and place. I was in management for years, obviously not a time or place for submission.
    I never considered myself submissive and like you no one would classify me as the submissive type.
    However with that being said I am enjoying discovering the submissive side to me and the femininity that accompanies it.
    I do not believe I could ever be completely submissive even to my husband. There is a time and a place and we have for the most part figured out when it works for us.
    Good luck in finding your submissiveness and where it works in your relationship.

  2. greengirl: What a fabulous post! I am sorry that I don't have the answer. I have to give this more thought. Certainly, some times are appropriate for being assertive, some times for being submissive, and getting that right all the time is so tricky and particularly given your different roles.

    For now, I will offer this. At work, my boss sometimes would say to me, "Don't ask them to do it. Tell them to do it." He thought I was being too "nice". He was right, sometimes. I was leaving the door open for them when I needed to be sure that they did what I needed them to do. I had to learn to be assertive. Being assertive with my husband does not get me where I want to go. Well, I can be assertive but in a respectful way. He prefers the soft approach.

    So, I guess, what I do is try to be one step ahead and consider 'what will work in this situation?'

    Is that any help at all?

  3. I enjoyed your musings greengirl - the only thing I would add is don't forget who your husband fell in love with in the first place .... he obviously enjoys and loves someone who has that assertive side to her as well, someone capable of independent thought and the ability to follow through - I don't see that in any way as negating the submissive part of you.

  4. I agree with the others... both on the awesome post... and also that being submissive doesn't mean you have to be submissive in all things and all the time. Hell I identify as a slave and I'm certainly not submissive in every aspect of my life. You can't be... especially when you have children or a job where you have a leadership role.

    The best thing is to just go with the flow of what comes naturally in your relationship. If you are both comfortable and happy, then nothing more needs to be done. At least that's how I see it.

    I know it can get confusing... there are just so many opinions about what being submissive means... the thing is... everyone is right... and no one is. It's something we each need to define for ourselves rather than comparing ourselves to others.


  5. Janet,
    I tried management for aboout a year - I was disatrous at it. What I do now seems to be a good fit. It is funny thought that all our friends and family would be blow over to find out I ever give an inch on anything.

    That does help - I know it's a matter of learning and figuring out - we just need to go through the steps.

    Thank you, and good point. In my head - I think of our relationship being much more lively and back and forth than just yes sir, no sir. (There's actually no "sirs" anyhow - but you know what I mean).

    I have managed so many differnt roles outside of home -and even as a parent - different roles at home - this is just one more layer. Thanks