What to Expect When You Fall In Love as a Feminist
If I know you — and I think I might — you have been a feminist in the making since your ripe teen years. You’ve put in the time, the effort, the sweat, the tears, and the patience to really dig deep into your core. You resisted the inane gender
stereotypes that were flung at you from left and right, and made damn sure that you would be able to fight for your place in society amongst your male peers. You worked hard to cultivate a close relationship with yourself. So close, in fact, that loneliness is no longer a fear of yours. In fact, being alone is something you’ve grown accustomed to, and you figured you could be happy dating yourself for years to come.
But then they arrived. And now, it all feels fuzzy.
We can plan on becoming strong independent women. We can anticipate adversity from the corporate culture or from society as a whole. We can strive to create a strong sense of self and a develop a deep awareness of our darkest doubts. But we can’t plan on when we fall in love.
Love is supposed to knock us on our butts. It’s supposed to shake up our perfectly timed life to the point where we don’t know what day it is anymore. It’s supposed to make us feel alive. And in order to take advantage of every amazing opportunity it offers – we have to embrace some of the uncomfortable emotions it also uncovers. Falling in love doesn’t mean abandoning our feminist core – but it does mean adjusting to a new phase of life that can come with some hiccups. So to fully prepare any feminist out there – young or old – to the twists and turns love can throw at us – here are a few things you can expect.
1. It will take some time to figure out your balance
So you’re in a new relationship.
I’m sure he or she is AMAZING. And obviously so - because you’re spending a lot of time with them. More than you imagined. For instance, you had so much fun catching that movie with them last night. Their laugh is so dang cute. And you already have plans for the weekend to take a small trip – should be interesting. Haven’t traveled together before, so you’ll see how it goes. Plus there’s that birthday party the weekend after, and you will probably be spending the holidays together this year too. And….oh no. Every weekend is already booked up. How did this happen? When are you going to see your friends? Your family? Your ANYONE?
Cue anxious feminist feelings.
Finding the right balance between your new love and the life you have loved for so many years can take real work. Many of us have this expectation that because we are already strong, feminist women – finding a balance between our individual life and our relationship will be second nature. We’ve been compartmentalizing plenty into our crazy schedules so far – work, friends, family, pets, special occasions, trips, meetings, even the occasional (or weekly) TV series…so won’t this just be another drawer to fill?
If only it were that simple.
Relationships — especially in the beginning — are bursts of light that you simply cannot tuck neatly away into a vacant drawer. They become an omnipresent focus in our daily routine — something that is always just on the tip of our tongue or the top of our mind. It’s encompassing. And it’s fun.
But, it’s only natural that finding balance between yourself and your relationship isn’t something that we may conquer in the first day, week, month, or sometimes year. We will overshoot occasionally and try to create distance for the sake of our autonomy. (You probably just canceled that weekend trip, didn’t you?) Other times we’ll undershoot and neglect other important pieces of our independence, such as friends or work without even noticing. (Nah, go ahead and go, your buds will understand!)
But it’s not about getting it right every time – it’s about finding a rhythm that suits your style and your relationship. It’s about trial and error, and openly communicating with your partner, your friends, and your family about your new wobbly state of balance. It’s about accepting this new phase of life, and understanding that you might not ever be the same again. And you’re better for it. Conscious focus of your feelings will help you smooth out the kinks in your new messy life – but until then – you can rest easy knowing that this is all normal, and other feminists have been there before. We’re with you, girl.
2. Balance is so hard because you weren’t supposed to have it for a long time.
So we’ve come to terms that balance is a struggle – but why? I mean, it seems rather intuitive for men. Of course we occasionally hear jabs at men for becoming “whipped,” or “chained,” but nine times out of ten these jests are coming from friends who frankly need to brush up on their senses of humor. But for feminist women, this idea of “losing ourselves” in a relationship is quite frightening, because it’s been the standard for years.
For as long as we can remember, women have been the ones to compromise for the sake of a relationship. And we weren’t asked to compromise, either. It was just expected. We changed our occupations, our homes, our names, and our overall identity to mold into this new dynamic of husband and wife. And now that society is getting better at celebrating female autonomy, us feminists are left trying to figure out how to fully participate in our new exciting relationships without history repeating itself.
The good news is, we have history to learn from. We can look and see how our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers adapted to their roles, and decide what can be left behind, and what we would like to continue. For instance, a woman changing her last name for marriage isn’t a given anymore – plenty of women still don their birth name after exchanging vows. On the other hand, exchanging rings during the ceremony is still considered a given for a marriage ceremony. But, just like the name change, this may not be the case in fifty years if we choose to leave the jewels behind.
It’s an exciting time to be feminists, as we are the new pioneers in modern day traditions and rituals. We decide the new norms. Embrace it! Challenge it! And most of all, find what works for you.
3. You will compromise.
As advocates of the female empowerment movement – we have somehow written off the idea of compromise as a camouflaged way to appease the neglected crowds demanding fair standards. So it’s only natural that when we dreamt of finding a meaningful relationship, we didn’t visualize compromise or give and take. No way. Instead we envisioned a champion of our endeavors – someone who pushes us to our limits every day and questions whether or not we could shoot for more. Someone who is proud of our accomplishments and would never hamper our motivation to achieve our next goal. Someone who understands the struggle modern women face in achieving balance and autonomy in a brand new blossoming relationship.
And we can have that in a partner. We can have all of it. But that doesn’t mean compromise doesn’t play an important role as well.
Compromise for the sake of a relationship is a necessity for sustainment. Just as we don’t want to hitch our wagon to an overbearing selfish partner who couldn’t imagine us chasing personal fulfillment outside of our relationship – we can’t ask the same thing from them. Of course not. So we compromise and meet in the middle. People move. People change jobs. Kids happen (or not). Family gets involved. There must always be a give and take in order to keep moving forward. Resisting the space for compromise out of the sheer principle that women have compromised enough already only damages our chances of living a full life with our special and supportive partner. It’s counter productive. But our habit to stand up for ourselves no matter the issue sometimes impedes this.
Instead, we should fight for ourselves, fight for them, and fight for each other while remembering that compromise is a two way street, and should be treated as such. It’s not a sign of weakness – it’ a sign of a healthy and progressive relationship. And that should be the overarching goal for any feminist searching for a true partner.
4. You can change traditions to make them your own.
Love is such an unique process. Two completely separate individuals come together in celebration of their similarities, fascination in their differences, and a mutual commitment to value each other for as long as the eye can see. No two loves are alike – each feeling, journey, and process cannot be replicated. So…why are the traditions and rituals surrounding this idiosyncratic evolution so uniform?
First there’s the engagement with the male on one knee, followed by an elaborate diamond ring and a few parties to celebrate. Later we indulge in the showers and bachelorette parties, all with the culmination of one lavish event with vows, toasts, and even a cutting of a cake. It’s beautiful, yes, but it’s also all eerily similar in structure. And as feminists have learned for many years – one size does not fit all.
It’s easy to get hung up on the pressure of conforming to the “required” celebrations of falling in love. But feminists have been pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo for years – so this doesn’t have to be any different. Defying tradition is what makes us who we are – so we don’t have to buy into the rings or the flowers or the cake. We can take what we like, leave behind what we don’t, and continue to evolve courtship, dating, and marriage into what we think it needs to be for the future.
5. You are allowed to be happier than before
Of course you’re the happiest you’ve ever been. You’re in love. You have found your person, the one who brings you so much joy you never even thought it was possible. It’s magical, really. So why do you feel like you are betraying your former life?
Well, probably because you worked so hard to achieve a level of happiness that only depended on yourself. You created your happiness. And you did it alone. You were proud of being a genuinely happy individual without anyone to rub your back at night or take you out to celebrate the little things. It was a major accomplishment for you, as it is for anyone. And now that you have someone, you feel like you are abandoning that independent happiness you worked so hard to build.
But you’re not abandoning it – you’re compounding it. Any level of happiness you reach after you have done your self-due diligence is just a bonus for the hard work you put in before. You are allowed to admit that someone else exponentially increased the amount of thrill and excitement you feel for life. This doesn’t mean you were weak before – it just means you did an incredible job at knowing yourself, and knowing who and what makes you happy.
Finding love is a sign that you got to know yourself exceptionally well, and you deserve to bask in the joy of this reward. You can be a proud feminist and be in love at the same time, and I think you wear it well.
Congratulations to all the loved feminists out there – enjoy your journey!
Feature photo by Ariana Prestes/ VIA Unsplash