Needing being needed

When does being supportive slip into co-dependency?

My Grandma, who had a large part in my raising, was born to a well off middle class family in the 19th Century. The role of womanhood which she presented was to help and support her men-folk and I imbibed co-dependency with my morning cereals. On the other hand I also learned that although men are loud and shouty and useful for heavy lifting, they aren’t necessarily that bright and in fact it takes a woman to understand the subtleties.

I emerged from my up-bringing believing myself very capable, thinking that men only see half the picture, and believing it is appropriate for me to enable my partner to Do His Work. Grandma acknowledged that the Work men Do is often Important, even if it is lopsided and frequently misses the point. On the other hand, she sent her daughter to university and certainly we grand-daughters were expected to enter professions rather than get jobs, so maybe she was a seething mass of feminist frustration all along but being a five year old, I didn’t notice. She could certainly be very impatient with men. Her motto was “‘I’ll do it myself’, said the Little Red Hen”, and my problem with feminism has always been to question why women should lower themselves to equality.

Now, whenever I get into a relationship, I can end up putting myself out to enable my partner to Do His Work. I do it consciously, I do it sparingly, and I tend to do it when it really does make a difference. However, I have previously been supportive of partners to my own emotional, financial or professional detriment. I am rougher and tougher than I used to be, and have much firmer boundaries, but the instincts to be supportive are still there.

What I struggle with, is whether or not it is a Bad Thing.

8 responses to “Needing being needed

  1. Good post. Nothing wrong with being supportive, a long as you don’t get lost or feel like it’s a duty, I guess like you have previously. I’m in complete agreement re not striving for equality.

  2. The question is, I think, whether your partner provides equivalent support (not the same, necessarily, as people have different needs) to you.

    I’ve never seen what’s wrong with a bit of interdependency, as long as both parties know they can also cope as independent people if they have to.

  3. We are now putting boundaries around it: I’m not sure if it that I am not to provide unsolicited support, or if it is that I am not to offer unsolicited support. Either way, though, the resistance I felt to the suggestion, and the reluctance I felt agreeing to it, tells me that this is in fact an Issue, and one that I should in fact Deal With.


    Thanks for your comments, ladies. They’re wise and thought provoking, both of them.


  4. Being supportive, then needy and dependent, is neither right nor wrong to my mind, it’s just being human.

    What does raise red flags is if there’s a persistent, pervasive state from just one person. If your partner is always taking and never giving, if you’re always supporting and never being supported, that makes for inequality and marked polarity in a relationship.

    Sometimes that can work, usually that’s dysfunctional.

    Ebbs and flows of helping out has to be a healthy part of being enmeshed in another person’s life. As long as it is ebb and flow, and no pervasive emotional vampire šŸ™‚

  5. “and my problem with feminism has always been to question why women should lower themselves to equality” – what a brilliant line. I shall be quoting that frequently!
    I was brought up with four brothers and two sisters and there was a definite division of labour with the boys doing the hard farm work and the girls doing the girlie jobs like collecting eggs and feeding lambs. The females did all the housework and waited on the men at mealtimes. Even so, it was more a case of “different” work for the sexes rather than “more important” work. We girls, like my mum, were always quite feisty and wouldn’t let the boys walk all over us!

  6. This reminds me of the other day when I was looking through some books in an airport. For some reason, there was a very large and unavoidable self-help/business self-help type section. One cover showed a couple who had jointly written a book about their success in business. The picture showed the woman next to the man, with her head slightly inclined into his. It was a pose which, I thought at the time, would have looked profoundly odd had it been vice-versa. Dependence, I therefore conclude, must be for girls. Or, as I suspect is the case, blokes call it something else that sounds better.

    (By the way, I’ve been reading for a while without commenting. It’s good stuff. I like reading interesting thoughts about things I know and things I don’t.)

  7. What a good catch. It’s the subliminal stuff like that which we don’t notice we don’t notice. Airport bookshelves are often skewed towards business books; at one time the bookshop in T2 at Heathrow was the best business bookshop I knew. Dunno if it still is.

    Thanks for stopping to comment. It’s always a treat when people comment. I’m glad you like the blog. It is pure self-indulgence on my part, so it’s very pleasing when people enjoy it.


  8. Sorry — off on vacation and didn’t get to commenting right away, but this one struck me, as it is what I have been struggling with for years now. Of course, I’ve thought about and struggled with it so much that I can’t make a nice, short coherent comment. I will say that self-awareness is key — and things get dicey when you are resentful of the “support” you provide.

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