Last week I wrote about how important it is to sometimes say no to things if you don’t have time, if they will cause you more stress, or if you just don’t want to. I touched on the idea that you don’t owe it to anyone to accept these favours if it’s not realistic for you, no matter who they are. To me, this thought – that you don’t owe anyone anything – feels key to remember and so I wanted to explore that further.
Firstly, our society often makes women in particular feel like they owe people something. Patriarchy tells women that they should be self-sacrificing caregivers and put everyone’s needs before their own. No one should do that. Meanwhile, men are often socialised to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that women exist for them, that they are here for their pleasure, their consumption and at their disposal. I’m not saying it’s always intentional, normally it isn’t at all, but a lot of men do seem to feel a certain entitlement towards women.
Many women, again consciously or unconsciously, may believe this too, and go along with it, trying to please men, often at their own expense. Perhaps by thinking their appearance must match society’s stereotypical heterosexual female beauty standards, which are extremely narrow, unrealistic, punishing and ultimately unattainable. Perhaps the way they dress is just designed to appeal to the opposite sex. I’m not at all criticising women who do these things – after all, this is what society teaches us to do, so we probably all do them a little bit or have done in the past! And of course, this is great if that’s what you want to do, and you can do whatever you want. But sometimes it’s more because women feel they should or feel they have to.
Women do not owe men, or anyone, anything at all. No one owes anyone anything. You don’t need to look a certain way for anyone. You don’t owe someone who buys you a drink anything. Not even conversation. You don’t owe anyone sex or your body. Not your partner, not anyone. You don’t owe anyone commitment or love. You don’t owe anyone anything.
Then there’s this other thing. You may feel, or have felt, like there is a person in your life who is becoming a little bit dependent on you. I don’t mean a child, elderly person, or someone who is unwell, that is completely different, but someone else who just seems to be relying on you for much of their happiness. This is not healthy. We can never rely on anyone else for the majority of our happiness, because your relationship with that person, whatever form it may take, may not always exist in the same way, and therefore cannot be depended on to always be there to give you happiness.
Especially romantic relationships, which are often fleeting compared to familial relationships and long-term friendships, and are also perhaps the kind where this reliance is most likely to happen. Despite our culture’s grand sweeping statements about love, a romantic relationship will not solve everything, and you cannot rely on that relationship to solely make you happy. Doing so is unfair to both you and your partner. One person is under extreme pressure to keep the other happy, while the other person’s happiness, based on one thing, could be fragile, and perhaps suffer severely if the relationship were to decline or end. We need to find happiness from our whole lives and its many aspects, from what we do, and from within.
It can be awfully confusing when you realise someone is placing so much emphasis on your relationship as the one thing that makes them happy. You want to make them happy, and are glad to. You don’t want to disappoint them, but it becomes so easy to do so when someone is getting all their happiness from you. A small thing can lead to upset, lead to you feeling guilty and selfish. But chances are, you are definitely not.
We are not accountable for anyone’s happiness but our own. It is not your responsibility to make someone else happy, however much you love and care for them. Don’t let them make you feel like it is. Don’t let them guilt trip you. Ironically, this person who receives so much happiness from you could potentially make you very unhappy if they rely on you too much.
Knowing that you don’t owe anyone anything in this life is such a refreshing and liberating thought. The only person you owe anything to is yourself. You owe yourself kindness, compassion and positivity. You owe yourself hard work, courage, and aspirations. You owe yourself fun and time off. You owe it to yourself to be who you are; to not hold that back, limit or change that for anyone else.