I can do it myself! (But should I?)
We met up at the train station with only a couple of minutes to spare.
“Could I get my sandals?” I asked my husband as I flopped down onto a bench. I slipped off the shoes I’d been wearing all day. “These ones are killing me.”
My husband, Anthony, handed over my sandals and asked if I’d like help buckling them. “No. I can do it myself,” I replied. I buckled the left one easily, but the right was a struggle due to my growing belly.
Anthony offered a hand once more. Once more, I brushed him off, brusquely emphasizing that I was more than capable of doing it myself. He sighed. We’ve had this conversation hundreds of times before, in every imaginable circumstance. The only difference here was that this one began our honeymoon weekend.
In between bouts of train- and pregnancy-induced dozing, I thought back to that moment. How many times has Anthony tried lending a hand the last few years, knowing it’d more likely than not be (figuratively) slapped away? How many times have I waved him off when he tried to ease my load, not because he thinks me incapable but because he knows two people can often do a thing easier than one?
I don’t know the exact number, but it’s a lot. A really, really lot.
I thought about my first time meeting my youngest sister’s then-future husband some years earlier. He’d joined my sister and a handful of others to help me move apartments. Witnessing me awkwardly lugging a large TV by myself, he offered to help me carry it. I didn’t even bother considering his offer before giving my standard reply. “I can do it myself!”
That made him smile. “You sound just like Madeline,” he told me.
“How’s that?” Groan. Grimace. Grunt.
“She’s always telling me, ‘I can do it myself.’ Well, of course she can. The point is, a princess shouldn’t have to.”
I’m no princess and never had much interest in being one, but his words worked a little bit of a magic on my big sister heart, anyway.
I set down the TV and accepted his offer. Together we hauled it the rest of the way to the car much, much more easily and quickly than if I’d carried it solo.
Thanks to his words, I was able to see this particular stubbornness wasn’t a peculiar character trait isolated to me. It reflected my mom’s insistence each of her daughters be self reliant, depending on no man to support them or achieve their smaller goals. Her insistence was borne of her heartbreaking experiences with my dad: Much as you might hope, there’s no guarantee anyone else will do as well for you as you could do for yourself. Or at all.
It was only when my sisters and I were much older that my mom realized she might have gone overboard emphasizing self reliance above all else. “Girls, you know how I told you you could be anything you wanted? What I meant was, think of what you want to be, and marry a man who does that!”
Nice try, Mom, but the foundation you’d lain had already been developed into fully built castles.
An evening or two into our honeymoon, Anthony and I wandered into a clothing store shortly before closing time. My feet were so swollen the last month of my first pregnancy that I’d only been able to wear flip-flops , so Anthony suggested I should probably have back-ups on hand.
I tugged off one sandal to try on another. The new one slid on easily. Unfortunately, the one I’d worn into the store wasn’t quite as cooperative.
I struggled with it for a moment before telling myself, practice makes better.
“Hon, could I get a hand with this?”
Anthony was happy to help.
Sometimes I get frustrated when it feels like I’m doing everything by myself.
Other times, I can see with excruciating clarity how I’ve ended up doing certain things all by myself. The reasons sound like:
- No, no. That’s not it. You’re not doing it right.
- Can’t you do something else instead?
- I don’t need your help.
- I can do it myself.
- I’ve got this.
From a rare bout of willingness to look this shortcoming head on, I thought about writing a tongue-in-cheek list-based blog:
- “8 Ways To Help Your Husband Feel Useful”
- “12 Little Things You Can Let Your Husband Do While You Do Everything Important”
- “48 Butt-Kicking Affirmations for the Woman Who Really Can Do It All Without Anyone’s Help, Ever”
- “96 Ways To Say ‘Hell, No,’ But Nicely Enough to Stay Married”
There were a bunch of problems with this approach, the biggest of all being that I don’t really have any solutions to my saying-yes-to-help problem right now. If I did have any solutions, they’d be pretty specific to my own marriage. But, again, that’s hypothetical, because:
No solutions = zero-item lists = not actually lists
Also, even though I know numbered lists are like-whoa times more likely to go viral than their boring text driven counterparts, I don’t really remember any of them after I’ve navigated away.
Better to write what I know. Which, right now, is that (a) I have a hard time accepting help, even after years of practice, but that (b) I’m not throwing in the towel yet and saying, “I am what I am. Live with it!”
That’s no kind of partnership.
For now, I’m going to start with a single intention: not necessarily to say “yes” to my husband’s every offer, but at least to consider each one individually instead of shooting it down immediately with an instinctive, “I can do it myself!”
“Of course you can,” I can already hear Anthony saying. “But my wife shouldn’t have to.”