We're on the rungs to nowhere

Admit it: You wouldn’t be where you are now if it weren’t for me.

(Why does this bitter realisation slap women around so often?)

Look at that power couple everyone adores, and admires, and envies just a little bit.

Individually they’ve achieved remarkable things. They have each excelled in their professional lives. They are each highly regarded by their friends, families and peers.

But together, they are even more remarkable. They’re a force to be reckoned with. They’re a team. They’re model for success. They are Michelle and Barack Obama, for example.

But they know, and everyone else knows, if they weren’t with each other they wouldn’t be where they are, or what they are. Would they?

Now, consider the promising couple everyone is interested in, and curious about, and watching carefully. Individually, they’re full of promise. As two parts, they show great potential. They seem to be moving in the same direction. They seem to make sense. Yet as one, they’re slightly akimbo. Slightly out of step. One side seems to lead and the other follows.

One has the dream, and is achieving it, while the other dreams more than does. Unless they’re prompted by their ‘partner’ (note, is this really partnership?) Have you formed a picture in your mind? Does it seem familiar? It does to me for many reasons.

As a driven, love-wondering young woman, I’ve hurled myself into relationships with the same gusto that plunges me forward. I’ve done some heavy lifting. I’ve stopped on the ladder to reach down and yank someone up, or jumped off entirely to let someone else take the lead.

I’ve done this because I believed they’d reach down to me once they found their way. And I was hurt and frustrated waiting for the hand that never came until I realised we were climbing in different directions.

You come to terms with that, move on, and learn how to look better before you leap next time. You learn how to distinguish between ‘has potential’ and ‘is perfect’.

However, I often see people battle on and on and on climbing these rungs to nowhere with someone who’s not really going to make it easier – someone who’s more hurdle than help.

And the sorry truth is, in my experience at least, women are generally the ones at the bottom, heaving.

This is good, in the sense we human creatures are supposed to strive and achieve our potential. We’re supposed to support our lover to reach their potential as well. We’re supposed to do this because it makes us better, them better, and the ‘we’ really worthwhile.

But it’s bad – really bad – when the pushing becomes shoving.

So how do you stop in time? (And how do you cope with the bitter realisation it was you, not them, who really held things up).

There’s a lass I know who ended her long-term relationship. It wasn’t working. Something was broken. She thought she knew what that was, and that one day maybe it could be fixed. He said he was shocked, and then he went silent, and then he let her have it.

His reaction was brutal. He told her he took advantage of her willingness to make things work. He said he let her organise their life together – the visits to parents, the romantic getaways – because it was easy, and because, somewhere along the line, he came to know they were never going to last.

He knew she was supremely talented, driven, ambitious, and he admitted somewhat he milked her motivation for his own advantage. The reality of course being he had succeeded in his own career because she helped him do it. The same could not so easily be said in reverse.

The good news, of course, is that they’re no longer together. Though it was, and I expect still is, an extraordinarily painful process - many hard truths were confronted, and that bittersweet badge of honour one may wear when vital life lessons are learned through floods of tears was well earned.

But it doesn’t change the fact she now has a lot of catching up to do. And though I know that picking up and moving on from a bad break-up is hard for both men and women, I can’t help but feel that it’s (still) worse for women. Worse because women are still taught to put him first…

The story We're on the rungs to nowhere first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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