Deena Metzger is a writer and poet. She developed "Healing Stories" as a therapeutic way to address issues of personal transition, creativity and illness. Author of several books, she lives in Topanga, California. This story was originally printed in the L.A. Weekly (April 6, 1984) where it won first prize in a writing contest on relationships.
HIS FEAR is being smothered, s(mothered). Even as he looks like he is going toward her, he retreats. She feels his resistance in the moment he courts her. But he knows his resistance has a magnetism to it. She panics, moves toward him, but he moves back. She is humiliated by moving toward him. She can’t help it and she resents it.
Is he only afraid of being smothered? I think that under this fear is a worse, unacknowledged fear: he is afraid she will abandon him. He is not so afraid that she will possess him, but that he will not be able to possess her. (All property, adultery laws, all practices to "protect" and subordinate the woman result from his fear of her flight.)
When he commits himself to her, he feels his fear, he is humiliated by moving toward her. He would rather appear to be resisting her. Still, he needs her so he moves to her. Then he holds her so tightly, overwhelms her completely out of his fear of being without her; now she must bolt.
She usually does not flee publicly. She is no more able to admit her desire for selfhood than he is to admit his fear of being abandoned. She abandons covertly. She disappears from him, slips out of his grasp – goes into her inner life, has clandestine affairs, burrows into children, undermines. Or when she learns she would also like to have a self, she doesn’t know how to get it. She uses him to kick off from, she establishes her self in defiance. When he reaches for her, she kicks him. He feels her phantomness and her rage.
He tries to hold on to her, but now what he uses to bind her to him also smothers him, and he is in a rage with her for harnessing him and it is his harness.
On the surface, even as he tries to possess her, he wants to look as if he’s in retreat. Even as she tries covertly to establish a self, she remembers she is supposed to be in a relationship. He retreats, she panics, is attracted by his resistance, moves toward him, tries to bind him on the surface even as underneath she moves away. She has forgotten altogether that she wants for her own sake to connect with him. He has forgotten this as well. He is smothering now; she has sacrificed herself. He is abandoned; she is moving away. They are both humiliated; they both feel rejected. There is one bad drama going in one direction, and one bad drama going in another.
But each wants to be independent and allied. Each feels unsafe and undeveloped: alone. Each is not sufficient unto him/herself. Each would like to be a sovereign country making a binding treaty to establish a united nations, to acknowledge interdependence, maintain common open borders, trade, provide mutual defense, exchange, share history, culture, future. They would like this treaty, without shame, to be binding on them and on their future generations. She really wants to know that he won’t imperialize, colonize her if she shows him her treasures and opens her borders. He really wants to know she won’t join another federation after he reveals himself, that he can trust her to be loyal without having to invade her. He wants to know that she will develop her own culture and resources without attacking him and his history and culture in her press.
And if they carefully acknowledge their unacknowledged needs, if each tries not to humiliate the other for the need and desire to connect with, to love, to be loved by, if he can say, I’m really afraid you’ll abandon me, if she can say, I’m really afraid you’ll possess me, if he can say, I make it easy for someone to abandon me, if she can admit, I make it very easy for someone to possess me, if he can stand it when she says, I won’t abandon you, if she can trust him when he says, I won’t possess you.
If they can try to move in this direction we have a chance.