Independent to a Fault

by Janelle Harris

Yesterday was my birthday. Usually I’m all about waking up, tossing off my blankets and dancing on my bed to Uncle Luke’s “It’s Your Birthday” like a washed up go-go dancer, sans the boots and the pum-pum shorts. (Surely, my daughter would inject a heavy sigh of relief about that part.) This year I wasn’t feeling too festive, though. I’m reeling from a heartbreaking split with my now-former boyfriend of two and a half years, so my attitude is, in a nutshell, eff a mickey flickey birthday. And Uncle Luke, too.

Sorry Unc. Nothing personal.

Despite wallowing in a cloud of downtrodden funkiness — and being on a fairly successful diet — I treated myself to Chick-Fil-A. I went hard, even getting a 2 million calorie milkshake, and trudged back to the pile of unfinished work waiting for me at my desk with my taste buds happier than any other part of my person. A few minutes after I plopped back down, one of my friends called.

“Hey birthday girl, I’m taking you out for lunch!” she sang, all chipper. And all late and wrong, I might add. I told her as much. The Chick-Fil-A was still happily lingering on my palate and even I, the sumo wrestler of overeating, was too full for another round of lunching.

She sucked her teeth and huffed into the receiver. “Why would you do that?” she scolded. “You never, ever give folks a chance to do things for you. You haul off and take all the fun out of it. Every time.”

What you won’t do, I teased, is call up here chastising me on my born day. It was either be still and starve — and deprive myself of all of the Chick-Fil-A goodness that awaited me — or sit in anticipation of some far-flung invitation that might not have shown up. If it comes down to relying on other people or myself, even in matters as small as birthday lunches, I choose myself.

She’s right, though. I was not raised to be an asker or a wait around-er. I grew up under the auspices of a single mother who is, to this day, fiercely independent. If something needs to be fixed around the house, she fixes it, only calling on a professional in the direst of circumstances. Doesn’t matter what it is. Ratched plumbing, flat tires, broken screen doors. That orange tool box comes out of the hallway closet and I see my mama crouched down, making it work with the engineering of her own hands, the help of a monkey wrench and the spirit of sheer determination. I can only thank sweet baby Jesus that she decided to call Home Depot this past weekend to replace the shingles on her roof, which I have no doubt came after much deliberation and inspection on her part.

Mommy is the mistress of do-it-yourself, and she taught me not to build sandcastle dreams on the arrival of a man who, according to the fantasies of helpless damsels, is supposed to take care of heavy duty or unsavory tasks around the house. He might never show up or, if he does, sometimes he’s too flawed to properly perform his function. And then what? Let the trash pile up? Let that dripping sink keep dripping? Let the unshoveled snow on the sidewalk morph into an icy pathway of doom? Rather than be a victim of unwarranted hopefulness or socially imposed gender roles, my mom’s mantra is learn how to do everything yourself. That way, if he shows up, you know how to do for self. And if he doesn’t show up, you still know how to do for self.

So I’ve been doing for self for the almost 10 years I’ve been out on my own and, judging by the recent meltdown in the romantic part of my life, I’m gonna keep on keepin’ on, too. My rabid self-sufficiency isn’t limited to just men. I would rather hustle my blood plasma and fertile eggs than ask a friend to borrow money. Ever. The thought of it, even just in writing about it, makes me feel flushed. I went through the hellfires of a personal recession a few years ago after I lost my job and Congress put the kibosh on unemployment benefits for what seemed like for-freaking-ever, which meant I had zero income. Yet I could not bring myself to ask for help. No one knew how badly I was going through: not my mama, not my friends, not even my own child. I was too prideful and too independent to allow myself to be helped — even when my prideful, independent tail was facing an imminent eviction — which made me an island in a sea of potential resources.

The same problem also presented itself whenever The Man offered to help me pay a bill or front the money for something. I was adamantly, vehemently, bullheadedly against accepting any assistance. I didn’t want the cloud of I-did-such-and-such-for-you to hang over my head and I didn’t want to feel like I owed him anything. And I certainly didn’t want to feel like I was betraying the independence that I am so proud of, that is the calling card of us Harris women. As a result, he stopped asking if he could help me and, in some way I guess, felt less like we were a team and more like I was determined to be a one-woman show. In retrospect, he probably figured I could do bad all by myself, which I’m sure didn’t help his man ego (though that’s not directly why we parted ways).

I don’t blame my mom for raising me to be too independent. I’m not even sure if there is such a thing, especially for a Black woman in our generation. My own life experience has taught me that I do need to learn when to wield that do-for-self spirit and when to fall back and let other folks help me. Just a little. I’m so deep in my I-don’t-need-nobody-ness that a complete 180 is an unforeseeable change and one that I’m really not even willing to make. Next year, I’ll take a baby step and let somebody take me out to lunch. Here’s to hoping the offer will even be on the table.

  • MsFrancis

    I loved this article and I can relate. Thank you Ms. Harris.
    I too grew up in a single mother household. I guess the overly independent is a result of seeing her struggle. If she could stand in her two feet after everything she went through, I can do the same. But, I do agree independence can be a beautiful curse.

  • overseas_honeybee

    Same here … over the years I’ve learned to ease up a bit and enjoy the perks of letting others do things for me. Hope you had a wonderful day regardless and I’m sure between now and your next born day you’ll have some offers for sho’.

  • http://ClutchMagazine JRock

    WOW, we must be twins from different mothers. I am going through same thing and refused help. Guess God is trying to tell both of us something lol. Thank you for writing this!

  • http://museandwords.com NinaG

    I can relate. I’m trying to be more balanced – letting folks do things for me but not relying or depending on anyone. Though I feel like being so fiercely independent makes me even more disappointed when people don’t follow through… (still learning not to put my faith in people)

  • Rastaman

    A woman is like a tea bag, you can not tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

  • Kenisha

    This is definitely my life in words and font but another issue I have is while I have few I can rely on EVERYONE seems to rely on me for various things big and/or small things. I also struggle with both rejection and disappointment from others so I rather not even place myself in those situations because I don’t want to be hurt. It is a serious struggle and I think often times allows us to not require things from people both males and females because in our heads we can do it all. We all need help in some way shape or form and it is ok to ask for help and seek support from those around us.Sounds like we all are works in progress. Living and learning as we go. Thanks for this post because it really hit home.

  • SurveySays

    That metaphor would seem to apply to both men and women; let’s not just be dipping women into hot water, pretty please!

  • Introverted Leo

    I wasn’t raised to be an ‘asker’ or ‘wait around-er’ either. When I asked for things whether it be a need or want, there was some excuse as to why I couldn’t have it, a promise that was never kept, or something said like, “I’ll let you know” or “I’ll think about it” instead of a downright ‘no’.

    My mother has fixed things around house, but if it is something she can’t do on her own, she’ll call up her guy friend.

    My parent’s actions are what led me to be ‘independent’. I learned early on that I could not count on them for anything, ever. I learned to fix things on my own, and would prefer to do it that way. I rarely ask others for help, because I like things to be done a certain way, in a certain time frame, and depending on someone else to do something just isn’t worth it.

    I don’t borrow money from other people either. I don’t like the feeling of having to owe someone. I am currently on unemployment. I still have quite some time left, but everyday I think about what will happen once the benefits run out and I have no money coming in at all. Hopefully, I’ll have a job by then, because asking my family for money is not an option.

    I would never allow for a man, or anyone else to pay my bills for me. I don’t care what anyone says – There is no way I am going to allow myself to be dependent on someone in that capacity. I’ve had no choice but to be self-reliant.

  • gg

    good article and i can relate. I went to lunch (japenese) by myself on my birthday and met an older woman who I ended up sharing that it was my birthday. she insisted that the waiter know and everyone at the table sang happy birthday to me. then the waiter asked me why was i alone and the older woman says “oh you know these young independent women are on the rise.” i guess she was right because i didnt want to waste a birthday depending on my friends to take me out so i planned a spa day and took myself out to lunch….i am certainly independent to a fault.

  • Amaka

    Happy Belated! Oh an great article. Definitely hit home. Although I don’t think I’ll change my ways. I cant stand waiting on people. I’d rather know it’s me I’m waiting on than another human being. And more often than not they let u down. Here’s to independence and self-sufficiency, even if it’s to a fault.

  • http://www.queenofsanity.com theblacksocialite

    I liked this. I come from a two parent household-and they’ve always been a great team ; for 31 years and counting. But I am no less independent. And I think we all have to realize ( and I know its harder if you’ve actually never seen this) in relationships in particular; it takes TWO independent people to make a great team. So letting your man front a bill, or treat you to something you couldn’t or didn’t necessarily get for your self speaks to how awesomely independent you are!! Because trust, GOOD (notice my emphasis) men are less likely to help out a woman who is dependent! That doesn’t make them feel like a man, but knowing their woman has her ish together, and approves of him enough to allow him to be apart of her team or take care of something-Absolutely does it for them. Take his gesture (or the future ones from the great man you will meet!) as a compliment.

  • sdelica

    First off Janelle, I love your writing style (flows with so much personality and very relatable). Beyond that, I can def understand…I am of Haitian descent, a strong-willed woman and opinionated/bold. BUT I’ve learned much about the Man’s ego through my trials and errors: you HAVE to let a man be a man or you WILL be alone. When a man feels like his manhood or even existence is being challenged or lessened, he will walk away. It’s a simple truth. So the TO DO is learn to let him do those things even if you can “do bad all by yourself”. Let him THINK you need him even if he KNOWS you are self-sufficient and capable. He will appreciate you more. Deeper, its historical/Biblical that a man should lead/do, so let him. Now if you meet a man who doesn’t take the initiative/lead, he just ain’t the One (it’s not that he can’t do those things, he just don’t want to-they are simple beings so it is what it is)! I believe that you should inspire a man to do for you through your femininity. That doesn’t mean be helpless or a damsel in distress, but rather be a Woman…you know that gender with the vagina…lol It’s def easier said than done, but practice it with your friends and family and soon enough it will become second nature (even if you are an “adamant, vehement, bullheaded” strong woman). And this is coming from an Engineer, which means I work with 90% men 40-hrs a week, so I have to endorse the ‘switch’ approach – when I get home, I got to turn off the mannish tendencies and be fully Woman…lol

  • binks

    This is so me. I just rather do for myself and do what I have to do because I know it will get done. I tried relying on people but for the most part was faced with disappointment so I figure why bother. I am trying to let people help me but that is a bitter pill to swallow because I pride myself on my independence but like you said “a work in progress”

  • Introverted Leo

    The concept of women needing to lessen who they are to make men feel good about themselves as men is ridiculous.

  • ok there…

    Funny, I am also of Haitian descent, also an engineer and I approve this message! lol

  • sdelica

    @Introverted Leo My comment obviously doesn’t click for you…no where did I say lessen who you are. What people need to realize is that there is bittersweetness to everything in life (the good, the bad, and the ugly). I was addressing the bad/ugly parts of being TOO INDEPENDENT because it is not natural. All humans are inter-dependent and you should come to terms that you NEED people. No one can “do by all by themselves” and expect to be in a harmonious relationship/friendship…it’s just the truth my friend :)

  • ok there…

    @Introverted Leo
    I would ten to agree with sdelica. It’s not about lessening who you are, and it’s not just about a “man being a man” or a “woman being a woman”. Do you really want to be around someone who just wants to do any and everything on their own – in any type of relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship? It tends to create a “you do you and I do me” type of climate which, in the long term, is not enjoyable. In my relationship, I enjoy doing things for my husband just like I enjoy it when he does stuff for me.

  • sdelica

    it makes sense now why a lot of “Independent” women are single: we want a man to love us but we don’t allow him (Man) to love us the best way he knows how as provider, doer, etc. We step on his toes just by denying him of playing the role God designed him for. Our own issues and past hurts relating to dependency get in the way of love. this of course is only a piece of the puzzle.

  • Crystal

    Wow!!! I was just having this same conversation with my mom this morning about being all sufficient and not needing others, ie too independent. We also talked about the need to take pride out of the picture because we all need others at some point in time.

    I heard the same statement from a friend of mine in regards to “Why do you always do that? You don’t give others a chance to do something for you.” on my birthday two years ago. It made me do some self reflections and see that I cannot and will not be a ONE woman island. I can’t accomplish my purpose in life that way. It made me evaluate where I want to go and what I want to do and how that correlates to connecting with others and leaning on them a little. I’ve started my transformation with small steps such as asking for rides to the airport and last year I asked a group of friends to help me organize a seminar for young girls in my city. It was a really huge step to ask for assistance and be okay knowing they would do what was needed. They helped me accomplish a goal and I was able to overcome my limitation of always thinking I am a one woman show.

    Like someone else commented earlier, we are all inter-dependent and we ALL NEED EACH OTHER.

  • Introverted Leo

    I see many people connect a woman being independent with pride, and for me, it has nothing to do with pride, but learning early on that depending on another person would get me nothing and nowhere.

  • Introverted Leo

    Ok there – To tell you the truth, I would much rather be around someone who prefers to do things on their own.

  • Insight

    This is a great article! Thanks for sharing!

    Please keep them coming!

  • Isis

    Gotta handle a mans ego with kid gloves or u will be alone. I definitely think thats true for manly men but there are some men out here who like being dominated.

  • Alexandra

    Good article. I was raised very similar, and both of my parents always encouraged me to always find ways to depend on myself, especially my father. Despite all the perceptions, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I was kinda shy growing up and I could never find the courage to do simple things alone. Sometimes I found myself always relying on someone else in order to feel comfortable going places/doing things. I hated it and that dependence just kept me stuck and that didn’t keep certain people around. I’m 23 now and I depend on myself majority of the time. If you’re capable of doing something alone, do it! Why wait? Though I remain optimistic on life, I’m not going to waste it. Sometimes I do believe life is short….
    However, some people do take their independence to the extremes (depends). When people offer to do you favors or treat you to something, it’s a nice gesture to accept and appreciate it, especially if it’s a once in while thing (like a birthday). That’s a reasonable approach. If you don’t feel comfortable, I understand. That’s something I need to work on.
    But personally, I think to be successfully independent, you just have to have the right attitude as well. If you want to do things on your own but turn your nose up at people, then yes, that is the stereotype.

  • http://www.poshmiss.com Poshmiss_com

    My view on this:

    Here are two post I did to dismiss this INDEPENDENT thing. We as black women have to work extra hard to give this up. Read below why this has jacked us up.

    http://poshmiss.com/2011/08/21/who-runs-the-world-girls-is-that-why-everything-is-so-jacked-up/

    http://poshmiss.com/2011/08/16/our-moms-taught-us-how-to-be-mothers-but-not-wives/

  • Justice

    Oh man – I have a love/hate relationship with my independent spirit. More often than not, that spirit gets the job done, but other times it’s gotten me into a hellfire of trouble. I realized I have to allow people the opportunity to give, to assist or to just be there for me at least so that they know they’re appreciated. It just isn’t always easy to relinquish that power.

  • Simone

    This article hit home, I mean right down in my soul. I’m approaching my 24th birthday and I felt exactly like this on my 23rd bday last year. All alone and I didn’t even feel like taking calls from my friends, I felt soo low. Feeling like a failure and alone for various reasons. I went out and ate by myself but didn’t really feel fulfilled….

    I spent time reflecting on why I was told I was “too independent” by an ex, trying to make a connection to my relationships (romantic, friends and family). And I began to fear that I had pushed people away (esp men) out of my life and even worse, that I was turning into my mother; who raised me as a single mother and is fiercely independent.

    On the other hand my independence has saved me some heartbreak and situations that would have not benefited me.There is definitely a balance that need to be in place for a women to succeed being both independent and interdependent, its definitely not easy but its definitely possible!

    God Bless

  • Simone

    I forgot to add that unrealistic expectations of myself and others is what led to my sad bday mood. I think that being too independent sometimes also prohibits us from seeing ourselves and others where they are at the present, not what we want them/ us to be in future but who we/they are NOW.

    Getting past this will open up a world of opportunities because it encourages living in the moment not just by yourself (independent) but with other people (interdependent) as well.

    Im slowly working on it…..

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