‘She needs to grow up. She’s a dissatisfied middle-aged woman who sees herself growing old in an unhappy relationship, with kids taking away her life and she’s jealous of your freedom, although she wouldn’t have had the balls to make the choices you made, but wished she had. Hence the sourness… Rhonda can feel free to pinch my argument if she agrees with it.’ — a friend about a typical ‘crab’.
It seems I have inadvertently managed to put my crab-crawling theory into practice… with spectacular effect.
Having spent the first 30+ years of my life filling a particular niche in the lives of my friends and family, I have reached the point where I not only realise it’s a place I don’t want to be, but I have actively tried to re-define my position, or rather, affirm my identity and establish boundaries around it — something I failed to do before.
Part of this process has involved looking at the way I have chosen to live my life, and asking if this is what I want for my present and future.
For example, I established my current career not so much by choice as by accident. I grasped at the first grown-up job that came along, and then worked my way up to something I actually liked. But I haven’t explored beyond that, so I’m taking some time to look at where to head next. So far on this front I’ve flown under the radar, but I’m bracing myself for some kick-back when I finally do make the move.
I’ve also decided to relocate. Leave Boganburbia to the nuclear-family-oriented and position myself nearer to the things I value and with more like-minded people. When I first raised this in front of my family, the response was, ‘What would you want to live in that area for? It’s full of hippies and weirdoes.’
Over the years I have thought about having children but have come to the conclusion it’s not for me. This decision has been attacked from more directions than I care to count. The response has ranged from the use of assumptive language, ‘When you have children’ rather than ‘If you have children’, to ‘What if you regret it one day?’ (to which my standard reply became, ‘What if I regret having children? You can’t take them back.’
More recently the approach was to tell me if I didn’t have children I would lose my then partner. ‘You’ll need to have children if you want to keep him,’ they said. I remember thinking, Wow. That’s a healthy basis for a relationship, and an even healthier basis for raising a child. And they didn’t stop there. ‘You only have to have one. You can manage that. It won’t interfere with your life too much.’ Imagine the therapy that kid would eventually need. In the end I was tempted to pretend to be barren, just to get them off my back.
Another choice that has come under fire is my decision to not remarry or even have a quasi-married relationship. I’ve tried the whole miserable-marrieds-with-weekends-at-Bunnings thing, and failed. It just isn’t for me. This decision was affirmed during a subsequent relationship where every time things veered towards domestic-bliss-101 I found my insides screaming. I was miserable. I was lonely. I was trapped. And eventually I left. Crawled out of the basket amid screams of protest. How could I be choosing not to stay with someone who was kind, considerate, loving? My response: ‘If you want all those things, why don’t you marry him?’
I have since moved into a new relationship and ‘failed’ to integrate that relationship into the mould. No going-through-the-motions ‘family’ dinners, no weekends at Bunnings. And an endless barrage of criticism.
All this is before looking at the hostile response I’ve encountered to reforming my slobbing-on-the-couch-eating-takeaway lifestyle. Apparently prioritising diet and exercise and maintaining a healthier weight is cause for all kinds of snide remarks. I finally got one sister to stop by pointing out that I’m not so rude as to tell her she is overweight and should really do something about it, so I don’t see why she feels it is okay to discuss my weight.
I can only imagine their hositility is because as crabs who share my mould they are more comfortable with dumpy, tubby me. I have redefined the mould’s shape, both physically and metaphorically.
The remoulding process has been slow, and is still underway, but as I make progress the attacks become more intense. Criticism, lectures, guilt trips, the works.
Because I don’t hang out with my sister’s kids at the weekend, my other sister tells my nieces and nephew that she loves them more than me, that she is the better aunty, and they openly discuss my being outside the fold in front of the kids.
Because I’ve changed the way that I use social networking, and part of this involved removing my family, I’ve received hostile messages, vicious phone calls, text messages and emails. ‘Total cow! what the hell???? You just don’t do that!’ and, ‘What the hell is wrong with you. Why are you trying so hard to not be part of our family?’
I even received a similarly parroted message from my twelve-year-old niece, who has been dragged into the whole saga by her mother.
I want to stress that I’m not writing this to vilify my family, but to illustrate the consequences of leaving the crawl too long. If I had been comfortable enough in myself to assert my boundaries as a teenager, or even when I first left home, I wouldn’t now be suffering because those who shared my mould are feeling the shift so acutely. Previously my position in the mould was beneath theirs and effectively propped theirs up, which means my shifting makes them feel less secure, less in control.
And in this case it is about control.
Ideally I’d like to have a loving, respectful relationship with my family, where I accept them for who they are and they respect me for who I am, but right now that choice isn’t open to me: ‘When you feel like joining us again as [the person we expect you to be] then I am here with open arms’, was my sister’s last text.
Now that I’ve peered over the edge of the basket and seen the possibilities waiting for me on the other side, I have a chance at freedom, but unless me and my fellow crabs can establish a new, flexible mould, it looks like it will mean cutting ties with the crabs trying to claw me back, and leaving the basket for good.