Several years ago, I went out for sushi with my friend Nicole. We sat at a table outside, on the Pearl Street mall.
When the server came to take our order, Nicole ordered a custom mixed drink. She inquired about the kinds of tequila they had, as well as their stock of fresh juices.
Later, when she put her dinner order in, she requested fresh horseradish with her sushi (rather than the packaged wasabi they served the rest of us with less discerning palates).
A pristine yogini at the time, who always felt a twinge of shame before doing anything debaucherous, I stuck with hot water with lemon, even though, deep down, I really wanted a big ‘ol glass of red wine.
Meanwhile, I sat in quiet awe as I observed Nicole own her dinner experience.
What was it that she was doing, that I wasn’t, and that I so admired?, I wondered to myself.
Then I realized: she ordered like a powerful man. Like my father, or the kind of man that I enjoyed dating, because he knew what he wanted, what was top of the line, and how to ask for it. The kind of man that I always deferred those types of decisions to, and thus never developed the palate or vocabulary to ask for myself.
After that evening, as our friendship grew, I watched Nicole take command over more than just her sushi. I saw her organize camping trips, go on vacations with girlfriends, scout out fun summer concerts, make herself cappuccinos in the morning, and invite friends over for impromptu dinners.
Even with a husband, small child, and full client load, Nicole always seems to find time to enjoy life on her terms.
Now, let’s fast forward to just a few months ago.
While on the phone with one of my mentoring clients, Lauren, I listened as she shared her disappointment over how her Memorial Day weekend went down.
She wanted to do something fun. Her more introverted partner wanted to stay home. She felt frustrated that he doesn’t generate more exciting outings for the two of them. So she stayed in with him, feeling stunted and resentful.
Lauren wasn’t wrong or weird for feeling this way. So many of us, including myself, unconsciously look to the men in our lives to fulfill our desires and meet our needs for adventure, excitement, opportunity, or sexual fulfillment.
Partnering with someone to move towards a shared vision is a beautiful thing. But when we defer our desires to someone else to satisfy– at the cost of learning how to do that on our own–we stay disconnected from our capacity to reach out into life and take from it what we want.
Instead, we’re like The Handless Maiden, whose arms were amputated by her father’s silver axe (from the Grimm Fairytale that Clarissa Pinkola Estes unravels in Women Who Run with the Wolves). Oppressed by dominant culture, we’ve lost our ability to reach for or hold onto what we most want in order to bring ourselves deep nourishment.
At some deep, unspoken level, we’ve learned it’s neither okay for a feminine being to ask for what she wants, nor is it okay for her to push away that which she doesn’t want.
If you’re part of this community, you’re no novice on the journey home to yourself. You know the importance of naming and claiming your desires. Of voicing your needs and reaching for pleasure. But that doesn’t mean you’re good at it. Yet.
This pattern of being The Handless Maiden is deeper than just ourselves. It’s ancestral.
One fruitful place I’ve found to practice reaching and rejecting from my depths is by responding, with brutal honesty, to the question: “What do you want to eat/do?”
Rather than answering, “I don’t know what do you want to do?” or saying, “Sure, that sounds great, let’s order/do that,” pause, feel your guttural truth, and speak from it.
Say: “You know what, I don’t feel like meeting at the coffee shop, I’d rather go for a walk.”
Or: “I don’t want to share a dish, I want my own.”
If you’re with someone who eats very purely and what you really want is a Mexican Coke , truffle fries, and a cheeseburger, don’t adapt your meal to fit in with her tastes. Order what you want.
Then, if you’re always waiting for someone else to invite you to do something fun, make something happen, or give you permission to feel sexually alive, see how you can create these experiences for yourself.
This isn’t to be a rigid, self-reliant woman who doesn’t need anything from anyone. Rather, it’s to be a woman who’s in touch with her own desires and knows how to author a life for herself in which she can fulfill them.
Tell me, what’s a need or desire that you defer to someone else and that then leaves you feeling disempowered? What actions will you take to rectify this and to reach for what you want?
Share with us in the comments below what you discover!