An Ode to the Independent Woman
Do you remember the exact moment you became an independent woman? Yo si (I do).
I was desperate. I had been apartment searching for months. Looking for the right place, at the right price, with the right proximity to my daughter's daycare as well as the ever-faulting A train was proving impossible. The places I did find were way out of my price range (thanks, gentrification) or way out of my credit range (thanks, dumb young adult financial decisions). Boy, did I hate apartment hunting, until I finally found one. It met most of my criteria, and so, without even noticing that the apartment didn't have an intercom I visited my realtor the next day and signed my lease shortly after. I was thrilled, my very first apartment!! My Pinterest boards were on fire, filled with ideas I knew I could never actually implement on my kind of budget - but you all know soñar no cuesta nada (dreaming doesn’t cost anything). That same day I made a trip to my new home and then it happened.
It was almost as if I was expecting the door not to open or the key not to work. I was expecting another obstacle to try and knock me down off the high horse that was my own place. However, to my surprise, in I walked, through the door, past the smell of fresh paint, and into the living room. "I've been searching for this feeling for a while now," I thought to myself, though I couldn't describe what that feeling was at the moment even if I tried. I walked into every room, taking it all in, experiencing what was now legally mine. 100% mine. Unfortunately, given the small nature of uptown apartments, this didn't last long. Regardless, in the midst of the brand new construction outside, the realization that I didn't have an intercom and the unusual heat for a day in March, I sat on the floor of my unfurnished living room and I cried.
It was over. The hunt, the stress, and the dependence on others was all over. My warm, salt-filled tears felt representative of a cathartic release. I released every single emotion I encountered on my independence journey, which culminated right there on that spot, on the floor of my unfurnished living room, in gentrified Washington Heights. It was through those tears that emerged, my independent self. Or did she? Sure, I now pay a rent and can financially support myself, but I have to run to Mami or my daughter’s paternal grandmother every time I need childcare for work or even some alone time. Does that still make me independent?
I marked this moment in my life as a turning point, but the more I grow and learn about the world around me, as well as myself, I wonder if it's time to challenge the narrative of the Independent Woman. So, the researcher in me sought out some perspective - What makes an independent woman?
- “It’s harder than I thought, but it feels amazing to have my own and do it on my own. Still a work in progress! Next up, pay off debts and buy property!”
- “[What makes an independent woman is] knowing when to let go of toxic relationships (lovers, friends, family), draining situations and mediocre jobs. Life is too short for mediocrity.”
- “My mom was a single mom with four daughters, so we ain’t have the option to sit around and wait for a man to do a “man’s job.” I remember when I was 16 years old, sweating and angry one day because it took my mom and I five hours to build a metal storage unit. After we finished, I felt like super woman.”
- “As an independent single woman, it is frustrating to hear you intimidate men, but it is fulfilling to inspire other women and give my daughter a great example.”
I am thankful to have had these women share a little piece of their stories with me. These quotes encompass many different facets of independence – independence in relationships, in life, progress, etc. I'm also intrigued, because these women, all with different narratives share one common thread - get shit done, by any means necessary, a la buena o a la mala. Don't get me wrong, I'm here for this narrative! As independent women we don't need anyone. Best sung by Ne-Yo.“There's something about a kind of woman that wants you but doesn't need you”. However, what the current narrative fails to acknowledge is that independence doesn't always have to equal alone.
As your independent self emerges, she is often met with obstacles. In getting past those obstacles you develop coping mechanisms that allow you to “keep on keeping on”. What happens when those coping mechanisms aren’t the healthiest? A part of healing from abusive tendencies is unlearning the behaviors you adapted as a result of that abuse (which doesn’t have to be physical). As you overcome these big obstacles in your life, whether it is abuse or another debilitating event, you also have to pay attention to the habits you’ve formed along the way. For example, I like to think that I am self-sufficient. Often times, I am unwilling to ask for help because I believe I should be able to accomplish things on my own. Depending on other people for the majority of my life was and still is uncomfortable, and thus, when I finally was able to support myself I vowed to never depend on anyone else for as long as I lived. Besides, Papi always told me, “Don’t depend on anyone, and less so a man.”
In retrospect, that wasn’t the greatest idea, and if you (yes, you) are thinking that way I would strongly urge you to reconsider. Taking care of ourselves is important, and sometimes we can’t do that on our own. When did reaching out to our loved ones become a sign of weakness? Who taught us to believe being strong means doing it all yourself? “The Power of Habit” suggests that willpower is finite. There is only but so much grit we can exude before we burn out and the consequences of burn out may be dangerous for those around us that depend on us, and love us.
Asking for help, though difficult, is a sign of strength. You can still be independent while reaching out to your support system in times of distress. Not going through any hardship? Reach out to your friends and make sure they’re doing alright. Ask your loved ones if they need anything. Independence does not equate to loneliness, furthermore, we should also check up on our independent loved ones to return the favor. I will proudly say I am an independent woman that leans on her support systems as she sees fit. It is through asking for help that I am able to become the best version of myself.
Help me challenge the independent woman narrative into one that is inclusive of help, support, and love – the mental wellbeing of our independent sisters, ironically, depends on it.