Guest Post: The Box

Guest Post by Susannah Clarke Taylor. Susannah Clarke Taylor has degrees in English and Theatre and is a lover of all things family history, theatre, and books. She is a mother of three, including a daughter with Charge Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, and she is a fierce advocate for disability rights and services and is passionate about equality for all marginalized communities. More of her writing can be found at www.thegirlincharge.com.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She dreamed of one day growing up and accomplishing many things. She wanted to be a writer, a singer, an actress, a concert pianist, a soldier, and a lawyer. Somewhere in the nether regions of her mind, she knew she probably couldn’t do all of those things, but she sure was going to try.

But when she became a teenager, her parents stopped permitting her fanciful imaginings. They said the church taught that what she was supposed to do was get married and have children. They told her that all her goals and dreams and desires were selfish because they would distract her from what God wanted her to do. She was taught that goals and dreams and desires were for men, not women. But they reassured her that she would still be very happy because when women did what God wanted them to do, they were always happy. But if they did not do what God wanted them to do, he would think they were worthless, and they would go to hell.

This made the girl deeply sad, and a little bit confused, but she trusted her parents so she did what they said. Although she went to college, it was only so she could find a husband. She never pursued a single one of her dreams. She wanted to, but she was worried that if she did, God wouldn’t love her anymore.

After she got married, she was very excited that she was finally doing what God wanted her to do and that now she was going to be happy. Her new husband told her that he would provide everything for her, so she let him put her in a box, the way her mother had been put in a box, and her grandmother because she trusted that that was where she would be the happiest. After all, her new husband knew best, just like her father had known best, and her grandfather.

In that box, her husband told her how beautiful she looked. He entered often and made love to her, telling her she was everything he had ever wanted, that her body was his greatest pleasure, and that she meant everything to him. This made her very happy. She loved having her new husband with her inside her box. But when he was done spending time with her, she stayed in the box and he got to leave.

When he left, he filled his life with wonderful things- a career, friends, hobbies, and interests. He let her come out of her box sometimes and experience those things with him, but when they were through, she went back into her box. Occasionally, she would peek her head outside of her box and share an idea with her husband, but he would quickly reassure her there was no idea that he hadn’t already thought of, and so she would swallow her words and go back into her box.

Over time, the children came and they lived with her inside her box. They were wonderful and she loved them with all of her heart. But she started feeling a gnawing emptiness inside and she couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, after all, she was doing all the right things that she’d been promised would bring her happiness. She was pleasing her husband, she was raising their children, she’d made all the necessary sacrifices– she knew God had to be pleased with her life, so why did she feel so sad all the time?

“It must be me,” she thought. “The only explanation is that there is something wrong with me. I must not be righteous enough. Maybe despite everything I’ve sacrificed, I’m still not worthy.”

But in time, those thoughts stopped making sense to her and her feelings of unhappiness grew. They grew so big that they outgrew her fear of not being good enough. She started wanting- not just the joys of her husband’s life- but the joys of her own life. She wanted more education, her own goals, and her own dreams. She wanted a career, friends, hobbies, and interests of her own.

When her husband learned of her discontent, he said, “No, don’t you see? You have everything you could possibly want. I’ve already accomplished all of those things for both of us.”

“But I’m still unhappy,” she said.

“You have no reason to be,” he replied.

She looked around her and said, “But I do have a reason. I think… I think it’s because I live in a box.”

“But that’s where you’re supposed to live,” he explained. “I need you in your box so you can be available to meet my needs and fulfill my desires. If you left your box and I needed you, what would I do? It’s your job, your place. There isn’t anything you could possibly need that I haven’t provided for you, so you need to stay in your box.”

“But,” she said, “what if I don’t like living in my box? What if I want more?”

“More! How could you possibly want more? Look at this beautiful house I’ve built for you. Do you know how many women would love a house like this?”

“It is beautiful. I love it. I truly do, but… but I still live in a box,” she said.

“Look how perfect we look at church! Can’t you see how admired we are?”

“But, I don’t care about being admired if it means I have to live in a box.”

“But look at all the vacations I’ve taken you on! Do you know how many families wish that they could vacation as we do?” He asked.

“But those weren’t the vacations I wanted to go on, and…. I still live in a box.”

“But look how beautiful our family photographs look!” he said.

“I know, but I still live in a box.”

“But look at the things we’ve accomplished and the dreams that have come true!”

“But they were your dreams!” She said, “Your goals! What about mine?”

“We’re a team! My dreams are your dreams, didn’t you know?”

“No. I didn’t know,” she said. “I thought my dreams were my dreams. I thought your dreams were your dreams. I thought we were two separate people.”

“No, I’m a separate person,” he said. “You’re my helpmeet. Just like the Bible says. Right?”

“Right….” She said, “Wait– no, I don’t want to be a helpmeet. I want to be a person. I thought… I thought I was a person.”

“Well, you see, Sweetheart, that’s where you’re mistaken,” he said. “You’re not a person. You’re a woman. You’re here to support me. And you’re doing a great job! I’ve done everything for you. I don’t understand how you could possibly be unhappy.”

“I live in a box,” she said. “It’s because I live in a box.”

“But it’s such a great box!” Her husband insisted. “Look at how great our kids have turned out. Look at the retirement account and the missions we’ll get to serve and the places we can visit.”

“But what about my dreams?” She asked.

“I told you, I’ve already reached our dreams. It’s all taken care of.”

“Then why do I feel so empty inside?” She asked.

“Gratitude. You just need to be more grateful, Sweetheart.”

“Is that what’s wrong?” She asked

“It is. Let’s count our blessings. We have so many.”

“No.” She said, “That’s not the answer. Yes, I have many blessings. But I still live in a box. I’m leaving now.”

“Wait, what? You can’t leave? But I’ve given you such a great life! We’ve made covenants. We were married in the temple!”

“But it wasn’t the life I wanted! I wanted to be a person! Not an appendage.”

“But that’s not your role. That’s not what the church teaches!”

“Then maybe I can’t be in the church anymore,” she said with a broken heart.

“How can you say that? You’ll go to hell!” He exclaimed.

“No,” she said through her tears. “That’s where I’ve been living.”

So she opened the door and left her box, and everybody judged her for it. They said she had broken her covenants. They said she betrayed a good man. They said she’d abandoned her faith. They said she was a lost soul.

But she just couldn’t stay. She knew if she did, it would be the end of her. She had tried it their way and she’d become a shadow. But now she was free. She could have her own thoughts and her own feelings and her own dreams and her own aspirations. She could be a person. A real, live, living person.

And she didn’t have to live in a box.

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11 Responses

  1. Katie Rich says:

    “But she just couldn’t stay. She knew if she did, it would be the end of her. She had tried it their way and she’d become a shadow. But now she was free. She could have her own thoughts and her own feelings and her own dreams and her own aspirations. She could be a person. A real, live, living person.”

    It should be so simple to want this for all people. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Beth Young says:

    I’ve told many people through the past few years that as we’ve gotten older, the church leaders see me as an appendage of my husband. A sidekick. He’s great and all, but that’s not the point. After all the callings I’ve served in, growth I’ve had, decades of service of every variety, I no longer am asked to speak, teach, or lead in any way. Just be a shadow of whatever he’s called to do. So I tell them No, I have found other places to serve. And I serve people in the trenches of homelessness and intergenerational poverty. I actively use many of the skills and attitudes that I developed at church, but now I am free to go serve as the Savior leads me to.

    • Susannah Clarke Taylor says:

      I love this. I too have been led by the Savior on unconventional paths.

    • Tina says:

      I feel this in my bones. Just as I had to find other places for leadership opportunities not available to me as a woman at church, thank you for teaching that I can also find other places to serve.

  3. Shannon Milliman says:

    Beautiful, tragic. Thank you.

  4. K says:

    I’m glad that I was able to get out of the box without losing my husband. He was never a fan of the box either.

    So much of this post overlaps with the concepts in the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I think it is worth a read for anyone who loves this post. Instead of talking about a box, she talks about allowing ourselves to be tamed by the expectations of society and people around us.

    • Susannah Clarke Taylor says:

      Untamed changed my life for the better. And I’m so glad you were able to ditch the box but keep the husband! What a gift.

  5. Karen says:

    Beautifully written. So sad that the husband clung so desperately to the box instead of bending. I used to live in a box, because I thought I had to? We did what we knew. I wanted to do more. I got a master’s degree and a job and my husband and I went through an evolution of roles. He is 100% supportive – just as I have been for him. I did both family and work – just as he has done. We share the load as partners. My box is gone!

  6. EmilyB says:

    I too have many relatives whose addiction to the box is so extreme that they mistreat any family who dare leave the box. In fact, their cruelty extends to anybody still in the box but who doesn’t like being there. I also know many women still miserably trapped in the box because they watched how I was treated and now they fear losing as many relationships as I have.

    Thank you for this post. It resonated so powerfully

  7. LHCA says:

    “How can you say that? You’ll go to hell!” He exclaimed.
    “No,” she said through her tears. “That’s where I’ve been living.”

    So many are waking up to this reality. Thank you for so skillfully writing this experience.

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