Transformations of Influence
I have a really great husband. He’s much more that I ever thought I could ask for. We seem like a perfect match in so many ways: similar tastes, likes & dislikes, and we see eye to eye most of the time. But he is brilliant, persuasive, witty, and confident. And I’m a pretty agreeable person in general. I don’t really like the limelight, am generally non-confrontational. Most of the time, I don’t feel comfortable persuading others to change their minds. That’s not to say my blood doesn’t boil over certain issues, but unlike my husband, I don’t usually bring up the issues and assert my opinions. Like so many other couples, we are similar yet different.
But over the last few years, as we went through some important changes together, there was a slight pricking—something began to trouble me. I would often hear myself in conversations with other adults bearing a faint echo to something my husband said to me the other day. And I started realizing how immensely influenced I was by him. How much of what I read and thought about was a direct result of his interests and pursuits? Was it merely a combination of our already similar views plus our individual personality traits? Or, I would often wonder, do I really have my own voice? My own opinions? My own arguments? Was I just floating along because I didn’t have the time as a mother of a toddler and infant to do my own pursuing and thinking about religious doctrine, current events, philosophy, and politics? Or had I begun to lose part of myself before I even had children?
It was about this time that I began reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan for a book group. And I found certain parts of the first chapter, “The Problem That Has No Name,” resonating deeply with my internal struggle. But I didn’t want to take any extreme steps in resolving the issue—which might have involved purposely deciding not to agree with my husband on so many things, or breaking myself off entirely from my marriage. I play the “what if” game once in a while: Who would I be if I had married someone different? Who would I be if I hadn’t married at all?
For me, talking to my husband is like going to an entertaining movie or shopping in a really nice store. I’m agreeable. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to like things. So when I see a movie or hear a captivating speaker or go into Nordstrom’s, I am more likely to feel like everything is great. I am easily persuaded and manipulated. When I finally leave with some stylish jeans or a buoyant spirit, I begin to process what has just happened and then I can think more clearly and more critically. These days, I am definitely more conscious of acknowledging my own position (if only internally) and whether it differs from someone else’s. I am trying to be more outspoken about my differences with others in general. And sometimes, I just need to leave the store, exit the movie theater, step back, and remind myself to process things a bit more, and not to lean so heavily on my husband and other strong thinkers around me.
I sometimes wonder (maybe unfairly) what I would think about many important things without having spent the last ten years with this strong, smart, man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I know we tend to be heavily influenced by the people with which we surround ourselves. And when I look at myself and my values and my life, I would say I’m a pretty good person. So far, I like who I am and what I’ve become.
So, what about you? How do the dynamics in your own close relationships affect how you think about big life issues? Do you reflect back on how you have changed due to the influence of individuals in your life? Or on how you might have been different?