The Fire Within
Updated: Feb 4
When I was two years old my dad was preparing to go on a business trip to India and before leaving he asked what I wanted. In absolutely toddler certainty, I stated, “Ba bring me back a hubband.” Yep, at two years old, I held the idea that a husband was a prize present my father could bring home from an overseas trip. A few weeks later my dad returned with a male doll touting a receding hairline and draped in a traditional rickshaw driver’s outfit of a lungi and striped button-down dress shirt. At two years old I received the hubband that would stay with me longer than any man yet.
Marriage and weddings were always on my mind. I was one of those young girls who fell in love with the idea of that fairy tale, but mine wasn’t the white gown and prince charming in a suit. I dreamt I would have an immensely colorful and ritual filled Pakistani-Bangladeshi wedding. All my family and friends would be there. I would enter on a palki, or traditional seated chair held by two long dowels that rest on the shoulders of my brothers. At about 7 years old, I even knew the location would be in Uttar Pradesh, my father’s birth town in India that held a massive wedding estate. It was all fashioned from a family trip in 1983 to India for my uncle Mansoor’s wedding. From snake charmers and dancing competitions to a live band playing traditional shehnai or wedding music, there was a festive and collective feel permeating every moment of the four-day wedding event.
My wedding was almost exactly the opposite of all of that. Rightfully so given where I was in my life and what I thought about weddings at the time. They were just a party. I had matured enough to know the marriage and relationship are what counts not the wedding. My guest list was 15 people limiting the attendance of any relatives beyond a few select cousins. My aunts and uncles on both sides of the family still harbor some resentment of not attending the event. The guest list on my future husband’s side was even slimmer, thus my need to pick and choose the attendance of family members who had a hand in raising me. This was one of the first sacrifices I made to weigh the discomfort of my husband and his family over my own hopes and desires. Whether it was grandiose or a simple exchange of vows and a contract in my parent’s backyard, the marriage I was in was never meant for me.
The wedding really is just a day, but what’s the formula for finding something that lasts, with or without a marital agreement. Although it would make my father turn in his grave and leave my mother in shock, a common-law partner is more what I imagine my future to be than entering into another marriage. Or so right now, having been separated for over two years, that’s what I think I want. I am realizing that the picture of finding love goes from an empty image to outlines of shapes and sometimes I can even see the colors that define the vision. It’s continually evolving and changing with my interactions with what the world places in my life and as I learn to reframe what I see and accept.
I didn’t expect nor think I would, but I met a man a few months after my separation who despite all my logical efforts to control my emotions and senses, had me thinking about the future in a new way. Of course, as all things are for me, it was complicated from the start. I had no control over what he was willing to give and bring to our dynamic, but this would be my opportunity to make better choices than I have in the past with men. Or so I thought. It turns out, patterns we have are so deeply ingrained in our unconscious mind that without examining them and owning our role within them, we are bound to be caught into a cycle of repetition in our life choices.
“I am still unlearning the act of setting myself on fire to be light for men who cannot see mine” Maria Elias
A few days ago my girlfriend shared a statement that caught me off guard but also captured my pattern. “You are masterful at minimizing yourself for the comfort of others.” She saw this pattern overlapping into many arenas of both my professional and personal world. And was calling attention to it while also reminded me what I bring to the table. Because as I keep hearing and am working on believing in, “I am the prize”.
It’s hard to see you are a prize when you never had the time or opportunity to consider what makes you valuable. Minimizing ourselves is something women do without thought. We have been unconsciously given messages that our light should never outshine the men we are with. It might lead us to be caretakers and support the men we are with through praise and fostering their growth. In a mutually respectful relationship where partners give and take comparably, that can be a sign of flexibility and agility to strengthen the partnership. But when my minimization is necessary for your comfort, we have stepped into a different dynamic. The challenge is that I accepted that dynamic and in turn believed that the men I was with deserved the pedestals I placed them on. The pattern was reinforced by their sometimes fragile egos, but I am culpable of contributing and giving it life in my relationships.
Transitioning from being married to an unemployed asshole into the open possibilities of the dating world, I raised my bar. Though, I still wonder how high. The bar may be raised, but only by a few inches. I continue to come up against holding back my honest thoughts, and perpetually sitting in a place of wonder. I sense that there is more I deserve but continue to have to ask in order to receive it. Progress is growth but does not equal satisfaction if my thoughts of inadequacy and discontent still surface in response to what I am receiving or hoping to see. When you are accustomed to accepting crumbs, getting a portion of the cookie feels like a rare gift and is easy to settle into. But that act of settling leaves us still wondering, dissatisfied and lonely. A salient lesson from my marriage is that I don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.
How do we unlearn the patterns that are inherently our gut responses in life? Face them, name them and then be fully aware when they creep up. After almost twenty years, I am finally seeing my light and the fire that I ignite around me. It seems silly to some who may look at me and think I should already know these things, but the unlearning is real. And despite this new understanding, being a mother of four, my creative pursuits, and presence in my professional realm, I still sit some days and wonder what attributes or characteristics I may be missing that alluded me from finding a lasting valuable relationship. It’s a real thought and it sucks because, despite all the motivational talks in the mirror I give myself, I remain in this space of loneliness. As bright as my light may be, it does not replace the warmth I desire from someone consistent who prioritizes me in their life.
All this desire comes with what I bring to the table as well. When you have me, you have everything that is pure and open about my soul and heart in front of you. You have a companion who is open and listens. You have a woman who can keep you on your toes while also being relaxed and one of your boys. My presence in your life will always lead to me supporting and pushing you to move into the things that give you life and feed your soul. I see you, I am attuned with what makes you happy and what hurts you. All the while, I will care for your needs and support you. Yet you will also be given plenty of space to be who you are and have your own life just as I will be living mine. All the while I will prioritize you as a significant person in mine. That’s a coveted spot to hold with me and not many fill it.
You need to bring something of value to my life as well. My fire needs to be ignited with passion. My charm should be met with attention and care to keep a smile on my face. Seduce my mind on the way to my body. My effort to take care of my physical appearance should be coupled with compliments and seen. It also wouldn’t hurt for the man to put some thought into themselves to impress and catch my eye. Give me comfort and conversation when I am dealing with challenges of motherhood, professional endeavors, and other adulting duties. See me. Know me, and above all value that what you have in front of you is fire and light in one straightforward yet dynamic package.
Another pattern I have begun is that I spend time listening to what I see and observing the reality of what is around me. In my marriage, it took almost two decades of growing up to move on and leave. But when I was done I promptly cut off the festering appendage ( aka my ex) without looking back. My wisdom of the past few years in separation has helped guide me to be stronger. I will no longer sit in someone’s broken world as a mere prop to be brought into the scene when needed and moved aside when I’m no longer of use. The whims of men and their extreme or buried emotions have dictated too much in my life already.
Not everyone is invited into my life, so when a man finally is, he is being given the keys to a rare opportunity for something and someone who is prepared to be in a relationship and give my all with ease. I am ready to do the work and make the effort to succeed at this just as I do with anything I take on. There are three young men watching me and a daughter taking cues from my choices. What they see in my navigation of relationships dictates who they show up as in theirs. I spent too many years in dissatisfaction sacrificing pieces of myself. I want to live and experience love with a willing and open partner and stop questioning where I fit in someone’s world or if I’m seen and valued.