Jun 11, 2016 - Love in the time of patriarchy by Heather Milton Lightening

Been thinking a lot about patriarchy this week and in general. There’s that. Then I had these two dreams this week. Both were dreams about me being with white guys, like completely in love with them- full on. I woke up pretty puzzled about these dreams, then I put it all together.

It goes back to relationships with significant others. I’ve had good ones and not so great ones. But all in all they taught me something. The last relationships I had turned into a fight against alcoholism. Something I don’t want in my life. I was pissed at the time. How could these men lie to me about who they are? Why couldn’t they be honest with me. But then I figured out it wasn’t about me, at least the closet alcoholism wasn’t. But it was me that made some not so good choices in who I wanted to be with.

See I fell in love with them, they each had such beautiful spirits, something good in them that I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t about stature, materialism, or looks; you know that surface stuff. It was about who they were as a person. I find what attracts me to someone is their heart. Their integrity. Their knowledge and intellect. And their sense of humour. I love funny people, I love to joke around and its even better when that someone you got hanging around you is espically funny. Its the realm of possibility I see in them. How amazing they are and could be. Everyone of my relationships has been different. I don’t have a type or a pattern. Except for one, and well thats only developed lately.

So in my battle to a better person. I realized that I don’t feel that great about myself. This impacted every part of my world. Including relationships with significant others. The root is my relationship to my birth mom who gave me up at birth. Deep somewhere inside I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved, to be kept. Which isn’t true. My mom gave me up with the best of her intentions and there is no resentment on my part there. I love my mom and understand her choices. However, that didn’t make me feel any better about myself. I faked it to make it for a long time. Part of this was getting into relationships that I knew deep down inside would fail in the end. So that line, “Its not you, its me,” is totally true in my case.

Then once I left the last one I was with. I gave up. Colonization got me down. My own hurt, pain and dealing with the past got me down. I decided to be alone. I couldn’t bear the weight of dealing with myself and really didn’t want anyone else to deal with it either. I isolated myself and it helped me focus on things that I needed to feel, to let go. I didn’t want to be all raw around the edges with someone else, when it was hard just to get up in the mornings sometimes. The emotional rollercoaster of dealing with trauma wasn’t fun for me, I can’t imagine having someone I love go through this with me. I couldn’t do that. So I didn’t.

I’ve dug myself out of that dark place with more weapons to fight back when memories come back. Its not a perfect scenario but its empowering cause I’m not afraid to feel anymore. I’m not afraid of the past. I got this.

That being said, I gave up on relationships. I gave up on myself too. I just felt like I was messed up and everyone I know is too. How do you build something good? You know like a partnership, ride or die, relationship when we all fucked up from colonization, patriarchy, and capitalism. My world feels so unhealthy sometimes. Its daunting and overwhelming. I mean I know I’m SO very far from perfect. Who would want this mess that is me? Not to mention all that comes with me- my responsibilities. My family, my work, my commitment to ceremony. That doesn’t leave a lot left over for someone I love. My life can be epically crazy sometimes. Its not bad. Its just a lot for me to deal with. How could I ask someone I love to deal too?

Then mix in the patriarchy bit, I mean from my own perspective. Most relationships required me to give up a part of myself. Compromise is good. But I’ve left my home to go be with someone. Jobs, access to my friends and family. It was too much. The thing that I find hard, is that its expected of me by men who want to be with me. That my world will revolve around them. That I will focus my being on them, their needs and wants. I show up for them.

Heres the thing though, I can do that. Show up, even with bells on. I can do all those “Indian wife,” things- cook, clean, watch kids, and all those unspoken things that are expected of me. You know like little things, never put down my significant other in public, keep fights private, be good to his family, be there, and generally just love them in the many ways I can.

When I love someone its 110%. You know. Its not just half-ways. But thats part of the problem. I give to them. Because I believe you should be treating someone how you want to be treated. But I haven’t yet found someone that gives back to me. The pattern that has emerged is I find someone I love, I give to them. They take, take and take until there is nothing left for me to give. Then I end up walking away at some point.

Thats where I see how patriarchy got me twisted. Cause men don’t have to give. They can take and society supports that. No one tells them to give back. To love the women in their life through their actions, through their day to day life. I know not every man is like this. I think I just seem to weed out the ones that believe the world revolves around them.

The last person I was seriously interested in, wasn’t Native. Which was a first for me. I’ve only dated or snagged brown men. But I figured since my relationships with Indigenous men just seriously didn’t work out, why not take a chance on someone regardless of what colour they are. Things were good at first like always. But I decided to take my time and get know this one first not jump in with two feet like I usually do. So we became fast friends and hung out all the time. After awhile though I realized it was all about them. Everything we did and didn’t do was about them, their needs, wants and desires. I was just along for the ride. They didn’t keep their word to me. They didn’t look out from my safety or well-being. It was a series of little things that made me realize I was doing it again. Loving someone who wouldn’t love me back or be there. Not to mention they didn’t get a lot of things like well racism, or patriarchy. They tried to understand, to relate. But how can a white man relate to racism, except by watching me deal with it? It was tough. To try to love myself and give to them.

In the end I walked away feeling pissed. Not because of them, because again society accepts them the way they are. People would say he’s a good man. Which he is. Just not for me. I couldn’t be the educator or the one to be overly patient waiting for him to catch up to where I am. That might’ve not been the best decision to walk away. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be that brown woman with a white man, who gets them on level. You know. Maybe you don’t. A big part of me feels bad, because I just couldn’t explain myself to them. I just didn’t have the energy to walk through yet another awkward conversation to explain myself. I think I didn’t have the words to explain what I really felt. Even though things never evolved past a friendship really. I walked away.

The other side to this failure was it just felt selfish and self absorbed. That this person didn’t get it because they didn’t have to. They could be all about themselves. I could be their arm candy, their friend when needed. But at the end of the day, he could get what he needed and wanted easily whereas I would be fighting for the same things. But isn’t that what patriarchy looks like? Don’t get it twisted, I’m not against being with a white guy or a green guy for that matter. I just want to be with someone that can see outside themselves and is willing to look. Who can understand that patriarchy is real, its a way that men benefit in so many ways. Its insidious at times, and sneaky. You know?

Here I am now. Trying to understand how relationships can work in this time when my focus is so many things but mainly trying to be a good person, a good relative. Live my life in a good way. I just don’t know how I could find someone who gets me, loves me in spite of all that craziness I carry. I just don’t know. All I know is that battle to fight patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism isn’t just about saying the right things, having a principled vision. Its about who we are deep inside. How we organize, build power and fight back. Therefore relationships should be about that too. I’m just not sure how to do that. Or where I’ll find someone that is like me, in terms of being committed to changing themselves, and the world. Ha! No big deal. Needless to say I have a big heart that I try to hide. I love way to easily. I dream big. I have a vision for the future even if I will never see that future in action. In my many faults and mistakes is a person who loves 110%. That will never change.

Heather Milton Lightening (Cree, Ojibwe, Blackfoot and Dakota)

Last Real Indians