There are a lot of things I can’t understand about what Anna Duggar is going through right now. I’ve never lived in the public spotlight, for starters, or at least not to the extent she has, and is, as we speak. I’ve never had national media outlets be the one to break the news to me about my husband’s past indiscretions, or current infidelity or sexual addiction.
These things are enough to deal with in the privacy of your own marriage, let alone with paparazzi, publications like The New Yorker and the rest of the world glaring in.
I can’t understand that.
But there are a few things about her life I do understand.
To start, I understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where women were taught to put themselves beneath men, keep themselves behind them and always support them, no matter what. Thankfully, my parents empowered me to make choices for myself and also encouraged me to focus on my education. Also thankfully, I was immature enough for long enough that I didn’t get married until my late twenties.
So I had to learn to take care of myself.
But still, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I found myself constantly deferring to the men around me, assuming I had to wait for them to dictate my decisions, rather than making choices for myself. Rather than deciding if I wanted to go on a date, I had to wait for him to ask. Rather than deciding if I wanted to have sex, I had to wait to see what he wanted to do.
Rather than choosing for myself what career I wanted to pursue, I had to think about what schedule I would need to be a good mom.
Like Anna, I grew up in an culture which taught women to submit to men, to wait for them, to look to them as the leaders and the holders of the wisdom, and when in trouble, to expect a man to come and rescue her. My worldview was shaped by Cinderella and romantic comedies and religious communities, and let’s be honest, a group of men who recognize that women holding power means they might lose some.
Just like Anna’s.
I understand what it’s like to find out, after being romantically involved with someone for a long period of time (nearly 4 years with a boyfriend, in my case) that there are things you don’t know about them. And, while I can’t say this is true for Anna, for me at least, a large part of this was that I didn’t want to know, or didn’t let myself know.
But still. This doesn’t take away from the shock and the searing pain of the whole thing.
It doesn’t take away from that awful feeling of being so small and worthless—because for some reason, what I am worth is directly correlated to what a man thinks about me.
I know what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship (not my husband, thankfully). And because of that, I know that abuse can be subtle, so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening. I know abuse is often a two-way street—one person playing the role of the villain, and the other as the victim—and I know how torturous it feels to know, everyday, that you’re submitting yourself to his subtle insults and under-the-radar put-downs, and his blatant neglect and unfaithfulness, again and again.
It’s awful to be manipulated and humiliated. It’s even more awful to know you’re choosing to be put down and manipulated.
And this whole thing is sad for many reasons.
But one of of the greatest reasons it’s sad is because it makes a girl feel like she just doesn’t have many choices.
I know what it feels like to think you don’t have choices, to feel trapped, to be depressed because for all intents and purpose, it doesn’t seem like there is anything you can do. Every option you play over in your head has unspeakable consequences. You can’t leave… where would you go? Who would take care of you? What about your children? Besides, “divorce” is a bad word.
But if you stay, and if things stay like this, you know you’ll have to continue to divorce yourself from yourself.
And there are few things in the world more painful than that.
A lot has changed for me since I was in a relationship like Anna’s.
But when I read the articles which describe the Duggar scandal (even though few of them focus on Anna at all) it all comes flooding back to me—what she must be feeling, what I was feeling back then, what hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women all over the world feel when they find themselves in a one-down position to the men around them.
And for that reason, in a way, I wish I could talk to Anna Duggar. Not because I have all the answers. I don’t. But because I’d like to tell her a few of the things I wish someone would have told me when I was in a position similar to her.
Here’s what I would love to say to Anna Duggar.
You don’t have to stay. There will be a lot of people who will tell you you do. They’ll say staying is the sign of a strong woman and that faithfulness will honor your husband. But here’s what will really honor your husband: you honoring yourself the way he should have honored you; by becoming a living, breathing, walking picture of what it looks like for a woman to walk in her indispensable value. I’m not saying you should leave. I’m not saying you should stay. I’m just saying you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. The power of choice is your greatest asset. Don’t lose it.
You have so much to offer to this world. I know it might not seem like this is true in light of all that’s happened. I bet you’re in survival mode. I know that mode all too well. But there will be a light on the other side of this dark tunnel, and when that light comes, I believe we will be able to see all the dreams and passions and beauty you have to bring to this world. I can’t wait for that moment. The world needs what is inside you.
You have choices. I bet it feels like your hands are tired. And the truth is your choices are probably pretty limited right now. The options you have aren’t great. I get it. I’ve been there. But don’t ever forget that, whatever you choose, there will be people on the other side who will rise up to support you in your choices. It won’t be easy. And they won’t likely be the people who you expect. But don’t neglect taking a leap because you don’t see a bridge. The world is full of loving, compassionate, kick-ass bridge builders.
Don’t be afraid to confront him (or anyone) who disrespects you. Too many women are too timid, too apologetic, too afraid to exert their voice into the world. But you are your most valuable untapped resource. If you can discover the power you already have living inside of you, and live from that place, your life will begin to shift and change. You’ll feel more yourself. You’ll create a better future for your children. And together we can work to establish a better world for our daughters.
When you teach a woman to wait for a man to come rescue her, she does. She waits and she waits and more often than not, her rescue never comes.
Let’s teach women to stop waiting and instead to learn how to rescue themselves.