even superheroes need a sidekick

By Erika Farber
Woman Newspapers

Ever since I was a little girl, I craved independence. I wanted to grow up, get out into the world and be able to do everything myself as soon as humanly possible. Being raised on the outskirts of New York City, kids tend to grow up fast, but despite this, I kept my foot firmly on the gas pedal for as long as I could, always wanting to stay ahead the pack. 

I learned how to do things so that I didn’t have to rely on anyone but myself, and this generally served me pretty well. By the time I was in that interesting age between being a little girl and a woman, I could repair a missing button, help my mom prep dinner, polish our silverware, drive a tractor and operate a chain saw. (All under the watchful eye of my family, of course.)

Being able to contribute was important to me. I loved knowing how to do things myself. When I had the opportunity to learn a new skill, I jumped in head first. Luckily, my parents were very encouraging of my voracious appetite to learn and do more.

When I hit puberty and realized that there were even MORE things I could do myself, particularly those that made me look more like a girl, I learned how to paint my own nails, curl my own hair, iron my own shirts, wash my own clothes and cook my own meals. By the time I graduated high school, I could embroider, draw, paint, sculpt, take and develop my own photographs, design and sew clothing, recite poetry competitively, garden, tinker around in a car engine, use most of the tools in my grandfather’s garage, build and repair things, write stories, play baseball, swim for the local YMCA team, babysit, compete in triathlons, sing in our church choir, cook elaborate meals, drive a car and navigate around the bustling Big Apple on my own. All before the internet existed! I CAN DO IT! was a phrase I would happily exclaim, and I reveled in not having to ask anyone for help. 

By the age of 19, I had a full time job, lived in a 1-bedroom apartment, drove a car I paid for myself, cooked my own meals, and earned and saved more money than any of my friends. I never asked my parents for money and rarely needed so much as a ride to work. Everyone praised my “can do” attitude and I felt strong and proud and independent.

As the years progressed, my independence never interfered with my ability to collaborate with others at work or in my personal life. In fact, most of my friends and coworkers appreciated that I was unflappably capable. I would happily volunteer my time to help someone else celebrate their life’s milestones and accomplish their goals. Need a ride home? I’ll take you! Need help setting up for the party? Let me know, I’ll get there early! I was always ready to roll my sleeves up and dive right in, just like I had when I was a little girl, eager to feel accomplished.

Employers, romantic partners and friends all marveled at my ability to get so many things done, handle so many things at the same time, and rarely require assistance or guidance along the way. There was an invincible quality to this feeling, and it fed my confidence, pushing me to take calculated risks. My success rate was high, and there was no stopping me!

When my carefully constructed, independent life took a turn, it was strangely disorienting. I was abruptly confronted with a broken heart and consequently, a move to a new home. While I had faith that my broken heart would eventually heal, for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt ill-equipped to put one foot in front of the other and tackle my new set of circumstances.

Still, I took it upon myself to make a solo trip to IKEA to furnish my new home. A bit of advice here: do not ever go to IKEA alone after a breakup. But, with a hand-truck and two loaded shopping carts, I was determined to do this on my own. What resulted was a twisted ankle and 20 minutes of tears in my rental truck.

Undeterred, I arrived at my new place with my truckload of brand new IKEA housewares, parked illegally in a bus stop, ran up and downstairs numerous times with countless bags and boxes, and refused to admit that an extra pair of hands would have been helpful. This resulted in more than one broken item and a hefty parking ticket.

Clearly, my fail-proof system to do everything myself wasn’t working as well as it had before. 

Later, when I re-entered the dating scene, all the confidence and bravado that defined me, now seemed unsettling somehow. While my independence was certainly attractive to the opposite sex, I hadn’t realized that I was ultimately pushing people away. I always thought showing vulnerability was a weakness, something you shouldn’t be proud of.

I wasn’t some unfeeling, psychotically ambitious, do-it-all-herself, Type-A achievement-machine. I was a complex, sensitive and flawed woman who had needs and feelings too! But sadly, it wasn’t at all obvious on the outside. I was still coming across as a chainsaw-toting tomboy. Not cute, not sexy. Perhaps even a bit scary, at my age.

I wanted people to know that although I was able to take care of myself just fine, I still very much needed them in my life, too. Despite how capable and strong our feminist teachings have encouraged us to be, we all need to feel needed and along the way I learned something new: how to ask for help when I needed it. I had to find a way to let someone pet my soft underbelly without inadvertently scratching them with my perfectly sharpened claws.

My heart has indeed healed, and I have found love again. Learning to share my fears and vulnerability is new for me. Perhaps it took meeting the right person and perhaps it’s my trust in him that allows me to share that part that isn’t always strong or flawless. Accepting his help has made me feel like someone has MY back for a change. I don’t fall down often, but when I do, it’s so nice to know that I’ll have someone who is willing to catch me.

It’s important we raise and teach the next generation of women to be strong and capable. But as I learned later in life, we don’t have to be a “DIY MacGyver” to feel empowered, satisfied or worthwhile. Sometimes, when we’re feeling vulnerable, allowing someone else to help can provide the strength and resiliency to get through it all. Independence is nice, but there is strength in numbers. I mean, even Batman had Robin.