The Disappearing Woman: Why Do Women Lose Themselves in Relationships?

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You ever been in love? I’m talkin’ ‘bout that makes-your-knees-tingle kind of love, that I’mma-jump-on-Oprah’s-couch kind of love. That kind of love that has you finally knowing what all those R&B songs are all about, the kind of love that makes you throw your hands up and shout every time you hear Luther Vandross sing, “Who needs to go to work to hustle for another dollar? I’d rather be with you ‘cause you make my heart scream and holla.” I mean that glassy-eyed kind of love where you take every opportunity to mention your beloved’s name. That kind of love where “I” becomes “We” and you revel in the moment that two have finally become one.

In an episode of “Sex and the City” (“The Agony and the ‘Ex’-Tacy”; season four, episode one for the uninitiated), Carrie Bradshaw and company attend an engagement party for which the invitation states that the betrothed couple have “two souls, one thought”.

“If two souls have only one thought between them, something is very wrong,” Carrie quipped.

In curly-haired Carrie Bradshaw fashion, I couldn’t help but wonder about how women maintain their individual identities in relationships. This conversation, though hardly a new one, is timely, considering the murmurings that surround the break-up of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (forever infused as TomKat in Hollywood relationship terms). Or Kate, as Tom reportedly preferred to call her. Writer Kathleen Perricone reports,

Ever since the two first got together in 2005, the “Mission Impossible” star has insisted on referring to his [soon-to-be-former] wife as “Kate,” even though neither her friends nor her family has ever called her that[…]During an interview with All Headline News, [Cruise] explained, “Katie is a young girl’s name. Her name is Kate now – she’s a child-bearing woman.” At the time, it was also reported that Holmes had agreed upon the name change “after discussing it with Tom” and as a result “all friends and family now call her Kate.”

Cruise’s couch-jumping kind of love, his Scientologist beliefs and the pair’s blog-worthy break-up have onlookers wondering what really went on in the marital home shared by the former “Dawson’s Creek” star and one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men.

“She always seemed scared to me,” a friend of mine noted during a conversation about the split. “It was like she was always under his thumb.”

Another hot commodity in celebrity coupledom? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, a pair that has reportedly crossed the 72-day threshold that Kardashian and basketball star Kris Humphries couldn’t reach during their brief marriage last fall. Kardashian has been photographed rocking “KW” stud earrings and has tweeted a picture of her and her beau’s his-and-hers sneakers. An innocuous digital display of affection? Lost in love or simply a case of tingling knees? It doesn’t help that not only do they go to everything together now (even laser hair removal treatments), but people have pointed out that her style has changed to better fit his, and has faded into dull looks of a monochromatic, “let’s match to everything we go to!” type of fashion. She looks more like his experimental muse than his lady.

In everyday life, I’ve wondered about friends who had essentially disappeared off the face of girls’ night out and Sunday brunches to hang out with the he, adjusting their schedules and lives to their man, maybe even their personality. Yes, it’s important to cultivate romantic relationships, but in efforts to keep the love we find, when do we lose ourselves completely?

In an essay for the Huffington Post, writer Vicki Larson cites the idea of the “Disappearing Woman,” a concept developed by relationship expert and psychotherapist Beverly Engel. In her book, “Loving Him Without Losing Yourself”, Engel writes

No matter how successful, assertive, or powerful some women are, the moment they  become involved with a man, they begin to give up part of themselves — their social life, their time alone, their spiritual practice, their belief and values.

Even in Carrie Bradshaw’s fictional New York, friend Charlotte converted to Judaism to marry her divorce lawyer-turned-husband Harry, and, in the show’s final season, Carrie uprooted her life, career and friendships to follow a Russian suitor to Paris, only to return home after realizing that she had lost her identity in the whirlwind.

In relationships, compromise is necessary, emblems of love can be cute and sometimes, love requires a leap of faith.  But at which point during the swell of the swoon do we become disappearing women, and how can we turn it around?

Do you know women who have changed a lot due to a relationship?

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