I know that we frequently think of dogs as having their own territories. It’s common knowledge that dogs “mark their territory” by peeing on things such as tree trunks and corners of garages. But recently, I have the feeling that dogs are not the only creatures that have the need to claim and mark their territories. I think women also have this need. And right now, I’m in the somewhat uncomfortable process of discovering how the marking of these territories takes place.
Here’s my question: How many women can comfortably live together before imaginary territory boundaries get crossed and things get crowded, caddy and possessive. Right now, I live with 3 other women. I imagine that all 4 of us, including myself, have a territory where we have become the guru of sorts, the top dog in that particular realm.
For example, there is the territory of the kitchen. Who is the master of the kitchen? Who enjoys baking, cooking, experimenting, looking at recipes, and can whip up muffins from scratch before you or I could run to the store for a pre-packaged Betty Crocker mix.
Then there’s the territory of being the sensitive listener. The person who is sensitive to the relational happenings in the home. Other people’s ups and downs. How everyone’s week has been, how that difficult coworker has been acting at work and so on. The relational consultant whose own needs or issues are never brought up in the face of everyone else's emotional needs.
Then there’s the territory of being the cool girl who is all up to date on her fashion. She knows all the recent movies, random stories, and all the trendy styles. She knows what cool people are doing and she follows suit.
And then I guess there is the territory of not knowing what territory you are in so you try to stand gently in each territory for a moment or so. You see the territories clearly and feel there is no room to snatch a small plot of land for yourself. You climb a tree and sit alone like Zaccheus only unlike Zaccheus, the view only discourages you. The territories are all clearly marked with their flags waving fiercely, boldly. And even though you don’t really want to stay in that tree, you’re not sure where to set up camp. So you consider a sex change or moving to Australia or following the example of our dear canine friend and strategically peeing in 4 corners of the house.
In China, I was also on a team with anywhere between 4 to 6 women at a time. This also presented some territorial challenges at least initially. One of us was known for teaching, one for ministry, one for relational sensitivities, one for Chinese ability, one for kindness and compassion, and so on. At first, it was hard not to compare our gifts against the gifts of the other women (especially when our students were so quick to point out everyone else’s specialty to us.) But somehow as we had the chance to develop our own, unique relationships and “territories” within the community, we had more space to grow and pull from the strengths of our team-mates. We learned how to maneuver ourselves by adapting to use each others’ gifts as the situation called for it, and we were blessed and well-rounded because of it. That seems like the ideal, and I wait for it now… from the not-so-secure spot on my tree.