No One Asked You To Be A Martyr

This week, I thought we’d take a week to talk about our relationships and money. You know, the hard stuff. The real stuff. The stuff people don’t talk enough about. If you want a refresher, you can look back at these two posts on marriage and money and combining finances. This week, in true APW fashion, I thought we’d approach this from a lot of different perspectives, some direct, some tangential. What’s it like to support your partner? What is it like to be supported by your partner? What does it mean when we buy an engagement ring? Write a pre-nuptial agreement? I don’t think anyone has all the answers (or any of the answers), but we might as well talk. So today, I thought I’d kick it off, talking about the sh*tty economy, and limited job opportunities, and the ugly stuff. Because we might as well be honest, right? So here I go…

The other week I was poking around Helen Jane’s site. HJ (who is pretty spectacular—she is one of the women who threw Mighty Summit, and has been a blogger since… more or less the dawn of blogging) wrote a series of letters to her then-unborn baby this spring. One of them, “No one asked you to be a Martyr” hit me in the gut. I’m terrified of parenthood mostly because I’m terrified at becoming a martyr. I’m terrified of losing myself completely to the needs of a family, and I take constant reminding in the form of women like Cate, Marie-Eve, Maggie, Kristina, and well, Helen Jane, that this does not have to be the case. So this hit me, hard:

I seem to have noticed that lots of women who have children become martyrs.
They give themselves over to the housekeeping, to the child rearing, to full-time work, to husband support, to Can’t You See What I Do For You People?

What they never seem to remember is that the children didn’t ask to be born and raised.
The house never told them it needed all that attention.
The husband never requested they give up their ladies’ nights.

They quit being themselves to throw themselves at the altar of Can’t You See What I Do For You People?

They’re making themselves miserable so they can feel more important?
They’re making themselves sad to show how much they give up?
They want you to pity them, they want you to see how selfless they are.
How selfish.

No one likes a martyr.
No one asked you to be a martyr.

Baby, please do me a favor, if you see me breaking out the Can’t You See What I Do For You People, will you please crack a joke?
Will you bring me back from the glorious misery of self-pity?
I’d really appreciate that.

But then I realized. The reason I’m so scared of martyring myself for my family, is that, well, that’s a role I fall into too easily. That’s one of the hard parts of marriage for me.

These last few years have been tough, money wise. I don’t mean money has been tight, because it hasn’t been (nothing like years of making $25K working in theatre to make you feel flush working in the for-profit world). But the balance of work has been hard. For the first year we were married, David was still in law school. As I mentioned when he graduated, I was the sole breadwinner, the economy sucked, layoffs were happening all around me, I was stressed.

But it hasn’t ended, exactly. And that’s when it got tougher. David did phenomenally well in law school. But his sector of the legal market has been hit hard, the Bay Area legal market has been devastated. So he’s waiting for his bar results. (Can we talk about how absurd it is that, even though law school costs six figures-plus, you have to wait a full six months after you graduate from law school to practice law?) So, in the meantime, he has a fellowship. He’s one of the lucky ones.

So I’m working. As you do. We’re married, and one of the great parts of marriage is that you become a single economic unit. You’re no longer dependent on just yourself, the two of you somehow keep afloat together.

But it’s hard not to feel like a martyr. Sometimes. In your heart of hearts.

When you go to work each day knowing that you don’t love your job, but you can do it well. When you come home each night with more work to do, because you’re blessed enough to have a side project that turned into a job. When you don’t have enough time to yourself, but you know the bills have to get paid, and both of you need to be insured, and life must go on. It’s hard not to feel like a martyr.

And none of us are at our best when we’re being martyrs, even if we’re only being martyrs in a tiny piece of our hearts. We’re not our happiest; we’re not our most generous; we’re not our kindest. And our poor partners. They didn’t ask us to be a martyr. They’re struggling too.

So how do we stop this? How do we keep carrying on, doing work we don’t love, sharing responsibilities, but not sacrificing ourselves on the altar of self-pity?

I’ve got no real answers, yet. I know that it helps to remind myself how lucky I am. How lucky I am that the bills are paid; how lucky I am that I have work that I’m good at; how lucky I am that I can take pride in supporting my family. And, to be honest, I remind myself how lucky I am that my work clothes are cute. Because really, shallowness helps soften the martyr heart. But mostly I remind myself that things will change, slowly.

And we’re in this together. No one asked us to be martyrs, but we did decide to be a team.

And now, will somebody please make a joke? I’d really appreciate that.

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