The Self-Full Wife

Me being self-full at Alt, as taken by Maggie. Check out the rest of the shiny self-full-ness

Last week, on a flight to visit family (I’ve been traveling way too much this month), I read an article in San Francisco’s excellent 7X7 Magazine about being fifty-eight, single, and deeply happy. Rad, right? Well. Almost.

I’ve written before about how I worry sometimes that by writing a website about weddings and marriage, I risk glorifying the relationship as the ideal state for the modern woman. Which is tricky. Because the whole truth is, had I been blogging in my very-single early twenties, I would have been writing about how much I loved being single. And I did. So much so that I refused to even consider dating David for years and years. So I absolutely agreed with Jane Ganahl’s open letter to “All you young ladies pining for a husband,” Where she said, “Whether you land a man or not, you will be F-I-N-E.”

When I was single, and living in Brooklyn in my twenties, I would regularly look around my bedroom and think to myself, “Enjoy this. One day you’re probably going to have a husband and a family, and you’re going to look back on these as the glory days.” And the truth is, I do miss that single state, sometimes. I miss sleeping totally sprawled out across my bed in a giant X. I miss getting to spend uninterrupted hours writing in my journal. I miss getting to decide totally on a whim what to do with my day, what New York adventure to run off and have. I miss staying out late, night after night after night (if I wanted), drinking wine and bourbon with friends. I miss being able to paint my whole bedroom purple. I miss girls nights and slumber parties (yes, we did those) without having to accommodate anyone else’s schedule. Of course there are other things I don’t miss, like having to cook for myself, and being constantly broke, and not having someone to talk to when I got really anxious in the middle of the night. But I would say that all in all, the plusses of singledom way outweighed the minuses for me.

But then I got further in to Jane Ganahl’s article, and I put on the brakes. She talks about how she didn’t much enjoy being a wife, because she wasn’t selfless enough. Ganahl says, “I resented how much of my energy was spent making sure everyone else was happy and thriving and how depleted it left me of time to tend to my own life. I suppose I could have enforced the current self-help advice, ‘Take care of yourself first,’ but most wives (especially mothers) will tell you that’s an uphill battle.” She goes on to say, “But it’s not just the housework, is it? Relationships themselves take work. And we all know who does the bulk of that work.”

That’s where I began to have a serious problem with the message. Not just the message of this particular article (because hey, it was promoting being single as an empowering state for women), but the message of our culture at large. A message that, even within the women-empowering feminist community, we seem to have a hard time dismissing. The message is that being a wife (and let’s not even get into how much this message is amplified by the time you’re a mother) is about selflessness. The message is that this is the natural state of things—that men, and partners, will always demand more of ourselves than we have to give, and will never give back to the degree we need.

When that is the message we hear ad nauseam, it’s easy for that to become the truth.

He doesn’t do his share of the chores because, “He doesn’t value cleanliness the same way I do.” He won’t consider changing his name because, “He’s not interested in that option.” He needs support for his dreams and careers, but can’t find the time to support your dreams and careers back because, “He’s busy, and that’s just not the way he’s programmed.” He finds solitude in his man cave, but if you need your own solitude of journal writing and girls nights you’re being selfish, “Because don’t you run the rest of our lives?” He makes more money hence has a bigger allowance than you “because he contributes more to the relationship.”

When the message is “wife-hood requires selflessness,” it becomes so easy to accept the pat answers for why your partner can’t work harder. Because you’re the one sacrificing, and that’s just the way it’s done.

And I call bullsh*t.

My marriage is not about selflessness. When I don’t have time to take care of myself—when I was working day and night and feeling like I had no options? I was not a very good partner. As the New York Times recently wrote, we’re better partners and have a happier marriage when we are personally fulfilled. Or as the always smart Lauren said, her husband told her from day one that for him he was the most important person in their relationship. And once she got over being pissed, she realized he was right. She is also the most important person, to her, in their relationship (by a little bit).

These days? Things are better around here. David and I both work from home some of the time, but never on the same days (because d*mn it, I want to be able to blast Dixieland Jazz and dance around the house). I decided to pay rent on an office as the first thing I did as a freelancer, because you know what? Investing in my sanity was worth it (and almost any man who started a business would think that having an office was just part of the deal). I go on girl lunches during the day sometimes, and gossip. I’ll have ice cream on the way home from work if I feel like it. (And not bring my husband back any. Or even tell him about it.)

After a long, hard, slog, I’m myself first, and a wife second. As it should be.

That doesn’t mean I don’t make sacrifices for my family. But it means I make self-full sacrifices. It means I sacrifice now with the full expectation that my husband is willing to sacrifice later if it’s needed.

So ladies? You’re going to be F-I-N-E if you stay single. But if you’re married, you’re going to be F-I-N-E too.

Now go home, and tell him to pick his dishes up off the living room floor, and then make a chore wheel*. You’re going to be out eating an ice-cream cone. By yourself.

*Full-on APW chore post coming soon, I promise.

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