My husband’s been on the road for work for the past week, so to make time go faster I’ve been spending a lot of time with my girlfriends. They are all about my age, married, with kids, most of them with jobs outside of the home.
I always learn something from them. Parenting tips, new recipes, relationship advice — whatever it is, I usually come away feeling refreshed and smarter. If I am in doubt, I know that one of my friends will have the answer, or a reassuring anecdote to share.
But this week, things were different. It’s the first time I got a whiff of something being off in all of our lives. Some kind of an unease, uncertainty, maybe even fear.
We are all married to great guys — really, truly great guys. Smart, passionate, giving, understanding, handsome men. All of them. And yet our stories were almost all the same: husbands working long hours, too tired for kids/sex/conversation when they get home, us wives appreciating their hard work and devotion, but at the end of the day feeling lonely and lost and overwhelmed. We don’t want to nag — we know our guys work hard and that they work hard for us. But we don’t want to be alone in a relationship either. And between office jobs and doing the majority of child rearing, honestly we are just as tired and analyzing and nurturing our marriages seems like a luxury.
What I heard form my friends wasn’t reassuring — all of them are trying come to terms with the fact that this might be it. Maybe this is how marriage is — a business transaction between adults who kinda like each other. Not one of them had a soothing word or reassurance about the situation. They were all trying to figure out how to make it work, how to make this life OK, bearable, until maybe things will get better and easier.
How did we get there? I’ve known these women before kids, mortgages, real careers. We were not like this. There was passion, hope, honesty, excitement about the future. Now we just seem… defeated.
It’s like we lost our way in the world. The more we are tied down to houses, kids, jobs, the more we want to fly away someplace else. And I think that’s true of our husbands, too. We all seem to be confused about our positions in the world, in our own houses, and relationships. Are we breadwinners? Are we mothers? Fathers? Nurturers? Parents? What is our primary role? What the hell are we?
It used to be clear — mother stayed at home with the kids, father went out to make money. I am not saying it was the ideal situation, but there was some clarity to our roles. Fathers were not expected to make dinner and mothers were not expected to make a career. Now we have to be good at all of this and there is just no way to do that — not without feeling guilt or shortchanging something important in our lives, like our relationships. We have high expectations of ourselves to be good at everything and I think we are finally realizing that we have to let some of those expectations go. Having all of these life choices seems to make things more confusing, with lots of gray areas.
There are no good models in front of us on how to do this right either — at least not in my circle. Either our parents were really well off and had live-in nannies, or could afford to stay at home even if that meant a tighter budget. None of my friends live in luxury — having two earners is almost a necessity to maintain some level of comfort. My one friend who is at home with her three kids barely sees her husband awake, or away from his phone — clearly not the way to a happy marriage.
So, my time with friends has been somewhat dispiriting. I guess it’s nice to know that I am not alone in my predicament, but it’s worrisome that other women like me don’t have answers either.
I know I am barely scratching the surface of this problem and I know for sure that I don’t have the answers. I just hope that with so many options and choices all of us will find a way to keep our sanity and balance while staying married. I hope we can remember how we got here in the first place — we wanted love and a family.
We wanted to be happy.