Friday, October 23, 2009

Teaspoons

Blogging live from CCDA.

Yesterday was a big day. By about 6:00, I was exhausted and it was difficult to process messages any further. I'm on the hunt for a job, so I am talking about that constantly and these reminders that I am adrift accumulated and weighed me down by the end of the day.

Lots of people here have also known me for a long time and so I am also talking a lot about being married. I am trying to be transparent in my responses and the reality is that right now, marriage terrifies me. There are so many ways I can screw it up.

A couple of my online newlywed friends speak in entirely authentic ways about how magical being married feels to them. It is sparkly and neat. Sweet A. wrote about how special it was to fall asleep next to her new husband while looking at their chuppah and I thought, "Wow. That is absolutely not my experience."

And yet, being married to Jacob is the right choice.

To back up a little, I asked Jacob shortly after the wedding if he felt any different and he agreed that he didn't. My theory is that the process of planning this wedding brought up a lot of big issues that had to be worked through as if we were already partners. And like with so many other things, when you behave as if something is already true, it becomes true. By the time we got married, the ceremony simply confirmed a partnership that already existed. Now, don't get me wrong. I hate it when men say to women, "What's the big deal? We're already married." I know they are saying the same kinds of complicated ideas like the one I just wrote out but, you know, they're boys. Like Hermione says to Ron, "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have." So, in my best moments, I have grace for those types of statements. But in my human moments, I would shout at Jacob, "Then why I am spending all of this time and energy planning this f---ing wedding event?" I don't even want to think about what happened when he -out of an earnest desire to cheer me up and makes me feel loved at a time when planning was particularly hard- formally slipped the newly delivered wedding band on my finger when I wasn't looking, just for practice.

So, that being said and the goodness of our partnership affirmed, I want to be honest about the fact that these first six weeks are muchmuch harder than I expected them to be. I am plagued by the idea that if we do not set up the right dynamics now, the rest of our marriage will be like the leaning tower of Pisa, or actually, like the thousands of poorly constructed buildings that have fallen into rubble over the history of human civilization. I don't remember feeling this way during my first marriage (which wasn't actually toppled by this problem) so I wonder if it simply a natural fear of all divorcees in new marriages. There is no naivete of the possible pain keep us from flinching.

So, one of the topics of contention between us is the division of domestic labor. I like cooking us dinner and doing the laundry and hosting the parties by choosing the dishes and the tablecloths. I read all sorts of family porn blogs and dream about creating a nest of bright colors and textures to stimulate and nurture our children someday.

However, I've been looking around at the mothers at this conference, which makes me doubt my visions. There are about 2,500 people at this conference. Our society is still rampant with assumed gender roles and the folks here are no different than the larger society. Also, there are probably women here like me who really want their role as primary caretaker. There is daycare here for children who are old enough to be potty-trained and so the only children I really see are infants and toddlers. And 25% of the infants are held and comforted and walked up and down during the plenary session by their fathers. This is great. But 100% of the toddlers are being chased out in the foyer by their mothers. Something happens from the age when a child's needs are simple (being held, being warm, being dry) to when they begin to develop the difficult combination of a will of their own and mobility. It seems like the mothers have become experts in comforting their children as they grow but the fathers have devoted their time to other pursuits. (I know this is hetero-centric but I'm fairly certain their are no homosexual families here at this evangelical conference.) I fully support families that choose this kind of task differentiation and specialization. Like I said, I want it for my own family. At the same time, I fear being the kind of mom who has to always miss out on a speaker or an experience because Jacob and I have painted ourselves into a corner and Jacob cannot take responsibility for our child. I want us both to remain at least competent in any task that the other has primary responsibility. I don't want Jacob to ever feel alone in any of his tasks and I don't want to be stuck in my role.

Combine this resistance to getting stuck with my desire to set up the right patterns now and I fight with Jacob a lot to get him to validate my at-home work while I'm unemployed and even to get him to share it with me, even though it brings him no joy. I am brittle and snap very often.

Add to this, though, my desire not to make Jacob conform to my way of doing things and there is much more than a teaspoon of an emotional range. I see too often relationships that have lost their intimacy because the wife demanded that the counter-tops be disinfected her way and that the diaper be fastened completely straight. I hear my friends talk about this and see the rolling eyes of their husbands behind them. And the women usually win that battle but lose the war for closeness. The guys always put the milk back in the same place in the fridge but feel like strangers in their own homes. I don't want that for Jacob and I, but, as my dad points out, once I want him to take ownership of domestic tasks, I've already crossed the line of coercion. Then, it is about the tricky work of balance. This does not ease my sense that we could really screw this up in the next few months.

To be fair to myself, Jacob gets to determine some community standards, as well. We keep kosher. We live in the condo he bought in a neighborhood he chose. The house is, for the most part, furnished by his sense of aesthetics. He has expressed implicit desire for me to take ownership of these life habits while still giving me freedom within those constraints to do it well. There is nothing that says he can't step up to my requests with the same acceptance that I have stepped up to his.

And I have every indication that he will. He is, again and again, a good partner: willing to examine his motivations and to look out for my interests, willing to challenge me when necessary and show me that he's listening and thinking about when I least expect it. Last night as we talked about my experiences of the day, he spoke out loud my insecurities that cause me to yell at him so much. He spoke with forgiveness and understanding. He compared it to his own insecurities and assured me that we would find a way heal both.

Yesterday morning, I was standing at the breakfast table of friends of my father who have been married for at least 50 years. He complained about his food and the service and twice his wife said, "You're grumpy today." Both of them spoke with an underlying light-heartedness but both were also very serious in their complaints. I long for that security in our marriage. He could be himself utterly in relationship to the situation without fearing that it would affect how she felt about him. She could call him on his behavior without expecting it to change or worrying that he would take offense.

It is a beautiful thing: marriages that have been proven by the test of time. My parents have one. My grandparents had one. This couple had one. I think I have the making for one and it is that faith that keeps me going through my brittleness and complete lack of honeymoon sentimentality. I can't wait to get back home to my husband tomorrow night and that is proof enough that we made a good choice 6 weeks ago.

2 comments:

Christy said...

Nice job making up a blog post to make me feel that there's another new wife going through I'm going through!

Right down to the job hunting and need for validation re: housework. You are skilled.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail" by John Gottman, which was on the list of "just in case" books I requested at a counseling session a while back. It looks as though it will speak to some of what Matt and I have been contending with.

accordionsandlace said...

I think you are right to bring up this idea of security--that the "how to clean the counter" debate doesn't threaten the couples that have been together 50 years. They probably still have it, but they've also proven to themselves and to each other that they are stronger than it. There is a fear, when we are starting out, that we might not be, although as I wrote, for me the big change in getting married was sort of making that big statement to each other that we are stronger than the counter debate.

It's all about partnership, isn't it? We talk and I worry about parenting a LOT. I think I have a different vision of it than you do, but I, too, worry about how this will work out as partners. And I really, really believe that an issue will not break up our marriage, but our inability to face an issue, to listen to each other and to speak and try honestly, that is the danger. I feel like as long as we are always able to listen to each other we're getting somewhere, building that security.

I feel like I sound so arrogant for a newlywed! I know harder stuff is ahead. I am just trying to be an optimist these days.