Sunday, 11 January 2009

Remedial spousehood #101

Interesting momversation piece via Dooce on "which is harder - motherhood or marriage". Hmm. Well, I'm sweary, inept and inconsistent at the former, but even the idea that being a "wife" is somehow my job brings me out in a rash. Of course, the CFO and I are not married. I cling on to this like it means something, because clearly, the two children, fifteen years and jointly owned house are NO sign of commitment. I don't know quite what my problem is. I accept that living with and loving someone else requires consideration and compromise and work. I think I make some - though doubtless inadequate - efforts in that direction. I am not unfaithful, or abusive. I try to respect what is important to him, even if those things are not my own priorities. But I don't like the thought that this is my "job". No! I think to myself sulkily. I am a free spirit! I could run for the hills at any time, stopping only to collect the children, the dog, my favourite pictures, all my shoes and, uh, the house. And the CFO because otherwise who would do the sensible stuff like paying the heating bills and doing stuff with rolls of fibre glass? You see the dilemma.

Not only that, but our relationship has this tedious - for the CFO - dynamic where I behave like a sulky teenager and show him virtually no affection but spend my time carping and mocking and undermining and generally being a tremendous arse. You know how relationships settle into a pattern of behaviour and it's terribly hard to break? Well this is ours. I do my own thing and I like time alone. I don't seem to 'get' togetherness or think it's necessary, really. I love the CFO but I never show it much. He makes the running, and I bat him away because I've just reached an interesting part in my book and the last thing I want is sex, or conversation or whatever.

He's not oblivous to this. Take this vignette.

Evening. Children are having their dinner in the kitchen. The CFO is eating crisps and drinking wine and answering frequent demands for ketchup or juice, or whether one mouthful of rice is assez mangé. I am sitting in the small armchair with my face buried in the soft fluffy fur behind Oscar's ears, inhaling him.

E: I loooooove Oscar. I love you Oscar.

CFO: But Maman loves you two much more. [censorious stare at me]

E: Oh yes, of course. I love you two more than anything in the universe. You are the best things EVER. Better than tea and coffee and golden syrup and mangoes.

CFO: The order of things Maman loves is: Fingers and Lashes together, then after that Papa just the tiniest tiniest bit more than Oscar.

E: I suppose. Just. But it's a close call.

L: Why?

E: Well, I've only just met Oscar. And Papa doesn't poo under the piano and make me clear it up.

I realise I have lavished more love and affection on this ridiculous pea-brained creature in the last week than on the CFO in a year, probably. I lie on the floor with him for hours staring into his - frankly vacant - eyes and telling him how much I love him. I can't be around him and not stroke and touch his skinny, silky body. He bites my nose and craps in my handbag and still I love him. I'm a bit like this with Fingers too (Lashes is too big for so much fussing). I can't keep my hands off him, like some mother monkey, worrying at him and stroking and picking and holding. I tell both my children how much I love them all the time. It's a compulsion. I couldn't do any different if I tried. I need to be touching them and talking to them and showing them how important they are to me.

Their father gets nothing. I give him the odd vague pat on the knee or hand squeeze when I remember. Tell him he can make himself cheese on toast if he's hungry. Have most of my meaningful conversations on line. Ask him how his day was, then not listen to a word he says in reply. I am a terrible (non) wife and some twisted part of me feels that by not giving in to the conventions of a loving relationship I am making some principled statement of independence. I'm not. I'm just being a selfish, thoughtless idiot.

The CFO left for Atlanta this morning. His flying bird of death had better not fall out of the sky, because I've resolved to make 2009 the year of being less of a brattish shit with him. That's not too grandiose an aspiration is it?

I'd really love to hear from you on this one. Are any of you as terrible a partner as I am? Are we doomed if the basic building blocks of a relationship don't come very naturally to us? Can we blame the parents (oh, go on, please)? Any tips*?

* And don't give me some old flannel about 'recapturing the spark' because I've always been this emotionally retarded.


the queen said...

Today, for the first time in 24 years, my husband and I hung a set of miniblinds together and there was no screaming, so I think that gives me enough street cred to speak. About ignoring your spouse? Gary and I agreed long ago that it doesn't matter if I listen at all, I just have to let him vent without interruption.

justme said...

My guess is that the CFO likes you just the way you are, and any attempt to turn yourself into a fawning affectionate 'wife' type person would either give him a heart attack or send him running for the hills!

expateek said...

Ringing in from about 30 years of married bliss -- or rather 30 years of marriage and possibly 2 years total of bliss, the rest of it tiresome hard work and thankless toil but who's complaining, not me -- I say you're doing okay.

The reason dogs are so lovable is that they are such faithful companions, and they pretty much always like you and can't complain. Children are fun and funny but exhausting with their constant demands. Husbands come last for a long time, because that's just the way it is. They're grown-ups and they are supposed to understand.

My husband is a saint for putting up with me. Fortunately I do bring some good things to the party, which apparently make me worth keeping. As long as you are still laughing at the other one's jokes, it'll all be fine.

We lived apart for a year and a half after the post South-Africa trauma/meltdown, and near the end I realised I missed him tremendously. His qualities like constancy, a strong work ethic, and a knack for always doing the right thing -- which had irritated the hell out of me for quite a while -- are actually amazing and rare. Look around at a lot of the men you know. Most of them can be real prats, and all of them have their idiosyncratic foibles and noxious flaws.

It doesn't help, but if you can remember very occasionally to think on how lucky you are to have found your tortoise love, that could be a good thing.

Sorry to be such a Pollyanna. xx

Pochyemu said...

You beat me to posting about the Momversation piece, but I've been thinking about this all week.

Basically: I don't even have kids but I already think it's easier (emotionally, or something) than being married. It's bloody hard, marriage, and nobody really tells you that beforehand...much like, I would imagine, the way no one really says how hard and painful it is to give birth to your first child. Some people make it look relatively straightforward so you decide to give it a try and then you realize, fucking hell, I should have prepared myself for this with more painkillers and drinking!

Titian red said...

a different take on this - I have been married for 25 years, and for fifteen of those, off and on, my husband worked away... and it seemed to work and we got on. What neither of us realised was that we kept going because, as he was only home intermittantly, what we thought was talking was actually exchanging information. We have two children about to be 20 and 18, both straining at the leash, and I am happy to let them go, even if I actually enjoy them now, whereas as small children I hated being a mother, never feeling I got anything right. (At least if your children feel able to leave home you have given them confidence and aspiration to go for their own lives) The down side of this, of course is that now I am looking at a void, nothing to talk about and no one to talk to..... sad really, and all because we got lazy and didn't make enough of an effort for each other. Thank God for friends ! Best of luck.... and just keep talking (and nodding) it all helps.

Lisa said...

First - your posts that make me laugh the hardest are the ones that are very much like having a mirror placed before me. This one made me laugh until tears streamed from my eyes.

And although I gave in to convention at a much too young age of 22, I've never committed entirely.

I am the mother monkey, doing precisely as you described, when I can tear myself away from making kissy face with some co-dependent cat.

Help? You don't want that from me. I live just outside of ATL. Tell me where the CFO is staying and I can have something sent to him and tell him it's from The Waffle. Is he a fan of Coca Cola or peanuts? Those seem to be our Georgia welcome gifts.

Thank you for the screaming laughter this morning.

katyboo1 said...

I cannot advise you. I blew the first marriage completely. The last two years of the ten we were together being absolutely hideous. I would say that you're doing fine if you can still stand to look at him, he doesn't make you wish you were dead and you have things to talk about other than the children. I did realise that my marriage was over when I realised that going to work was more fun than being a wife, and I bloody hated going to work.

I am very lucky with husband number two. Despite three children and nearly five years, it gets better all the time. I learned a lot from the mess the first time around and am lucky that I am with a man who likes me exactly the way I am and gives me space to be myself. I extend him the same courtesy and we are lucky that we share enough interests that when we do spend time together it is lovely.

For me it is trickier being a mum. The conflicting desires to make everything perfect for them, and at the same time push them under a bus just so that I can have a pee alone drive me mad.

I would agree with the others though. Trying to be someone different is never going to work. You will drive yourself mad and he will probably be suspicious. Just be yourself.

Léonie said...

But surely being aloof and churlish gives you The Power*?

*I am sort of joking.

I know nothing about this. It is interesting reading about everyone's experiences, though. Thus far I have concluded that marriage/living with someone is hard, motherhood is hard, and puppies are cute. Am I on the right track?

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Living with another is never easy, neither is motherhood as others have said, and it is true being a good mother (even to Osc) does take precedence whle they are small and need you...

There is time enough for partners once the wee ones are big enough to help themselves to a sandwich! It is difficult to achieve balance, when you work as well (as I do too) and there ought to be give and take in any relationship, but you also need to stay true to how you feel. All the strength of feelings you obviously have always had for one another, JW, will be there when you can find time for one another again. It hasn't been easy, but that's my experience. And men like their 'caves'; he's probably happy for you to not be as touchy feely, but why not ask him, perhaps? All the best...

P said...

I have no words of wisdom as I am constantly told that I love the laptop more than the Boy.

My father was insanely jealous of the dog because she stole affection from him. And the dog loved him for this; he was the object of her abject devotion. Maybe this is the secret.

Perhaps the CFO should try growing a soft silky coat and sweet little ears.

Potty Mummy said...

Blame your parents - absolutely. Both for allowing you to wear the clothes we saw in the recent photos (because I, you understand, was always perfectly dressed, much like a modelle, as I am right now typing this), and more seriously, for hard-wiring you to respond to your significant other in a specific way. Loads of research has been done on this, it makes perfect sense, so you if you want to give the Bearded One a hard time over it you have carte blanche...

On the other hand, the CFO did know what he was getting himself into. My bet is that he's pretty happy with the way things are.

Vanessa said...

I constantly muse aloud to my husband about our cat and how much I love him--the cat. The state of his glossy, plush fur, is it looking the slightest bit brittle, and might he need an egg yolk in addition to his ridiculous organic food?

I call the man at work to tell him about the precious thing the cat has just done. That's about the only tenderness he gets out of me in a day, and it has nothing to do with him. The rest is shrill honking or distracted grunting.

(Not to leap to assume, pathologize or be too North American, but--) Getting my meds just right plus much individual therapy in the last year have helped me be nicer to the poor man and spend a little less time in my usual e-commerce fugue state of DOOOOOM feelings.

I'm not the cheerful, efficient person we'd both like me to be, but the tone has definitely lightened, and there's much more compassion to go around than before, thank Nathan.

And yes--blame your parents. Any good therapist would do the same anyway.

ptooie said...

I'll chime in, though we're in a bit of a rough patch right now. He's blaming it on not being able to swap back to daytime schedule once he finishes his workweek (night shift). All I know is he barely speaks except to snap at the girls or make snippy comments to me, and spends the weekend crashed on the couch. Until my day back to work, when he cleans the house. Tonight though, with the house clean, he's been quite pleasant. He might even deign to come to the bed to sleep tonight.
It's all in what works for you. If you've been like this all along, CFO knew what he was in for and is fine with it.
It's these damned sudden (hopefully temporary) changes that stress us out, and make us want to run for the hills.

peeajay said...

Smugness or what? The CFO is sending signials that are being ignored. Don't be surprised if it's not only peanuts and cola he accepts on his trips away.

Jaywalker said...

I think Léonie has it right - relationships hard, parenting hard, puppies cute*. Go read Pochyemu's take on it too. It is good.

Lisa - Coca cola, peanuts and hookers as recommended by peeajay!

Potty Mum - I do think it impacts; the CFO has one model of togetherness - his parents still hold hands after nearly 40 years together and never do anything apart. For me, not only were my parents never together in my memory, but in their subsequent relationships, doing things and spending time separately were absolutely essential for sanity. Of course it creates tensions.

Vanessa - you are right, I think therapy raises your awareness and breaks some of the worst habits. It helped me too. I actually deal with tension rather than ignoring it and waiting until we haven't spoken for a week to have an almighty fight. The "e-commerce fugue state" made me laugh out loud. You are bad, clever woman.

Peeajay - complacency, yes. I agree. But this is me trying to do something about it...

*Though I must note, the dog has bitten my nipple TWICE today. The initial infatuation may be over.

Red Rum said...

I found this a fascinating post as Mr Rum and I have been together for nearly 15 years and I often ask myself such questions. I think that I do show him some loving but not enough - and yes, once the kids come along you worship and adore them in an endless honeymoon period. There is a story by Helen Simpson that sums all this stuff PERFECTLY - "Heavy Weather" in the collection "Dear George." When things are really bad between us, I remind myself that we've been together a very long time and that I would have walked by now if there wasn't good stuff too. But yes, the hardest gig of all, married or not. Especially if, like me, you are riddled with the grass is always greener syndrome...

Mrs C said...

I think the marriage thing is harder. Much harder. Because you know that kids'll love you and never leave you. The husband. Not so much. And he has car keys.

River said...

I am also a terrible "non-wife". I thought I was the only one. The exception is we are married and there's no kids.

Juci said...

I'm actually with you on the trying harder front. I think if they deserve better and it's in our power to at least try, then we should. I have a similar resolution for this year - I have a lot to improve upon, like the state of our home, my figure, my cooking, my inclination to have sex. Now I'm not saying I can tackle all that instantly, but I do know that my biggest enemy is my own laziness, and I know I can push myself a little more to show that I care. It's not about fawning over him or giving him lots of extra attention, it's just giving him something he can be proud of - which happens to be the same thing I can be proud of. I don't think this means I should change who I am. Is the new, post-baby, 22 pounds heavier me the real me? I don't think so.