A bad case of indigestion woke me at 2:30 this morning. Typically, when this happens, I prop myself up in bed, grab my computer and mindlessly surf the internet, waiting for things to settle down again so I can go back to sleep. Last night, one of the things I read not only didn’t settle me down, I think it added fuel to the fire in my gut.
The headline read: The Day I Realized I Was No Longer The Woman My Husband Wanted. I don’t know why I clicked on it. It is not the kind of story that I routinely have any interest in whatsoever. Intestinal distress makes one do inexplicable things, I guess. In fact, I knew the story would probably be stupid even before I went there, but something made me do it anyway.
And I was not disappointed. The piece was written by a forty-year-old wife/mother/entrepreneur who, cleaning out a closet one day (I don’t know how she found time to indulge in THAT bit of housewifely drudgery), finds a box of love letters she wrote to her husband when they were courting. Honestly, the letters were stupid, soppy and looked like something passed in high school study hall.
"Hello gorgeous, how's my darling, sexy, charming, romantic, thoughtful, loving man doing?"
Instead of wondering why she had never destroyed these ramblings of a lovesick adolescent, she goes all gooey and nostalgic, wondering whatever became of that “encouraging, always laughing, dancing, singing” girl her husband fell in love with.
I’ll tell you what happened to her, you twit! She GREW UP! She left her laughing, singing, dancing girlhood behind and got a life, like a responsible adult.
The author goes on to concoct a list of surefire ways to drag your relationship out of the toilet and give it back the spark of “newness” it obviously needs to keep your spouse interested in you. “Offer compliments! Make it fun!” In short, do everything you possibly can to show your spouse that your years together had turned you into a selfish-centered, exhausted harpy and you wish you were 21 again. God forbid that growing up and growing old together should be satisfying enough to keep the relationship healthy.
Now, I am not saying that adulthood is all work and no play, all seriousness and responsibility and no opportunity to break out of those restraints once in a while and just have a goofy good time. If that were the case, I would never have signed up, myself.
But every woman I know who is in a long-term relationship knows that these relationships are not for the faint of heart. Time is not always kind; it has some hard and some valuable lessons for us. The tightrope we walk is this: We don’t let ourselves or our marriages become destroyed by these changes, but neither can we pretend that we are not changed. We cannot, nor should we, set up our young, careless selves as the prototype--the model to which we must always return when things seem to go wrong. We cannot concede that the maturing process has somehow “ruined” us. We must acknowledge and value the changes, sand off some of the rough edges and cherish the changing shapes of our selves. We must be who we are NOW, and then figure out how to make a relationship between this person, and the changed and matured person to whom we are voluntarily bound, work.
Perhaps if I had not been primarily occupied with that exact task for most of the last four years, I would have looked a little more kindly upon this girl’s (she’s forty to my almost-sixty…yes, she’s a girl) regressively sexist, 1980’s Readers’ Digest-esque tutorial on How to Keep Your Man.
The opinion expressed in this essay not only disrespects the changes naturally wrought upon women by years on the planet, it disrespects the partners who, theoretically, have undergone their own changes as well. I'm pretty sure men change with time, too. The worthwhile ones do, anyway... I can't think that my husband would suddenly love me more if I became an exact copy of the twenty-year-old he met and fell in love with. Seems like he'd be more likely to want to parent me than partner with me, should that change miraculously transpire.
All I can do is sigh (and grab the bottle of Tums) when I read an article like this one. The writer really thinks she’s on to something. But she needs another decade or two under her belt before she can presume to write a "how-to" for modern marriages. Too bad she--and her publisher--haven't figured this out yet.