Read an Excerpt
The Hitched Chick's Guide to Modern Marriage
Me, Myself and I
Although the word "selfish" connotes negative behavior, I don't think it is. It's a good thing to be selfish, although 1 prefer to use the phrase "watching out for yourself and taking care of yourself." When you take care of yourself, you're better in your marriage, you're more fulfilled ... .
Perish the thought that a woman could think about herself, be selfish, put I before He, especially within marriage. Giving, devoting, sacrificing ... these are the actions of a good wife, no? No. These are the actions of a drudge, a sucker, a sap. These are the actions of a woman who sits meekly at a dinner party and feels worthy only of discussing the accomplishments of her husband, while quietly despairing over society's disinterest in her. These are the actions of an intelligent, once-vibrant woman who held so much promise, yet will come to be known as Whassername when her former classmates see her at their reunion. These, too, are the actions of a woman who will find herself struggling with her own self-worth and identity issues, fearful for her future, when she discovers the husband, to whom she has sacrificedherself, is having an affair with his dynamic, self-possessed coworker. (How devastating to discover an e-mail from him to his vivacious lover, stating "My wife is such a bore.")
Women have historically been the caretakers of their marriages and husbands, running themselves ragged to appease the moods of a petulant spouse, looking out for his needs, squishing their own identities and putting on hold their own aspirations and dreams to allow their partners to pursue theirs. Our mothers were brought up to believe a "good wife" is an ATM of selfless deeds, no deposits required. As a result, when the marriage breaks down, it won't just be her financial well-being that's seriously depleted. What remains of her self-worth will likely be destroyed, too.
It all began even before she floated down the aisle on a wave of dreams. Should she have received a good education and scored academically, her family's expectations for her will doubtless have stretched little further than a husband who would provide for her and their brood of children. She'd take a job to supplement her husband's income until the first baby bounced along, maybe. But it was generally understood that her career would be short-lived, since a woman's defining role was that of nurturer, caregiver, selfless saint whose fulfillment and joy would be derived from the accomplishments and well-being of others. Perhaps she'd be able to resume workas if looking after a family wasn't workonce her chicks finally flew the nest? A nice little job to get her out of the house, provide a bit of what my grandmother used to call "pin money" ... you know, pennies she could spend on little treats for herself. Ooooh, like, pretty brooches and stockings? Yes, and, if she saves her pennies up, vats of alcohol with which to drown her pain and fill the sheer rotten emptiness of her soul.
Of course, some of our mothers, Baby Boomer women, did continue to work, even while their children were young. Whether theirreasons were rebelliousness, dogged determination to give their education meaning, financial necessity orgasppure pleasure, there was always, always, the implicit understanding that husband and family came first since her identity was primarily that of wife and mother. After all, did she not relinquish her own identity when she took her husband's name and vowed to forsake all others, which we know then included herself? Especially herself. This was not to be questioned. Hell's bells, it was to be celebrated!
For the vast majority of our mothers, her wedding day was her family's proudest moment. Forget that she was trilingual/athletic/ artistic/literary/psychic/academic. It was small potatoes that she was on the way to discovering another life form/cure for cancer/alternative energy source. That she was getting married, had secured a husband, that was the accomplishment for which no expense would be spared. Huzzaaah! And aside from vowing to capitulate to her husband forever, her greatest gift to the world at that point was to throw her bouquet to the nearest single female in the hope that another woman would have the great fortune to lose herself to a husband. And soon.
See, even the identity of Mother paled into insignificance against that of Wife. In fact, having a child without also having a husband wasn't just stupid, it was shameful, stigmatized and the only reason to be ostracized by family, friends and society. No, a woman's only true, meaningful identity was that of Wife, even if it meant a life of slavery, submission and suppression. Perhaps because it meant slavery, submission and suppression?
But that's enough soapbox ranting. There are plenty of authors who have furiously filled books with historical home truths, rhetoric and self-pity. And although well-meaning and justified, they can be exhausting and dreary to read and, as such, uninspiring. Yes, yes, we know women have had it rough. Yes, yes, we know many women continueto suffer. But what's the whole story now? What lessons have we learned and how do we regard our role today? How are we preserving our identities in the midst of an institution we uphold, but which continues to challenge our sense of self?
My generation is marrying much later. And one of the benefits of getting married later is that we've had time to try things on our own, make our own friends, have our own successes and failures," states thirty-year-old Lena, who's been married to Andrew for two years. "Once you feel grounded in who you areonce you like yourselfand understand your own goals, values and dreams, only then are you prepared to share them with someone else. The only way a woman can keep her identity when she's married is if she has forged an identity before she got married. A lot of people think that finding a life partner is about finding someone to complete them. You have to be complete on your own and look for someone who complements you instead."
The average Western woman today marries (for the first time) at the age of twenty-eight (source: One Plus One). She will generally be five years older than her mother and three years older than her father was when they (first) skipped down the aisle. But there's been very little shuffling miserably on the infamous singles' shelf for today's women. If the shelf is groaning under the weight of unmarried women, it is because the shelf is considered a good place to be today. Contrary to Sylvia Ann Hewlett's panic-mongering book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, every woman I interviewed believed the so-called shelf to be a viewing station for all the options before her, somewhere she can take stock and experiment with life choices. (And as Emily, thirty-three, says, "Having somuch choice can make it hard to choose!") From here, she can dip her toe in the workplace waters before either plunging in headfirst or drying off until she decides to try something new. From here, she has the time to ponder who she is, what she wants and whether these would be complemented or compromised by marriage. And deciding they could be complemented, the shelf is also an exciting as well as comfortable (if not downright luxurious) place from where she can view candidates and make her final selection.
Who's writing those volumes about fraught single women, panic-stricken at the age of twenty-five that they'll never get married? Pontificating over the elusiveness of a smart, generous, progressive male maybe. But that's simply part of the joy and pain of today's selection process, and no more sinister than the discussions we have over the shortage of well-cut, perfectly tailored black pants. It may make us miffed, but it doesn't make us desperate or pathetic. In fact, it simply prolongs the time we have to relish in the search for a partner. And ourselves. For many, that time isn't long enough. The growing and forming of identity during those single years is taken so seriously today that when the ideal man makes himself known, it's perceived as too soon even at the age of thirty.
Thirty-two-year-old Pia, who's been married one year to Michael, says, "I loved being single and had a lot of reservations about giving it up, which is why our engagement was long. My reservations weren't about Michael, but at thirty, I felt very young and I was still in the realm of growth and possibility. I think of life as split into stages of being and becoming. I always enjoy the becoming stages rather than the being stages because I'm just not interested in status quo. I'm interested in passion and excitement and I felt nervous about giving that up and having something solid. I enjoy longing and desire and the feeling that anything is around the corner, so I never had the urge to settle down, have a husband and kids and a diamond ring. It wasn't in my field of desire."
Terri, thirty-five, says she felt the same when she met her husband five years ago. "My father's African-American and a southern patriarch in that he is one of these iron-fisted men who likes to dominate. It had a profound effect on me. I spent many years working through the effects of my childhood and I felt I didn't need the validation of marriage. So when I met Chad and he said, 'Hey, let's get married!' I said, 'Hey, let's not!' I was so nervous that I'd lose what I'd fought for."
And Rachel, twenty-eight, remembers meeting her husband at the age of twenty-four. "I was so young. I wasn't planning to get married. I'd only known Patrick for four months and he was telling me how much in love with me he was and I'd say, 'No, no, no ...' I was going away for the summer to work in a boys' camp so there'd be lots of wonderful men there, too. Right before I left, I said to my mother, 'Mom, I'm falling in love with Patrick and it's so inconvenient.' I just didn't want to be settled. I wanted to be young and free and great."
Few women today immediately step out of their graduation cloaks and into their bridal carriage. But we're not whiling away the years between school and marriage just thinking about what we want from life. We're working, playing, evaluating, experimenting, reconsidering and fine-tuning. From our moral values to the direction we wish our lives to take, from the challenges we face alone to our everevolving modes of conduct, we rely on our single-years experiences to form and celebrate our identity. Once established (though never fully complete, we know, until the day we die), it's only then that we wholeheartedly embrace marriage.
I couldn't even entertain the idea of getting married until I had edited my own magazine. My life plan was pretty much this: junior writer, features editor, global travel, buy own home, become an editor-in-chief, get married and have kids. Incidentally, I was prepared to take or leave the final two and, if they happened, I didn't much care about the order of arrival. No question, I'm thrilled to pieces that Idid get married and have children, but the point is, they were last on my list of priorities. Top of my list: me.
It's for that very reason that thirty-three-year-old Jo retracted her decision to marry Aaron when he first proposed just three months into their relationship. "He was the kind of guy who, when we'd be walking through Washington Square Park, would literally sweep me off my feet, swing me around and kiss me. I became swept up in this incredible romance, so when we were on line for sushi in the East Village and he turned around and spontaneously said, 'Will you marry me?' I said yes! Then we went and got drunk on saki. But the whole mood shifted when I woke up the next morning. I realized I just couldn't do it. I was in a job I hated and I wanted to leave that job to pursue my own thing. I felt like I needed to do that before 1 got married. I wanted to get married when I was wildly confident in my own life. Yes, I was wildly confident about this man in my life, but I wanted to be as confident with my own direction. So I told him, 'Listen, I think I've made a big mistake. I do love you and 1 want to be with you for the rest of my life, but I don't want to get married yet.' He didn't talk to me for three days."
Says thirty-two-year-old Gabrielle, married for two years to Murray, "I came into my marriage having traveled, I'd earned my own money, I'd been through crises and got myself through them. I'd been left and betrayed and I'd betrayed others. I'd had the experience of knowing that I wouldn't die if someone stopped loving me and those things enabled me to go into my marriage feeling whole and good and complete and that I didn't need Murray to complete me."
Stacey, thirty, is one of an increasing number of women who enter their first marriage as a mother already. Fear of losing her identity was the main reason she didn't marry the father of her child. Fiercely independent, Stacey never felt the need to have a husband, either to make her complete or to secure the well-being of herself and her child. "Although we had a baby, I just didn't see myself going downthat path with him. He wanted me to be someone I'm not. And he was controlling. If I wanted to go out, he'd say, 'Why should I baby-sit?' Whereas if he went out, I'd have to stay at home and look after our son. So it would be termed 'baby-sitting' for him, but for me, it would be doing my motherly duty. My worst scenario would be to wake up at forty years old and realize that the last twenty years of my life had not been what I wanted, married to somebody just because I had a child with him. I'm selfish like that."
Having forged a career, single-handedly bought and furnished a home and established her sense of self (as well as that of her son, Harry, for ten years, with whom she also took a trip around the world), Stacey is more protective of her identity than ever. "I am my own person and I certainly didn't need to compromise who I was for the sake of companionship. I could get what I needed from Harry." Now married to Ben for two years, Stacey says, "I don't see myself just as Ben's wife. I'm very much me and it was important that Ben understood that. I love Ben and feel lucky to have him, but he's also very lucky to have me."
So Long, Sainthood!
Hel-o-oh? Are these women speaking? It's a stereotypically male attitude toward marriage that has emerged, though why men could ever have held these attitudes is anyone's guess. For Pete's sake, proof that marriage is good for men doesn't get more positive than this: married men live longer than single men, even if their marriage is well below par. What's more, according to Steven L. Nock, a University of Virginia sociology professor who has interviewed six thousand men every year since 1979, "The research shows that marriage per se increases men's achievements as reflected in earnings, labor force and occupational prestige."
If anyone needs to worry, it's women. Statistics show that single women are generally healthier and stronger than their married counterparts (source: American Heart Association). Could this possibly be due to the fact that when a man marries, there are two people looking after him (three if you count his mother, but more of her later ...), caretaking his nutritional/emotional/physical/social/dental/ psychological well-being? Whereas there's only half a person caretaking hers? If that. Most women recall their mothers deteriorating into empty shells, shadows of themselves, unrecognizable when compared to the smiling, hopeful, supremely confident young women they were in their college, even wedding, photos.
Observing the behavior of our fathers, our mothers' responses to it and the impact that had on both of them and their relationship has struck terror into today's women. Although our mothers married at a time when you could hardly hear the church bells over the sound of burning bras and feminist rhetoric, few of them truly practiced what they felt, at last, free to preach. For the overwhelming majority of women, even if their mothers continued to work outside the home, even if they maintained separate interests from their husbands, the ideal Disney marriage was the reserve of celluloid. For many women growing up, marriage had all the components of a horror film, where the weak, despite their feeble protestations at the start, are swallowed up by the strong, spit out and left for dead. Happy endings? Pah!
I'll come to the subject of money and power later in the book. And for sure, a severe lack of both were key factors in keeping our mothers married to our fathers long after the "best before" date had expired. But what most women claim to lie at the root of their mothers' marital problems was lack of identity. (Or, more specifically, the problem of imposed identity.) Suppression of her own feelings, desires and needs if, indeed, she was able to define them at all. She didn't have a whole heap of convictions, never mind the courage tosee them through. How could she when she hadn't taken the time to discover what they truly were, what she was, before she got married? In vowing to be totally committed to her husband, she was pledging to become devoid of commitment to herself. Says Emily, "In our mothers' generation, there was a clear definition of what a woman was supposed to be." She was, she felt, put on the planet with the sole purpose of serving her husband and to hell with what she wanted. As it happened, hell was what she ended up with.
Says Niki, thirty-five, "I saw my mother being tired, stressed, muffled. My father had a terrible temper and she was always appeasing. She was always doing what she could to prevent the outburst. I remember being a kid and we had a thing called 'Daddy napkins.' The rest of us, including my mother, used paper napkins, we used the cheap ones, while he had to have the nice napkin. He had a special everything. And we had to be quiet even if he chose to work in the middle of the living room. We'd have to tiptoe around him. She was our role model in that, she was the one who taught us to do that, otherwise the consequences were just too unpleasant."
And Suzannah, thirty-nine, recalls, "1 have this very distinctive image of my mom when I was about fourteen. I came home from school and she was at home looking absolutely awful in this horrible track suit outfit. Her hair was a mess and I remember thinking, God, she looks terrible. She just doesn't care how she looks. So I grew up thinking, I'm never going to be this. I'm never going to be stuck in the house, waiting for my husband to come home, bringing up my kids who spend their whole time daydreaming about when they can leave home. I'm never going to do that. But my mother wanted her own identity and life. She just didn't know how to get it."
Even if Suzannah's mother had been possessed with the certainty of who she was, what she wanted and equipped with the skills to make it happen, it's likely she would have still subjugated her identity to her husband's. It's what many of our mothers did. Their identitieswere inextricably linked to their husband's. And based on their mothers, our grandmothers', behavior, they had few role models to show them the benefits of an alternative. Moreover, since their mothers were even less likely to complain, never mind remove themselves from their unhappy union, they grew up believing that self-sacrifice was the only mode of behavior.
Gina, thirty-four, says, "I watched my mother do everything for my father. She didn't just have a good heart, she genuinely wanted to make him happy even at the expense of herself. She'd abandon her yoga night class when he'd suddenly call her and tell her he wasn't coming home, he was going out after work. She'd go to enormous lengths to make every Christmas perfect for him to make up for his miserable childhood. She'd go camping because he liked it, when really she preferred hotels. God knows, camping with four kids was no vacation for her, especially as my father would spend all day fishing on his own. And how did he treat her? Like trash. He'd talk to the dog more respectfully than he talked to my mother. I hated him for it. And, strangely, I despised my mother, too. And because of that, I treated her very badly, like he did. I'd come home from college, leave my clothes in a heap, expect her to fetch and carry, have a meal ready in case I felt like eating. I got away with it because she allowed me to. And that was obviously my father's attitude. She died suddenly from cancer seven months ago. Even at her funeral, my father made jokes about my mother. He said, 'You'd think Janet would have stocked the freezer with pastries before she went.' I was almost sick. I haven't spoken to him since that day. My mother was a saint and look where it got her."
The tragedy of Gina's mother is echoed by many. Says Lena, thirty, "My mother adored my father. She did everything. Even though he didn't do a thing, she never bitched about it. Then my father met someone else and he left her. It was very painful."
Bettina, thirty, says her mother's lost identity manifested itself inobsessive and destructive behavior. "She became retentive. She spent four hours making dinner every night and every little thing my sister and I did was hyperscrutinized. If I left a quarter in my jeans pocket, she said I did it on purpose and it would become a big fiasco that had to be analyzed. It's because she invested everything in being a housewife."
Says forty-one-year-old Rae, "That happened to my mother. She developed OCDObsessive Compulsive Disorder. That thing where you have to check twenty times whether you've switched off the lights? The hand-washing thing, too. She was classic. I'd say, 'You've got to see someone about this.' I mean, I know a lot of doctors. I'll never forget what she said: 'It doesn't matter. I'm a nobody. Who cares?'"
Says Sara, thirty-five, "They say that suppressing your emotions causes cancer. There's absolutely no history of breast cancer in my mother's family, yet my mother got breast cancer four years ago. She didn't drink, she didn't smoke, she ate healthily, kept herself in shape. I think it was because she just bottled up everything inside for the entire duration of her marriage. She was so smart, she could have been anything she wanted to be. But she put everything on hold for my father and for her kids. My father would criticize her in front of us and she'd never put him straight. I'd say, 'Mom, why don't you tell him to shut up? He shouldn't speak to you like that,' and she'd say, 'Oh, you don't know. He doesn't mean it.' But I knew it got to her. See, he was her everything. Without him and without us, she had nothing. Then when she got breast cancer, he left her anyway. He had this fucking ridiculous mid-life crisis. Now, he wants to come back to her ... yeah, now that she's more or less recovered. But she won't go back. She's taken up classes, started traveling. It's like she's suddenly discovered herself, who she really is. I just wish it hadn't taken her so long."
It isn't accurate to say that all the women I talked to recallunhappy marriages between their parents, but a majority of those whose mothers did have an identity away from the home acknowledge it was secondary to their primary identity of wife and mother. They describe their mothers putting their real selves "on hold," "fitting in" around kids' school schedules and husbands' work commitments, and only finding herself once everyone else had fulfilled their imperatives, mainly when the kids had left home. If her mother and father don't then go on to divorce (which is extremely common, on the increase, and, more often than not, at the woman's behest), their marriage will certainly be challenged by the wife's newly discovered identity and her desire to "make up for lost time."
Naiela, thirty, says, "When my sister and I left home, I think my mother wandered around the house for a year. She had no idea what to do with herself. I'd phone home and my father would say, 'I'll go and get your mother, she's in the garden talking to herself.' She was desperately lost, even though he was there. But my mother had always been good at languages. So one day, I called home and my father picked up the phone. He said, 'You'll never guess what your mother's gone and done. She's enrolled herself into college.' I said, 'Wow, that's great.' So my father said, 'I'm not happy about it at all. The woman's fifty-six. Who does she think she is?' That said everything. They argued about it for months, even though she still performed her wifely duties, cooking his dinner, keeping the house clean. Now I think my father's quite proud of her. But it caused a lot of upset for a long time."
Irrespective of their family backgrounds, today's brides are under the spell of powerful forces. For many, it is the combination of witnessing their mothers' nightmare and the prevalence of empowering messages from the media. For others, positive role models and mentors have instilled in them the importance of seeking and keeping their identity. But there's one more force which cannot be ignoredthe positive effect of our mothers' sacrifice on our own sense of whowe are. That she was always there, taking an active interest in our development, encouraging us to fulfill our potential, focusing all her attention on us, stroking us, bolstering us, willing us on, making us feel like we were the center of the universe, none of this support should be undervalued.
"I have a lot to thank my mother for," says Tyler, thirty-one. "She was there for every recital, every sports day. Even if I didn't win, she told me I was the best. I was bullied for a short time at school and although my mother didn't really get involved, I remember her saying, 'Don't let anyone belittle you. Stand up and fight for who you are.' The next day, I kicked the shit out of that girl. I got into trouble at school for it, but my mother was right behind me and I never let anyone walk over me again. It's bizarre because my mother didn't fight for who she was. I guess she didn't want me to end up being like her."
We're all too aware of the contradiction. Says Rachel, twenty-eight, "My mother was a full-time mother. I don't disrespect what she did because I benefited from it in so many ways. I'm so glad I didn't grow up with a nanny. I know I'm more confident because my mother was always there. But," she continues, "I saw my mother throwing things. The strain for her of just being a wife and mother was too much. She made me aware that you have to be selfish, so I will get a nanny when I have kids. I don't want to be like my mother."
Neither do I. "Learn from my mistakes. Work hard, have a career," my mother would say over and over. "Be yourself." Thanks to her constant presence and affirmations, I went on to develop a hugeat times obnoxioussense of entitlement. Although I wobble at times, I'm able to draw upon the enormous reserves of self-confidence and self-belief that she stocked and continues to replenish, if not daily now, certainly on a weekly basis. So while I (and what I have accomplished) can in many respects be attributed to my mother's sole focus, despite it and because of it, I am unwilling to do the same for my children.
Our mothers were so influential and effective in making us feel importantoften to the detriment of themselveswe still believe the world revolves around us and cannot, will not entertain the idea for one second that it does not. So whether we want to be like our mother because she proved the importance of identity or, more commonly, we don't because she had none of her own, the end result is the same. Identity is to be preserved at all cost. It will not be compromised for anyone. Not even our children. But especially not for someone we regard as an equal. Especially not for our husbands.
"I Do" Not ID
When I got married," says Niki, thirty-five, "I was already thirty-two years old. So I was used to my name, it's my name, and I never wanted to take Ron's name. I used to make a joke that it just makes it easier so I don't have to give it back later. I don't mean to be so cynical about it. It just never occurred to me to take his name. Anyway, my two names together are very short. People tend to call me Niki Dean like it's all one word, 'Nikidean.' And if I'd taken his name, I would have sounded like a soap opera character, which was also a problem. So I never wanted to, I never thought about it."
The days when a woman automatically, unquestioningly took her husband's name are becoming a distant memory. Even the hyphenated compromise now seems laughably outdated, pretentious and nonsensical. Today, the refusal to be invisible and relinquish our identity when married manifests itself within seconds of saying "I do." When the paperwork is presented and she holds her pen over her marriage license, the newly hitched chick isn't simply scrolling her signature, she's making a statement. And one which, very often, her husband will oppose. Ding, ding! Round one!
Says Stella, thirty-two, married one year to Martin, "He said tome years ago, when we were first dating, 'I will never marry a woman unless she changes her name.' And I said, 'We may as well split up now because there's no way I'm going to change my name. What would happen to Stella Reece? What's going to happen to that person?' I won't change and I felt like if I changed my name, I would change or would have to change. But he wanted me to change my name because he comes from a very conservative family. Even on our wedding day, his mother turned to me and said, 'Oh, Mrs. Latham!' and I said, 'Who's that?' I said to my mother, 'Goddammit, you'd better not ever put his last name on my mail because there is no Stella Latham. She does not exist. If I do get mail with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Latham, it makes me mad. It's like I am not a person."
Lola, thirty, gulps back her wine and shrieks, "That happened to me! Even though Tommy is so contemporary in many ways, he even said, 'I will not marry somebody who does not take my name.' In fact, that's one of the reasons we broke up years ago. I said, 'Tell me why? I can tell you fifty reasons why I will not change my name, you tell me one good reason why I should.' He said, 'Tradition.' I said, 'You can stick tradition up your ass!'"
"Cheers to that!" eight of us girls around a table hoot.
Lola's still on a roll. "Who made up this rule? Who the hell said it has to be this way? In the past, women had to change their names because they thought they belonged to somebody. You couldn't own property. But today is a different day. The fact that he said 'tradition' is appalling to me. I was born with my name. It represents my family, my culture. It represents who I am."
Thirty-one-year-old Julia says, "I will never be Mrs. Julia Broadbent. That's bizarre. I'm Julia Pisani. This is my identity, and why would I forsake that for someone else? But it's funny because, of course, you have your father's name anyway and that's the primary contradiction of being a modern female. That's our bugbear, it's never our name. But it's become your name long enough that to give it up isdevaluing. Also if people see me as married, am I suddenly going to seem less cool, not as adventurous, less of a good friend? Am I going to seem like this anachronism? Compromised in some way?"
"But," says Bettina, thirty, "my family name was changed at Ellis Island so I didn't feel particularly attached to it. One of the reasons I decided to keep my name was for professional purposes."
"Me, too," says Vanessa, thirty. "That's the person people know. I've been practicing law for five years and everything in my office says Vanessa Thomas. That's the person who went to school, that's the person who got the degrees. That's who has accomplished so much."
"Also," says Bettina, "even though I was still of two minds about it, I finally decided to keep my name because my grandmother said to my aunt in my mother's presence, 'Thank goodness you're having a boy so he can carry on the Levin name.' When I heard the story, I said, 'What about me? I can carry on the name.'"
"That's another thing," says Lola. "I'm the one who's going to be freakin' carrying the child for nine months. I'm the one who's going to go through labor. I can't even imagine that this child does not have my name. I have more right for that child to have my name than my husband. I want my child to have both at least. In Spanish culture, a child has both names, then drops the mother's name when he or she gets married, but that's their choice then. It really upsets me so much. Women weren't important fifty years ago, so her name didn't mean anything. It does now."
Julia, twenty-eight, "Of course I kept my name. I love my name. Also I have a little eagle tattooed on my butt, which means 'von Eichel' in German. It's me, it's who I am."
It's society's on-going stubborn desire to preserve the status quo which makes even a thoroughly modern women finally surrender her name. When children enter the scene, most women feel it necessary to start using their husband's name, if not for their own sake (God forbidanyone might think they had a child out of wedlock!), but for their children's ("Good Lord, has the child no father?"). This was certainly the case for me, particularly once we were attempting to get our daughters into the best school in the district, which happened to be a church school. Like many, I refused to surrender completely, so grudgingly opted for hyphenation. But it's a right old mouthful, especially for a four-year-old, which is why, to my husband's quiet delight and my simmering irritation, our girls are usually referred to by his name alone. Grrr.
When Suzannah's children entered their first school, she says, "I felt like I existed in two spheres. When I was being the wife and mother, I called myself Suzannah Forest. I didn't call myself Suzannah Pearson, my birth name, on anything to do with the kids. The people at the kids' school didn't understand me. Even the way I'd say hello to them, nothing gelled. I didn't even try to be my normal self. I had other areas of my life, like when I'm with my friends or at work, when I could be the true me."
But Suzannah's strategy did not sit comfortably with her. Now that her kids are off to another school, she says, "I've said I'm Suzannah Pearson because, at this school, I feel like I can be her. And already, I'm pulling faces during parent meetings at the other mothers as if to say, 'For fuck's sake' and they're pulling faces back as if to say, 'I know ... Jesus Christ!' And that's fantastic. There are other people in the world like me. So I feel like I've reclaimed a part of me."
Suzannah's right, there are many people just like her. But there are still a surprising number who won't accept a woman's identity outside of the confines of Mrs. And many of them are women.
Mary, thirty, says, "We hadn't been married long and had to move back to Tom's hometown while he was doing his Ph.D. In a way, it was a very academic crowd, but they were also very conservative. I met a woman on that first Sunday we went to church and since I was new to Tom's family, I didn't know whether she knew of us or not. SoI said, 'Hello, I'm Mary Sharpeton' and she turned and said, 'I don't trust any woman who doesn't take her husband's name.' I didn't know what to say to that!"
Says Alice, thirty-five, "It's not just men you have to watch, it's older women. Many of them are so bitter and so repressed, they take their bad choices out on younger women because their husbands won't listen to them. I've met some nasty pieces of work and they're always older women." Thirty-year-old Chloe agrees, "They want you to join their club. It validates what they have done."
THE HITCHED CHICK'S GUIDE TO "I Do" ID
With a name like Iacoviello, who wouldn't take their husband's name?" laughs thirty-five-year-old Beth, who's been married ten years, but adds if she was getting married today, "it's quite possible I would keep my name." Says Joely, twenty-six, "Some of my friends changed their names because their husbands wanted them to so badly, but many of them now regret it. It's stupid to change your name. I don't understand it. Your name and identity are very important." About to make your decision? Regretting the decision you made? The modern choices aren't restricted to two ... and you can always change your mind.
You both keep your own birth names (Mandi Norwood and Martin Kelly).
You take your husband's name socially (Mandi Kelly) but keep your own name professionally (Mandi Norwood).
You take your husband's last name (Mandi Kelly).
You hyphenate your name and your husband's name (Mandi Norwood-Kelly).
You use your birth name as a middle name (Mandi Norwood Kelly).
Your husband takes your name (Martin Norwood).
Both you and your husband hyphenate (Mandi Norwood-Kelly and Martin Norwood-Kelly).
You use your husband's birth name as a middle name and he uses your birth name as a middle name (Mandi Kelly Norwood and Martin Norwood Kelly).
You both pick an entirely new name (Mandi Kennedy and Martin Kennedy).
I Work, Therefore I Am
Women comprise an increasing share of the world's labor force. In America and the U.K., around 44 percent of the labor force is female, up from just over 40 percent in 1988. In fact, the percentage of adult women who work increased from 26 percent in 1940 to 60 percent in 1997. The higher she's educated, the greater the likelihood a woman will work. And not just for the financial rewards. While the $$$$ are important to meet her standard of living expectations, and she greatly values the impact of her economic power, there's another, equally important reason the hitched chick needs to work. Her identity.
For many, it's the sole reason she works. The additional income is terrific, wonderful, great. But according to today's wife, no amount of money stacks up against the contribution of work to her identity.
"Work is the one area you can be yourself more than anythingelse," says Amy, thirty-two, a journalist. "They really aren't interested in whether you're a wife or whether you have kids. Generally speaking, if you're good at your job, that's what you're judged on."
"What I like about work is that sense of individualism," says Mary, thirty, who now attends medical school. "When I worked in a hospice, even though I was working with a group, it was something that was all mine, it had nothing to do with my husband."
Says Tyler, thirty-one, a fifth-grade teacher, "Like all couples, Dez and I have our ups and downs. When I go through those moments of worrying whether we're really compatible after allwill we get divorced?I thank God I am not just a wife. I thank God I have my work. Not just because I would be able to take care of myself if we did split up, but also because I know I wouldn't fall apart and have nothing. I'd still be me."
Rachel, twenty-eight, agrees. "I want to be something, I want to be a known artist and that means I have to be pretty selfish and self-absorbed. I have to take time for myself and my art. If I didn't, it would make me feel inadequate, like I was a nobody. By taking my work very seriously, I'm a success to myself."
Since modern brides tend to be higher educated, they can afford to pick and choose their career path and do so with their identity at the front of their minds. Unlike many of our mothers who, if they did work, rarely regarded their jobs as a career. Knowing it would come to an abrupt end once babies arrived, to most a job was something they did to bridge the short gap between school and marriage. If it lasted longer than that, supplementary income was their primary motivation. Identity-related? Are you kidding? So many women had no idea what their identity should be beyond the boundaries of marriage. Those who did and determinedly pursued fulfilling careers were glorious (if not exhausted) exceptions. In the main, the jobs our mothers had were either low-paid, low-status or low-satisfaction. Probably a combination of all three. The only bonus: no-hassleemployment termination when her "higher calling" of wife and mother demanded it. Who'd do such a job? Certainly not her husband. His identity was far too closely linked to his work for such drudgery.
Having been educated first and very likely exposed to a vast array of experiences and possibilities before she marries, a woman knows who she is and what kind of career will complement her by the time she gets hitched. And since she will have been in the workplace for at least five years before she becomes a wife, the layers of her identity will be well-established and as tightly knit as a pair of Wolford tights. Her work and who she is will be one.
Says Suzannah, thirty-nine, a screenwriter, "I don't feel like I am primarily a wife and mother. I feel primarily that I'm a creative person, that I'm a bit edgy. So my work is all about me, establishing my identity and confirming it. It allows me to think about who I am and what I feel. I've always worked. It's who I really am."
Denise, thirty-six, a human resources consultant, agrees. "I hate cooking. I hate cleaning. I hate all those traditional female pastimes. I'm terrible at sewing and decorating. And when you're bad at things, you hate doing them. What I'm good at is clarifying, motivating, organizing, problem solving. That's why I love my job and why my job loves me. I can't conceive of giving it up. Maybe I'm a freak, but I wouldn't even give it up if I won the lottery. Okay, maybe for a year. But forever? No way."
Says forty-three-year-old Wendy, a writer and publishing consultant, "I would never sacrifice my career. It's too much a part of who I am. I couldn't sacrifice that."
Sally, thirty-one, a lawyer, admits her work frustrates and stresses her, but agrees with Wendy. "Give up work? For what? I sometimes think I'd like to spend weeks and months just doing my painting and going shopping, but it would kill me. I'd eventually die of boredom. If I didn't work, what would I be? Nothing."
Sam, thirty-six, has experienced both sides of the coin. Before she married Ray and moved from Manchester, England, to New York, she ran her own marketing and advertising firm. She remembers the agony of making the decision to give it up. "When Ray asked me to come to New York with him, I said, 'I don't know. I'll have to think about it.' I summoned my girlfriends 'round for spaghetti and a bottle of wine and I told them I didn't know what to do. Even though I loved Raymond, I was very proud of myself and my business. I was in a real quandary. But they said, 'What do you mean, you don't know?' One of them said, 'If you don't go, I could learn to love Raymond! Manchester or New York? You go!'"
Initially overwhelmed by the excitement of her move, it didn't take Sam long to realize what she'd given up. Unable to work until she receives her visa, she says, "When people say, 'I'd love the life of Riley,' I say, 'You wouldn't.' Waking up and not having anything to get up for ... I was going nuts. That's why I started doing the voluntary work and my website, Spraggworld. My biggest thing during the day was 'What shall I cook for Ray tonight?' I'd go out shopping and make all these amazing meals for him. Ray eats like a pigeon, but he'd come home to these amazing five-course meals every night and the poor thing would have to eat them all up. And as soon as he'd get in, I'd start, 'How was your day? What did you have for your lunch? What have you been up to?' I felt like I'd lost my identity. I'm a very social person and I just hated that."
Who does this remind you of? Surely not your mother? If not your mother, then your friends' mothers. Most Hitched Chicks don't walk in Sam's (or their mother's) shoes until they have children and, albeit temporarily, take time off work for maternity leave. Until such a time, they enjoy a certain amount of wallowing in the stay-at-home fantasy. No stress, no deadlines, no expectations, no brain strain ... . In our dreams, it's eternal bliss. In reality, however, the contentment is short-lived.
Anabelle, thirty-five, a copywriter, says, "I love being Willi's mom and looking after him, but having him has made me feel quite out of control, so I have become much more anal about tidiness in the three months since I've had him. So if someone said I couldn't go back to work, I'd freak. In fact, I think doing my work and being apart from Willi makes me a better mother. Feeling like I'm still Anabelle is so important to me. When you work, you're doing something for yourself, it's yours."
Says Amy, thirty-two, who has two children, "After the birth of each child, I immersed myself in the mom's role and spent little time on me. During each period, I felt like I lost my identity. When that happens, you become more vulnerable to other things, such as thinking you're fat or unattractive, which in turn makes you vulnerable to approaches from other men."
Ruth, thirty-eight, empathizes. She has resumed her career in the fashion business, but clearly recalls her crossroad. "I'd just had my youngest son and I'd been at home eight months. One week, we went out to Martha's Vineyard with a whole group of people and I remember sitting at a table with all these women and men, all of whom were executives or had their own businesses, and they were from all parts of the country. So I was just sitting there and nobody talked to me because they thought that as a momand only a momI was uninteresting. In fact, I didn't have anything to offer to the conversation and I remember thinking, Oh my God, I'm just a mom. I mean, I love my kids and know I'm a good mom, but that's all I am. My whole self-esteem is connected to what I do besides being a good mom and a wife and a friend."
So, I ask Ruth, you didn't return to work simply because of the way other people regarded you? After all, social pressure to quit your role as wife and mother is as bad as social pressure to be just that. "Not at all," counters Ruth. "Staying at home is not enough for me.My husband did say, 'I think you should go back to work because you're starting to count the blades of grass.' He was right. It has nothing to do with how much I love my children or how much I want to be with them. Nothing. Without work, I just felt invisible. It isn't my personality."
I wasn't counting blades of grass, but I know that feeling. I remember being at home after the birth of my littlest one, Daisy, and turning into an absolute nutcase. My most vivid memory involves a cake. I'm no cook, so it took me all day to bake that cake ... what with breastfeeding, changing diapers, vacuuming and washing.
Come teatime, I carefully placed the cake on the table. Within seconds, my husband had sneezed, not a little schnift into his hand, but a bloody great airchoooo! Granted, he'd turned his head away from the table, but I was convinced droplets of God-knows-what were, nevertheless, cascading over my precious cake. Screaming hell fire (along the lines of "And why don't you just fucking well stab me in the face while you're at it?!"), I scooped that cake off the table, slammed it in the trash and stormed out the front door. As I sat in the park on my own, weeping and trying to de-blotch my nose, I realized my whole identity was wrapped up in that cake and Martin had had the gall to sneeze on me.
Lunatic? You bet your life. A month later, I flew back to work faster than a starving dog heading toward a sausage factory. Finally, I rediscovered feisty, difficult, creative, selfish, fabulous me. For sure, the stress of juggling family and job almost blows my head off at times, but it's infinitely preferable to being a cake. Even if it is chocolate.
Anabelle's husband, Pete, leaves his clothes on the floor. Now, I know Pete. He's smart and fit and hysterically funny and, like Anabelle, he has a demanding job. Pete's inability to pick up his clothes is not a symptom of any physical impediment. Nor is he chronically forgetfulhe'd have been fired from his job donkey's years ago if he'd truly lost his mind. No, Pete leaves little heaps of pants, socks and T-shirts everywhere because, like most men, he loathes the domestic imperative of civilized life. But here's the thing: like most women, Anabelle loathes it, too. But unlike her mother, she does not see herself as her husband's domestic sidekick, known more commonly as "the wife." And as such, will not meekly shuffle around after him, dutifully picking up his clothes, washing them and, like a little ghost in the night, returning them to his closet. This is not Anabelle. This is Anabelle:
"A couple of weeks ago, as usual, Pete left his clothes on the floor. So that day, I just said to him, 'Oh, Pete, I'm just going to tell you that the next time you leave your clothes on the floor, I'm going to throw them out of the window. So I'm just telling you. Okay? I'm not telling you aggressively, I'm just warning you that that's what I'm going to do.' And I then threw a few things into the garden and made sure they landed on the garden path so that when he came back, he understood I meant it."
Servant, domestic help, cleaner, picker-upper ... this is not the Hitched Chick's identity. And with every fiber of her being, she is refusing to make it so. The statistics paint a damming picture of her attempts. Although research shows that wives have halved the number of hours they spend doing housework compared with the 1960s,married women still do twice as much as their husbands. Hot damn. But what those grim stats reveal is that, albeit slowly, the tables are turning.
Says Niki, thirty-five, married three years, "If I don't buy the cat food on the way home, it won't get bought. It's the same with toilet paper. Ron still has the idea that somehow these things miraculously appear. He only realizes when he's in a bad position and there isn't any there ... otherwise he'd have no idea. And it's funny because when he is in that position and he does remember, then he does get it, he's like a little puppy. He'll say, 'Look! I got it! I got it! And you didn't even ask me!' It's surprising."
The trouble is if our mother was being a positive role model to us, even by simply complaining about her domestically focused identity, chances are our husband's mother was too busy ironing his underpants (and loving it, who knows?) to reveal the colors of her true ID. Result? Even the most progressive man still, even in the twenty-first century, associates a wife's identity with housework. Little wonder newly Hitched Chap feels confused and surprised when after the first few weeks of slovenly bliss, the sex kitten he married turns into a tiger and snarls, "I won't tell you again, pick your dirty shit up off the floor!"
"1 soon put a stop to that," says Melanie, thirty, referring to the imposition of a domestic identity. "I'd be running up and down stairs doing laundry, which is one of my peeves, and he'd see me going back and forth, while I'm cooking dinner, while I'm trying to clean the kitchen. And he'd be sitting there, Hicking over the television. So then I just dropped everything right in front of him and I said, ''Scuse me! Do you not see me?' And then he said, 'What? What did I do?' So I said, 'What? Are you a fuckin' retard that you don't see me running up and down stairs?'"
Are you effective? I ask. "Most of the time," says Melanie. "He might start giving me attitude and then I'll say, 'Listen, I'm askingyou for help, so listen to me and stop your bullshit.' And then after he has his little episode, he'll say, 'You know what? I'm sorry, you're right, I promise to help you.' And then he does. But I'm very verbal, so if I don't like something, you're gonna hear it. I don't give a shit if you don't want to hear it. I'm not passive-aggressive, I'm very aggressive. It's the better way to be."
Emily, thirty-three, and her husband of six years had a similar baptism of fire. She says, "We had a very difficult first year of marriage. I run a company and I work harder than he does and I can't be 'the wife.' He'd say, 'It's not a talent, it's not a talent. I'm just not good at washing up,' and I'd say, 'You know what? I'm not good at washing up either. We're just both going to have to do it.'"
Says Tracy, thirty-four, married for twelve years, "I saw my mother hold it in. It was a different age. You just didn't talk to your husband like that, but I don't ever want to be my mother."
Joely, twenty-six, married for one year, offers this advice to friends who don't want to be their mothers. "Just stand there and start screaming, because that's what I do and it works. Some of my friends say, 'I just can't stand there and start screaming because then I'd be like the mean wife.' Then I say, 'Mean? Mean? No, no, you don't understand. It's completely unacceptable.' If you stand there and scream long enough, someone is going to realize that you're standing in the middle of the room screaming. They're going to come over and say, 'Why are you screaming?' My mother didn't confront. She'd get silent and I'd see that having a detrimental effect on her."
Joely describes the detrimental effect of her mother's silence as a buildup of frustration and misery, which resulted in each of her parents retreating into their own disconnected worlds. Joely's resolve to behave differentlyto shout and screamworks effectively in her marriage. But others concede this aggressively vocal approach achieves little, saying their husbands "switch off" and "become defensive."They have learned to sit down and discuss calmly but firmly the ramifications of the inequities in their relationship.
Take Lena, thirty, married two years. She also witnessed the detrimental effect of a silent domestic identity. "My mother," she recalls, "would come home at night, throw on her leotard and tights, run out to her aerobics class, come home and cook us a full meal. People would say, 'You're always eating late,' but we ate late because no oneincluding mewould pick up the slack. I don't ever remember my father making a meal. I remember feeling resentful when he'd say, 'Do the dishes' and I'd say, 'I've got homework, you do the dishes,' and he'd say, 'I went to work today.'"
When Lena saw a familiar pattern emerging in the first few months of her marriage, she started to seethe. "I was furious and exhausted, just like my mother always was. The difference is my mom never said a word. And I do. The conversation that finally worked was when I sat him down and said, 'Andrew, I'm desperate for this to change. We're childless now and I'm coming home, wiped out, and there's a meal to be made, I'm not in bed until midnight and you're not helping me. We need to come up with a schedule of who does what, because if we have the same setup when we have kids, I'm going to implode. I can't do this by myself and I won't. It's not going to be 'Mommy makes the meals and does this and Daddy gets the fun stuff.' That finally resonated with him."
But for many Hitched Chicks I talked to, they didn't even let a few weeks of marriage pass by before establishing that a willingness to do domestic chores is not part of her identifying personality. "I made it clear from the start, even before we started living together six months prior to our wedding, that domestic work was not me," says Lou, thirty-one, married three years. "So we drew up a list of all the chores and took turns putting our initials next to the chores each one of us would do. I chose to cook because I actually enjoy cooking.Vaughn chose the laundry. It got tricky when it came down to who would clean the toilet. But I chose that, only because I prefer cleaning the toiletespecially now that you can buy those lovely toilet wipesto changing the cat's litter tray."
Was it important to shake off a domestic identity before marriage? I ask. "Oh yeah," says Lou. "It gave usme especiallya head start on enjoying our marriage. I could be me from the get-go."
Says Laurie, thirty-nine, married seven years, "I still see myself as sexy and young and fun. Housework is just not sexy and it's certainly not fun. You have to start as you mean to go on. I've always just done my own washing and ironing and Jerry does his. I cook when I want, but otherwise Jerry does the bulk of it. Otherwise, we eat out. The cleaning's done on a we-can't-live-in-the-mess-anymore basis, then we both spend half a day madly tidying and vacuuming. It's a chore, but so long as you both do it, that's as good as it gets."
Albeit gradually, the traditional and imposed identity of wife and mother is chugging off into the distance. Some women do the domestics of their choosing. Some draw up lists of who does whatand stick to it vehemently. Some bite their tongues until they can contain their fury no more. For others, a total reversal of traditional male and female identity is emerging. Says Becky, thirty-five, "Rupert does everything. He looks after the kids, cleans the house, buys the groceries, everything. He quite likes it, but being a housewife just isn't me." In Mary's case, her husband of six years does everything while she studies. "Although," she says, "I have to work very hard to make him feel like I'm not taking him for granted."
And increasing numbers, refusing to even have a discussion, simply seek outside help. Says Ruth, "I have a live-in nanny who does all the cooking and the cleaning and all the food shopping. And she cooks dinner every night." Thirty-four-year-old Patti, who has taken extended maternity leave, tells me her cleaner still comes twice a week "to do the beds and the bathrooms and give the kitchen a goodclean." Says Sam, who doesn't have children, "I like to cook, but we have a cleaner to do all the other stuff."
Whatever their setup, it's a far cry from the stereotypical female identity. Says Stacey, "Ben and I lived together before we got married and we almost split up over the domestic issue. I got serious cold feet for about a month. I hate the whole domestic thingI even do my ironing in private as it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's not who I am. So Ben went out and bought a dishwasher and employed a cleaner. Then I felt fine about continuing our relationship. It took the pressure off me to be something I'm not. So we did get married. It was funny, because my brother, James, stayed with us last weekend and he said, 'Ben and Harry [her son] are really quite lazy, aren't they? They don't do anything.' And I just said to him, 'James, neither do I.'"
I Before We
The way my parents got their marriage to survive when I moved out," says Simone, twenty-nine, "was to have their own and separate places. So although they still see each otherthey're exclusive, it's not a 1970s free-love situationand they go out together and go on holiday, my parents don't live in the same house. They're still married, but they have their own space. My mom lives on the left bank of Paris and my dad lives on the right bank of Paris. So if my dad wants to play poker on a Wednesday night and my mom just wants to eat her sandwich in front of the TV, watching stupid programs, she can do it. It was separate living that salvaged their marriage."
It was a cautionary tale for Simone. "There's this TV image of a married couple who does everything together. They take up golf together and go to the gym together. But it's very important to dothings for yourself outside of the famous 'we.' I think women have traditionally felt guilty for being selfish, but you're not saying, 'I don't love you anymore.' You just have to make time for yourself to feel comfortable and special," she says, admitting that while she is a naturally very giving person in her relationship and at work, she also needs her own space and timebadly.
For Simone, her "me time" is spent at the ballet and opera, pursuits her husband dislikes intensely. "But it can also be me stealing an afternoon and watching VHI's Behind the Music, just flicking channels and eating potato chips." It doesn't matter, so long as she can, Simone says, "have time just for me."
Much has been written about the time famine women face. The most up-to-date stats were featured in a British Social Trends 2000 report, which revealed that the average woman has fifty minutes less leisure time each day than the average man. I'm not disputing these findings. I'm justifiably horrified by them. But what I do know is that every Hitched Chick I interviewed, without fail, in a career right now or not, with kids or without them, possessed of a cleaner or otherwise, made "me time" a priority. And I'm not talking about a solo dash to the supermarket for choc-covered pretzels or a once-a-week glass of wine in front of Sex and the City.
Today's wife pursues her own time and space as ruthlessly as men have been doing for centuries. Without seeking permission, without asking forgiveness, she is steadfastly digging in her stiletto heels and being "selfish." "My attitude is that Murray can't expect me to be home on a Saturday night all of the time," says Gabrielle. "Sometimes he has to book me in advance. I need to do things for me that don't involve him and I need to do them during times that might be considered 'our time.'" For instance? "I do yoga," Gabrielle says, "and there might be a class I want to do and I can only do it at night, so I do it. It means he has to think more about his life and realize that I'm not always, one hundred percent, going to be there. I reallybelieve in being selfish, particularly when it comes to activities which focus on personal health issues. By doing this, I'm a better person and better able to be in this relationship. Being a wife is not enough."
Says Melanie, "I go to the gym religiously, Monday through Thursday. When we got married, I had to quit my gym because I moved into his house so I couldn't travel to my old gym. He said, 'Join my gym and we can go together.' But this is one thing in my life that I want to keep separateit's just for me. Honestly, I get peace of mind, I don't have to talk to anyone, it's my time to unwind from work. It replenishes who I am, it replenishes my mind so that when I come home, I'm just a nicer, happier, better person."
For Emily, thirty-three, a frantically busy self-made entrepreneur and mother of one, her "me time" takes place at the nail salon every week. She also does yoga and pre-corps. "It's a kind of elliptical machine, like a StairMaster, just less harsh. I do that four times a week. Afterwards, I feel more in control, more accomplished. It makes me feel I've done something for me and my body, so I can check that off the list."
For Ellis, forty-three, it ranges from her "spooky dance practice on a Friday night" to simply reading a book alone on the couch. She says, "If I don't get a certain amount of time to myself, I do go mad. I need it to refresh myself. I do find myself being quite judgmental about couples who do everything together and can't be apart. I think, Don't you know who you are? I can't imagine not wanting to be with my own company. I get so much out of it."
Says Petra, thirty-seven, "I go for a bike ride by myself on the weekend. I go to the gym. I run four times a week. I play on a softball team once a week." Sheesh! Plus she holds down a career and has two kids, which is, she says, precisely why she needs to have her own time. "It's good to be selfish and it's in everyone's best interest in the end."
Anabelle gets her "me time" swimming twice a week. The piano isSabina's thing. Horseback riding is thirty-eight-year-old Paulette's. Painting is Sally's. Tennis is thirty-two-year-old Lottie's. For April, forty-three, it's her photography. For Lou, DJ'ing reminds her of who she is.
Lena goes to the theater almost weekly and attends a book club on a Saturday night. "It makes me feel balanced in my marriage," she says, "because it's time just for me."
Says Rachel, "I go to museums by myself. I really need time alone and I can't have time alone when I'm at home. Even Patrick is a distraction. Last week, I went to the Met, I went to the Museum of Modern Art, I also went on a long bike ride. It makes me feel inspired."
Mary's "me time" comprises "volunteer work. I get a lot out of it emotionally. It's outside of my work, it's outside of my marriage. It's very important to me in terms of my identity."
When the frenzy of juggling it allwork, love, children, friends, in-lawsthreatens to consume us, the pursuit of "me time" is not just a pleasure, it's a necessity. Women I talked to believe much of their mothers' unhappiness and frustration was as a direct result of their denial of "me time." Alice D. Domar, a leading stress-management expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School, seconds this notion. The Boston-based psychotherapist and researcher says, "Women older than fifty still cling to the idea that a husband should be everything to them." As she says, it's as unrealistic as it is old-fashioned.
It's a lesson Fiona, thirty-seven, learned the hard way. After five years of marriage and two children, she teetered on the brink of divorce. She felt like a single parent anyway, she says. "At the start of our marriage, George seemed like a modern man. Although he carried on playing sports very heavily and going out with his friends, I had my own hobbies and interests so it didn't bother me much. But after our first child was born, I knew within weeks he wasn't going tobe around at all. So I took it all on myself. At the time, I was too exhausted to feel anything, but it was a nightmare because he was never around. He worked all hours, his life didn't seem to change at all for this baby. I should have realized then that I had made a rod for my own back."
Fiona soon became pregnant again and despite continuing with her career after her second child was bornalbeit on a part-time. basisher husband stubbornly refused to accept she needed "me time." "When he was around at the weekend," Fiona says, "he was not involved. He was bad-tempered and no fun. And if I wanted to go shopping for myself at the weekend, it would be a nightmare. The kids would be screaming, there were dirty diapers ... and he would say, 'Just go if you're going' and he'd be in a foul temper and wouldn't speak to me. Then I wouldn't go because I couldn't leave the kids in such a state. And if I was going out at night, he'd always say, 'I can't get home to see to the nanny.' It was impossible."
Finally, Fiona could take no more. "I was compromising everything about myself too much. I told him I had decided to leave him and move back to the city where I'd get an apartment and resume my life. But," she says, "his reaction was really shocking. He said he really loved me and I think he did. He gave up a lot of his sports, a lot of his friends and he concentrated on me. Plus, I said, 'I need regular time on my own, to be able to go out without there being fights. I need time to reestablish myself, spend time with myself, time to figure out who I am and where I want to go and I can't do that when you or the kids are around.' I fought hard to give myself that time away and I've now got back in touch with myself. He started to respect that if I wanted to go out on a Saturday, I was going to. If I want to curl up with a book on a Sunday afternoon, I do. I've always loved cutting up things and putting them in books. It sounds crazy, but it's what I'm like and I feel all that coming back. You cannot live a lie, denying who you are. And you have to keep at it if you want a happy marriage."
Me, No Kids
When the research and marketing company Youth Intelligence asked 3,440 Generation X women (i.e., twenty-five- to thirty-five-year-olds) what indicated success in the year 2002, only 20 percent said "having children." Children as a success indicator lagged behind "pursuing one's passions," "having good friends," "having a good relationship with family," "having a happy marriage" and "having a balanced life." Although the majority of women today do regard children as a happy bonus, they are adamant their identity and success is not dependent on being a wife and mother. For increasing numbers, it's to the exclusion of children.
Here are some facts:
Population projections suggest one in five women who are now of childbearing age may never have children.
Census figures show that in 1976, 35 percent of American women between fifteen and forty-four were childless. In 1996, the rate was 42 percent.
According to the U.K. Office for National Statistics, two out of three women born in the 1970s have yet to have children, compared to those born in the early 1960s, half of whom had children by the time they were twenty-five.
Women with less than a bachelor's degree recorded the largest increase in childlessness since 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Among women who are married or have been married at some point, the levels of childlessness of white women are the same as black women (U.S. Census Bureau).
Regardless of marital status, Hispanic women had lower levels of childlessness than non-Hispanic women (U.S. Census Bureau).
Experts agree that the reasons behind remaining childless are as diverse as women themselves. But the unifying fact is that choice is the reason women are opting out. (Although we can't ignore its existence, decreasing fertility due to delayed procreation is not at the root of the data.) Says Rosemary Gillespie, a leading researcher from the School of Social and Historical Studies, University of Portsmouth, England, what we are witnessing is "the emergence of a radical feminine identity, distinct and unshackled from motherhood."
Unshackled from motherhood? Yikes! It's difficult for us (female or male) to imagine being shackled to anythingneither friends, family, work nor marriage. We have grown up in a "free to be me" environment where the only expectations that really matter are our own. That we should feel we have to be something we are not is untenable to us. Yet, the fact that so many column inches exist on the subject of voluntary childlessness among womenthe fact that I am including it, tooproves society remains challenged by its presence.
When a woman makes the decision to preserve her childless identity (or "childless femininity" as Rosemary Gillespie calls it), it hardly seems to matter that she feels content with it. Others are not. Like retaining our names, it's perceived as one break too many with tradition, it's unnatural, or even a sin. As thirty-five-year-old Shelley says, "Someonea womansaid to me, 'I understand if you can't have children. But if you can and you don't want to, it's just plain wrong.' And this woman thinks she's modern." What's galling, says Shelley, is "no one would ever question a man who didn't want children."
She's right, of course. Men's identities have never been linked to children. Even if a man does take an active role in child rearing, he will rarely be described first and foremost as "Joe Bloggs, father of two." Shelley, like most women who don't want children, generally responds to questions and comments with little more than a roll of her eyeballs. "You want to turn around and say, 'Mind your own damn business,'" fumes Shelley, "but most of the time they don't mean any harm, they're just intrigued."
However, some women object intensely to being in the line of fire. "I don't want kids because I was sexually abused as a child," says Pauline, thirty-six. "I have enough of my own issues to contend with. It's not fair to bring a child into the world just because you feel pressure from ignorant people. I have very personal reasons I don't want to discuss with strangers, yet they feel they have the right to pry. You know what it says to me? That women are still regarded as public property. It gets on my nerves."
What gets on my nerves is that the general attitude toward women who choose to be childless is that they're somehow irresponsiblewhich is, as we know, something women should never be. Freewheeling men are one thing. Freewheeling women? Freaks of nature. Yet many Hitched Chicks do want to be and are freewheeling. "Why should marriage mean you have to settle down and wear carpet slippers for the rest of your life?" demands Shelley. However, it's not because they lack a responsible attitude to life. The decision not to have kids and freewheel, from what I have experienced, is based on a consuming desire to be responsible.
One of the strategies of successful business people is prioritizing. Making a list of your priorities is responsible and effective business practice. Since many wives today are successful businesswomen, they know they have to delete tasks which are not a priority. Having it all, we now know, is not what it was cracked up to be. What's better is having what's right for us.
The choices women have today are so enormous, exciting and demanding, having children is often just not high enough on their list of priorities. Says Shelley, "When you have kids, you can't just sling them over your shoulder and go. Have you seen all the crap parents have to carry around with them? Don't get me wrong, I like kids. But I just like other things more, like traveling, adventure, I love my job and I just don't want kids enough to give that up. What could be worse than bringing a child into the world, then resenting that child? It's irresponsible."
Says Niki, thirty-five, "Yes, I like to stay out at night and not worry about it, so I guess I'm selfish. But I also look back on my childhood and see how at various times I was unhappy, so I have this massive fear of scarring somebody else. But really, I just don't have a biological clock. I figure that if I did, all the warning signs would have started flashing. But I don't have the longing for children."
Neither does Sabina, forty, who says she has "no maternal feelings. I'm just not very comfortable around children." I ask her whether she's ever been called selfish. "Hmm, I might have been. But I think it's selfish when people have them when they don't really want them. Matthew and I talked about it before we got married and neither of us said we wanted children. Sometimes it bothers me that I haven't had maternal feelings. But it's who I am, so I either accept it or be very unhappy."
THE HITCHED CHICK'S GUIDE TO Putting Me Before We
Compromising who we really are, always putting ourselves second, detaching ourselves from the feelings, responses and actions that make up our unique identity, as any therapist will agree, is not only classic female behavior, it's classic dangerous behavior that will ultimately destroy us and detonate our marriages. Even before our mothers said "I do," they were programmed to believe "I should." Witnessing the disastrous consequences of this self-sacrificing behavior, smart women now know being selfish is not bad or shameful, it's actually good for our well-beingand our relationship. So when the urge to succumb to "we" at the detriment of "me" threatens to overtake you, photocopy the following and stick to itif not for God's sake, then for your own.
Know your feelings are normal. Just because you feel or respond to a situation differently than your husband, it does not make you mental. Says Rae, forty-one, "Sometimes Louis will say I'm crazy just because I react differently than him. That drives me crazy. I tell him if I feel it, it's valid." Rae's right. Human beings are not all wired alike. Do not allow yourself to believe that just because you feel or behave differently than how your hubby feels or behaves that you are wrong. You're just different. And you're different than other women, too. Not happy/angry/ excited/maternal? You're not a freak of nature. There is no standard behavior. What's wrong is ignoring your feelings.Wronger still, having no feelings at all (good-bye feelings, hello depression).
Yell, scream, laugh, lose control. To do otherwise is not self-discipline, it's self-destructive. Men have scoffed at women's display of emotion for so long, we think it's bad or immature to cry, shout, stamp our feet, even giggle. Hey, to hell with that. Containing our emotions always backfires. Says Rachel, "I saw that happen in my parents' marriage. That buildup, buildup, buildup ... and then it explodes. It's a positive thing to let somebody know what you're feeling right there and then, even if it makes them uncomfortable. Now that I'm pregnant, I'm even more of that attitude. Last week, I said to Patrick, 'Look, I've tried being polite, but when I'm hungry, I am so fucking hungry I'm about to pass out and I'm about to kill you unless you get me something right now!' Sometimes you just have to get mad." Sally, thirty-one, agrees: "If I try to keep a lid on my anger, it just comes out in other ways. I turn into a sarcastic bitch." If sarcasm's all Sally suffers from, she's lucky. Containing emotions eventually manifests itself in many ways, from illness to chronic anxiety, even alcoholism (heard the phrase "drowning your sorrows"?).
Negative feelings are not bad. Angry woman? "She should control herself." Feeling hurt? "Oh, get a grip." Unhappy? "Pull yourself together." Disappointed? "Don't be a baby." Frightened? "Be brave." Any of these sound familiar? Women are professionals at putting on a happy face. Although it isn't just a female habit to chirp "I'm fine" when someone inquires "How're you doing?" women do draw extreme distinctions between feeling happy, optimistic, confident, brave ("good feelings") and feeling miserable,insecure, fearful, angry ("bad feelings"). Says Lottie, thirty-two, "My mother used to say, 'Don't let Ed see you're upset. Your father couldn't cope when he knew I was miserable.' I said, 'Mom! Being angry doesn't make you a criminal or a crazy woman.' I just can't play the role of happy wife if I'm not. I think our generation is much more emotionally literate." Remember, every feeling has merit. If you don't value sadness, how can you truly value joy?
Keep tabs on your debits and credits. Even the humblest financial investor expects a return. Why should we expect anything else when we invest our emotions? And while every deed doesn't need to be matched within minutes, it's fair to expect a deposit sooner or later. Okay, enough banking comparisons. But as Simone, twenty-nine, says, "Being married is not always immediate tit for tat. But women make the shift from 'I' to 'we' much more quickly than men, and if you're not careful they can start to take you for granted even at the beginning of your marriage. So I said to my husbandhe's a doctor'I'll pick up the slack while you work thirty-six-hour shifts, but when the time comes that I have longer hours, you have to pick up the slack.'" Una, thirty-seven, agrees with this. "My husband, John, was going through a very tough time at work. It lasted over a year and I was supportive and patient and sensitive. I didn't mind as he was under so much stress. But when my boss left and a new one started who I absolutely hated, John just didn't reciprocate the support. We were both in the habit of putting his feelings first; mine just didn't seem to count anymore. I won't make that mistake again. Neither will he. I haven't stopped asking him how he feels, but I expect him to ask me, too." And if he doesn't? Says Una, "I just say sarcastically,'Thanks for asking, this is how I feel ... ' and he gets the message." Gina, thirty-four, goes one step further: "No onenot even your kidswill think more highly of you if you give, give, give. Certainly, men don't. Most of them don't possess the guilt gene. So this is my rule of thumbtake two for every one you give. It's the only way to keep respect and preserve yourself."
Celebrate your imperfections. No, please don't gag. Listen, our mothers were always trying to be "the perfect wife" and berated themselves (if their husbands or mothers-in-law didn't do it before them) for not achieving top marks in cooking, bed making, child rearing, sewing, time management, multitasking. But in many respects, there's even more pressure on women to strive for perfection. "Christ Almighty," says Alessandra, thirty-four, "you're expected to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect sex kitten, the perfect daughter-in-law, the perfect boss, have the perfect body ... it never ends." I know, I still have to squish the urge to say to dinner guests, "Sorry, I'm no cook," despite the fact that I enjoy mucking about in the kitchen. I don't ever recall any man apologizing for his lack of expertise in the kitchen or anywhere. That he's doing anything at all is a cause for celebration. But women still fall into the trap of believing they have to be perfection to all people. As Shelley says, "You just have to be yourself, warts and all." And says Suzannah, "We're only human beings. I'm willing to accept other people's humanity, so they have to be willing to accept mine. You can't expect everyone to be perfect, but they can't expect you to be perfect either."
THE HITCHED CHICK'S GUIDE TO MODERN MARRIAGE: ESSENTIAL ADVICE FOR STAYING SINGLE-MINDED AND HAPPILY MARRIED. Copyright © 2003 by Mandi Norwood. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.