By E.J. Gordon
On the train today I overheard two women talking. One whispered, “You know, her husband is terrible to her. She’s finally ready to leave him. I’ve been trying to get to her for years, and she’s finally ready.”
The other was shocked. “I had no idea! Every time I went to see her, she would say things like, ‘Oh, we just got back from Mexico…’ and ‘Next week we’re going to Vail …’ I thought their life was perfect!”
“That’s what she wanted everyone to think. But their marriage is truly awful.”
The conversation was so fascinating, because I had just heard about a Mom from my son’s team who was leaving her bad marriage. Like the shocked woman on the train, I was very surprised. I had noticed this family was always together, and they went on all the team’s trips together. I recall thinking, “Wow, what a cute, happy family. They do everything together.” As it turns out, the man is a cheating, abusive husband.
And just the other day, I read an article in my local newspaper called the “Dark Side of ‘Perfect’ Couple”. It caught my eye, and so I read about a man who claimed his wife died because she’d shot herself, but now he’s on trial for murder, charged after the police discovered his financial problems and affairs. The neighbors thought they were the perfect couple.
This image of perfection is ubiquitous, especially on Facebook.
This past Valentine’s Day I scrolled down to post after post of women bragging about their sweet husbands and how their years are filled with blissful perfection.
I call it bullshit.
First, the only people I’ve ever met whose marriages are perfect are still on their honeymoon.
They haven’t had time yet for life to intervene, so their marriages haven’t been tested by kids, in-laws, financial pressure, infertility, health challenges, or just plain getting on each other’s nerves.
So when I see a post about someone’s perfect husband or perfect marriage, I call it bullshit. And when I hear about the family down the street, the one with five kids, and how the husband is amazing, and the wife makes organic food in her own kitchen with the vegetables she grew in her pristine backyard, and how in love they are — I just don’t buy it.
In the era of Facebook and Instagram, people have this urge to craft their image and broadcast their brand to all 1,000 of their friends. They want to make sure that you know just how much fun they are having, just how much money they have, just how talented and brilliant their children are, and just how fucking perfect their marriages are.
But the reality is that there is no such thing as perfect, and every single person you know is struggling with some problem in their lives, some secret struggle, some anxiety.
It might be that their husband is abusive, or it might be that they found a lump, or it might be that they are just feeling completely inadequate in everything they do.
My new favorite author, Brene Brown, theorizes that women are caught in a web of shame. We women receive all of these different messages from society, telling us conflicting information: If you want to be a good mother you must stay home, but you should work to teach your kids that women work. You need to be an attentive wife, but you need to be independent and not needy. You have to have children to be fulfilled, but if you have children, it will ruin your body and career. You were once too fat, and now you’re anorexic. You needed to look younger, but now you look fake — like you’ve gotten too much work done. You need to be everything to everybody, but you need to take care of yourself and not let yourself go. You need to go back to work, but you need to be there for your kids even more now that they’re older and have bigger problems.
How the fuck are we supposed to be all of these things?
We can’t. We just can’t. It’s no wonder that we are all filled with this constant nagging of inadequacy. And it’s all of us: We women are, indeed, caught in this web of shame.
So what’s the cure?
Brene Brown suggests that we need to expose our vulnerabilities to each other and therefore connect with one another. What does this mean?
It means that if I’m worried my kid is struggling in school, and that I don’t know how to motivate her without it backfiring, rather than ramble to my friends about how great the school year’s going, what I really should do is talk about it.
I should open up to my friends, and tell them my fears. I should be vulnerable.
In turn, it’s likely that they will then do the same, and through bonding about how we’re all worried about our kids and how (in)effective our parenting is, we will realize that we’re not the only ones. And we won’t feel so ashamed.
Just the other day I was out to lunch with two friends, and after some of the regular small talk and gossip, we got started discussing the age-old marriage advice: Never go to bed angry with your partner. I decided to follow Brown’s suggestion, and I made a comment that there was a time when I went to bed angry at my husband for an entire year. On that note, our conversation completely shifted. I started telling them about this horrible fight I’d had with my husband a few years back, and how much trouble I had getting over it. Then they shared “war” stories of their own.
It made me feel really, really good about my marriage, and how normal we were to have our ups and downs, and how it’s normal that we DON’T have the idyllic Love Fest that apparently all my Facebook friends have with their husbands.
If we were all more open, more vulnerable about all of the internal conflicts we women are constantly harboring, maybe we could stop this cycle of needing to make everyone think our lives are perfect, thereby creating shame in other women, thereby making those same women need to project perfection about their own lives, and so on.
So go on, call one of your friends and tell them how you’re REALLY feeling about your new job, and how you’re worried that it’s going to affect your availability for your kids. Or tell her how you’re worried about your sex life and how little interest you have in it lately. Or tell her how disappointed you are that your husband thinks everything is just fine, but it’s really, really not. I bet you’ll find that not only will your friend actually feel closer to you, but also she’ll open up to you, and you’ll feel a little bit better knowing that it’s okay not to be perfect. Because no one is.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: E.J. Gordon is a freelance writer, a regular contributor to GIRLillaWarfare, and “Sexpert”. Have any questions or topics that you would like her to address? Remember: No subject is taboo, and Anonymity is accepted. Contact E.J. at: EJGordon529@gmail.com.