I’m in the midst of an argument. Perhaps it is one with myself, though I do not think so; it may best be characterized as one between the grown-up-woman-with-a-history I am and a man to whom certain things have failed to occur. More likely it’s a struggle between age-old gender roles, though that makes it sound as though I am Simone de Beauvoir and he is my Sartre, and hardly anything could be less true. Mostly I am tired of being told rather than asked, decisions being made (and not by me) rather than come-to, and playing the flexible compromiser to my partner’s steadfast reed. The anger of the day has rarely been seen over the last half-decade; all day I’ve been holding back from punching walls, kicking over overflowing trash cans, purposefully making messes just to cause trouble. I’d barely taken my coat off in my therapist’s office before the yelling began. True, I am normally not a circumspect person. But this ferocious woman? This woman is not me. She is, however, been building for a not short while.
The detailed argument is insignificant, other than it is what women and men argue about a bit: women not being heard, women’s words being run over by male opinion and desire, women’s needs being minimized, women’s feelings being flattened and put into a universal shrinky-dink machine. It’s not any one thing, but a bunch of them: it’s “it’s not a big deal” and telling without asking and deciding without discussion and asking in that nasally voice “how long are you going to stay mad?” without any real indication that you even know why the “mad” even exists. It’s apologizing without knowing why you’re apologizing and storming off with “oh, like I treat you so horribly” when what was pointed out was that when it comes to being an equal partner in an equal relationship, I damn well do deserve to be treated better.
Saying the creamed corn was bad doesn’t mean the steak was burnt, but somehow when it comes to talking about women’s feelings and what we deserve and expect, it’s all lumped into a casserole of confusing stuff men (or some of them, at least) can’t or won’t or don’t want to even try to parse out. Which is fine. I – and you and we – still deserve to be treated better.
Sartre actually did say something interesting: “Commitment is an act, not a word.” Just as one of my favorite quotes from a movies (Cookie’s Fortune) exhorts: “Love is a policy, not a feeling.” I like to think that these two phrases together remind me that I do things that I don’t always want to do – sometimes, even, things that make me feel uncomfortable (rarely, though, albeit way too often in the past year, things I find morally questionable) – because commitment and love are acts and policies. Most important principles are. They aren’t things we necessarily feel like doing all of the time, nor are they always things that always feel the most pleasant. But they’re things that a good deal of the time feel enjoyable (or else why adopt the principle) and, in the larger scheme of things, bring us greater rewards. I know that’s why I’ve done things over the past year – many of them, in fact – that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t and (if I could do them over) I would think very hard before choosing a second time.
I’m not sure what will happen over the next few days. I’ve got so much work to do that’s already been hampered by tonight’s sobbing and subsequent migraine. I’ve got a new job to begin next week and an old job to wrap up this week, and all the requisite work both tasks entail. I’m torn between wanting to resolve this argument ASAP and wanting to follow the excellent guidelines I’ve found in the worksheets on The Couples Clinic website (especially the information on what to do when your partner makes a unilateral decision about something about which he knows you have strong feelings – and when it happens repeatedly). Right now I’ve put myself in a time out, more or less, mostly reminding myself of some words that Simone de Beauvoir did say:
Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
Like a fortune cookie, heck if I know what that means or what direction that will take. I’m trying very hard not to think of anything other than getting through tonight and taking care of ME and what I need in this very moment (which is probably not a Red Bull and donuts, but – hey! – I’m in a bit of a crisis). The positive thing, if there is one, is that I’m in a time out, so I have a bit of time to calm down, mull it over, and give myself space to think and let my eyes get a little less puffy. Because, boy, do they every need it.