I’m not one for regrets or wishing things could be different or pondering on the what ifs. Over time (and it’s taken time) I have learnt the art of acceptance of what is and found that it’s created much less anxiety for me than all the wondering and trying to change the unchangeable things in the past. That said, this week I have wondered a few things.
I listened to a podcast about a happily divorced couple, which had all kinds of interesting things in it (I’m quite obsessed by relationship podcasts, amongst all the other things I’m obsessed with like non-violent true crime and ‘based on an inspiring true story’ stuff, outback stories, and whatever genre Outlander is (historical fantasy/sci-fi/romance)) but one of the things that struck me was that one of the differences between their divorced relationship (in which they co-parent their son, travel together for family holidays and speak regularly) and their married relationship (in which they co-parent their son, travel together for family holidays and speak regularly) were the things they did for themselves! The things she in particular was able to prioritise/experience and ask for outside of the marriage that she either didn’t do or ask for in the marriage or asked and his view of what marriage meant (and her guilt for asking) usually meant an argument resulted and she gave up on the conversation and/or felt hurt, resentful and trapped. And I wondered (as I do) if they were able to do the things that made them happy in the marriage, and their marriage was more like their divorced relationship, would they even be divorced?
There’s a lot of layers to this, and it is way more complicated than this and they don’t want to be remarried. The podcast was exploring their ‘new’ relationship, which is cool. But it got me thinking. I wondered, what are the things people don’t do or don’t do enough of in their relationship because they think it’s not what a ‘good wife’ or ‘mother’ would do (or conversely a ‘good husband’ or father?). And of all the things that are compromised or unspoken or let go of to have the relationship (of marriage or commitment or whatever version exists in your world) how much resentment and disappointment is that creating for you? And when you’re resentful and disappointed or feeling trapped or suffocated how do you behave? And if you feel those things it would make total sense to me why the relationship would feel like crap, or why motherhood might drown you or why you might want to run away.
I wondered about the trajectory of my life if I had not had a child when I was 21. On graduating from Uni (as a marine biologist) I was set to do some community conservation work in South East Asia, which didn’t happen because I chose to become a mumThe 18 year old love story. No regrets. But if I didn’t have her, would I have come home then to the family farm? And when I fell pregnant again to the man who became my first husband would I have made the same choices if I didn’t already have a child and crave the ‘perfect family’? And there are so many more variation of this I had to stop because I felt car sick.
I notice that many of the women who I have admired and who do incredible work in the world do not have children (by choice and/or by circumstance). I am friends with many women who do not have children (by choice and/or by circumstance) and their lives are as full as mine with different things. Would I have been a better activist, felt more able to live more environmentally aware and still been a vegetarian if I didn’t have all the children that like spaghetti bolognaise and small plastic toys like Shopkins? I know, for fairly certain, that I would have travelled more. I’m not sure where though.
In my current life, all this pondering made me ask – what are the things I’m not doing or would do more of if I didn’t think someone else’s permission was a necessary facet of what it meant to be ‘married’ or if I didn’t have the (what seems to me to be entirely genuine) ‘responsibilities’ of my children? And have I been too responsible and used them as an excuse too often to not do the things I know I’m capable of doing?
As I write this my husband is wrangling the morning in our house. I haven’t heard a child yet but can hear him in kitchen. I’m hoping he’s making eggs because he’s the best at that. When I told him I was going to write and vaguely what about (because I never know exactly until it comes out) he said “Go write woman” in a really encouraging way and although it wasn’t about permission in that I felt more able to go. And so if he wasn’t wrangling, I would be, and I would not be writing. We both work pretty hard on our life and businesses. And we both like going home early from parties. I was definitely more fun when I was single, and more social and organised more things to do with my friends. He had a nastier, faster motorbike and did triathlons. Perhaps our marriage is just a super comfortable place for us to watch ABC iview and eat eggs for breakfast. I’m not at all dissatisfied, we travelled a lot together this year and did masses of growth work which are my favourite things – previously (especially in the early phase of blending a family) I did not do these enough.
So I’m curious as always. Are you doing enough of the things that you would do if you didn’t think there were other things you’re ‘meant’ to be doing? And if you’re not, what’s your excuse? How do you make this OK even though your heart feels a bit broken? And what can you do about that? Because I promise you the best relationships are the one where both people are doing plenty of what they love and dreaming together about how to make these happen (individually and together). And if you don’t know how to do that we could talk? I’m pretty good at that.
PS he made eggs x