Almost nine years ago when I married Max I made a vow to myself: don’t say anything to your girlfriends about your husband that you wouldn’t say to his face. It was a good rule, I thought, especially as I was living, at the time, in an unabashedly husband-bashing culture.
I found it amusing that one of the biggest post-honeymoon questions I got when I returned to work in Japan was, “Soooo…what about Max drives you absolutely crazy?” In fact, I was innocently lured to one lunch by female colleagues who turned the spotlight on me, asking me to confess all the things I hated about my new husband. Confused and a little annoyed (because, if I hated him so much, why would I have married him in the first place?), I remember responding softly, “There really isn’t anything I don’t like…” This type of answer usually stopped them in their tracks or invited a, “Well, you just wait then.” It was as if everyone was waiting to initiate me as the newest member of this Husband Bashing Sisterhood, perhaps to give themselves validation that indeed they were not the only ones.
For years, and I mean years, I did not let a single day pass where I didn’t acknowledge how lucky I was to have Max. I had gone through alot of heartache in my 20s (baggage, bad choices, immaturity, lack of self-awareness) and, as corny and adolescent as it may sound, I had longed for true love, for a long time. When I finally met this incredibly caring man, I knew to be grateful. It is like a person with cancer who finally finds her miracle drug. Max is the reason I survived Japan and motherhood. When I struggled as a new stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Japan, he quit his job to work from home so he could support me. I was the center of his world, and how could any woman gossip about a husband like that?
And over the years I would continue to feel that tug – get pulled into girlfriend comparisons over who has the bigger slob of a husband, or maintain distance in my friendships? Fortunately, not all my girlfriends were that extreme. In fact, there was/is a range. There are those who vent for the pleasure of venting, for whom husbands are now little more than props in their stories. There are the one or two who like me for a long time stood firmly united with their spouses, not voicing any hint of any private grumblings. And then there are those sprinkled at different points along the middle: women who love their husbands but who struggle with tensions and conflicts over power struggles, unvoiced frustrations, etc. It is these girlfriends with whom I came to yearn for closeness, with whom I danced so awkwardly that fine line of friendship versus wifely loyalty. There were many times when I knew that all I had to do to cement a friendship was to slip in an eye roll or two about the way my husband did x, y or z. But was that fair to my husband and to my marriage? Did my marriage require occasional venting about my girlfriends in order to seal our bond?
As much of a fairy tale our marriage has been, things did get harder when Fred came along. Our childhood selves reincarnated into our current selves as parents, and suddenly all the warts started to appear. Max and I have butt heads over childrearing and household and business power. I did not understand the real meaning and challenge of teamwork until I realized we had to not only work and run a business together but also parent and run a household together, 50-50. I found myself going to a couple of key girlfriends more and more, to “vent.”
Then a week ago Max and I had a particularly bad blowout; one of those that had been bubbling under the surface and where one person says more than s/he ever intended to. I was clearly not in the wrong in this one and as soon as Fred fell asleep, I made a beeline to my computer and started an email to one of my girlfriends. “Dear K., Sorry I haven’t responded to your other e-mail yet, but tonight Max…” and I kept typing. Non-stop, full paragraphs, everything that was seething inside of me that didn’t get expressed to Max. (Never even occurred to me to say those things to Max!) And then, for whatever reason, something inside made me stop and go back to read what I had typed. I then opened up my personal folder in Word, found my journal, and cut and pasted my e-mail into my journal. My e-mail to K. now had just half a sentence in it, and I saved it in my drafts folder. I’d continue it another time. If it’s still relevant at the time, I may tell her I had a bad night. But I’d save my knee-jerk reactions for the hard drive. I was glad I did it, because when I turned around, Max was at the door to tell me he was sorry.