*This post contains ranting on failed marriage
We still get the actual printed newspaper delivered on the weekends. Why is rather inconsequential to this post so I’ll leave that. I usually skim the pages at best and I don’t care about the ads at all. As I skimmed through the local section a ‘Dear Abby’ headline caught my eye. It was something about a 6-year-old being allowed to wear makeup for more than just pretend play. I agreed with Abby’s response and moved on to the next question. I feel like I was meant to read that question.
A woman shared that her mother had recently passed away. She had been mom’s caregiver for 2 1/2 years in their own home. Her husband didn’t take any time off of work to spend with his wife, help her, or acknowledge that she may need him while dealing not only with her grief but with all that was involved at the end of her mother’s life. Her question centered on her confusion and pain regarding the fact that her husband seemed not to realize that she needed/wanted emotional support. When he was told that his wife couldn’t understand why he had not been available to her, his reply was “All you had to do was ask.” She asked Abby if it was wrong for her to expect that her husband should have simply known that she needed him at that time, inferring that he, of all people, would naturally understand his role as an emotional supportive spouse.
Before I tell you of Abby’s reply, I have to say that I have heard that very same line, “All you have to do is ask,” so many times in 30 years that I’ve lost count. Early on, when those words were presented to me, I would stare in disbelief and reply with, “But, shouldn’t it be obvious,” to whatever it was that I thought would be an automatic, caring response. Don’t most human beings, let alone a spouse, have some clue that both emotional, and yes even physical support, goes hand in hand with marriage?
When I had migraine after migraine, so severe that I was vomiting in between caring for children and fixing them meals, why did I have to ask?
When I was dead tired from working all day, then came home to pick up, do laundry, make dinner, help with homework-baths-stories, why did I have to ask?
When I had a bad day at work, or a challenging day with the kids, or needed someone just to listen, why did I have to ask?
When each of my parents passed away, and someone needed to arrange for childcare, lunches, even just talking with the kids about death, why did I have to ask?
When you could see the huge mess on the floor -cat litter and cat puke – and you chose to walk right around it, why did I have to ask?
When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and I needed you to come to hear what the doctor was telling me about options, why did I have to ask?
When I needed any kind of emotional support, why did I have to ask?
Wouldn’t – shouldn’t anyone, any human, but especially a spouse, have an understanding of what it means to simply be available, to simply get up and do what needs to be done, to automatically give of themselves without being asked…
All you have to do is ask.
Even before I read the response by the current Dear Abby, the light bulb had gone off for me. Every time that I have heard the phrase, “All you have to do is ask,” it has been associated with the expectations that come from a gender divided household. There is the man’s role, the male jobs. Then there is the woman’s role, the woman’s job. I was being told over and over that as a female, as someone of the feminine gender, I not only had a role, but it was my responsibility to step forward and ask for what was needed. The knowing what was needed was clearly not a trait associated with being masculine. The not knowing, the needing to be asked, was a clear demarcation between gender expectations, a clear excuse not to take responsibility, and clearly a reason not to cross perceived gender lines and roles.
All you have to do is ask.
Hell no. All you have to do is know that I am not your mother. I am not responsible for you, for teaching you to be empathetic. I am not responsible for reminding you that part of being human, part of being a partner, is in the doing, the noticing, and the taking it upon yourself to act. It is not a gender thing. It is not an assigned role or responsibility that falls to one sex or the other.
Abby agreed with me, and somehow seeing that agreement written down in ink on a page struck me deeply. It made me think back to all those times that I wanted, or needed and got nothing unless I asked. I stopped asking. Actually I hardly ever asked. I just hardened my heart and my skin and myself and went on. I quickly stopped hearing that ‘he wasn’t a mind reader’ or that ‘he thought I wanted to handle it myself.’
I spent silent hours wondering if I was wrong. Was I being overly sensitive? Did I react with anger to his statements because I was being ‘one of those feminist’ types? Was it, is it my responsibility to ask for everything I need from my spouse. Why could I see when he needed me and respond, but he was blind?
Is it unrealistic to expect that he must be reminded and cajoled and needled into thinking of and about me? Is it wrong to refuse to blame his inability to know and react on gendered social beliefs that nurturing and feminine gender go hand in hand and stoic masculine men must be taught to be empathetic?
Readers of this blog likely know that I find the idea of inherent gender roles, and all the socially acceptable things that mark the two opposing sides, to be bullshit. And never attempt to justify to me that masculinity precludes a basic understanding and ability to be nurturing and interested and caring. Of course we have been taught to believe this so that each sex has its place in the social order. As with so many other signs that I missed/chose to ignore early in marriage, my spouse subscribes to these norms as if his life and manhood depend upon it. And the norms of accepted gender roles serve him well as excuses for his actions, or inaction.
And I sit once more and wonder not only how, but why I didn’t see, why I thought that his views were less extreme. I continue to take responsibility for the not seeing, the not acknowledging that I idealized and even idolized who this person was when we were younger. I saw someone that I thought I could never hope to attract, never hope to have in my life, yet he was there and he wanted me. I laugh at my own stupidity because I am at a point that I can’t cry anymore. I fill up another cup of resentment and pour it down deep into my gut. I lay my anger silently on this other person, while kicking myself because I share the blame.
I wonder how my life might have been different if I had asked, every single time that there was a need.
All you have to do is ask.
The truth is that I believe it was never my place to have to ask. I know that there wouldn’t be any less resentment or anger at this point. I would merely be resentful and angry of the fact that I did have to ask, every single time.