Do men have this issue too, or is it just a girl thing? We spend the first 20-something years of our lives beautifully crafting our identities and deciding what kind of people we want to be. Then, along comes this ring-wielding man, trying to mess with our equilibrium. How rude! No, it’s not their fault, really. They don’t mean any harm, bless their little hearts. But something definitely changes once we get married.
I guess it has something to do with all the hidden text and implication behind the word “wife.” The mere thought of it conjures up vivid images of untouchable superwomen we never seem to be able to measure up to. Whether it’s the neatly-aproned June Cleaver or the oh-so-witty-and-intelligent Claire Huxtable, these classic mother icons, sweet as they are, have given the idea that wives are supposed to be perfect, forever happy. Husbands, it seems, are expected to get it wrong at times. As long as they get up and go to work in the morning, everything else is OK. You let the kids eat chocolate cake for breakfast? It’s OK, you’re a husband. You sent the kids to school without their backpacks (which contain their permission slips for their field trip this afternoon)? It’s OK, you’re a husband. And your wife will most likely make time in her schedule to go drop it off anyway. No worries. Husbands are afforded the type of breathing room many wives are deficient in.
Not to oversimplify the lives of married men, because they have their own struggles we woman can’t relate to, but there is definitely a distinct difference in expectation. For example, when it comes to taking care of his family, men have options. They can decide to be active members in the family (and get wild applause for doing so) or they can run off and leave their wives and children to fend for themselves (in which case many of us just shrug our shoulders and write him off as being a “typical man”). Women don’t have this option. We are expected to accept the pressures and responsibilities of family life with a big smile–forced or genuine. When a woman does buckle under the pressure and desert her family, it’s front-page news and she’s vilified as the evilest, craziest thing around.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting it should be more acceptable for women to leave their families (I don’t think that should be acceptable for anyone), but I am suggesting that married women and mothers should be allowed to experience the full spectrum of human emotion without judgement. This includes anger, sadness, frustration and even rage. When we’re expected to be continuously happy, calm and easy going, it puts us in an unnatural and unhealthy position that forces us to deny the ailing parts of ourselves that need expression and recognition, too.
Perhaps this explains why women in general, married or not, are nearly twice as likely to experience depression. Of the 19 million Americans that experience depressive symptoms yearly, 12 million of them are women. Statistically, between 10 and 25 percent of American women will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives. And while marriage is a protective factor against depression, numbers are highest in those between the ages of 25 and 44, the age range during which many women are starting and establishing their family lives (National Institute of Mental Health).
Along with marriage, another protective factor is intact support systems. This doesn’t just mean having someone to hang out with on Saturday nights. It means having someone (or a group of someones) with whom you can truly emote, someone that won’t expect you to just grin and bare it , someone that won’t look at you strangely because you’ve discovered that having your own family is tough work. This is the type of support many women ache for. We want to talk to our family and friends about our hardships, but don’t for fear of judgement and disregard. So, instead, we keep it in, paint over it with a thin veneer or feigned happiness. On the outside, everything appears to be fine, but inside we’re suffocating, unable to be that which we truly are. It’s hard enough taking care of yourself. Adding in another adult and a few kids doesn’t make it any easier. This life is amazing and mundane and beautiful and ugly all at the same time. We need to be able to acknowledge that, and we need others not to look down on us for doing so.