“Happy Anniversary, baby,” said my husband in a sing-songy voice. The sunlight was streaming into our room on a perfectly calm Sunday. No alarm bells ringing on our cell phones. No kids running in to wake us up before 8 AM.
I turned to him with eyes shut, head still on the pillow. “Are you kidding me? I haven’t even opened my eyes yet. Now I have to go through the whole day as the loser-wife-who-forgot-the-anniversary. Awesome.”
His usual and persistent positivity met with my usual dry wit and dark humor. I flashed him a tired smirk.
“I only knew because I got up to pee and checked my phone. My Google alert from two years ago went off. I didn’t get you a card or anything,” he said. At least he’s honest.
“Well thank GOD I’m not the only horrible spouse. How many years has it been?” I asked.
His eyes glanced up at the ceiling, then he responded, “Seven years.”
Seven years is a big milestone. We haven’t scratched the big itch. That’s not to say we never wanted to.
As we lay in bed my husband turned to me and asked, “Do you love me just as much now as you did before marriage after children?”
“No, less actually,” I said flatly. “I have a love bucket. The two kids and I take up the majority of the love in the love bucket. You have like a third of the love bucket. You used to have a lot more before the girls were born. But I’ve only got so much love to give. So, yeah, you have less now.”
“Well, when the girls were born, I bought two more love buckets,” he said smiling.
I rolled my eyes. Ugh. Of course, you did. My husband is so sweet it’s aggravating. He smiles and puffs up his chest, seemingly proud of his clever profession of unconditional love. How typical of us.
My husband is the one with the ever-expanding love. He can always add more love to his life. Whereas I’m always trying to locate any last scraps of love, collect them, and dole them out very carefully. I ration my love.
I give a bunch to my two girls, and then some to me. Yes, I said MYSELF. I make no apologies for loving my kids and myself before my husband. I did it the other way around for a long time, and now I know better.
Before kids, my husband filled my whole love bucket. I fawned over his happiness, his needs, and his comfort. I went to football games with him and tailgated (I despise BOTH). I went to work parties with him. I cooked his favorite meals and cleaned up after him. I put myself last. Because that’s what you do when you’re in love (cue romantic harpy music).
So it seemed only natural to me that after the birth of our first daughter I’d just slide my husband down into the number two slot. And put me last again.
There’s one thing I didn’t consider when I mindlessly made everyone else number one in my life. As a new mom, I wasn’t accustomed to having the life sucked out of me (both physically and emotionally). Life with a new baby is exhausting. It’s jilting. And it takes some serious adjusting.
If I was going to get used to this baby, and parenthood, I had to embrace self-obliteration. And sacrifice. All day. Every day. Fine, I get that. I’m down with that. But my husband wasn’t a baby.
He was a grown man. An adult. It was time for him to take care of his own damn self. It was time for him to take care of our baby, equally. And our home, equally.
I spent two unhappy years with myself in the last position. I spent two years drowning in confusion and self-pity. I resented the hell out of my husband. If I can be totally real for a second, I actually fantasized about suffocating him. What, like you haven’t?
One word: SNORING. The way he’d snore right through another night’s feeding made me furious. The way he’d casually make plans with his friends over the weekend, leaving me alone with the baby again. The nights he’d go to the gym right after work, not even offering to come home and make dinner.
Where was my chance to exercise? Get MY body back? Where was my night of fun? Where was my opportunity to get back into writing?
My love bucket started to include less and less of my husband. Until his portion was empty. I felt nothing. I was completely drained and devoid of love for him. And, he admitted, because of my misery, he was too. We agreed to grin and bear it for the kids.
This isn’t just some ‘ol dissatisfied housewife rant. Women, once they are mothers, are expected to work a full first shift either as a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom. Then they’re expected to work a second shift at night tending to dinner, homework, and any other domestic duties.
How could I NOT be resentful toward my husband? His life was seemingly unchanged. His routine? Unchanged. While mine was thrown upside down. With all of this extra work on my plate, how could I muster the energy to love him? To love anything?
To see him well-rested, in a good mood, and getting promotions at work should have made me happy. But instead, I was pissed. His good fortune was happening at my expense.
Sure, my husband fed me plenty of lip service. He’d rely on old, worn-out platitudes to jolly me up. “You can be anything you want.” “I support you.” “Follow your dreams.” Certainly, my husband was well-intentioned, but those statements were mostly empty sentiments that carried no action plan behind them. These lazy attempts at making me feel supported, made me feel worse.
I was not hating my husband; I was indifferent toward him. Which is about as numb as you can get. I started thinking I’d have a better chance at personal and economic fulfillment if I were single. If I were a single mother, there would be no expectations. There’d be no pressure to unequivocally support someone else’s career all of the time. I wouldn’t have to worry about his business trips, or his late work nights. His laundry. His dinner.
No, I’d just worry about my kids and myself. Well, and how to make ends meet without the luxury of two paychecks. I’m no fool. I know single motherhood is as hard as it gets. But that didn’t keep me from thinking about it.
It was only when my daughters started turning two, then three, then four years old that I gained some space and perspective on our situation. Without even realizing it, my husband and I had let remnants of the 1950s-era social contract seep into our marriage and into our family life.
As a feminist raised by a bunch of strong women, I couldn’t understand how I allowed myself, and us as a couple, to become so trapped in gender roles. In the end, it didn’t matter how it happened. We had to break out of them so I could love our life as a family again.
How was I going to be a healthy mom, loving wife, an actively ambitious woman, and community advocate? Yes, I actually want to be all of these things. The answer to that: divide everything equally. And we did.
Now that family life is more equal, I do love my husband again. He’s back in the love bucket. I can’t say I love him more after having kids, because I simply don’t. My kids are little humans who require most of my love and energy. They are mostly helpless creatures who need all the nurture I can muster.
My self-love comes second. My husband’s got the bottom of the barrel. But I do believe love is fluid like water. It ebbs and flows, and can rise again when the time is right.
Sooner than I’d like to admit, my kids won’t need me or my love as much anymore. And when that happens, there’ll be plenty of room in my love bucket for my husband. Hopefully, he still wants to jump in.