I've been skimming through some of the essays in the collection The Bitch in the House which fortuitously showed up on the browsing shelf at my local library branch two weeks ago. I'd heard about it when it came out (winter 2003 I think) but wouldn't have made any effort to locate a copy. But, it showed up and I checked it out, and have been thinking quite a bit about it since I myself have become a horrible bitch of late.
Some of the essays are quite good (i.e., well written and/or thought provoking) and others are not. 26 women of varying ages, most of them "writers" (journalists, novelists) wrote personal essays on a variety of topics. Marriage, singledom, relationships, childrearing, etc. The editor's starting point was her own overwhelming feelings of rage towards her husband and children even as she recognized that she had a more equitable marriage than her parents did, that she had a life that allowed her to have a creative career and a home life. Although many of the lives described in this book bear no resemblance to mine (my partner & I have 1 1/4 incomes, no kids, no legal marriage), some of them do at least in one important respect, which is that these women are trying to balance work & life when "work" doesn't necessarily mean "go into the office." Most accounts of work/family balance rarely examine the pressures of work-at-home couples (and several of the authors in this collection are partnered with other writers or artists).
Glancing back at the editor's introduction, she writes that the collection was born out of conversations she had with friends about their marriages, and that she felt that learning other women's stories helped her understand her own position. Basic feminism 101. Which I agree with, even when the reading is pretty depressing.
But one of the things that struck me was -- do people really talk to their friends about their marriages this way? When I was single & dating, I would talk over every detail, every drama, every upturn and heartbreak with my closest friends. But once partnered and committed, I really haven't. It would seem disloyal. Once I've introduced my close friends to my partner, and wanted them to like her, it would be unfair to then ask them to listen to me complain about some stupid thing. Or even about a not so stupid thing. This is the best relationship I've ever been in, and I treat it as permanent. So I don't talk about it with anyone. And I don't usually blog about my relationship life either.
But I've been a total bitch lately. I feel bad about my behavior, and I'm trying to squelch it, but I've been awful. It's all tied up with some of the same issues treated in this collection of essays -- the pressures of domesticity, the difficulty of balancing two creative careers. That balance isn't really about equity. Even in typing this, I'm thinking "get over yourself" -- I don't have kids, after all, and I have a pretty great life. But the domestic really overwhelms me sometimes. It's hard for me to just block it out, focus on what I ought to be doing. It's hard to be the wife and the breadwinner. It's hard to be the responsible one and try to have smart ideas. I know my anger about trivial stuff is really just misdirected anger at myself. I know I have to take more responsibility for my feelings and get over them. But until I figure out how to do all of that, I've been horrible to be around. I'm lucky that my partner is still putting up with me.