I was married in September. It didn’t give me a lot of time to adjust to my new role as a wife before the holidays rolled around and by the time Thanksgiving hit, I was mostly panicked.
Let me be clear – I am not talking about my role within my marriage, which really didn’t change at all when I slipped a ring on my finger and made promises out loud that we’d made in private for years. I am talking about what it means to everyone else in the world who sees that you are a Wife, and adjusts their expectations of you accordingly. Whether or not it’s my duty inside our home, suddenly the outward presentation of our coupledom became my responsibility, and the holidays only amplified this new reality in ways I could not have anticipated before.
Is there a stain on my husband’s sweater? My fault.
Did we bring a store-bought dessert to Thanksgiving instead of something from scratch? My fault.
Didn’t manage to send out holiday cards this year? My fault.
No decorations in our home? My fault.
We can pretend all we want that we live in a new egalitarian age, and within our marriages maybe many of us do, but the reality is that from the outside, these classic representations of the home sphere are still assumed to be the woman’s domain, and regardless of if you run your own company, make six figures, or work fourteen hour days, you are not successful as a wife unless your home looks like a Martha Stewart magazine shoot.
I am embarrassed to say that my response to these pressures was not to give the world the middle finger and show up to holiday parties in sweatpants with a cheap handle of vodka as a hostess gift. Instead, I threw myself into the madness at a manic pace, baking three kinds of Christmas cookies and decorating a tree while Sufjan Stevens played O Holy Night in the background. I was miserable, and I made my husband miserable, too. I tried so hard to force traditions upon us, rather than letting them evolve naturally. I was so convinced that these first celebrations had to be special that I tried to manufacture joy, instead of feeling it.
I could not be this person. I do own an apron and I do love to cook, but I make food that tastes good, not food that looks pretty. I don’t have an eye for decorating and I never remember to water the tree enough, so that by December 20th it is bone dry and the branches are drooping under the weight of even the tiniest ornaments. It was all too much. We both got strep throat. And by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, we ended up spending the night at home alone playing video games and falling asleep around midnight.
I felt like I had let everyone down. But as I thought about it, I realized I was only really letting down the people who were asking for me to let them down all along. The people who matter would rather you show up imperfectly than not at all. They want you to be a Wife, sure, but when it comes down to it, they’d rather you be the wife you are, a happy wife, a healthy wife. I didn’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and I didn’t want to let the haters keep me from finding joy in my own holiday aspirations.
I learned my lesson. Now I pace myself, I focus on what is actually important to me, and I look for ways to add meaning to things that have become meaningless, or avoid them altogether. These days, our apartment is too small for a real tree and we buy ourselves something fun instead of giving one another gifts (these last two years that has meant NFL tickets, but I can’t think of anything more fitting for a season celebrating rampant consumerism). In time, I might get better at the catalog version of the holiday season, but for now I’m contemplating wearing sweatpants to Thanksgiving.