Today I read the article “The Day I Realized I Was No Longer the Woman My Husband Wanted”, By Traci Bild. In it she recounts her experience reading old love letters she had written her husband many years earlier. She reports feeling “shame because that girl was long gone and in her place was a stressed out, anxious 40-year-old mother of two.” She felt sorry for her husband and “wanted what my twenty-something year old girl had.” She talks about ways to get back to the girl her husband had married by complimenting her husband, spending time alone with him, and to be more fun. She ends her piece stating it “terrifies” her to think about how different her life may have been if she did not realize this sooner.
Ohhhhh boy. So. I need to admit that I am still in the last few months of my twenties, so I am technically still that “twenty-something” girl. However, I have been with my husband for the better part of almost 9 years total time, and I am a mother, so I get where she is coming from. She is coming from a ‘things are different now’ place. I reserve my right to reach my forties and fully agree with her, but right now I have a little problem with part of her underlying message.
I want to start out by saying I whole-heartedly agree in prioritizing your life, and putting your energy into the things that are most important to you. For me, my marriage is right up there at the very top. I love her ideas of complimenting your partner and spending alone time with them. These are things my husband and I put into practice very regularly.
Here is the problem I have: why, as women age, are they encouraged to revert to a younger self? Why in relationships are they shamed into remembering they must always stay fresh, fun, sexy and exciting or else their husband will find someone who will? Maybe its just me, but I don’t see a whole lot of pressure out there for men to do the same thing.
Blid’s article reads like the classic cultural warning well known to all women: stay new, fun, exciting or risk losing your husband to someone who is. When we are curious as to why the divorce rate is as high as it is, perhaps it would make sense to look at the advice we are giving our women. Because I have news: I have yet to meet a single couple in a long-term relationships whose relationship is ALWAYS new, fun, and exciting. If your goal is new/fun/exciting at all times, I’m afraid you are fighting a losing battle, friend. I’m not saying it is wrong or bad to value new/fun/exciting, I am just saying it is unrealistic to value this above all else and expect your relationship to last happily many years.
In fact, I am OVER hearing about how women must guard their husband’s interest by always reinventing themselves as something both “new” and “old”. The longer the relationship goes on, the more I must act like it is brand new. The longer it goes on, I must remember to never become something different than the “old” me.
Hey. Things aren’t the same as they once were. But they can be freaking beautiful despite that. Clinging desperately to the past and how things once were does not a healthy relationship make.
I am OVER being peddled the idea that we need to buy these high heels, or that lip gloss, or join this gym, or follow this magazine’s tips to “feel sexy”. I am OVER the idea that not “feeling sexy” is a fundamental problem. I’m not sure where along the way we bought into this idea, that it is a problem if we are not constantly sexually attractive, exciting, and appealing. Where we decided that yes, something is broken and needs to be fixed if there are moments, weeks, months, years where we don’t feel “sexy”. I read a lot of body image posts about “feeling sexy” no matter your size or age. The fundamental tenant in these articles is the assumption that we must feel sexy. We can be overweight, we can be aging, but we damn well better feel sexy about it.
I am OVER the idea that new and exciting and sexy are WHO women must be. I am OVER the idea that men are not able to love a woman who grows, evolves, and who is sometimes tired.
I will tell you what I have observed about myself as I age. It is totally true that I am not the girl I was at 18. Holy hell, I am a million times happier (and probably more enjoyable to be around) than she was. Yes, the number on the scale is higher. Yes, I have real –life responsibilities like a mortgage and a child and a career. Yes, I am tired a lot of the time. Yes, I have much less time for “me” and being selfish. You bet I struggle as I try to find the ever elusive “life balance”.
But I am oh, so much wiser. I have learned what I like and what I don’t. I’ve known my husband since I was 16 and I shudder to think of how I treated him in those early years. I was selfish, plain and simple. I can pretty much guarantee if you asked him to pick between Ashley at 19 and Ashley at 29, he wouldn’t even skip a beat before choosing the older version. It’s not that I was a bad person, it was that I was YOUNG. I had very little life experience.
At 29, I am more confident, secure, and grateful than I’ve ever been in my life. I am tired, overwhelmed, and stressed-out a lot of the time too. There is room for all that in me. I find it a little insulting to believe my husband so shallow that if I am no longer writing him long love letters about how desperately I miss him when he is gone (which amounts to the 8 hour work day we are apart for) that he will drop me as soon as something newer comes along.
I love my husband, without a doubt, more as we grow together. We spend less time on romantic out of town trips, but more time devoted specifically to “date nights”. We have less alone time, but more family time. We fall asleep earlier, but have much more to talk about. Some things have come into our life and some things have left. There is less fighting and more appreciation. My husband respects who I have grown up to become and has supported me along the way.
Am I the woman who my husband first met, who he fell in love with, who he married, who he began a family with? Yes and no. I was a different woman at every one of those life stages. I believe I will be another woman in another ten years. That’s life, and that’s the sweetest part – that we get to be together for all those stages, enjoying the ride together.