Incidents and accidents

What is a wife?

August 7th, 2011

If you’d asked me five years ago if I was ready to get married, I would have told you “Of course! I don’t know why John’s being so slow!” Now though… I’m not sure anymore. I’m not afraid of being married. I’m not afraid of staying with John for the rest of my life. I’m not afraid of a wedding. I’m afraid of being a wife.

When we were at the beach, it became apparent that wives are not interesting. Other people our age were introduced to the crowd: “This is Rob and his wife, Nichole.” Waves, nods all around, nothing else. Then we were introduced: “This is John and his fiancee, Heather.” Suddenly, the discussion started. When were we getting married, what did we have planned, did I have my dress yet, where will it be… etc. The flurry of avid questions and interest following the word ‘fiancee’ just weren’t there when using the word ‘wife’.

I read an article online the other day that illustrates this: He writes “Let’s be honest, if you’re at work and someone says: “Your wife is on the phone,” the usual response can range from bored acceptance to “Ughhh, tell her I’m not here.” But the words “Your girlfriend is on the phone” have an air of excitement: Instantly everyone with a wife will glare at you enviously.

Stereotypically, wives are boring. Wives are dull. Wives shop for useless throw pillows and worry about useless things like matching said throw pillows to the living room curtains. Wives nag. Wives have matching bakeware sets. Wives make casseroles and lots of babies. Suddenly, by uttering the words “I do.”, I become less interesting. No one wants to hear about how my wedding plans are going or what I’m thinking about this or that.

Because John and I have been together for so long, I’m already facing some of this. It’s as if we’ve been married for a while already. Now all anyone wants to know about is how many children we’re planning on having or what kind of house we’re looking for. … I’m afraid of being a wife. I don’t want to be that person. I feel like I’m so much more than just babies or houses or wedding dresses and once I’m labeled with the word wife, no one will look past that.

Posted in Me, Wedding Junk | Comments (3)

3 Responses to “What is a wife?”

  1. freddlerabbit Says:

    I had a lot of this fear – and still do, sometimes, although I’ve been a wife for almost five years now. My spouse and I introduce one another by our first names (rather than, “my husband/wife”), and it could be that I’m lucky, but the only people I’ve met who are less interested in me when they know I’m a wife are people who were interested in picking me up, rather than getting to know me. I think it’s pretty clearly a gender thing – and I always am resolute about being uninterested in stereotypical wife things.

    This is a big part of the reason I do not want to have children – I don’t want to become a “mom” who’s expected to think and act only on behalf of her children and lose interest in the outside world. Rationally, I know this doesn’t have to happen – but I still fear that that’s what people will think, even more strongly than they will of me as a “wife.”

    Being married to someone you love is an incredibly wonderful thing. There are a few downsides, and I think dealing with this tension is one of them. But I personally have had very good luck still remaining my own independent and interesting person post-label, and I think you will, too. There are plenty of people out there who won’t care one way or the other if you are a wife, who will be interested in your work, mind and feelings – and as for the others, I try to tell myself that anyone so shallow-minded, I’m better off having been warned away from them so easily then wasting my time on them first. I hope that’s somewhat encouraging!

  2. keepingtime_ca Says:

    I’ve had this open for a while, thinking about what to say, but the short version is that I agree with Freddlerabbit – especially her last paragraph. There is a prevailing stereotype out there for how husbands and wives are supposed to behave. Like you and John, Jim and I haven’t changed from our ‘engaged’ days to our ‘married’ days (4 months married). We’re the same people, with the same routines, and same problems.

    One of the things we’ve dealt with – and had to reinforce with each other through our relationship – is that we aren’t a typical couple, we don’t do the things that everyone does. And who says we have to? We didn’t go out on typical dinner and a movie dates – we hung out and watched movies at his house. We didn’t call on the phone and talk for hours – we text and emailed more. We do things on our own just as much as we do things together. For us it’s been important to maintain our sense of self while at the same time developing a sense of ‘us’.

    I don’t know if you’ve been over to the A Practical Wedding website, but they have a great section titled Reclaiming Wife which talks about some of these issues. Because I suck at HTML off the cuff, I’ll just put the link below:

    In the end, I think what’s most important is what you and John (and the people closest to you/important to you) believe. If someone won’t see past stereotype/label, how much energy do you want to put into dealing with them? Like Freddlerabbit said… our response to this expectant behavior is to look at each other and go ‘ooooookay then. Whatever works for you’ and understand that it doesn’t have to work for us as well.


  3. Sarah Says:

    This is one of the reasons that I try to say “spouse” rather than husband/wife (although it’s not easy – those words are so built in to the way I’ve been thought to think). I think it carries less baggage with it.

    I feel like part of what creates this tension is all the excitement about the wedding. Yes, marrying someone you love and planning a big party to celebrate it are exciting, but there’s also all this excitement about the wedding itself and the physical trappings of it. Practically anything that came after that would be a little boring. I don’t really have any practical advise for countering that, but maybe just being aware of it will help a little.

    The other folks above already mentioned that it’s important to remember that what “wife” means is up to you and John. For me it’s also important to clarify that for others. If someone says something to me that implies those tired, old tropes, I tell them both that they’re wrong and how they’re wrong. For example, if someone says something to me about men not cleaning house, I tell them that Eric does about as much housework as I do. Of course, how I do that and how much depends on my comfort level with a particular person or situation. But on the whole, I find that it makes me feel better to correct any assumptions people make about me because of my relationship.

    Lastly, since I know you like to read, I found this book very interesting when I was thinking through some similar issues

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