Saturday, December 20, 2014

"The Perfect Storm," Ch. 10 of Axtell Memoir, BUT...AT WHAT COST

I greatly regret having poured out my fears and my craziness on my 12-year-old daughter the morning after Ash’s confession. Beth was there at the table eating her breakfast when I came in from spending most of the night in the car. In my mind, my life was crashing down. My parents were dying. My husband was leaving. A good friend had betrayed me. I had no money of my own, and feminists on television shows and in all the women’s magazines had been telling me I had low self-esteem caused by that chauvinist pig I was married to. I had no idea which way to turn. There you go, Beth! God, I can’t believe I did that to her. I don’t remember all I said, but that is definitely how I felt. I assume I edited some.

The only thing I actually remember saying is that M. (the other woman) was a very nice person and not to worry about her being her stepmother. Obviously, I had this cart way before the horse – nothing had been discussed, let alone decided, yet there I was turning this child’s world up-side-down. I’d call that crazy!

Before that last straw was added to my load, I was worn, but still in one piece. I was trying to keep too many balls in the air by myself. This was not an unusual problem at the time. Many women were working outside the home, and many men had not yet been “trained” to take up the slack. I didn’t work outside the home, but it amounted to the same thing. I was at my parents’ house or a doctor’s office or a hospital a lot of the time.

Until the mid-sixties, this wouldn’t have been a serious problem; but then, in 1979, it was perceived to be, by some. The “some” were the feminist advice-mongers inhabiting our magazines and our airwaves. Previously valued behaviors, such as taking care of one’s husband, children and parents, were no longer valued priorities. I and thousands of other women were castigated, nearly every day, for being “too nice.” We were said to be “people pleasers” – a result of having low self-esteem… caused by our evil husbands. What were once seen as positive traits in both men and women were now viewed as character flaws.

Had these self-appointed “experts” stopped at their original “equal pay for equal work” agenda, it would have been fine, but they didn’t stop there. They used their rhetoric to condemn men and the “enabling” women who were married to them.

I can remember greeting Ashley with fire in my heart after listening to Betty Friedan (or someone) on the Phil Donahue TV talk show. All Ash had done was come home from work, and I was ready to scratch his eyes out. Yes, he fit their profile, and I was buying into their conclusions about both him and me.

I was angry with him most of the time and second-guessed my every move. When my father got sick, and I was left to juggle all the duties by myself, I got even angrier. When Ash had the affair, it was the last straw. I strongly considered divorce.

Between 1960 and 1979 the divorce rates doubled. Coincidence?

There’s no doubt Ashley’s straying was a huge blow to my pride, and very difficult to get over. However, I don’t think it was a main cause of my considering a divorce. People have affairs. I think my need to leave was largely due to the subtle peer pressure I was feeling; I thought that my friends thought I should get a divorce. Being the “good girl” I was (i.e., an inveterate rule follower) I was very tempted to conform to the new ideal.

“Low self-esteem” was the end-all explanation for everything back then. Later, upon closer examination, I rejected all its presumed importance and all popular explanations of its engenderment… but that was later.

Thankfully, while all this was happening, I studied my options and chose the practical, common-sense (or maybe, the easiest) solution. I stayed with Ashley because: I loved, respected, and admired him (despite his faults and his having an affair); he worked hard and supported us; he planned to send the kids to college and had already saved enough money to do so; and I wouldn’t have the time to help my parents and grandmother if I had to work full-time to support myself.

There was a less practical reason too: A hell of a lot of my “self-esteem” was derived from Ashley’s choosing me, and my being able to put up with him. That probably sounds strange, and a little deranged, but every time someone said, “Judy, you must be a saint,” when Ash was being particularly obstinate, I reveled in it. When Ashley had confessed his affair, I’d said, “You’re out of your mind, if you think she’d put up with you for more than a week!” It was true; he knew it, and said he knew it. I think I saw my acceptance of his eccentricities as somewhat heroic… sort of like Hillary Clinton or any wife who has to put up with “special” circumstances must feel. I chose to make allowances, so I could share his spotlight. Boy, that sounds really bad, but that was part of it – that’s how much I admire his intellectual prowess, work ethic, and honesty.

If I was a “victim” of anything, I was a victim of circumstances and my own priorities. It was our marriage that allowed me the economic freedom to raise my kids, help my family, play ball, sing and feel good about myself. This was the ordinary stuff from which I and many, many other women of my generation derived our self-worth… by thinking of our families first and ourselves last. We were not part of “the me generation” and the new rules confused the Hell out of us.

We are serializing Judy Axtell's book, But...At What Cost: A Skeptic's Memoir, available from on-line retailers, such as Amazon, and from its publisher Outskirts Press.

1 comment:

  1. Great chapter! Love your ruminations...just like a woman...and It's OK as the other self help book says...Merry Christmas to you and Yours! Mary