Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pity Parties (Then and Now)

When I was seventeen, my Sunday School teacher suggested that I keep a log of how I spend my time. The purpose of the exercise, I think, was to demonstrate that everyone has time to do a half hour of daily devotions, but my log raised some rather different issues. Instead of the expected record of football games and high-school dances, my typical entry went something like this:

6:30: Get up, wash hair, eat breakfast.
8:00–3:00: School.
3:00–5:00: Hang out at Carolyn’s house, lounging on her waterbed and talking about how much we hate our lives because (a) we aren’t popular, and (b) no boys like us.
5:00–8:00: Supper, homework.
8:00–10:00: Talk on the phone with BFF about how much we hate our lives because (a) we aren’t popular, and (b) no boys like us.
10:00–10:30: Cry.
10:30: Lights out.

(It strikes me now that being a new mom is not entirely unlike being a teenager, what with the freakishly sudden changes in the size and shape of our bodies, along with that lethal cocktail of hormones messing with our emotions.)

The point I’m trying to make here is that I had more than my share of teenage angst. But what I don’t remember feeling is any real sense of body-shame (apart from a general longing for larger breasts). I did have some pretty terrible perms back in the day, and there were mornings that I ended up throwing my hairbrush at the bathroom wall because no amount of back-combing would persuade my bangs to stand up any higher than two inches from the top of my head. Hair problems aside, though, I knew I was pretty. And I also knew that – contrary to nearly every teenage movie from Pretty in Pink to Some Kind of Wonderful neither beauty nor wealth had any real currency in the cutthroat politics of my high school. Clothes mattered more than looks, and what mattered more than either was cruelty – the casual cruelty of the barbed witticism, the devastatingly subtle snub, the ability to deflect ridicule from oneself onto others. Being pretty in a sweet, romantic way was worse than useless.

Upon escaping from high school, I landed, almost instantly, in the arms of the ex-husband. And for a very long time, I couldn’t believe my luck. A boy actually liked me! As absurd as that reaction sounds, a part of me still marvels at the sheer improbability of it – that a girl might like a boy and somehow, by monstrous coincidence, he might like her back. Marriage is even more astonishing. It’s a mind-boggling compliment, really, that anyone would like another person enough to forsake all others until death do them part. Were it not for that potent mix of hormones and endorphins disrupting all rational thought processes, I don’t think anyone could do it.

In the midst of what became a rather bleak marriage, I continued to feel exceptionally fortunate to be married at all, as if I had, at age 22, only narrowly escaped old-maidenhood. At the same time, from the safe vantage point of my married status, I finally learned how to converse comfortably and naturally with men, and began – rather late in life – to notice those subtle signs of interest, the signals that some of these men might, if I were single, have asked me on a date.

And then, one day, I was single, and I became aware for the first time that the kind of quiet, brainy men I might be interested in might actually be interested in me. Might consider me a catch, even. I was still jaded and bitter in those post-break-up days, wearing a lot of black clothing and navy blue nail polish. I got contact lenses so that I could tell the ex-husband that "Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses." Food held no interest for me for months, and I found myself buying size six jeans and fitting into them comfortably. And I started to be aware of my power – to see now-husband stop breathing every time I smiled.

And the point of this, really, is to find a way to express my grief, that punched-in-the-gut feeling I’ve had for the last twenty-four hours. Because it’s gone – that power is gone, and it’s not coming back. I often joke about losing my looks – I see those seven grey hairs, that puckery skin around my eyes, or I look at a photo taken in 1998 and I say, "That was the pinnacle. I had never looked better and I’ll never look that good again." But I don’t mind. I’m okay with it. I’m still pretty. But – I now realize – I’m no longer marketable. If hubby were to be struck down tomorrow I might conceivably find a nice widower with seven children who’d be willing to take me on, but he’d be no Captain von Trapp, and he’d never tell me he’d fallen for me the instant I sat down on that stupid pine cone.

What I’m reacting to, maybe, is my new perception of the balance of power in my marriage. Hubby always made much of the fact that I was the more attractive of the two of us. When we first began dating, he asked for a photo so he could practice looking at me without getting tongue-tied. He posted that picture on his desk at work and then told me how his boss picked it up one day and showed it to a co-worker, shaking his head in disbelief and asking, "Does this seem right to you?"

Hubby’s looks haven’t changed much since those days. He’s five years younger than I am and he’s got the kind of looks that will age well. I knew going into this marriage that someday his marketability would surpass mine. I just didn’t realize it would happen this soon.

(The foregoing pity party is the result of the following conversation, which took place last night at around 8 pm:
Me (poking tummy):
Hey! My tummy feels like a waterbed! Touch it!
Hubby (putting forth one finger, very hesitantly): Yeah. Weird.
Me (patting tummy enthusiastically): It’s kind of fun, the way it goes all sloshy. Do it again!
Hubby (pulling hand back hastily): No, thanks. It kind of freaks me out.)


hautemama said...

That was a very amusing post! (especially the waterbed part)

Hey you know what they say, the older the grape, the sweeter the wine.

lildb said...

G. You ridiculous girl.

I love you for your sense of humor, however dark it may be. (actually, imo, the darker, the better.)

You're gorgeous. And shut. up. Because I said so. :p

Kristen said...

Ugh, the squishy waterbed tummy. Please don't remind me. I've come to the realization that it takes constant work to look "that good" (whatever "that" is - our own personal peak, I guess) - and I feel like I just don't have time to constantly work these days. Thus, the squishy tummy and the depression when looking at past pictures. SIGH.

kate said...

the squishy tummy is a hard one to take. it's somewhere between the gray hair and crow's feet. it's certainly the biggest souvenier left from birth.
what the body endures.

Piece of Work said...

oh, this was a very funny post, even if you didn't mean for it to be! I find myself in the same boat as you, except that suddenly I do care. I've never cared before, and my husband has always been the more attractive partner. BUt lately I've been contemplating joining a gym. Ack.

Veronica Mitchell said...

While I understand the basic feeling, I don't think "marketability" is as clear cut as that. My mother is a tall, boyish, athletic woman. She tells me that my father is the only man who ever told ehr she was beautiful. But something happened around the time she turned fifty. In the eyes of her peers, suddenly she was a hottie. A WOMAN who plays tennis and golf! A lot of men still find merely the companionship of a woman attractive, and a woman who shares their interests is a real catch.

Mother Bumper said...

I'm with lil'debbie you are gorgeous, succulent and wonderful but I know you didn't post to fish.

Waterbed! Waterbed! AHH HAA HAA! LOVE IT. It so describes what I got. And btw we have more in common, my hus is a few years younger also. We will toast to vol de berceau when we meet.

Mayberry said...

If it's any consolation: I love how you took that moment and spun it into such a funny, thoughtful, heartfelt, "I-totally-know-what-you-mean" post.

sunshine scribe said...

Your sense of humour slays me.

And as someone who has met you in person ... you are most certainly still marketable (not that you are marketing yourself but I'm just sayin ... so. very. marketable).

Waterbed tummy ... I am using that one.

My husband is 4 years older and he holds the good looks in our union and always has. My pretty boy is ageless too ... his family's genes are insane he has a 51 year old sister that looks younger than me. Great!

Nancy said...

I can relate both to the teenage pity party and the adult one (with the waterbed-squishy tummy). Sigh.

Tina C said...

have you seen this website where women share their post-partum body issues and pictures: