I spent this week gingerly checking in with all my married girlfriends.
It felt like that first call you make to someone after the funeral of a relative. Important but dreaded. My calls were to see how they survived the first hurdle of the annual holiday marathon.
“So….how was your Thanksgiving?” I asked J. as we went for a power walk in the woods near my childhood home yesterday.
“God, not SO bad this year,” she said. “On Thanksgiving, we drove two hours to my mother-in-law’s house. Both kids got carsick, like always, but she HAS to have Thanksgiving at her house. I brought stewed carrots – she sent me the exact recipe, no onions because she hates them.”
My friend is an avid football fan, so I asked if she watched the Thanksgiving Day games.
“Not a chance. I did all dishes while the guys watched the game. I taped it and watched from ten ’til midnight. Then Friday we got home around 11.30 pm because…”
Another friend described scheming to leave the house on Thanksgiving to spend a few hours with her only child, who was home from college for only two days.
“At first, I decided I couldn’t leave. All my female relatives were in the kitchen cooking. I felt SO guilty. Finally I dashed out – I promised I would do ALL the dishes in exchange for an hour alone with my son.”
She’s 47. But she sounded like a seven-year-old plotting to stay up past her bedtime, when all she craved was a little quality time with her kid.
My divorced friends are decidedly happier.
“We went to my parents’ country club! Woohoo. No cooking no cleanup!” one friend with two kids texted me on her first post-divorce holiday. Another went to a yoga retreat in the Catskills. A third went camping with her new boyfriend while the kids ate at grandma’s with her ex.
My friends, married and divorced, are all post-feminist women with impressive college degrees, masters degrees, and even a few PhDs. Most of them work fulltime. They would all vote for Hillary Clinton if she ran for president in four years. Without exception, they are all guerilla girls who fervently believe boys and girls are equal… maybe even that girls are a tad more equal than boys.
Yet Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa turn us all into 1950s doormats. What is it about the winter holiday season that makes so many women cave into the pressure to seek an insane and impossible ideal of femininity?
Why do we find it so hard to be thankful for ourselves? Thankful to ourselves? What on earth are we trying to prove?
Lucky for me, I chased all my white-picket-fence fantasies of the perfect wife and daughter-in-law in my blessedly brief short marriage in my early 20s. A nasty starter marriage got all those delusional, destructive ideals out of my system. That particular brand of guilt and self-imposed pressure vanished in divorce court. Today, I treat the holidays, as much as humanly possible, as a time for reflection and serenity, not self-flagellation or the search for the perfect gift for every single one of my in-laws.
One of my other friends made a radical call this Thanksgiving. Her only surviving parent was very ill. She wanted time for him, time for her husband and young daughter, and time for herself.
She hired a caterer to cook and clean on Thanksgiving.
Her father died three days later.
When I check in with her, it really will be that first post-funeral call. And I bet she, of all my friends, is the most grateful to have opted out of the Thanksgiving guilt and holiday hate this year.