A Man Who Makes You Smile

We’ve all heard this idea that’s been tossed around about marriage or hetero partnerships.  The most common “tip” for a long marriage is the man saying that he knows how to make her smile. Not “we can communicate openly” or “being honest” instead it sounds like all he has to do is placate his woman and she’ll shut up. Now, I don’t deny that smiling and being able to lift your partner’s spirits is important in a relationship. It is. However, when does it stop being about making her smile and start being OBLIGATING her to smile?

This was always a point of unease and contention when I was married. I would feel overwhelmed or upset and my ex would do or say something silly. It wouldn’t help the situation at all, and instead of trying to fix or talk about what upset me, he would then become hurt and say “I was trying to make you smile” or “I just wanted to hear you laugh”. In the end, the result was that he felt like he’d done his part to make me feel better without doing anything but make me feel guilty on top of overwhelmed. I don’t want to say that he never worked or tried to lessen my load, however he had this idea that if I just smiled everything would go away.

That’s not how life works. “We’ll find a way” or “just smile” doesn’t really -do- anything.  Smiling is all well and good, but it isn’t the only emotion that I’m allowed to have as a woman. I’m allowed to be annoyed, things that upset me are not imaginary and they deserve attention. By giving me this mandate to smile then ignore what is bothering me because someone else told me to just makes me feel ill inside. I don’t owe anyone a smile. I smile when I mean it. Obligating me to do that just invalidates my emotions in general for someone else’s benefit.

I can’t help but wonder, when I hear this canned advise tossed about, who else feels this way. How many other people smile in front of clenched teeth with nothing but the added stress of pleasing someone else on top of whatever was bothering them in the first place. For me, emotions in general are hard to genuinely show and have. The fact that I’ve been OBLIGATED to fake happy so much and for so long hasn’t helped me at all.  Here’s the thing about relationships, no one is always happy.

It’s one of the things that I really love about my current relationship. I don’t feel like I have to hold my emotions close to my chest and smile. If I’m upset I can say “This upsets me, here is why” if L is upset, she can say “I don’t like this, here is why”. We argue, we disagree, we set out plans to fix our problems. The “difficult” things are what you’re supposed to deal with in a relationship. It adds, for me, this huge security to the entity that is “us”. I know that nothing I can do would immediately push her away. I know that we can talk about problems and confront them. I am not living with the fear that if I’m not smiling enough she will walk away. The ability to discuss and communicate our problems is so much more important to me than being able to make her smile. Because now, when she smiles, I know she means it.

And when I smile, I do too.

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3 Comments

Filed under Personal Life, Year of the Protagonist

3 responses to “A Man Who Makes You Smile

  1. My advice to the young women who come to me wanting to settle down is always “marry your best friend.” And I never realized, but I think it’s because of what you’re pointing out. It’s fine to want someone who makes you smile, or laugh, or feel flattered and romanced every day, but it’s even more important to find someone who really cares about you as a person–sum total–and who feels like its their role to be there for you through better or worse: not just to pull you back to some base level of happy.

    Happiness as we think of it is a really fleeting thing. It comes and goes with the good times. Satisfaction and contentment are what people are really talking about–and those things can exist in a relationship even when one or both of you is in tears.

    • Exactly. I’m really glad that came across. I’ve butted heads with this notion that women owe the world a certain attitude, a smile, or what-have-you. If you’re obligated to be “happy” all the time then you’re probably never really happy. Or very secure. I used to worry with my ex that if I didn’t act a certain way that he’d just leave.

      Security isn’t monotony, it’s knowing that regardless of everything you do, someone’s in your corner. Sounds like you’re giving good advice.

      • You are very eloquent getting this very important message through.

        Yeah, that obligation to be happy… it always sort of reminds me of people keeping a songbird. You feel like if you don’t chirp and warble you’re not fulfilling your duty. That’s something I remember feeling with my ex, that if I wasn’t perfectly agreeable and happy about his actions I’d be alone. That’s why I’m so adamant about being pragmatic when I talk about these things, because the platitudes have gotten us nowhere. The difference between what I had then and what I have now is not me, but my partner. And like victim shaming in rape culture, I think we sometimes have this way of relationship shaming–women get blamed for not being happy, for not feeling satisfied, even if their partner isn’t holding up the other end of the bargain.

        I really couldn’t have said it better than you did about security; teamwork is the absolute foundation of any long term relationship–and not teamwork like school group work, teamwork like it is the Zombie Apocalypse and you are the last two humans on Earth. See, totally not monotonous. Healthy relationships are the most exciting thing ever.

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