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.