A debate with my husband Sunday morning:
JB: I don’t like this new system of folding laundry on the living room couch.
Me: I DON’T CARE– HENCEFORTH IT SHALL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.
JB: Now we just have clean laundry all over the living room. I’m putting it back on the bed.
Me: You agreed! Four times you’ve expressed your dislike for my new system; four times I’ve offered counter-arguments; four times you’ve ended the discussion with the word “okay”. That’s a contract, baby!
JB: I always thought it was sort of silly, but I didn’t want to argue about it those times.
Me: What you are saying right now it that you were NEVER okay with it, you lying-liar-pants! If you agree to something then you have to agree IN YOUR HEART. When a person feels strongly about the way something should be, they shouldn’t just cave to somebody else’s opinion because you don’t “feel like dealing”.
Note: both of our children hovered nearby**, their little sonar ears listening intently.
JB: I don’t think you are listening to me at all…
Me: Oh, I HEAR you. What I’m trying to explain is that THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT THE DAMN LAUNDRY. To be so attached to where a laundry basket rests is borderline insane. Everything about laundry, the piles of dirty clothes, the sorting, the washing/drying, the hauling up and down the basement stairs, the folding and sorting AGAIN. The dumping of it onto the bed, and then putting it back into the basket because no one feels like putting it away at midnight.
It’s a FEMINIST METAPHOR, dammit, for my lost identity. For the mundane, repetitive thankless tasks that WASTE minutes/hours/days/years of what remains of MY LIFE.
JB: Hey, I do laundry sometimes, too…
Me: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU! THIS IS NOT even about LAUNDRY! A METAPHOR. It’s A SYMBOLIC reminder of the slow LEACHING OF MY VERY SOUL from the over-large pores in my almost middle-aged skin. Each sock represents a lost dream, a forgotten goal, a missed opportunity.
JB: I’m just saying that I don’t like the laundry in the living room…
In the end, I agreed to move the laundry folding station back to our bed. I warned him that placing this symbolic representation of the death of my Self on our marriage bed might have consequences he hadn’t considered. That I wouldn’t be “getting back at him” for losing the basket placement argument, because I agree IN MY HEART for it to be there. But that I wanted to be certain he understood that a very unhealthy relationship had formed between the the laundry and my grip on sanity.
I’m just saying– warned.
The Importance of Symbols
Symbolic interactions create, and separate, our cultural identities. Symbols–not the ability to accessorize– separate human from beast. Consider the reactive moral outrage arising from the flames of burnt flags/bras/books/religious texts. Consider the passionate feeling that would prompt someone to that degree of vehement symbolic death. For example, I understand that the fabric of the American flag is only that, but I’d never set fire to one in protest, no matter how disgusted I am with my country. Why? Because I spent most of my formative years living on, or near, a military base.
Comprehending an individual’s culture attachment to, or rejection of, an object or idea does not require that I attribute the same degree of meaning. It only requires that I choose to accept another person’s perspective.
I accept that JB considers my rabid attitude about things like laundry to be tangible examples of my batshit crazy. Maybe it’s my too-many years of being surrounded by small people and their irrational attachments to objects and ideas. Maybe it’s a piece of my soul, trying to escape the lost sock drawer. I don’t know.
I’m not alone on this island where laundry, dirty dishes, and full trashcans become the desperate bat-symbol of a marriage overwhelmed by the tedium of living, of the repetitive arguments that never address the true problem.
One spouse screams as the chain of unmatched socks slowly chokes them to death, while the other one rolls eyes at another night of melodramatic nagging.
The malcontent has very little to do with the laundry/trash/dishes/toilet seat. It’s a METAPHOR, dammit.
**On children and hearing parents argue. I feel very strongly that my children should hear us argue (about things like laundry, use common sense, friends), and that we have an unmatched opportunity to demonstrate the appropriate methods of expressing anger and frustration.
My use of caps in this post is for effect– I wasn’t yelling. my voice sounds exactly like the squeaky teen that works at Krusty Burgers. We get angry, we argue. We don’t throw things, or curse each other (dammit does not count as cursing in my little world). No one is hitting, or threatening bodily harm.
That we are expressing intense frustration with each other without becoming violent is a very important life skill in America these days. Something the country certainly does not model very effectively.
Anger is a normal, human emotion. It happens occasionally, even between those that love each other very much. Pretending to never BE angry feels like something we do to “protect the children”. They aren’t fooled by stony silence, and all it teaches them is how to be passive aggressive. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
In fact, I hypothesize that when adults pretend to never get angry that it teaches the little preciouses how to swallow small bites of anger chunks until their tiny bellies are just over-stuffed, resulting, naturally, in you being sprayed in a surprise rage vomit.
No one enjoys a surprise rage vomit. No one.