If you let the Marital Rating Scale from 1930 tell it, I’m a bad wife.
I know because I took the test. [Note to self: if you’re Google searching “Am I A Good Wife? Quiz” then you’ve probably got your answer].
I actually came to this conclusion weeks before I failed not one, but two online quizzes on the subject matter. It was a Thursday evening and I was talking to my mom on the phone when I mentioned I needed to do laundry. Then, as casually as a nosy mother can ask something casually, she probed, “Do you do your husband’s laundry too?”
The fact that my mom used the word “husband” in lieu of his name, I knew what she was trying to say without her even saying it and she knew the answer without me even answering it. Still, without skipping a beat I replied, “No. He does his own laundry. I barely get my laundry done.” I know my mother well enough to know when she is giving me a look of disapproval, even over the phone.
I tried to recover, “He doesn’t expect me to do his laundry.” But there was no recovery, only mother-induced guilt.
I was still saddled with that guilt when I took the “Marital Rating Scale Quiz” online. I knew I was being compared to white wives in the 1930s who didn’t work and got pregnant on their honeymoons. I’m black, I work and I'm not even thinking about procreation, but still, after I saw the results, I felt bad.
To be fair, when I began dating Mike, I had no idea our relationship would turn into marriage. Before our first date, I had all but given up on the seemingly far-fetched dream of meeting a guy who calls me back and doesn’t balk at the idea of listing his relationship status on Facebook. I’d been so busy simultaneously running from the men who were generally interested in me and chasing the men who weren’t, I was wholly unprepared to meet a guy whom I liked that also liked me.
I realized that, with the exception of those two months when I was 19, I hadn’t been in a short-distance, functional, exclusive, adult, romantic relationship, well…ever. This is probably why I didn’t see “the proposal” coming.
I was a pretty good girlfriend, but I’ve found that being a wife is totally different. Though I love being married, sometimes I think I’m not very good at it. (My husband would vehemently disagree, but he is perpetually patient and wouldn’t publicly criticize me.)
It’s not completely fair to call me a “bad wife,” I guess. It’s not like I’m sleeping-with-the-neighbor bad, but I do answer the "What's for dinner?" question with "You've got cereal in the cupboard” more often than I care to admit.
In the few months after we got married, I definitely had bouts of “Super Wife Syndrome” where I’d go grocery shopping, stop using disposable plates and toss towels in the washer. But, I’d also inevitably forget to move the towels to the dryer, let food go bad in the fridge for want of being cooked and watch the dishes pile up in the sink until my husband dutifully washed them. Not to mention the days when I get irritated for no apparent reason and sit around the house in deathly silence.
I genuinely want to be the wife who is always happy, always glamorous, always cleaning, always cooking, and always frisky. But who is like that in real life?
One night, while I was mindlessly watching DVR and generally feeling sad about not living up to the “good wife standard,” I had an epiphany: Guilt is wholly unproductive.
This seems basic, but I truly didn’t realize it. I was unwittingly embracing my own feelings of guilt and using them as a twisted way of excusing myself from responsibility. Not doing something was ultimately OK with me as long as I was feeling guilty about not doing it. Ridiculous, right? I decided that day to stop with the guilt and self-pity.
So what if I suggested the can of Spaghetti O’s to my husband because I was in the middle of writing? So what if I picked up a pack of boxers from the store instead of washing his dirty ones at home? So what if I neglected to cook a meal simply because I didn’t want to wash the dishes? So what if I spent an entire Saturday in sweats? So what if I didn’t make his lunch and suggested he just go to Wendy’s instead? So what?!
I realized that marriage isn’t about checking off a list of arbitrary requirements. It’s a partnership where we both bring out the best in each other.
Weirdly, when I stopped feeling guilty all the time, I actually found the energy to cook a gourmet meal for dinner or grab his hamper of dirty clothes and wash them. I got dressed up for an impromptu breakfast date. I closed my computer and gave him my undivided attention. I packed his lunch before he left for work. I busted out my sluttiest lingerie and red lipstick before he got home. I obliterated the guilt and discovered the drive to do the things I imagine a “wife” would do. Do I do these things every day? No. Do I do them more now that I stopped wasting time feeling guilty about not doing them? Absolutely.
Besides, my fluctuating between poster wife and lazy roommate definitely keeps him on his toes and don’t men want variety anyway? I ultimately decided that I may not be the wife they portray in the movies, but I’m his wife. He married me for love, not because he needed clean underwear in his drawer at all times.
And as far as that 1930s test, well it’s like what they say about men and their toys: The woman who is the best wife still dies. Oddly, their conclusion that I’m a “failure” actually makes me feel like a true success.