The Vital Difference

My husband has been staying at work late this week. I texted him around 5:30pm saying he should take what time he needed, not to worry, so I wasn’t surprised when I hadn’t heard from him by 7pm. It wasn’t until almost 7:30pm that I thought to check the calendar and see if there were a reason he wasn’t yet home. I had forgotten he had a retirement party. 

I texted him a few more times. He never responded. This is a common occurrence in our marriage; I am much more inclined to communicate throughout the day. My husband rarely responds, and when he does it’s usually monosyllabically: Yes. No. Okay. Sure. 

The retirement party ended at 7pm, but by 10:30pm my husband still wasn’t home. He never texted to say he was staying late. He never even reminded me he had this event. 

Finally at 11pm he responded to a text, one in which my frustration was apparent. At 12:30am he finally waltzed in. 

And therein lies the vital difference. He can just be gone for an entire evening and not think twice about home. He can carry on with his life as if we weren’t even here. 

Can you imagine?

I can’t. I could never be gone for so long and not check in, at least once. This is partly because of who I am, but it has more to do with the expectation that I would be there. I’m the parent that handles evenings. If I’m not there, plans have to me made. My absence must be accounted for. 

It’s such a fundamental difference in who we are and how our family factors into our lives. I am at the center of my family. If I am gone, objects must be set in motion to counteract the loss of my gravitation pull. My husband is a satellite. His absence can go unnoticed. He can fall out of orbit without glancing back at our little solar system. At least for a little while. 

I don’t think he can ever really understand what it’s like to have the pull of so many lives circling around you. To be the center, always. To never get a break.

It’s hard not to feel understood. It’s lonely. 

31 Comments

  1. I think this is very normal – at least for my generation (I am 58).It has always been like that. I feel the same even now with my elderly mother, two young adults and my husband who ALL call on me every time ANYTHING needs sorted out and it is constant…… I am the go to problem solver,listener,driver, shopper, picker up of all things needed, sorter out of dramas. It can be quite exhausting and never ending and as you say any one of the group can disappear temporarily and every thing continues happily……but I can’t. If I try to, for even an afternoon, I will come back to my phone to find missed calls and texts and my Mother having phoned both children asking if they know where I am! I now announce in advance when I will be uncontactable in the hope of a bit of peace and quiet.

    To be fair, maybe we like being the centre of the unit and maybe we wouldn’t really like it any other way? It’s nice to be needed – just a thought!

    Just try throwing elderly parents into the mix though that brings a whole other dimension.

    But, yes, being that person is exhausting……..

    1. This is sobering to read. I was hoping for a…respite at some point. The thought of adding my elderly parents to the mix is terrifying! Especially my dad. He is a mess.

      1. Please remove that comment that should have read my dad and it auto filled from my address book!

        1. Done. Here it is without that info:
          That part is horrible. I do think have kids and since this already an issue with my dad and my furbabies….well it became much worse since my mom’s death 10 years ago. My dad also a mess and one whom I pretty much avoided my entire life. Now I’m stuck because there is no on else. I feel for you.

  2. This is the same in our house. I am all mornings and evenings and everything in between. In a heated moment between my husband and I, I claimed “leave we don’t need you!” the response was but they love me. Love and need are completely separate. Yes we do love you, no we do not need you. You do nothing for the well-being of any of us other than a few laughs and tickles a couple of times a week. Sad to say but our lives would go on much as they do now – I get no help with three children in the morning or the evening. I am the only one to go to appointments, schedule activities, take sick days, drop offs and pick up as well as make the majority of our income. Now its expected. and that is the frustrating part.

    1. The scheduling /planning/keep track part, that is SO exhausting and I know he has no idea what it entails because I don’t think he does a good job of it even for himself. It’s hard to feel like all that invisible work is unappreciated.

      I suppose we’d be a lot worse off without my husband’s salary. That is important to remember…

  3. Yes to what B said – my kids and I love my husband, but we don’t need him. He, on the other hand, would be fairly lost without all the things I do for him. I think he’s starting to see and appreciate that. He hasn’t necessarily changed his behavior, but I’m glad he realizes.

    I have to say, though, that if my husband went as long as yours did without contacting me, I’d be flipping out, calling every 20 minutes, probably calling his friends… I try to tell him all the time “it’s not about just being annoyed when I don’t hear from you. How do I know something didn’t happen to you?”

    1. I know! I was freaking out! I mentioned that to him and he seemed kind of confused. I don’t think he would be worrying about me if I didn’t call. Maybe women are just more prone to worry in that way? I always start imagining the worst.

      I definitely don’t feel like I need my husband. His parents are way more helpful and I feel more dependent on them than I do on him! But if I were gone he’d be a mess. I don’t think he really understands the extent of how screwed he’d be.

      1. I’m not sure it’s a “woman” thing so much as a “worrier” thing. My husband is a worrier. A few months ago I decided to stop off and do some shopping on my way home (on a whim). There was no need for me to be home ASAP and I needed a few things. I ended up getting home about an hour later than usual and my husband was freaking out, thinking I died in a car accident, lol. I don’t own a cellphone so have no way to contact him once I leave work (but before I get home). He also is constantly fretting about our dog if she has the slightest sign of a limp or general malaise (Him: MAYBE SHE HAS CANCER? Me: No, she doesn’t have cancer. She’s a fucking dog. Maybe she just doesn’t want to play right now”)

        Could you see it as: he has confidence in you and knows that you have shit under control?

        1. I’m sure he does have confidence in me and knows that I have my shit under control. That is definitely part of it. Because, 99% of the time I do. And I probably don’t have as much confidence in him having his shit under control when I’m away because there have been times when he hasn’t, and he frequently needs to ask me where something is or if he needs to do something because I take care of so much of what gets done. When he comes back to the house when I’ve been alone handling the kids I am generally fine. When I come home after he’s been alone with the kids he’s usually a wreck. So yeah, that is definitely part of why I check in and he doesn’t.

          But that is also why it bothers me, because I am the one who doesn’t make a big deal about it every time I’m alone with the kids, and he is the one who does. It’s just another aspect of the imbalance that drives me so crazy.

        2. Oh, and I also should admit that I do worry more than he does. For sure. Having said that, if I don’t hear my phone and he calls or texts with a question about where something is or how to do something, he gets FRUSTRATED when I don’t pick up, so I feel like I have to have my phone at the ready when I’m away. He clearly does not feel like he has to afford me the same courtesy.

  4. I think this is very very very common. Josh tries to be sensitive to it, but the fact is that there are many times when he tells me when he’s coming home vs. how I communicate — I ask. Which is only a tiny step closer to equality.

    1. Yes! This! It’s the lack of asking–the telling, or just assuming, that makes me feel like I’m taken for granted, that the expectation is I will be home and available and he can do whatever he wants. That is exactly what keeps us from reaching equality.

    1. I was pretty angry. It wasn’t pretty when he got home (I was still up grading papers). There were a lot of tense silences.

  5. The difference in how people respond to things is so interesting to me. In your situation, your take away was how much you are needed. If I were in your situation, my take away would be how completely and totally unacceptable my husband’s behavior was. You (husband) were at a party that ended at 7 and I didn’t hear from you until 11 and you didn’t get home until 12:30? Oh, hell no. You received multiple texts from me and didn’t respond within a reasonable time frame (for me, depending on text content, would probably be about an hour)? Hell no. Communication is an integral part of our marriage and even though I realistically don’t (usually) *need* my husband, he has a responsibility to be available IF I need him which means I have to be able to get in touch with him. My husband and I rarely fight (I can think of only one “true” fight in four years of marriage) but the situation you described above would lead to fight number two, I can assure you that. I am angry for you. And I’m sad that you feel lonely; I think I’d rather you be angry too… 🙁

    1. Same. I would be livid (and a little panicked) without a text back. I’m not the kind of wife that texts constantly while my husband is out but when I text about where he is and when he’ll be home, I expect a fairly prompt response.

      1. Me too. And the longer it goes on without a text from him, the nastier I get (even while telling myself, calm down, don’t write that). We used to have this fight every time he went out, which was not often, to be fair. But every damn time. Now, he knows better. But it took 4-5 times of extreme anger on my part.

    2. I had multiple take aways. At first it was, he is being an inconsiderate @$$hole, but later I was thinking more about HOW he could be such an inconsiderate @$$hole and those thoughts are what I expressed in this post. I try to come here to put out more than just, my husband was a jerk last night. 😉

  6. 1) Not responding to your texts – completely rude and unacceptable in my opinion. I would never do that to anyone; how could he think it is okay to do that to his own wife? Does he really not have his phone? I find that unbelievable. So he was literally IGNORING multiple texts from you instead of a quick “hi i’m so sorry caught at work function, will be super later, see you in AM XO”?

    2) If it bothers you, what would happen if you assigned him one night per week as his, and just disappeared (yoga class, girls’ night, etc)? Would he agree to that do you think?

    1. I keep trying to do this but it’s hard to follow through. I need to though. Mostly I work on getting back time on the weekends, but I need to do it once during the work week as well.

  7. Um… I am NOT saying this is what is going on here, but when my husband started acting like this (staying out late, not responding to texts) it was because he was seeing another woman.

    And when I say “seeing” I’m not using a euphemism. At first, they truly were just friends.

    Again NOT saying this is what’s going on in your case. And if this staying out late is not a new or unusual behavior, I’d be less worried.

    But I trusted my (now ex-) husband conpletely. I was 100% sure he would never cheat on me. And I felt like such an idiot when I found out the truth.

    1. It’s funny, I always have assumed that I would be the one to cheat in our marriage. I will be so surprised if I find out he is cheating on me.

      I think what happened was by the time I started sending texts, he had had a lot of drinks. I’m pretty sure this time he was at the retirement party because he told me about everyone there that he hadn’t seen in years (it was for someone retiring from his previous job). I will admit I don’t think he has his shit together enough to plan an affair. I’m sure a lot of women who later found out their spouses were cheating felt the same way…

  8. Honestly, if I’m going to do bedtime with the kid by myself, I’d actually prefer my husband to come home late so I can watch what I want on TV and fall asleep before he starts snoring. That said, if he didn’t respond to multiple texts I’d probably start to worry.

    1. Ha! There is a part of me that feels the same way. I honestly wasn’t mad the he wasn’t home, just annoyed that he hadn’t let me know he was going to be so late. It just felt very… selfish.

  9. Ummm. Probably not an affair but you might ask him. Or not. Or not appear when he is expecting you and not respond if he messaged you … that is sauce for the gander. But really both are pretty petty and not adult behaviors. SO ASK HIM WHAT HE WOULD THINK IF YOU WERE OVER 3 HOURS LATE AND NOT RESPONDING TO HIS MESSAGES.
    Ask what he will think when is daughter goes out ‘with friends’ at age 14 and doesn’t respond to messages and is 3-4 hours late after curfew? This isn’t petty, it IS real. Find out how long she would need to be missing before he took action … because the same rule should apply to him. THAT IS PART OF ADULTING.
    Really really really angry on your behalf.
    Of, course i have just been reading political news so I am easy to trigger. Be judicious not like #45.

    1. We had a talk and he agreed that I had every right to be angry and that he will let me know when he’s running late in the future. I know it’s not going to change over night, but at least he recognized that what he did was wrong.

      1. Super glad. I swear somehow the two of you need more time alone together when you are not both at the end of your work days exhausted. If I had a magic wand I would fix that. However, no magic in this world today. Glad you both managed to talk about it and he could say he made a mistake. Huge step forward from the men a generation or more older than he is. (C 45 as example of the never wrong generation.)

  10. The not checking in seems extreme to me too. We haven’t usually had two cell phones so it made us really good about communicating plans ahead of time and calling if things changed and I am so thankful.

    I have a weird perspective as the non-primary physically present parent. I still have the mental invisible work (doctor appointments, dentist, sign up for things, putting events on the shared digital calendar) and a fair bit of planning but I don’t do the physical day to day being present things. Everyone has pretty much been shocked and horrified that my spouse be left with children alone while I work elsewhere short term but nobody would say boo if our genders were reversed. Mom stays home while daddy works in the oil fields or deploys for the military or whatever; it’s normalized that women are the primary parents so deeply. It takes an enormous effort to fight that cultural norm and isn’t always a battle I want to fight. What works for us is consciously determining how much solo time we need and trying to make that happen. We take turns with nights out and planned weekend afternoons alone at home or out, depending on what we each need. I hope you can find some solution for an episode like that.

    1. I bet you get all kinds of side eyes for being away and the kids being with your husband. That kind of set up is SO RARE. And you’re right, if the roles were reversed no one would think twice. It is a VERY deeply held cultural expectation for women to be the nucleus of a family with children. I can imagine it’s exhausting to buck that.

  11. My husband is great at the one word text response too! And if he was staying late for a retirement party, and had received a text from me saying “take all the time you need,” I probably wouldn’t hear from him till he got home either. He’s not great at remembering to check his phone, has it in his pocket or briefcase, and then doesn’t hear it ring, so sometimes I ask him why he bothers owning a phone!

    That said, I would have been livid, and would have plotted to do the same thing to him and let him see how it feels!!

    For what it’s worth, all my friends and sisters are the go-to person in their families too. And I’m pretty sure I would have been too! I remember a friend saying that frankly, she often felt that life was easier when her partner was away on a business trip, as she only had two kids to worry about, not the kids AND him. Isn’t that a sad indictment on the roles women and men play in relationships?

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