What to do when the breadwinner becomes the man about the house? That's the question hubby and I have been tiptoeing around. We, and he, have gone through a major readjustment to our daily lives and to how we perceive each other and ourselves this year.
Hubby came home from London with his tail firmly between his legs in April after months of fighting for his job and negotiations to get the best redundancy package he could. You see, it's a bit complicated. He was let go for political reasons masked as economic reasons. The mask was quite thin, and everyone saw through it. To avoid the bad publicity of going to a tribunal, his old firm paid him off. Then they got rid of the woman who got rid of hubby. Sweet revenge! But it's not the same as a job.
A man defines himself by what he does, and if he does nothing, then he is nothing. Of course, we women know that's not true. But people do look at you and treat you differently if you're in employment than if you're not. I have experienced that for the past 16 years.
Our friends swiftly divided themselves into two categories: those who were supportive and those who weren't. The supportive ones have kept in touch, have invited us out, asked how things are on a regular basis. Some of them have been in the same boat. They understand when I say I'm waiting to exhale. The others have been notable by their absence. No phone calls, emails, dropping by. Nothing but a great big zero. Actually, in the beginning when I still thought they were friends and actively sought out their company, they would make comments like hubby is a "pain in the arse" and "it's his own fault" if none of the other men talk to him.
Are you shocked to read that? I was shocked to hear it, and I haven't gone out of my way since to see or speak to those two women (Frenemy, of course, and Mildred, who I wrote about previously as well).
It's a tough and uncertain time for a lot of folks. I know we are more fortunate than many in the same boat. I also know just how quickly one's world can change.
That's why I was relieved and gratified to read an article in Sunday's paper about redundancy: that it can feel like bereavement, that it can change the dynamics of a couple's relationship for better or worse, that it can make you a better person if you allow it to. At last, someone wrote about what we've been going through these last six months. I'm not making it up.
We've worked our way through some of the worst of the bereavement. For a few months I cried every morning when no one was around, and sometimes in the middle of the night. I don't do that so much anymore. I try to look forward and think of what to do if this drags on for much longer. We have learned what matters most in life, that a walk with the dog can be infinitely more entertaining and fulfilling than a meaningless evening out. I have tightened my belt tremendously, halving our food shopping bill for example. It brought back memories of my young adult life when I didn't make much money and had to be very careful how I spent it (though I always seemed to have money for alcohol!). I want some new clothes, but a quick perusal through the cupboards revealed clothes I could wear if I lost 10 pounds. So I am working on that. I keep telling myself that I can't control a lot in my life at the moment but I can control what I eat.
Back to the dog: for anyone going through a similar experience, I highly recommend having a dog. Jake has been the saviour for hubby, who walks him twice a day every day. When nothing else could make hubby smile, Jake would sidle up to him and sniff his bum. Guaranteed to work every time (but I'm not going to do that). Hubby and I read the paper together every day and discuss the turbulent world markets and what it all means. Hubby's quite knowledgeable on this subject, and he has taught me a lot.
In the beginning I was reluctant to tell people hubby had lost his job. It felt embarrassing. It's easier now, especially when so many seem to be losing their jobs. It's made me consider how I've behaved in the past toward others in the same situation. Was I rude or thoughtless or insensitive? Was I supportive and helpful? Is there anything I can do now to help others in the same boat? Staying positive is the most important thing. Something I tell myself every day is it doesn't cost a penny to smile. If you smile, the world smiles back at you (though some may question your sanity).
And I plan to keep smiling, no matter what, especially when I'm around Frenemy and Mildred. Let them wonder what I'm up to. I'll never tell.