Musings from an Unemployed English Major: Navigating My New Role as a Wife

Technically, it hasn’t even been a month. But that month feels like a lot longer when you’re recently married, moved to a different state, and sit in an apartment all day.

I graduated from Utah Valley University on May 7. I officially have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a minor in Russian studies. I am so grateful for the chance I had to go to college. I wouldn’t change my experience at UVU for anything. And, until fairly recently, I was excited to enter the job market. More recently, it seems like the job market isn’t excited for me and I’m getting frustrated.

I knew it would take some time to get a job, I just didn’t think it would be this disheartening. Sending out my resume and cover letters on a daily basis, only to never hear back, really takes a toll on my confidence. I’ve become very familiar with my desk and my apartment’s pool as I nurse my hurt and frustration with Pinterest and reading in the sunshine.

But that’s not all I do. Since my husband is at work all day, most of the household chores fall to me. Taking care of the dishes, cleaning, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, all those tasks fall to me. I am home, after all, and he spends his days working, making sure we have a living to live off of. It makes sense that, since I’m the one at home, with nothing else to do and nothing else going on, I take care of most of these chores and tasks.

It makes sense thinking about it like that. But living it, day after day, with nothing but the dirty clothes and dirty dishes for company, has a different effect all together.

I brought it up early on in our dating relationship that I was not going to take care of all the chores and household duties simply because I was the woman, because I would be the wife. I could not live in a husband-wife relationship where I was expected to take care of the house just because I was the woman. My husband agreed, saying something along the lines of, “Of course!” And he’s never made me feel like I’m expected to do anything just because I’m a woman, and just because I’m his wife. He, specifically, is not to blame for my discomfort at taking care of all these tasks. I blame the patriarchy.

He comes home some days and the dishes haven’t all been taken care of. I feel bad because shouldn’t I have gotten them all washed and put away? The kitchen immaculate? He comes home some days and I haven’t folded all of his clothes, because he likes to fold his shirts a certain way that I haven’t memorized yet. I apologize. Why? Because it’s not enough that I cleaned all the clothes, shouldn’t I have put them all away too?

And what about dinner? Sometimes he comes home, hungry, and I haven’t even started making anything yet. But aren’t I supposed to know, by some miraculous power, when exactly he’ll return home from work? Shouldn’t I have dinner, warm and steaming, ready for him as soon as he walks into the door?

And what about the bathroom counter, that I keep saying I’ll get around to cleaning? It’s not been cleaned.

Not only can I not get a job, I can’t seem to take care of everything I’m “supposed” to. My days have become a constant swirl of frustration from no job, and the underlying guilt of not accomplishing everything I “should.”

Since when have I had such problems feeling guilty for what I “should” do? Do I need to get all of these things done all the time? No. Absolutely not. So why do I feel almost panicky every afternoon around 4:00 when I look around the apartment and see all the things that still need to be done? Why do I feel guilty for going down to the pool with a book to relax and escape the frustration and sameness of every day?

What is wrong with me?

Without school, without a job, I’m left to grapple with my new role as a wife. I miss the days of online classes, discussing and listening to my peers, completing homework assignments, feeling accomplished and smart and strong. I miss having a purpose every day, something that makes money.

Now, all I do is sit inside, do chores, and waste my days. At least, that’s what it feels like.

But who told me that I’m wasting my days? Is it because the work I am doing is unpaid? Is it because it is “expected” of me as a wife? Yes and yes.

My days are still busy. I sit inside and take care of dishes, do laundry, dust and vacuum, take care of the plants. I apply for jobs. I sit and crochet, sometimes write, go outside and swim, and read. I always read. I’m not doing nothing. But why does it feel like I am?

Because society has told me so. Work, from a capitalist perspective, is only so good as it produces money. Taking care of a house, unless you’re taking care of someone else’s, doesn’t turn a profit. So in that way, the housework I do is worthless. But if I wasn’t here taking care of the house, who would? We couldn’t last long without having the dishes cleaned, the laundry cleaned. And it’s so much more pleasant when the furniture is dusted, and the floor is vacuumed. It feels like home.

More than that, our very lives depend on eating, on having meals. I go shopping and buy groceries and then I turn those groceries into meals.

Payment doesn’t equal value. Just because I’m not paid for taking care of our apartment and taking care of ourselves, doesn’t mean that work isn’t valuable.

But the issue is also a double-edged sword. One side is capitalism and the other is patriarchy. Because historically, and stereotypically, it was women who stayed home and took care of the house, that must mean that work isn’t worth very much, right? Women fill in the spaces where men aren’t, where men have deemed is their specific place. Women are expected to take care of everything. Get all the chores done, make sure the house is sparkling, and then make sure you yourself look happy and pretty for when your husband comes home from a long day of work.

But what have we, the women, been doing all day? We’ve been working too!

Last week, I shared a part of my guilt with my husband. “I feel like I’m not doing anything! Like I’m not accomplishing anything!”

He looked at me then, brows a little furrowed. “Jessica, it’s not like you’re doing nothing all day.”

And now that I’ve written out these thoughts, I think I believe him. I do believe him. I believe that I play an important role in managing our new household, our new life together. In fact, I know that I play an important role.

But that still doesn’t stop the guilt all the time. It doesn’t stop the “I’m sorry” from slipping out when he comes home and his laundry hasn’t been put away, when the dishes are still dirty, and the floor hasn’t been vacuumed. Though I recognize that what I’m doing is important, and integral, it’s a lot harder to fight the notions that I’m supposed to be the “perfect” wife and housekeeper. Unlearning those deep-seeded, preconceived notions of what I “should” be is going to take a lot longer than just writing a blog post about my feelings and thoughts. It’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, and it might be something I have to work on for the rest of my life.

But for now, it might be enough that I’ve made peace with the fact that just because the work I do is at home, it doesn’t make it unvaluable and worthless. And I, by extension, am not unvaluable and worthless.

It also helps that just yesterday, Sunday, my husband was home. He woke up from an afternoon nap and grabbed a sponge, scrubbing the bathroom counter clean.

“I can do that, you know,” I told him, in an attempt to keep the guilt from choking me.

“I know,” he said. “So can I.” And he cleaned the countertop, the sink, the mirror. He pulled out the vacuum and cleaned the entire floor. He pulled out the duster and dusted the coffee table and entertainment center.

It isn’t all on me. We are both part of this household and so we will both take care of it.

Today, I will do the laundry and try to get the dishes done. I will keep applying for jobs and I will take some time to read and enjoy myself too. Most importantly, I will try not to feel guilty. I am guilty of nothing.

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