I spend a lot of time wondering how I missed it. How did I miss that the man I married didn’t love me, I wasn’t his soul mate, he didn’t like all of the same things I liked. He chose me for what I brought to the table. I was chosen to be a Nanny, a Paycheck, a Maid and, perhaps most importantly, a Julie.
Do you remember Julie? She was the social director on the Love Boat. (The Love Boat was a popular show in the ‘80’s, in case you did’t know). Julie was the one being paid to get the vacationers together, to forge relationships, to host parties and events, to make everyone feel comfortable, and ultimately, to create love. Yes, this is an actual Paying Job! During each episode, you could often see how exacerbated Julie was. It was a tough job. There are some tough people out there, the surly, unhappy ones, and she had to soften them. Not for the faint of heart.
I have spent at least 20 years playing Julie, and playing her really well. She’s been my go-to persona whenever a situation was awkward, new, scary, unsettled. I was taught this from a young age, as are many girls*. I was told it was my “job” to make others feel comfortable. I was told that when I met someone new ,they felt as nervous as I did, and it was my responsibility to ask them questions about themselves, because most people relax when they talk about themselves. This was my role at all times – to make sure others felt comfortable and were able to express themselves. And I’ll say it – I’m really freaking good at playing Julie!
Throughout our marriage I did my Julie duties. I brought our two groups of friends together, I made sure that his friends always felt welcomed, I encouraged Pictionary & Trivial Pursuit parties, and I did the work of making everyone comfortable. Later, I developed relationships with the parents of children our boys liked. It was rare to have an awkward moment when I was around. I can start a conversation with the most anti-social of personalities (great example being my ex!). So it was that during our marriage I held some really great parties, and we had some really good times at our house.
In 2008 though, I was in a car accident that left me with a brachial plexus injury (this was in addition to my lung and autoimmune issues; go me, eh?) . At the time, my ex was putting a new kitchen floor in the restaurant with his father and a friend so, after a week of trying to minimize my excruciating pain, when my entire arm turned ice cold, his father took me to the ER (the ex was too busy, obviously). Since the pain radiated from my chest but my EKG was normal , I was admitted.
Two Pieces of Advice About Hospitals
- Don’t go to the hospital on a holiday weekend! I was admitted on (I think) a Thursday, July 3rd. I was given morphine (thank God for morphine) and I had an MRI at about 11:30PM. Two days later, after having asked numerous times each day what the results of my MRI were and what was wrong with me, with no answer, I said “I’m leaving” . As I was dressing to leave I finally saw a Dr, who was a “temp”’ called in to cover since all the regular Dr’s were on vacation. And before you ask, yes this led to complications.
- Sometimes you have to leave to get attention. After my cancer surgery I was told by my Dr., at 10AM, that I could go home. My parents came to get me, and we spent the next 6 hours asking when I would be discharged. I was finally “discharged” (i.e. given post-op instructions and scripts) after my mother went into the hallway, took a wheelchair, put me in it, wheeled me out to the elevator and pushed the down button. Yes, it was a Terms of Endearment moment. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?
Back in 2008 though, the day after I was admitted with a stone cold left arm and excruciating pain, my ex came to see me, or maybe he just called, and asked if I “minded” if he went to his family July 4th party. What is a wife supposed to say to that? Clearly, if he’s asking to go, he would rather not be taking care of me, so how can I say “yes I mind, stay with me”. I said sure, go, have fun. He did.
None of which is the point, except to say that I was in severe pain for the next 18 months, and stopped being Julie. (I was told 12 – 18 months for the pain to let up and did not believe it; it was true). As I look back, I see that playing Julie was part of the “contract” I had made with him. He would go to work, I would take care of the kids and the house, and provide the fun. I would make sure that when he came home at 10PM on Friday night his friends would be there, drinking and carrying on, while the kids danced to the Wiggles or jumped on the trampoline. I would keep the party going, even though I had to get up the next day with the kids, feeling like crap, feeling alone and out of my element as a mother and a wife. I would make sure there were brownies for the kids, drinks for the mom’s, beer for the dad’s, no matter how crappy I felt. While I expected him to do heavy lifting, which I did, he expected me to be the fun one, the social butterfly, always ready to whip up a party, the perpetual Julie.
I see now when I am playing Julie. I see the times I am acting happy, and welcoming, and bringing people together, and I see how hard it really is. One time my ex’s mother told me I had a “gift” for talking to people and making them feel comfortable.
I’ve decided to call bullshit.
It’s not a gift, it’s damn hard work! I’ve spent a life time making other people feel cared about, and safe, and interesting, and loved and wanted. This is Work, not a Gift. I feel exhausted after most social events, because I have worked my ass off being the “Bell of the Ball”, always smiling and bright, always able to bridge the gap between otherwise unconnected people, always able to get a group going with conversation, bringing the fun to the table.
Julie is my go-to persona in new or awkward situations, but I am playing her less and less. I am finding that I am actually very awkward when not playing her. I feel shy, self conscious, scared and insecure, when not channeling my inner Julie. Every once in a while I sense that whoever I’m with feels it too, the awkwardness that comes from being totally authentic, letting down my guard, not being the entertainer, engager, or care-taker. Of course, there aren’t very many I’m able to do that with. If any of you reading this have the joy of seeing the “real me”, I apologize for any awkward silences I create, or perpetuate. I don’t like it any more then you do, trust me.
Julie has to go. I hope that I will be “enough” without her, but I’m not sure. I guess time will tell. I just hope I have the strength to keep her at bay, to give up my “go-to” persona, to find out who I am really am. And I hope that there is a Me without Julie.
If I find her, the real Me, I hope people like me as much as they liked her. Do you think they will?
*Not meant to infer that this is bad advice – it is not. It must be taught in moderation though. Both parties in any relationship must take their turn being Julie.