Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thoroughly Chewed Casserole -- TFTCB Part IV

I think I've ruminated on casserole and the types of female relationships they represent long enough. I'm almost ready to put down that sauce-crusted fork and move on. But I'm glad I reached into the freezer-burnt corners of my psyche to pull some things out, to sprinkle some cheese atop them and to set them under the broiler.

Here's what I've learned:

1) I've been whiny, grudgy, and unforgiving. I would like to stop being like that now. I'm going to forgive myself for it, though, because I felt my heart needed protecting and sometimes, that's a thing you gotta do.

2) I'm not at all friendless -- I've got some great friends. And I've got a mom and a mother-in-law who are there for me when I need them. That is a big au gratin heap of blessing not everyone has.

Here's the chewy part:
3) women have a special way of withholding praise, affection, and attention from each other when they are jealous. It is awful. It hurts deeply and is entirely crazy-making.

Enough with being concise. Now here's the ramble:

My older sister began shooting daggers at me the moment my parents brought me home from the hospital. Photographic evidence from the era bears this out. Since I can remember, she's been someone who I've admired tremendously, wanted to be just like, would do anything for (with the possible exception of "quit following/copying me!"), and who has seemed to love and despise me at the same time. For over three decades she's been treating with a blend of barely disguised contempt and grudging tolerance.

I have four older siblings but that relationship with my jealous big sis has been paramount for me. I've stopped following her around and copying her -- but she's still jealous of me. Pretty typical sister stuff: she thinks I have it so easy and I always get my way and I get everything I want. In many ways, this is true. Quite simply, she has battled depression  most of her life and I have not.

I, for reasons no-one could possibly pinpoint, get to be happy and she does not.

I feel very guilty about this, though I know better.

When I announced my first pregnancy to her, we had this conversation:

Me: "I`ve got some exciting news. I`m pregnant."
Big Sis: "You`re kidding me."
Me: "Nope. I`m going to have a baby. I`m three months pregnant."
Big Sis: "Well that just makes me feel sick to my stomach. Hearing that makes me feel so anxious."
Me: "Um.... why?"
Big Sis: "I just don't know whether or not I should have babies. I'm worried sick about it."

Then she went on for a while about herself and how my news made her feel bad. She didn't bother with any of the clichés such as "Congratulations," "I'm happy for you," or "How are you feeling?"

I felt such an imprecise blend of longing for her approval, anger at her self-absorbedness, and despondency that she isn't able to be a better sister to me.

It's a strange grief you feel when your loved-ones have a mental illness. They are right there, but then again, they really aren't.

I wasn't up for many more chats with her that pregnancy. I had the skin of a pregnant woman -- thin.

When I called her to say I was holding my baby in my arms and that she was a girl, she said:

Big Sis: "Oh. Wow. Well I just went rollerblading. I'm freaking exhausted."
Me: "Well then, I guess I should let you go? I'm kind of tired too, actually. I just gave birth."
Big Sis: "Yes, you mentioned that. Well it was a really long rollerblade. My back has been sore and I thought the exercise would help. But it didn't at all. It feels way worse, if you can believe it. I need a bath or a massage or something."
Me: "Okay then, well... take care."

Again, the clichés of "Congratulations," "How are you?" or anything at all having to do with myself or the baby were conspicuously absent.

I cannot begin to describe how deeply this hurt me. I was raw and wide-open and tender from pregnancy and birth and got the message loud and clear that I could expect nothing even close to emotional support from my big sister. She wasn't able. For whatever reasons, she isn't emotionally healthy enough to say "Congratulations, I can't wait to meet my new niece. I'm so excited! How are you? Tell me everything...."
I think what's starting to click into place for me right now is understanding what a big deal having this very jealous and depressed big sister in my life has been and is. It's a bigger crayon then I've given it creds for, colouring pretty much everything. I'm beginning to understand why a side of guilt always arrives for me alongside an entree of success and happiness. I thought it had something to do with growing up Catholic. But I think it's an internal dialogue that comes from somewhere else. It's a "now what have you done, this wonderful thing will make your miserable sister even more miserable."
Now I'm wondering, do I manifest relationships with other jealous women so I can replay this hurtful relationship again and again in other aspects of my life?

Or are women just jealous? Cause I often feel I'm surrounded by females who would just love to see me knocked down a few rungs and to see me flat on my face. And that's when I tell myself I'm surely imagining things. But really, I'm not sure I am.

I don't get jealous, honestly. I don't think I have that gene. I have never understood for a second why women seem to snarl and scrap over happiness as if this is something you can gain by ripping it out from some other's bitches jaws.

It just doesn't work that way. In fact, it works in quite the opposite way.

When I love people, I am never sorry to hear of their success. I am always happy to hear good news from them. I want them to shine. Their success is a thrill, never a disappointment for me.

Is that the very thing that inspires other women to be jealous of me? Could be. It's not because I'm skinny.

My SIL lives in another province. When we had our third baby at home, she didn't call or send a gift. She didn't even bother to comment "cute!" on Facebook pictures. She waited until Christmas time when she could visit this month and a half old baby in person. Fine. But this is what she had to say:

SIL: "Oh my God, she has so much hair."
Me: "She does, doesn't she?"
SIL: "You should see my friend who just had a baby. She looks sooooo great. You can't even tell she had a baby. Her stomach is completely flat. She works out lots and is just naturally gorgeous. Her birth was easy too. Like, one hour and it didn't hurt. She's an amazing person. She does yoga."

Then she looked at my belly askance and said, "Maybe you should try yoga."

She didn't ask about our home birth. She didn't have anything nice to say. You'd think a "Wow, she is so beautiful," or "Hey, how is life with three babies?" would come up. Nah.

Later that day I put my snow pants on and left my jeans folded up on the sofa so I could take her daughters and my kids tobogganing. When I came back, my jeans had been moved just slightly so that the "size 12" label was sticking out. That evening she found three separate "opportunities" to bring women who wore size 12 into the conversation.

As in: "So I saw this woman wearing such an inappropriately short skirt the other day. And she was heaaaaaaavy. She must have been, oh I don't know, Size 12. It was, quite honestly, horrifying. I seriously thought I might throw up."

And so on and so on and so on.

I know, right? What a hideous person.The only rational conclusion about this relationship is that this person (my SIL) hates me and would like me to feel terrible about myself.

But why?

I've been kind to her. I've thrown her a stagette and a baby shower. I've introduced her to all my friends and invited her into my life. She's in there. My people are her people. I've babysat her children and I've spent every Christmas for over a decade with her.

People who know us well or at all say she's obviously insanely jealous of me. Even though I'm a size 12? Even so. But conceding that just makes me feel crazy. And guilty. Cause I can't help but wonder if these jealous sisters are right about me. Do I deserve less?

Fuck no! I am fundamentally opposed to the philosophy of keeping your head down and your lights dim. That does not uplift a soul.

But: A long time friend of mine is about a month shy of a scheduled C-section for her third baby. She doesn't want a C-section and her husband is recovering from an injury/surgery and her parents are splitting up and she's pregnant with two small children and all this makes me think about her and hope things go her way and want to call her and offer support by letting her know I've been there-ish and it's hard and I'm thinking about her.


I'm still cheezed at her for not being there for me when I had my third. I vowed that if she ever had a third baby, I would not be there for her.

Isn't that asinine? It is and it isn't. The SIL likes to play us women off each other and set up situations -- like for example when our boy was a wee thing we invited her and my husband's brother and daughters over for brunch. We made waffles. But they didn't come. They called to say they'd be late. Then only he showed up well after noon with his two girls and asked me to babysit them for a couple hours while he went out with his brother/my husband.  Okay.

Later the SIL made sure I found out that she and the mutual friend had a girls day out together and it was wonderful, just what she needed. So. Instead of visiting her newborn nephew and sharing a meal with us -- she schlepped her kids off on me to help our mutual friend shop for yoga pants and drink lattes with her. Cause it was just what she needed.

I'm still cheezed at the mutual friend about this, though likely, she was clueless. What I did decide to do was to "unfriend" those two. Not on Facebook, that would be brash. IN REAL LIFE, yo.

It's worked and it hasn't. Our lives are too deeply interwingled to really be apart.

What's changed is that my heart is in the wrong place.

Which is where I believe their hearts are. Because I can tell that they wish I was less. And I don't want people like that in my life. They suck. And I don't want to be like that. But I've become it.

What's my point? My point is this:

1) I'm turning into the kind of bitch who witholds love and affection from people. It's taken me decades to learn how to do this. It didn't come naturally to me. Now it's part of me and I desperately wish I could unlearn it. But I don't know how. I'm all "Casserole for you, but no casserole for you, Biotch!"

2) I probably load too much on my female relationships. I want friends to be the sister I don't have and when they inevitably "fail" I am disappointed. This probably makes it hard to be my friend.

3) You can't really unfriend a sister or a sister-in-law or a sister-like friend. You can just be lifelong frenemies. I have no idea whether or not I will come around and be nice to my very pregnant friend. I don't want to be a grudgy, small person, but I don't want to be a doormat.

4) Yoga doesn't make you skinny. Don't be daft. I've been doing yoga since 1992.

Tree pose on a tree. Get it?

Namaste, Bitches.



  1. Hmmmmm... lots of food for thought here. But there is a difference between being the kind of bitch who withholds love and affection and being the kind of bitch who protects her own feelings. Do your SIL's attitude and actions cause you pain? Yep. How about the mutual friend's? Yep. So perhaps you're being wise and distancing yourself from getting hurt more. Because it hurts to be nice to people who are not nice back. It's a lot of wasted energy.

    You should be nice to yourself. And your kids. And your hubby. And people who have shown you they care. Because you're busy with three kids and a husband and a life, right?

  2. I thought I had finished with female jealousies and friendship break-ups when I left my teens! Never expected to be dealing with it all again in my thirties!
    I love this quote.

  3. Oh. Wow. I don't even know where to start. I'm so sorry that these people are more-or-less inextricably in your life, because man, they cry out for extricableness. I do get jealous, but only when I'm in a bad place myself, and I always know that. And I would never wish to have anyone I know taken down a few rungs - if anything I just wish I was more like them, and then I learn once again that nobody's life is EVER as perfect as you think it is, and it's stupid to wish to be anyone but yourself.

    Sounds like you've got it figured out pretty well. So I'll just say - you are so not wrong. And I think if you want to be gracious and be better than the friend was to you, that's fine. And if you want to not be a doormat, that's fine too. And you don't live anywhere near Ottawa, do you? Because I would love to bring you some macaroni and cheese with bacon.

  4. I love that quote too.

    Also, I know, right? Part of me can laugh at how over the top it all is but part of me is sad.

  5. Betsy,

    I love this. There is definitely some jealousy going on with those people, and it more than likely comes from a place of having no confidence in themselves. They expect everyone else to fill them up, and because you don't need that to feel good about yourself, they seemingly do things on purpose to try and make you feel bad. People like that suck.

    If we lived closer, you could totally be my friend. I would ask you about your homebirth (and share with you about mine!)

    The people I have trouble with are the ones who complain bitterly about everything in their lives.

    Oh, and a size 12 is heavy? Not. at. all. In fact, we could totally trade clothes back and forth!

  6. Just . . . wow. You have told stories that made me nod in commiseration, so, it's a sad truth that this is universal. Hell, I'm definitely guilty of having withheld love for a perceived slight. Thanks for making me think - I might just have to try a) being more direct or b) deciding I don't give a flip and moving on.

    TY for the sweet well wishes on Ailia's arrival!

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  8. Love your writing.

    I just binged on all four casserole posts. I feel very similarly. My first thought is, "Who the hell has time for a brisk walk after dinner?" Not in this town. Not when the kids are little and needy. Not when my closest friend is 45 minutes away. Not when my kids get up at 5 and therefore by 7 I am DONE.

    Life with little kids is hard.

    I appreciate the internet.

  9. Hi Betsy. Great post. Do you think some of your family might have a narcissistic streak as well?

    I think you're right to deal with your hurt in your own way and in your own time. Only question is: it was your BIL who brought the kids around and left them with you while he went out with your husband. Were you angry with him too? OK, yes, he hadn't jabbered on about size 12 like your sister-in-law and perhaps he didn't try to rub it in like your SIL. But he was still pretty low.

  10. This comment might be coming a year too late. I've only just read your casserole series and there is so much there, so much food for thought, so much I nod along to, I can't begin to be really concise, but I'm going to say just one thing that really helped me when I was going through some of this similar angst - here I am saying that like I've never felt that way again when really I think it's a cyclical thing. Still when I was going through this hardcore, in my mid-twenties, after I got married and some old friendships disintegrated and felt really negative, I had this epiphany about female relationships:

    When I was little, I had like 1 BFF at a time, and then a bunch of supporting actress friends (though I'm an introvert so there were never a lot), and I kept trying to get that BFF feeling again as an adult, which I think would mean an inner circle friend, and I kept getting sad and resentful because I couldn't find it. Then I hit on the concept that I was going to make a composite BFF. I don't believe that any one person can be everything to me, but I had all these great friends that fed and nourished distinct parts of me. So I decided to nourish those friendships even though they weren't perfect, because together they made a great BFF. It allowed me to be more forgiving of their shortfalls because I didn't need one person to be so important in my life, and it allowed me to hold some people (who were hurtful but entangled in my life forever) at arms length. I could appreciate them for whatever part they played in my life, without letting their issues/our issues overpower me.

    When we're busy actively refusing to make someone a casserole, it means they are taking up a lot of our mental space. You're basically spending half the day making a casserole in your mind so that you can put it in the garbage in front of them. What a waste of time right? Who wants to be that person? But you also have to protect yourself and your family. If you're exhausted from your 3 kids and don't have the energy to make a casserole, you don't have to. Stop by the grocery store and grab a frozen lasagne to drop off. Or don't. But call to congratulate her when she has the baby. I dunno. I mean, you can still be the person you want to be and you don't have to let those hurtful people get close enough to you to actually hurt you, but you can still appreciate (or try to find things to appreciate) the level of relationship you do have with them. They can hurt you less when you change your expectations of what you think they are going to give you. This might seem dumb, but with some people, expect that they'll disappoint you and then they never can. :)

    1. Yes, this is a very thoughtful comment and I appreciate it. I'd like to say I'm over all this but honestly, just last week I was thinking about someone and basically preparing her a casserole to dump in the garbage in front of, and I caught myself and asked, really? This old stuff again?

      The marvelous thing is there's a new friend in my life who, hearing I was at home sick with a cold, recently made a big pot of chicken soup and brought it over. How lucky!

      I guess the thing is to focus on the way relationships are instead of fixating on the way you wish they were and who is to blame for them failing.

      Sometimes easier said.

    2. Oh yeah. Definitely easier said sometimes. Especially when it comes to family.

      So happy to hear you have a chicken soup friend. I like chicken soup better than casseroles myself. :)


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