Has there ever been a moment, no matter how brief, where you fantasize about disappearing from your own life?
I’m not talking about suicide or kidnapping. I’m not talking about living a life on the run. I’m talking about getting lost in the fantasy of getting in the car and just driving away. Maybe it’s just for a day where no one can text you, the dog can’t ask to go out fifty times, and the dishes aren’t piled up in the sink staring at you. Or maybe it’s longer. Maybe in your fantasy, you drive until you hit a secluded beach town. You trade your corporate office for a job shaking drinks at a Tiki Bar and singing karaoke at night.
From what I’ve gathered, I think so many women have moments (or even many moments) where they fantasize about leaving their life, where they dream that they live a different life entirely. And I think a lot of women are afraid to admit that because it makes us sound ungrateful, selfish, and like bad mothers, partners, and workers.
But here’s the thing, ladies. I think it’s completely understandable why so many of us sometimes get caught up in wishing life was different, simpler, quieter. I think it’s completely reasonable that in modern times, women crave the freedom of being who they want and shedding some of the responsibilities. Because for the modern woman, life is exhausting.
That’s not to say men don’t have their struggles, too. To be human is to struggle. To be human is to be frustrated, to take on too many responsibilities sometimes, and to wonder if you’re doing it right. Today, though, we’re talking about the plight of modern women mostly because, to be honest, that’s what I’m familiar with. As a 33-year-old woman, I feel that’s what I can speak the most accurately to.
We are living in beautiful times as women in so many ways. This is not to say life is perfect or that equality is 100%. I know we still have our inequities, injustices, and major hurdles to overcome. Still, living in 2021 as a woman, I feel like I really do have endless possibilities. Want to be a doctor? Go do it. Want to go to the moon? Sure thing. Want to be a stay-at-home mom? Yes, yes, yes. You really do get to choose what you want to do in your career path, and although we could talk about equal pay controversies, let’s just agree that we do have more freedom of choice than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. That’s a beautiful thing.
However, with choice and freedom comes responsibility. Because even though we are living in an era where women can chase careers and be who they want to be, there still is so much social pressure on us to carry our traditional roles. No matter how awesome your partner is, so many women I know carry the weight of running the household, dinner, laundry, carting the kids around, and all of the traditional domestic roles our grandmothers carried--except now, many of us are working full-time jobs or chasing careers. Or, even if you are a stay-at-home mother, there’s still so much more on our plates than those who went before us. Times have changed. Schedules are hectic. Gone are the days of quiet dinners at home and peaceful nights by the radio. We live our lives at 100 miles an hour plus, and it can be exhausting keeping up.
Add to that financial stresses, career stresses, social stresses of being a friend worthy of a romcom movie, and no wonder so many of us are walking around feeling like zombies. The to-do lists are never ending at work--and then we come home to a never-ending domestic to-do list. And even with the most helpful husband who carries half the weight, it just still feels like housekeeping and decorating and hosting seems to belong to the female side of the relationship. If my house were cruddy for a family get-together, I know--or at least I’ve been trained to believe--that everyone would be looking at me with disdain, not my husband. The “boys will be boys” attitude seems to carry over into adulthood and into domestic life.
There’s also the fact that for so many women I know, a sense of deep-rooted responsibility causes us to want to do all the things. From the time we are little girls, most of us are taught the worst thing you can be in the world is selfish. Our definitions of selfish morph and twist as we observe social mores, community beliefs, and standards. To be a “good” woman--and, henceforth, daughter, wife, mother, etc--one must be selflessly giving and nice. We must seek to make others smile. We must ask what they need and try to give it to them. We must do all the things for those around us so we can be cherished as a successful female.
Many of us grow up to realize that “selflessness” often treads into the dangerous doormat territory. At some point, most women realize that to give to all means to be empty. We recognize we must say “no,” sometimes and we must put our needs first if we are ever to survive. Still, I would argue that this deep-rooted notion of being selfless is so ingrained in most of us, we still abide by it even when we aren’t trying to.
It’s why we say sure to running all the errands while our husbands take some time to relax.
It’s why we push through and go to the game or the social event even when we feel like we have the flu.
It’s why we take on that extra committee at work even though it will mean we don’t have any time to ourselves during the week.
It’s why we do the dishes at midnight and wash that extra load of laundry and change the sheets on Sunday morning instead of sipping coffee.
It’s why we feel the need to be the best at work and at home. It’s why we feel like we need to do all the things--and with a smile worthy of a magazine, to boot.
It’s why so many women are running around bleary-eyed, passionless, and empty.
We put pressure on ourselves to be perfect at our careers, at our passions, as moms, as pet owners, as wives, as girlfriends, as friends, as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, and every other role we take on. We feel guilty for taking a break or saying “no.” Certainly we can do just one more thing or be just one more thing for someone. If we just do that one last thing, maybe we will be worthy.
But my question is: Worthy of what? Why are we feeling the need to do all the things all the time?
That brings me back to my point. Yes, we are blessed to have more choices than our ancestors did. Yes, the women who have gone before us fought for our right to have freedoms they could only dream of. Yes, I am grateful I can be a teacher or a doctor or a singer or a psychiatrist or whatever I want to be.
But here’s the thing, ladies. Just because you CAN be everything doesn’t mean you have to.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in being all the things that we forget to ask what we really want. What really matters? What fills us up with passion and excitement?
I think that’s where the fantasy of disappearing comes from. It is such a foreign concept for so many of us to get out of bed and be who we want to be and do what we want to do that we fantasize about it. We fantasize about just living for ourselves, about not having to wear a million different hats. I think that’s why so many of us wake up in our 30s or 40s and feel trapped, passionless, and used up.
And I think that’s a shame.
Now listen, I know we can’t all just throw down the laundry baskets and corporate reports and head to the tropics to start a commune where we have no chores. I know we can’t just live a life guided by our whims and our joys. Adult life is a downer in that way. There are some necessary evils of growing up. We can’t all pull a Chris McCandless and disappear from our lives, even if living in the quiet solitude on a bus in Alaska sounds joyous--although it didn’t end well for him.
We can, however, learn from people like Chris McCandless. I think we can realize that to live well is to live peacefully and to chase your dreams. That means you will have to say no to some aspects of your life sometimes. This means you will have to make some changes and that we, as women, must make some promises to each other.
Let’s stop fantasizing about escaping and find escapism in our own lives.
Let’s have those tough conversations with our partners about how burnt-out we are and how we need help.
Let’s stop cleaning baseboards and climbing on chairs to clean a speck of dust off fans when we’re hosting. Let’s be realistic about how busy women are and how we can’t be held to ridiculous domestic standards--nor should we be.
Let’s say “no” at work if taking on a new responsibility isn’t something we want right now. Let’s be honest about the fact that just because we can do it all doesn’t mean we have to.
Let’s stop worrying so much about dishes in the sink or baskets of laundry that need folded. Let’s say screw it sometimes and take the morning off to sip coffee.
Let’s team up with other moms to set up carpool systems so we can get some time to ourselves.
Let’s not feel like every single moment of our lives has to be scheduled or planned. Let’s aim for quality over quantity when it comes to activities. Boredom breeds creativity sometimes.
Most of all, let’s be honest in our struggles. Let’s stop wearing the damn fake perfect white teeth smiles of magazines. Let’s stop stressing about our hair and our weight and our outfits. Let’s be real that sometimes, sweatpants and a frizzy ponytail is the best we can do. Let’s put on that looser shirt when we gain a few pounds instead of starving ourselves to the point of passing out just so we have a flatter stomach.
Let’s stop pretending we are superwomen who can do it all with a smile on our face and high heels. Let’s stop thinking that asking for help is defeat. Let’s stop celebrating fakeness online where celebrity women accomplish millions of things on their own (newsflash: many of them have teams that help them).
Let’s stop idolizing exhaustion and start celebrating mindful rest. Let’s stop writing articles only about superwomen who achieve gargantuan lists of successes. Let’s start celebrating all women because every life is hard, and surviving a regular day is an achievement in itself.
I think if we can start working on these truths and being real about where we are as women, then maybe the fantasies will become more reality-like. And who knows, maybe we’ll find that when we pause and reflect, when we take a breath, that Tiki Bar by the beach is actually what we wanted all along. Or maybe we’ll find that we just needed a minute to make our own Tiki Bar retreat in our space in the world--and some honest reflection to go with it.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and the USA Today Bestselling author of numerous novels including The Widow Next Door and Inked Hearts. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, their six rescue cats, and Great Dane, Edmund. To learn more, follow her on Instagram.
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