Are you supposed to pretend everything’s perfect or pretend everything’s screwed up?

I read a comment that says that women are supposed to show that they’re always happy and everything is perfect, and they’re not allowed to complain.

I must be reading the wrong internet.

Either that or that’s only true of 1.  women before they have children or 2. religious SAHM (I did read something regarding that, though I’m not sure how valid it is… probably depends on the cultural norms of the religion).

In any case, it seems to be the opposite to me– if you want people to not attack you on the ‘net, you gotta pretend you’re not happy.  Even if you are.  Because otherwise it’s your fault that other people are feeling bad by comparison.

I went through a period of my life in which I felt guilty for being perfect and was constantly trying to find fault in myself to make other people feel better about themselves.  Guess what, it didn’t work and it made me miserable.

Being self-confident and acknowledging my awesomeness, and, importantly, the awesomeness of others, gets out of that crabs in a bucket framework and helps build everybody up.  I’m awesome and you’re awesome too, even if you don’t realize it yet.  We can all be more awesome, and one day we will, because how could we not?  There’s so much awesomeness to build from.

Grumpy readers, do you think society forces women to pretend that they’re happy or that they’re unhappy?  Are there differences in these pressures between IRL and the internet?  Are there different expectations by cultural context?  For example, are working moms supposed to be harried and not keeping it together but professional single women are supposed to have it all figured out?  Or is there a “damned whatever you do” of competing pressures?  (If there is, we recommend acknowledging your awesomeness since if you can’t win, you might as well be confident about it.)

Help us think this one out.

62 Responses to “Are you supposed to pretend everything’s perfect or pretend everything’s screwed up?”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Will you explain paragraph #5, the one that starts with “I went through a period . . . .” It is confusing to me. How did you find fault with yourself? Aloud? To others? Internally?

  2. Clio Bluestocking Says:

    If you are a woman, you are always damned if you do out in the world because, whatever you are doing, it’s t wrong thing. Thus, I like your plan to own your awesomeness. Not doing so is one of the stupid ideas in the world.

  3. Liz Says:

    I think that IRL there is definitely some pressure to come across as if everything is generally going well. People are typically uncomfortable when those around them are always complaining/moping about their life. (However at the other extreme, it can also make others uncomfortable if one is constantly gloating about being perfect all the time – I think you have to walk the social norm happy medium a bit)

    I think that the pseudonymous/anonymous internet world has become an outlet for people to complain about things that they are not comfortable complaining about IRL, which is why things are definitely skewed towards the negative.

    Interestingly, I also follow a different blogging circle where everyone blogs with their real identity and many of the bloggers/reader know each other IRL. In this circle, I definitely notice that people present themselves with that “everything is good” mindset that I typically see more IRL and they are sometimes called out by (anonymous) readers for acting “too perfect”.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe the problem is #1 isn’t on facebook! That must be where all the “everything is fine” pressure goes.

      • rented life Says:

        There is a pressure on fb for everything’s fine–Sherry Turkle explores it in her more recent book (I’m teaching a portion of it this week, so it’s on my mind.) In that case, it’s not just women though, and it starts very young–teenage users feel immense pressure to be “fine.”

  4. feMOMhist Says:

    Well I don’t think I’d categorize myself as perfect, but no I do not think I have an obligation to be miserable either. I’m not sure if you mean the conventions of “how are you” wherein “fine” is really the only socially acceptable answer, or if you mean the self-disparaging attitude some people have in which they seem think it hubris or tempting the fates to say, SHIT IS GOING FINE NOW because I rock, or if you mean both. I do believe this to be culturally specific as well, so I’m not peeved if people don’t proclaim their awesomeness to me.

    My pet peeve is people who complain incessantly about their lives and then DON”T DO ANYTHING TO CHANGE IT. There are blogs I don’t read anymore specifically because of that, FB people I have hidden etc. If someone wants their self-expression online to be a massive outlet for their anger and frustration that is their prerogative, but mine is to not read it! I find this particularly difficult when I’m reading a person in the first world who has a doctorate or professional degree and they still act as if they can’t change shit. Umm yes you can so do it already and shut the f*ck up about it. EEK see now I’m sure they are happy I don’t read and comment right?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hush! currently has a rant about this topic.

    • Cloud Says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I hate that, too! In real life and online. And I have banned myself from certain blogs because of that. Drives me nuts.

      On the original question, I think its a “anything you do is wrong” situation. Or maybe there is a fine line of harried but reasonably happy that is acceptable. I have definitely noticed that my confidence/happiness can be intimidating to some people, which is sad. But I also think that women are not supposed to complain about, for example, how hard motherhood can be in real life.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I wonder if I’m just easy to talk to IRL… because women do complain to me about motherhood. Sometimes famous women. I must look nonthreatening. (I gotta say, it is *weird* to be giving parenting advice to people who are both older and higher up the academic foodchain than I am. Of course, that could also be a function of me saying screw the establishment and having a kid before tenure!)

    • Leigh Says:

      EXACTLY! When there is something wrong in my life, I will work hard to figure out the root cause because I want it to be better again. I don’t get why other people don’t do that. Maybe I’m too rational?

  5. AlmostAHistorian Says:

    One thing I notice is when a women is upset (online and off) is that society has a special vocab used for us. For example, I have heard the terms irrational, emotional, and over-reacting used. I rarely hear these used for when men aren’t happy, maybe women hide these emotions to avoid those generalizations. I certainly avoid the people on facebook who are constantly negative (Male and female!), it generally brings me down when I’m up.

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      I so love to use irrational, emotional, and over-reacting when talking to men, debating them sometimes when they are arrogant. Seriously, I think it messes with their heads. They can get angry at my attitude or words, and it’s fine. If I do the same thing, I am labeled with one of those terms. I like to make a pre-emptive strike! They spit and sputter, lose their confidence, actually look deflated. Try it, you’ll like it.

  6. oilandgarlic Says:

    I definitely think there’s an expectation that I’m harried/stressed/unhappy now that I’m a working mom. I think parenting,whether you stay home or work outside the home, is stressful as you have less time to care for yourself so I do understand the cultural expectation. And I admit that I do feel stressed on many days. Still it’s strange when someone asks me how I’m doing and I can tell by the way they look at me or say it that they expect me to say “I’m hanging in there.” Some people also expect me to say it’s all sunshine and roses, but I think I do project that if I don’t know the person that well.

    As for the blogging world, I do think it can be an outlet for negative thoughts. At least for me it is!

  7. mom2boy Says:

    IRL I find more pressure to have “perfect” kids and parenting techniques than online. Online has been a place to get feedback when my situation wasn’t like anyone else’s I knew IRL. Online it’s a lot easier to click away than to say walk away or end relationships with other parents at pre-school or family members or friends. For me anyway.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Here there’s definitely pressure to have different parenting techniques than what we use. But there are many ways we don’t fit in with other parents of kids our kid’s age so we tend not to socialize with them so much outside of birthday parties and so on.

      Regarding perfection of kids, it seems like that is more a function of the daycare than of the parents around here. All the kids at our kid’s Montessori became well-behaved after a month or so at the school, no matter what they were like at the beginning. So we use a lot of their techniques– they obviously work! We don’t hang around a lot of the neighbor kids because they’re mean (and they went to the same lousy daycare).

  8. zoe baily Says:

    At my work one must pretend everything is FANTASTIC, there is NO room for intelligent disagreement. There is no longer a tolerance for critical thinking. Just be a “Stepford” nurse.

  9. Labels and Perceptions « Clarissa's Blog Says:

    […] Here is a question that I found at one of the blogs I follow: Do you think society forces women to pretend that they’re happy or that they’re unhappy?  Are there differences in these pressures between IRL and the internet?  Are there different expectations by cultural context?  For example, are working moms supposed to be harried and not keeping it together but professional single women are supposed to have it all figured out?  Or is there a “damned whatever you do” of competing pressures? […]

  10. chacha1 Says:

    Wow, I must be completely oblivious because I don’t really get that whole expectations thing. It must be obliviousness because some of those people who are either constantly bemoaning their life or constantly perky and “I’m FINE!?!” must surely also live here in L.A.

    Maybe because I already busted so many “expectations.” I don’t have a hometown. I live 3000 miles away from my closest family. I put myself through graduate school and then fled academe. I was 35 before I married. I’m a white woman who married a nonwhite man. I don’t have kids. I don’t own a home (or want to, at this time anyway). And I mostly ignore the fact that I have a) a cell phone b) a Facebook page.

    Outlier. Weirdo. Whatevs! :-)

    I’ll tell you one thing I *am* aware of here. Self-deprecation. It applies to everyone in my highly accomplished peer group … people don’t want to be too “up” about their careers and financial standing (in particular), and my sense is that is because these things can be so unstable. We are all more aware of it in a town based on contract work.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m always happy when I’m in California. :)

      • chacha1 Says:

        me too! :-) Specifically, coastal California. The inland has its share of … less progressive types. Just knowing that it’s actually safe for me and DH, or our other biracial couple friends, or our gay friends, to walk hand-in-hand … there are places in our fair country where, if you want to do that, you had better be a WM/WF couple. Off topic but this is a big, big part of why I like living here. People who feel safe can do more awesome stuff.

  11. rented life Says:

    I think it’s damned whatever you do. In certain circles if I’m not unhappy or unfulfilled because I’m childless, then something is wrong. In others if I don’t totally love my job and think everything is sunshine and roses (because don’t I have the bestest job ever? Teaching is “safe” and “good money.”) then I’m in trouble. If I don’t realize how awful/wonderful my life circumstances are then shame on me. But I can’t ever keep track of what I’m supposed to be when. And I don’t want to be perfect. I just want to be me. And tell people to back the f*ck off.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We think it sucks how society has expectations on people who do not have children.

      Man, this post is like a record number of f-words and CPP hasn’t even chimed in once.

  12. Leigh Says:

    UGH. I hate this. You know what? Life isn’t perfect all the time.

    (From high school me) So what if I have straight A’s, that I have a great boyfriend, that my parents are still together, that my parents can actually afford to have me, and that I have an active fitness life? That doesn’t mean my life is perfect. I had a terrible social life in high school. Absolutely terrible. But any time I tried to complain about life, people would tell me just how perfect my life was.

    I had a similar problem in college. Everyone’s life, no matter how perfect-looking, is going to have problems sometimes. I eventually stopped caring about what other people thought and started complaining in a small notebook before going to sleep, rather than to (most) other people. There are a select few friends who I will rant to, but many other ones (including my dad – men are crazy) will just tell me to deal with it.

    I was worried that if I complained about the condo stuff falling apart, that people would tell me not to worry about it, that things would be fine. And those are the people I noted to never complain to again. Those few months were emotional and checklist HELL.

    Things may not always be perfect, but I know that I’m awesome overall and I love being awesome. I think I just need to tone that down while mentoring sometimes…

    I may not be a mom or have a partner, but my apartment isn’t always clean all the time. (My definition of clean may be different than yours, but that’s not the point.) Sometimes the laundry gets done before cleaning the shower because if there are no clean clothes, how am I going to leave the house to go to work? But the shower with only one person using it can take 3-4 weeks before it’s really “disgusting” enough to need to be cleaned. My mom may have cleaned EVERY bathroom EVERY week, but I don’t need to do that to have a clean apartment. I think your word for it is “satisficing”.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Join us on April 19th for a deliberately controversial post on the patriarchy and cleaning.

      • Leigh Says:

        :) I love your deliberately controversial posts!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sadly we’ve been hyping this one so much it will never measure up to the expectations!

        But it does seem to be something on people’s minds these past couple of months. We don’t really get it. It’s like you’re not a real woman unless you are bothered by dirt or something (and of course, that expectation leads to women doing more housework etc.)… but that discussion can wait a couple of weeks. I think we’re not quite ready for the firestorm to ensue.

  13. Leigh Says:

    Do you watch the show “The Good Wife”? I absolutely love that show.

    I remember one episode, Alicia told someone “I’m not that person”, where that person = someone who puts themselves first. Whoever she was talking to basically said “Everyone is that person.”

    Why do women feel guilty about being “that person”, when men don’t think twice about it?

    It’s not just women either. I have male friends who feel guilty about it too and it drives me nuts (even though I know that I do it too sometimes, but I’m working on that).

  14. Grace Says:

    I find that one is more expected to be ‘uplifting’ and even ‘perky’ IRL. For one thing, no one really means it when they ask “how are you.” If you stop to tell them the crap that is going on in your life, their eyes glaze over. I wish I could say I was the better person in that situation, but I’m not. When I ask someone I haven’t seen in awhile “How Are you?” I, too, want to hear “Fine,” not a litany of woes.

    Online, particularly on blogs and in forums, it’s much easier to seek actual help, to rant, or just to have (quoting a favorite blogging duo) grumbling rants.

    This is especially true when it comes to finances and to parenting. I play it straight in my blog–give real numbers and real feelings (which does lend a bipolar tendency to the posts). But that’s because I’m anonymous there. In real life, I seldom discuss finances with anyone. On the parenting front, I can honestly say I could not have reared my kids without the internet. The families I know IRL do NOT deal with the challenges my five children presented–Reactive Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Effects, etc. The families I know IRL don’t understand much at all about IEP’s, children who don’t graduate from high school, much less college, or why I was excited when one of my girls found a full time job as a window cleaner. Online, other moms of older, more difficult adopted kids understood immediately, had concrete suggestions (some of which actually worked) and they didn’t shout me down when I said I absolutely HAD to get away from my kid for a night or two or that I didn’t give a damn whether my kids ate organic food or not. When one of us posters had a positive moment with our kids, everyone on the listserv rejoiced–we knew it was hardwon.

  15. femmefrugality Says:

    I feel like in general you’re supposed to be happy. Unless you hang around miserable people. Then you’re supposed to be miserable. I tend to find that people who are not confident in themselves revel in being openly bothered all the time. You’re damned either way as a woman. But I think confidence in your own awesomeness (and the ever important aspect of bringing those around up to your confidence/happiness level) is the best way to go. Enjoy life. Screw everyone who doesn’t want to allow you that.

  16. Practical Parsimony Says:

    “Just fine” That is what people want to hear when I grimace as I get in or out of the electric cart, step gingerly off the sidewalk or struggle to get in or out of my car. If I say that I am hurting beyond belief, they respond with 1) you will be just fine 2) you need to pray about it 3) the equivalent of “yes, my hangnail is hurting me.” 4) don’t worry so much. Not one person says anything helpful.

    If I say that I am fine as I try not to show pain, they respond with 1) that’s great or I knew would be 2) where are you working? 3) or, they want to know how I have been since we last talked. Okay, I am not going to give anybody the satisfaction of spilling my guts just because they want it. These are usually friends I have know for 30+ years who did not like it that I refused to tailor something while I was in grad school, only called me to get my advice on their problems and I just got “too busy.” I have a chirpy, “Oh, call me and we can catch up as I just keep moving and never slow one bit.

    When I was elated with getting good scores and racking up degrees, one after another, there were detractors everywhere who jeered and asked what I was going to do with those degrees, use them as wallpaper. Very few people in this town expected or wanted me to do better. They made fun of my ambitions. In the university town, I must say I only received support, thankfully.

    I am awesome! But, if I feel awesome and confidant, someone is always there to needle me. My husband did it until I figured out it was a game and refused to play. He wanted to be the one to cheer me up! If I am a little down for any reason, some people have to say, “Bless your heart.” “Maybe you should find a church.” “Ooops! My husband needs me, now.” “Why don’t you pray about it.” “Have you talked to a counselor?” Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

    I am a really good friend to people, listening and helping. But, now that I could use a helping hand once in awhile and have some serious problems, I am not so awesome. (last vertebrae is sitting on bone, L5 out of place, two herniated discs, torn rotator cuff, and torn lateral meniscus and fibromyalgia.)

    For instance, I went out to get in the car and discovered a huge limb dented my hood. I cannot move the limb. There was a police car two doors down. A woman from around the block was walking by. I said, “What’s happening?” She informed me that they were checking on me and got the wrong house, but that my next door neighbor said she spoke to me yesterday, so the police left.

    Then, this woman walking down the street told me she noticed I had not gotten in the garbage cans or papers since Thursday. So, she called nosy neighbor across the street and gave nosy neighbor my number to check on me and I did not answer. Well, I was on the phone talking to someone! So, she told nosy neighbor to call the police. I informed the walking neighbor that if she wanted to know anything about me to call. But, under no circumstances was she to tell nosy neighbor anything about me or ask her.

    I said that bending to get the papers hurts me, getting the garbage cans in hurts, and I cannot lift the limb or drag it. She stood there and said, “Oh.” Three neighbors just disappeared as I struggled to bend to get the papers. The damned garbage cans stayed there.

    If I am too happy, people bring up the house repairs I need. If I am a little down, they give me platitudes. My life did not used to be this way, but the more I have pulled ahead in terms of education and experience, the more some people reveled in cutting me down or being insensitive to feelings. Okay, I was always ahead of most; they were just unaware. These are people in the little, backward, religious town in which I reside.

    “Dirt” and “dirty” are relative terms. I can think of several prof friends whose houses were disgustingly dirty. They were happy, healthy, researching, writing articles and books. They were sort of embarassed but did nothing to change their homes. However, the people with the cleanest homes, people I know, never had ambitions beyond cleaning and having children. There is nothing wrong with cleaning and having children, but that is how they see themselves as an accomplished person.

  17. sciliz Says:

    I *used* to feel this kind of pressure a lot more than I do now. Nice to reflect on that. Normally I don’t think of things in the general category of “my giveadamn is broken” as equal to “emotional growth”, but in this case… yeah. I think I’m happier now. Also, no one around me rumbles excessively grumpily, nor is so shiningly optimistically awesome that I am blinded by their mere presence. Maybe I like it when people express themselves in both directions, as long as they do so in interesting ways?

  18. NoTrustFund Says:

    I seem to end up in a lot of circles where everyone acts as though everything is fine even if it is not. It is stressful b/c I never feel like my life is perfect but everyone else seems as though there life is. This is all IRL but everyone’s relationships are great, they look put together at all times, they get pregnant right away, their kids potty train in a weekend; it is all encompassing.

    I’ve recently found a great group of friends who are a more honest and I find it is so refreshing! It’s hard to get support and advice if you’re pretending everything is perfect all the time!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Some of us *do* have awesome relationships. Some people do get pregnant right away and look put together all the time (not me, but many people do). And potty training took a while for us, but it wasn’t stressful (mainly because we were doing it early and slow and could stop at any time).

      Just because someone’s life is going well doesn’t mean they’re not being honest!

      Why can’t we celebrate other people’s successes instead of accusing them of lying? If other people are happy, why not learn from their happiness? Not everybody has secret stress that they’re hiding, and it’s stupid to manufacture one in order to make other people feel better about themselves.

      I think you would hate us IRL. We’re not pretending to be happy… we actually *are* happy. About the important personal stuff, anyway. We still hate the patriarchy.

    • Cloud Says:

      Well, I do get pregnant right away, and believe me that comes with its own set of worries- although I definitely agree that it is preferable to the alternative. But realizing how much you need that birth control is daunting. There are very few people I can say that to IRL, because I know it might be hurtful to people who have struggled to conceive. In fact, I have probably pissed someone off just writing it here. Sorry!

      However, I don’t look pulled together pretty much ever, and the saga of potty training my first child was long and not all that pleasant. I am an awesome working mother, but I am not perfect, and I don’t live a perfect life.

      I want friends (IRL and online) who tell their truth, and with whom I can tell my truth, so that they can give me advice/ideas/support when I need it and I can do the same for them. Although, obviously, I have no advice on how to get pregnant right away. That is pure luck.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have advice for women with PCOS on how to get pregnant! Lots and lots… ‘cuz after a year and a half with #1 (with forum support and lots of fancy medical care), I know most of the tricks. #2 actually did come pretty quickly after the 1500ml metformin kicked in.

        Also have advice for male factor, and note that if only ONE of your tubes is blocked, your body works around that. (And that might explain why when I *do* cycle my cycle is longer every other month.)

        I still maintain that we at grumpy rumblings are pretty perfect. We get to define perfection as what we think is important, and we’re always working towards improvement on things that we care about. If something is wrong, we work to fix it. No lying here and no false modesty either.

  19. NoTrustFund Says:

    I don’t think I’d hate you IRL at all. I’m more similar to you than not. However, there are many people I know where it is more ‘keeping up appearances’ than reality. That’s where it bothers me. No need to pretend everything is perfect if it’s not. And in your case, no need to pretend things are not perfect if they are! :-)

  20. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I had a dream last night a bunch of my favorite bloggers and I hung out at the beach. You guys were there.

    Related to this post: I am totally awesome at not winning! But I figure that’s ok because if you’ve won that means it’s over.

  21. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

    Aaaghh, WP ate my first comment :(

    Basically I’m a happy person, and life is good. So I don’t blog about a ton of major negativity. If random commenters want to think I’m lying or whatever, I don’t give a rats ass about it. And, if other people use their blog to bitch about stuff ALL THE TIME, I’ll probably stop reading. That’s the beauty of the internets :)

  22. Revanche Says:

    I’m generally honest about most things because sometimes lots of stuff comes easy and I can help you with that if you ask or not if you don’t. Or lots of stuff sucks shibibble and I can’t help you with that so please go away. Either way, my life is going to be run the way I want to view it so if I’m feeling neggy, I’m going to make myself talk it up when I feel like making myself be more positive about, not if I feel like someone else needs to hear a happy version of it.

    I’m totally dishonest about my chronic pain and fatigue because I think I can beat it and hate showing weakness 95% of the time because deep down I’m stupid about it, and 5% of the time because I don’t think anyone can help anyway but that’s totally a me thing. Yeah, sometimes I want help and people let me down and other times they don’t. Whatever, it’s really my choice to shut them out until I feel up to trying to let them in.

    All in all I’m relatively self-centered, when it comes to this. Or self grounded? It’s the compensatory other side of taking care of so many other people – I get to run my attitude and my perspectives exactly the way I want. I’m usually kicking my own ass out of the dumps by the time I’m writing about it anyway. So no, I don’t fake happy but I will force a less crabby and bratty perspective on my own self because even I don’t want to hear it.

    Are we “supposed” to be guilt-ridden and careworn? Meh, maybe. But we have enough real crap to worry about.

    And I much prefer the mantra my boss and I have established for work, it’s good for life too: Don’t be silly, I’m awesome no matter how you slice the bread so bring it on. The ass will be kicked, just take a number and queue up.

  23. Rosa Says:

    I think sometimes people are more comfortable with saying how they actually feel, good or bad, on the Internet. Personally, I have struggled with clinical depression – it runs in my family – and that is NOT something I can tell most people. When I am in the grips of it, I am depressed despite the fact that my life really is pretty good – I have a husband I adore, a job I like and am good at that provides enough money to live on, pets I love, a few very close friends, and I am happy with the choices I’ve made. I realize all this, but I still just generally feel like there is a black cloud sitting on me. When I am not in the grips, I am fine! But mental health issues have such a huge stigma that I cannot admit this in public – even in academe, among supposedly enlightened folk, it would kill my career.

    Otherwise, though, I think one of the keys to happiness – which have when my brain chemistry is in balance – is to set your expectations for yourself, and don’t let other people tell you who to be. For example, I respond to people who try to push religious responses on to me (ie advising me to pray) by telling them that I am sorry, but I am not a believer. I respect their right to their own beliefs, but if they push, I insist they respect my right not to believe. Same thing goes for the supposed pressure on women to bear children – I knew from about age 6 that I did not want children of my own. My female friends who have made the same decision say they get flak regularly from insensitive busybodies who seem to think someone else’s reproductive choices are their business (which never ceases to astonish me). This hasn’t happened to me often – I think people can sense how would respond. The first time, I say I don’t want children. If they push further, I get bitchy, and say something truly rude – by then I figure they deserve it. Fortunately, aging takes care of that question eventually … I also married a man who agrees with me on every critical issue, especially religion and children. Anyway, if you live according to what you value, not what other people want you to value, and if you are not suffering from clinical issues, I think you’ll feel better overall…

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