I’m not the kind of person who wakes up smiling. It’s not that I’m unhappy. It’s just that I’m always weighing the pros and cons of my day. This includes decisions I have to make, upcoming interactions with people and situations I might find myself in. For me, the world is not one, big, blissful upside. For me, there is always a downside to consider, however small or inconsequential, and I have a serious need to acknowledge it, usually out loud.
This is in stark contrast to my husband, the eternal optimist.
For example, we traveled to Montreal for spring break, where it was cold and rainy days one through four and snowing on day five. Not exactly “spring” or “break” weather. We spent a good deal of time holed up in our hotel room watching movies, dashing through muddy puddles, and refereeing our bickering children. On day three, I said something like, “Well, this sucks.” To which my husband immediately replied, “C’mon, it’s not that bad. At least we’re all together!” He wasn’t being snarky. He was completely serious. That’s who he is.
My husband has an unwavering ability to see the bright side, even in the middle of the chaos and crap. It’s a trait I love about him, but it’s also one that often leaves me feeling very much alone. His optimism makes me wonder if my less positive outlook is somehow wrong or imagined. Am I interpreting the situation incorrectly? Did I miss the memo explaining that traipsing through icy rain is, in fact, fun? Maybe it’s not a big deal for other people. For me though, these feelings are part of who I am and how I operate, which makes it really hard for me to ignore them. My brain just doesn’t operate in “consistently optimistic” mode.
I’ve always been a realist, not to be confused with a pessimist, and motherhood definitely amplifies that tendency. Being responsible for the well-being of other little lives urges me to consider a ridiculous number of if/then scenarios and prepare for all sorts of possibilities, both the good and the bad kind. Isn’t that why we carry Band-Aids, extra pairs of everything, and endless snacks on us at all times, just in case?
I get it: Realism is not nearly as delightful as optimism. It’s not bright and cheery. In fact, I find it exhausting and tedious, but it’s not something I choose. It’s just the way I am. I know my husband’s trying to cheer me up with his comments and artful way of ignoring the downside and possible negative outcomes. I know he’s trying to cobble together a positive experience out of a potentially crappy one by brushing aside what isn’t working and focusing on the good stuff.
And to his credit, there’s always plenty of good stuff. I see it and feel it — the love between my girls as they sling their arms around each other, the hilarity of our made-up “French,” the shared ecstasy of stuffing our faces with warm croissants multiple times a day. While I really appreciate my husband’s knack for seeing the positive in just about any situation, I can’t ignore what doesn’t work. It’s all part of the same picture for me. I’m disappointed that our family vacation plans are thwarted by crappy weather. I’m worried about my girls being cold because we didn’t pack the appropriate gear.
When I voice my discontent, it’s not because I want to bring everyone around me down. It’s not because I am a giant brat. It’s not because I need someone to snap me out of it. Sometimes, I’m just looking for a little solidarity, a wry smile that says, “I know, right? This does suck.” I’m looking for a sign that lets me know I’m not alone, that someone else gets that the situation isn’t awesome, and that’s okay.
The truth is, sometimes life sucks. It’s hard. Throw in aging parents, raising a couple of kids, and worldwide woe, and it can be downright overwhelming. Instead of shoving those feelings aside, I wallow in them — not forever, just for a little bit, just enough to acknowledge that they’re real and worth feeling and things may not always turn out the way we hope.
Sometimes, and I know maybe this isn’t fair, I want my optimist husband to roll around in the muck of realism with me. That way, he’d understand that even though the world is a little muddier for me than for him, it doesn’t mean I can’t see the bright side too. Getting dirty might not be that fun, but maybe it won’t be as mucky if we’re in it together.