Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Okay to Bitch, But Not to Praise

Nearly two decades ago when I was working at Nova, I worked with a lot of teachers from a variety of countries. Near the end of my first year, a couple in their 30's from Canada started working there. Both of them held Master's degrees and were pretty smart people so I was surprised that they'd settle for work at the likes of Nova. This was before the teaching bubble burst and jobs became scarce and lower paying, though it was during the start of the slow ride downward for teachers in Japan.

At that point in time, I had only been with the CH for about two years in person and was extremely hungry to spend as much free time with him as possible... which is actually not appreciably different from now, but that's rather beside the point. At any rate, when we sat around the teacher's lounge area and talked about what we wanted to do, I would remark on occasion about how I preferred to spend as much time as possible with my cute little husband. While I did not remark on this to the female half of the married Canadian couple (who I believe was named Angela) probably overheard me talking to other people about the CH on occasion.

At one point, somehow my attitude toward the CH came up when she was taking part in a group chat and I showed my usual restraint in enthusiasm toward him, which is to say little to none. Well, that's an exaggeration. I do try to keep my remarks within socially acceptable boundaries in person, though I am pretty straightforward and don't go out of my way to hide the fact that my marriage is a very happy one if there is a topic at hand which may include something related to my relationship with my CH. At any rate, I said something, and Angela snapped back nastily saying something about how we all didn't have to spend as much time as possible with our husbands.

Considering the fact that I rarely or never spoke with her because she disliked Americans on principle, I felt her response was pretty out of line. It's not like I was "over sharing" with her. In fact, I'd never directly shared anything at all with her, but, even if I did, I'm not sure why my happiness ought to be so antagonistic toward her that she'd find it necessary to lash out at me.

Angela approved of British folks on principle and buddied up to them before teachers of all other nationalities. I think the pecking order was something like: U.K., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Americans (but only if she held her nose near one). Since she wanted to be BFF ("best friends forever") with any Brit on the premises, she confided in my best friend at the time who happened to be from England. Angela told my friend that her husband was seeking an "open relationship" now that he'd spent some time in Japan and was finding that many delicate flowers were willing to open up to him. Their marriage was stressed because she didn't have a desire to stray and was angry about his attitude. In the end, she went back to Canada alone and I transferred to another branch of Nova in Kichijoji so I don't know if her husband went about pollinating all the blossoms on offer or if he kept it in his pants while his wife was an ocean away.

When I started working at my former office, I encountered another bitter woman who grew irrationally angry at me for my attitude toward my husband. This woman was American and married to a Japanese man. She hated living in Japan and felt trapped here because her husband couldn't work in the U.S. and make a decent living and she had no appreciable skills for getting work back home. She almost never spoke about her husband and was vague when anyone made polite smalltalk which involved asking her about him (e.g., what his job was). She also took a dislike to me because I was pretty gung-ho to expand my skills on the job in my down time and she preferred to read magazines and write letters in hers and she felt I was attempting to show her up. I must say that it was a pretty good indication of her self-preoccupation if she thought I spent hours cultivating skills just to make her look bad rather than doing something of use and interest to me. Between her growing resentment in my interest in gaining skills on the job and dislike of my mentioning anything about my personal life, the hostility reached a point where she simply stopped speaking to me altogether.

After those two memorable experiences with women who were openly snotty with me for being so openly happy with my husband, I realized a few things. First and foremost, unhappy people hate to be around someone who isn't experiencing the same type of unhappiness as they are. Misery loves company, but moreso if that company is miserable about the same things as it. The second thing I realized is that people are open-minded and sympathetic about any complaints people have about their spouses (at least up to a point). They can bitch about how lazy, selfish, stubborn, childish, etc. a spouse is and people will not think less of them unless they do it too often or too irrationally. However, they are far less tolerant or accepting of praise of one's spouse.

Sometimes we hear that many developed cultures are cultures of whiners and complainers. I think that the lack of social acceptance and, indeed, frequent social censure of people who are talking about their happiness is part of cultivating cultures full of people who focus excessively on the negative in their lives. It's cool to sneer, be snide, or deride people and everyone is more than happy to jump on the bandwagon for a bitch session (especially about spouses), but it's trite, childish, and possibly seen as bragging to focus on the positive. We get the cultures full of the types of people we earn through our actions.


billywest said...

Interesting experiences.

I'm a pretty middle-of-the-road person when it comes to moods. There are some people who seem way too upbeat to me as well as others who are total bummers to be around. However, I agree that it's pretty bad when people try to project their negative moods onto others. Seems almost criminal in a way, as if they're trying to steal someone's happiness.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Billy, and thanks for reading and commenting.

I'm actually pretty pessimistic and downbeat about a lot of things. I'm far from being a shiny, happy person. However, I'm pretty upbeat about my husband. He's a source of endless joy to me. Considering how much there is to be unhappy about in life, I figure I shouldn't sublimate my feelings about this one thing, particularly to appease bitter, angry women.

I think you put it well when you said that "they're trying to steal someone's happiness."

Helen said...

Very interesting. I have noticed that people don't often praise their spouses, you're right. It just seems a little odd. I'm not sure if it's Japan rubbing off on us or what.

My best friend was having a complaining session with me by email and she was complaining so much that I finally asked her to tell me some good points about her husband, because I couldn't understand why she married such a "monster" in the first place. It really seemed to help her though, being able to say something nice about him. She realized that whatever the problems were, there were compensations too.

And, I'm sorry about the snobby Canadian co-worker. Most of us have grown up with the US next door and a lot of us have a big chip on our shoulder about it. However, I think it's a bit strange for her not to try to get to know you at all.

Wombat said...

I find it interesting to reflect on how this post comes on the heels of the "Misplaced Anger" dissertation. Seems like the two articles could find a lot in common with each other, if they'd just get past that barrier to converse ;)

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

I can't say that I am surprised at the Canadian's attitude towards us Americanos. We are not exactly favored around the world, regardless of our beliefs. I would like to say that her opinion is isolated because I know a number of Canadians that like the US and many of its residents. There can be jerkwads in any culture.

Regardless, I think you have every right to be vocal about the CH; you have one of those rare relationships the many will never get to experience. My mother is the same way, much to the chagrin of her co-workers. Father will send her flowers on a whim and her secretary will start seething about it because her husband could care less if she were alive or dead.

Orchid64 said...

Helen: I don't remember if people back home said many good things about their spouses or not. I knew so few married folks back home when I was there, except my parents and parents of my peers! ;-)

I think Angela had a thing about British people (her husband's parents were English) and part of elevating them was putting us down low. I guess I can understand why some Canadian folks have chips on their shoulders about the U.S. with all of the lame jokes told in American television about Canada and some of the posturing done by overzealous patriotic types.

Wombat: Hmm. I hadn't thought about the positioning because they were several days apart (also, my memory is going). ;-)

Mike: Fortunately, I've had enough experience with people not to generalize any particular behavior to a particular nationality. I have worked with a great variety of people from most countries and haven't found any commonalities in terms of whether or not they are "good" or "bad". There were a few rotten apples from each country, but most were fine.

The only thing I can say is that there is more casual and open anti-Americanism than anti-any-other-country. The same people who feel it's perfectly fine to say they hate America/Americans would be all over someone for being prejudiced enough to say they hated Japan/Japanese or Mexico/Mexicans or what-not. They don't see the hypocrisy in their competing attitudes. It still troubles me, though after so many years of it, you'd think I'd be used to it.

Thanks to everyone for commenting and reading!

Emsk said...

I'd be more than happy to be in your position should I be with the right guy. I can't bear to hear people go on about how awful their other halves are - yes, they drive us mad sometimes, but that only puts you in the company of around 4 billion other folk worldwide.

As for the Brit-lover - does that mean I missed meeting my Best Friend Ever? Thank God!

As for being anti-American, next time I hear someone bang on about how awful the USA is I'm going to pipe up how terrible China/Turkey/Italy etc is. Let me tell you what you'd hear - a chorus of "You can't say that!" But whyever not? What's the difference?

Orchid64 said...

Emsk: You and I have just had what we used to call a GMTA moment when I was gaming with the crew from If you're not enough of a geek to know that term (and bless you if you aren't as it's better not to know such stupid things), that's "great minds think alike." :-)

I actually don't mind if people complain at all. My ears are very sympathetic and empathetic. I just wish that others were equally tolerant of good talk as I am when listening to complaints.

Many thanks for commenting and reading!

Kelly said...

Does CH stand for cute husband?

I think my hubby is pretty cute and sweet too and i don't mind saying that to others, but like you i have found people are less accepting of you when you say your hubby is great. In australia it's more common for women to complain about their other halves too, so saying my husband is great, not terrible, just falls on deaf ears.

Orchid64 said...

CH is "cute husband". :-)

I wonder if more people praised their spouses' good points rather than criticized their bad ones if they'd have better relationships. People appreciate being appreciated and in turn are more likely to view their partner favorably.

Thanks for your comment!