Most of the time I think I am a nice person. I smile at strangers, I always break for small animals and I give my seat up on the subway to anyone pregnant or older than I. Knowing myself the bitter taste of sadness, even the thought of anyone else feeling weighted down with a heavy heart pains me desperately. The result is that I am really good to people. Even when they don’t deserve it.
There are times, though, when I feel an overwhelming need to punch someone in the face. The target could be anyone, really, but most often it is my husband, Stephen, for having committed the mortal sin of being nearest to me. Thankfully, these violent urges follow a predictable pattern and happen, approximately, every twenty-eight days. On day twenty-one I just feel a dull sense of discomfort come on, but over the course of a week it progresses into a growing agitation with the world at large, until it finally tips into a full-blown rage that has me sympathizing with Stephen King’s Carrie.
Being able to calculate these outlying periods of heightened agitation should allow me to prepare for them, except I never do. Every month, as my sprightly spirit dissolves into infuriation with Stephen for having eaten the last chocolate chip cookie(!!!), I am taken by surprise, worrying that I have undergone some kind of permanent mood transplantation.
What in the world has brought on this ill-temper? I’ll think, Did something I ate irrevocably change my personality?
Then, in the bathroom, I’ll remember. Oh. Right.
This past month, however, I decided to take strategic, premeditated steps, to douse water on the fireworks before their explosion. I warned Stephen of the potential combustion of my sanity in the near future.
“Hey,” I said, smiling sweetly, “just a head’s up: I’m getting my period, so don’t fuck with me.”
I was pleased to have taken such precautionary measures and rewarded myself with a bag of chips and a chocolate bar. It is so easy to become complacent in marriage, to remain stagnant, at the mercy of routine, but clearly I was growing as a person and a wife. Instead of accepting our monthly sparks as a given, I was pre-empting them. I took a seat on the couch beside Stephen, basking in our ability to communicate and work through any marital tension.
“You know,” he said, “I actually just read this study about pre-menstrual syndrome.”
He did!? How sweet is that!? I was so touched that he was taking such a keen interest in my body.
He went on: “it said PMS is not actually a real thing.”
I swallowed a handful of barbeque chips so I could clench my fists. ”-Come again?”
“Yeah, these researchers think that PMS is kind of psychosomatic. Like, women act crazy once a month because they think they’re supposed to act crazy once a month. It’s more just societal pressure to meet a cultural norm.”
“Society is pressuring me to ‘act crazy?’” my voice started to rise as I stood up over him, ”how exactly would you say I act crazy!?”
His words were like lethal doses of gamma radiation. My pulse began to race. I could feel my hulking muscles begin to grow, threatening to burst through my button-down. He started to answer but I couldn’t hear him over Flight of the Valkyries that had begun to play in the background.
Period-related behaviour, to me, is like racially charged words that only people of that race are allowed to use. I can say I’m getting my period, warn Stephen that I’m feeling crazy as a result, but for him to even suggest that I have PMS, that my actions are impacted by it, psychosomatically or not, is treasonous.
“Not really crazy,” he backtracked, “More like emotional. Women use their periods as an excuse to get emotional.”
“Emotional!?” I said, “I don’t use my period as an excuse to get emotional! What I get is fat! And breakouts! And cramps! Both stomach and back. And headaches! And bad hair! And do you know why I get these things every single month? Do you?” I felt tears rising up, “I get them so that,” sniff, “maybe one day,” sniff, sniff, “biologically, I can have god-damn your baby! And you don’t even care!”
“Do you even love me!?” I wailed.
Seeing the look of confused distress on his face, I began to wonder if perhaps there was merit to what he had said. I would never admit this to him, but he did make me think: do we subconsciously assume certain gender roles because we think we are supposed to?
I am a modern woman, independent and career-driven. I thought Stephen and I had transcended classical gendered roles in our modern marriage. Working just as hard as Stephen, I would be furious if he were to ever suggest that it was my job as a wife to cook dinner, being that the kitchen has historically been a woman’s domain. I would splay him with my feminist pitchfork, accuse of him of the worst kind of chauvinism. And yet, don’t I think it is his job to take out the garbage? Anything you can do, I can do better, I tell myself, but come Tuesday night, I expect him to haul the heavy, stinky garbage to the curb, just like my father used to. I felt sheepish in the face of my hypocrisy.
Do I, in fact, assume the role of a cranky, pre-menstrual woman in the same way I assume that it is his responsibility to take out the garbage? I wasn’t sure. What I did know was that I felt crappy. I looked over at Stephen, sitting there on the couch with his hands behind his head and his legs stretched out on the coffee table in front of him. He looked so comfortable. I wasn’t comfortable at all. I was bloated and crampy. I was tired and lethargic. My joints ached a lot and my boobs were really tender. If I have to feel that way once a month, if every twenty-eight days I have to feel irritable, peeved and uncomfortable, and he doesn’t, than at the very least he can take out the garbage! I shouldn’t have to do both.