Tuesday, February 19, 2008

you make me feel like an incompetent woman

Last week when I came home Charles was sitting at his computer. This is usually what Charles is doing when I come home, and his screen is usually covered with inscrutable columns of numbers or puzzling line graphs. He never seems to brood over these pages, but flips through them as if they were Italian shoes he was considering purchasing on zappos. He greeted me and cheerfully asked me if I had my 2006 tax forms. I think I just looked at him blankly for awhile--no one I know asks after tax forms cheerfully. But when I unearthed the fat 2006 envelope from H&R Block, Charles immediately set to work on our joint 2007 taxes, occasionally asking me to clarify this or that.

Watching him, I felt guilty in that neurotic married way I've suddenly rediscovered. Guilty because someone is doing something for me that I imagine is burdening them. Guilty because I am not doing it myself and thus must be incompetent and in need of a great deal of help. I finally said, "you don't have to do that, you know." Charles stopped and looked at me with puzzled expression, "I'm confused," he said, "do you not want me to do our taxes?" I paused and considered. "Well," I said, "If you want to do them, if you don't mind doing them, it's great, really great." Charles turned back to the computer and continued to plug away at our taxes without the slightest trace of resentment.

I'm just not used to this. Not used to being married to such an amazingly capable and cheerful man who actually seems to enjoy doing things for me. It's not that I mind exactly, it's that I feel awkward about it. I'm used to being the one who does things for other people. I'm used to feeling, well, very competent. It's sick, I know: because my "competence" calculated against another person's "incompetence" isn't the most healthy self-esteem measurement system. It isn't very nice--or fair--for either party. But I felt it worked for me in the past.

It worked for me with my ex-husband, for example. Now, for the record, I have a great deal of respect and affection for my ex-husband, but it isn't stretching things to say that he wasn't exactly a pillar of practicality. The everyday workings of life often seemed to elude him, and I was more than happy to sort it all out on his behalf. I considered his absentmindedness mostly endearing. Looking back, though, I must admit that he bolstered my fragile self-image--I was necessary for his survival, a superwoman with forms and paperwork. It all seems rather pathetic now: without him as a foil I'm just mediocre with paperwork, and with practicality in general.

Charles and I went to work-out that evening, and when we returned he sat down at his computer and resumed work on our taxes, sweaty gym clothes notwithstanding. This baffled me just as much as his wanting to do the taxes in the first place. I can't imagine prolonging financial paperwork late into the evening donned in damp exercise gear. I added this to the top of my list of odd behavior proving Charles is nuts, or a robot, or an alien. In a short while he announced he'd finished and that we'd receive a nice tax return from the IRS. I probably just grunted; it all seemed like science-fiction.

The next day at work I gratefully pondered my enormously efficient husband, how incredibly fortunate I am to have his help and love. When I went to get my mail, I found a letter from the Department of Revenue addressed to my ex-husband, stating that he owed money and that his license could be revoked as a consequence.

I think I'm coming out on the side of feeling incompetent, if only temporarily. It's healthy to work toward a more reasonable measurement of self-worth, just as it's healthy to let others help and support me without feeling guilty. And, really, I don't want to do the taxes ever again.


Ser said...

I feel like I have woken up, ten years into my marriage, and realized that I no longer know how to do taxes. Or banking. I mean, the last time I did banking there was no online banking. But, really, I learned to do these things once, so I'm sure I could learn to do them again if the need should arise. And if it doesn't, which I hope it doesn't, who needs 'em?

So anyway, here's to not doing taxes anymore. Cheers!

Julia said...

I wish I could relate to this. Jeff and I both fall into the mediocre-with-paperwork category, and try to trick each other into being the one to step up to the plate and do these tedious tasks. Thank goodness for Turbo Tax, but we even manage to put that off each year until the last minute.

I think it's been remarkable to follow your story and see you break from the precedent of your past rather than repeat it. How many people ever do that? I am so impressed with you. And how cool that what you needed for personal growth was not endless struggle but a nice man who does your paperwork.