Thursday, July 26, 2012

Having a Life That Looks Like a Catalog

I read the blog Rockstar Diaries. I'm not a huge fan, but I enjoy it for the pretty pictures. However, from a more analytic perspective it's a very interesting site because it consistently portrays a particular aesthetic, heavily influenced by women's magazines, advertisements and an overall sentimentality.

I was curious about who reads it, so I looked this up on Alexa (because it's free; obviously it's not really the best source of information and not what I would use if my interest went beyond idle curiosity). Seems to be mostly young, educated women, who tend not to have children. This isn't surprising to me, because what Rockstar Diaries shows is a fantasy of a specialized kind, like the domestic equivalent of a romance novel.

I was thinking about this in particular when I saw her latest post, of the happy, perfect family just at sunset having fun in a lovely location, because sometimes B and I look like that too. We went out to dinner with R a few nights ago. We were all dressed well, me in high heels, makeup and a cute dress that coordinated with everyone's outfit. R was well behaved and greatly enjoyed her food in a polite and socially appropriate manner, while B and I animatedly conversed about various intellectual topics. After dinner, just as the sun was setting, we took R's hands and danced together on the lawn in front of the restaurant's patio as we laughed and laughed, the charming colonial architecture evident in the background (we were at Chijmes).

It looked like something out of a catalog, and while I don't know what the other people there actually thought, possibly they would have had a similar reaction to the typical one for Rockstar Diaries. I do know that at times people do have that reaction. One of our friends (while visiting us for a week) told us that we had a seemingly perfect relationship and family, that we seemed to truly like each other, and that he hoped to have the same someday.

Hahahahaha. Of course, B and I do truly like each other (most of the time...). But real life isn't like a catalog at all. R cries and has tantrums, my hair inevitably looks awful because I can't style it, B usually looks like a hobo... and those things aren't really the difference that's important.

The big difference is in the emotions supposedly portrayed by idyllic family photos showing mutual love and enjoyment and carefree happiness. Often B and I can't stand each other: some weeks we quarrel constantly about anything and everything. I start fantasizing about my new single life and make lists of everything that he does wrong and ways he's disappointed me; he tells me that I'm impossible to get along with or please, and locks himself in his study for hours to avoid having to interact with me. And R, darling and cute as she is, drives both of us crazy with her energy and neediness and naughtiness, until we start bickering over who gets to escape to the coffeehouse. (R is too small to talk, but I know that sometimes she feels the same way about both of us: fed up with our rules, our ineptitude, and general slowness/boringness. She's bitten both of us, after all.)

It's not that the idyllic family photos or memories are a lie: B and I really did dance with R on the sunset-lit lawn. But to focus just on that gives a completely false impression of how human relationships work. They are messy, and painful, and boring, and complicated. Whenever there is great intimacy, there is also the ability to cause great pain: and humans being what they are, great pain is thus pretty much a given.

I think that's why mostly young non-mothers like the Rockstar Diaries. People with more life experience know the truth: that even happy marriages are full of days (or weeks, or months) of mutual dislike; that often parents and children hate each other (though those feelings are rarely anything but transient); that the sand in the vacation photo got all over you and made you itch; that the babies screamed all night because they weren't at home in their accustomed cribs.

I don't get jealous of others very often (to be quite honest, because I am too snobby), but when I do, I want to remember that things are never as they seem. Everyone is full of misery and angst and suffering, at least some of the time, because life is like that.


  1. Very interesting post! I too read that site (along with a few other sites written by Mormon women... the popularity of which (amongst non-Mormon women) is a phenomenon written about on a few different sites) and while I'm not articulate enough to come up with what you wrote about the site, I understand and agree with you completely.

    Part of me hates to even check out the latest posts from the site because they seem so non-real (magazine-like) that it just doesn't even serve a purpose other than make me envious of the supposed life they lead. But like you said, things are never as they seem. (OR ARE THEY?? ARE THEY TRULY THAT HAPPY-SHINY 24/7?)

  2. Truth: I have NEVER seen a Mormon unhappy in public unless they are showing empathy for another.

    I secretly think they take happy classes, the focal point of which is to learn how to appear happy at all times.

    btw, I like how you admit to your snobbish ways ;)

  3. I've lurked through her blog, and she has mentioned her church (or I'm not sure if they even call it church?) provides counseling, which she has encouraged and mentioned to attending, but nothing more than that. I think she even mentions it in her FAQ's.

    1. Oh I'm sure her life isn't actually perfect (to be honest, having two very small children so close together sounds absolutely hellish).

      Interesting what Kat says above: doesn't Utah have the highest rates of depression in the US? I wonder if the pressure to appear happy all the time in Mormon culture causes mental strain? I am glad the church is addressing that, at least in part.

  4. I do not think there is pressure to be "happy" in the Mormon culture. I have lds friends and their happiness comes from within. I think Naomi is unpretentious and genuine.