Sweet dreams are made of this,
who am I to disagree?
I travel the world and the seven seas,
everybody's looking for something:
some of them want to use you;
some of them want to get used by you;
some of them want to abuse you;
some of them want to be abused...
--The Eurythmics, 1983/1991
A dispiriting way to bring girls up, Sarah thought; to make marriage the sole end of female existence, and yet deny that love between men and women was possible. Ada did deny it. In her world, men loved women as the fox loves the hare. And women loved men as the tapeworm loves the gut.
--Pat Barker, Regeneration, 1991*
In time the love of the prince became a little less ardent than formerly, so that his evil mood seemed to grow again. It was as though a thick fog had obscured his senses and corrupted his heart. In everything that the princess did he imagined that he saw little real sincerity. Her outstanding goodness offended him; it was a snare, he thought, for his credulity. His unhappy state of mind led him to believe every suspicion. As a result of the melancholy with which his mind had been tainted, he followed her about, watching her. He seemed to enjoy limiting her pleasures and alarming her, mixing the false with the true.
"I must not be lulled asleep," he said. "If these virtues of hers are indeed genuine, then even my most unreasonable actions will only strengthen them."
--Charles Perrault, Griselda, 1697 (after Boccaccio)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for disputes between married adults to involve things being thrown and smashed and furniture being overturned and people being hit with frying pans and screaming and slamming and broken pieces and children fleeing out the windows and tires screeching into the night - I wouldn't know, I hardly knew anything else for the first decade and a half of my life.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for fathers to talk regularly about killing, and wanting to kill, specifically to go up "on top of a tower and shoot people" at frequent, random intervals; I certainly thought it was, and didn't even know it was copycat crime envy, for most of my life. I never knew anything different, growing up.( Eventually you just get inured to it, if your mother keeps saying it's just talk and doesn't mean anything: doesn't everybody's dad talk about how he wants to massacre strangers all the time?)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for women to marry men they don't love to get out of their parents' home, and then disillusion them shortly after the ceremony, and lay it on their children by prior relationships, setting up a dynamic of cryptic blame and resentment and using to poison the whole family from day one.
--Maybe it's perfectly perfectly normal for men to make "jokes" about husbands killing wives who object to them killing animals/destroying valuable property in fits of frustration - I certainly didn't know any better as a preschooler; later on I just assumed that other kids' dads didn't do it in front of company, just like the throwing things and the talking about shooting strangers from towers.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for wives to dismiss whatever their husbands say as "just men being men," i.e. meaningless noise, as though they weren't actually people talking but just dogs barking; it certainly seems to be the traditional thing to do, all across the country.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for husbands to insist on driving always as a masculine perogative, demeaning to a man to allow his wife to drive him - and then to wildly swing the car from side to side on winding roads to terrorize the family passengers, pretending to have lost control, or talk about how maybe they'll just crash it, because they could, you know. I grew somewhat inured to that, too, before he gave up that pastime (tho' never the sound of breaking glass, which to this hour puts me at instant red alert.)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for mothers to beat their sons so long and so hard that they can't stand to hit them any more with their aching hands - and reach for daddy's leather belt so that they can keep on whipping the defiance out of them (or trying to, at least.)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for men to make their thirteen-year-old daughters stand in front of them for long, long minutes and turn around slowly so that they can stare at the girl's ass and crotch and deliberate over whether or not her (perfectly-ordinary drab wool twill) trousers are too revealing, or her loose, heavy denim ankle-length skirt clings too closely to her hips, or if her slip is showing; it is at least a common consequence for the victims to dress as near as possible in burlap sacks, thereafter, and may indeed be a normal one (and after all it could always have been worse)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for women to weep until they choke and fall in a heap on their beds moaning while their children freak out beside them, day after day after their husbands go to work, and insist afterwards that everything is absolutely fine and of course they love each other and everything will be all right as soon as [perpetually-changing future circumstance] is attained...I thought it was, at least, when I was in middle school.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for husbands to insist that if their wives (and children) truly loved them they'd be able to read his mind and anticipate his slightest wish without having to give voice to it, and that they are not so attunded to his wishes proves that they don't really care. (I gather it's a pretty common belief among boyfriends of a certain sort, so it shouldn't surprise that it persists past the altar.)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for fathers to mock their children regularly in the name of engendering "humility" in them, and to be unable to give them the least compliment without also supplying an insult that destroys all the good of the former, and to be unable to hear their children praised in their presence without putting them down - all for the good of their souls, of course; maybe it's the freakish thing for fathers to praise their children in their presence (rather than sometimes boasting of them in their absence) and to rejoice in their skills and successes rather than finding something to tear down no matter what...
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for wives to imagine that God wants them to kill their children, whether because they're sinful/possessed or to save them from a world of sin, and not a sign that something is very, very wrong in the situation - but not necessarily supernatural in origin.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for men to have no time nor interest in their own children, nor pity for them, to always say "I don't want to hear it!" when they are in distress, and to demand stern stoicism of them at all times ("Don't be a little girl!"), to insist "That didn't hurt!" after hitting them, to ask them questions and then sneer in the midst of the answer that they are boring and trivial and unworthy of attention while always having time and sympathy for other people's children and thus being considered by guests as the World's Best Dad.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for women to fall in love or lust with men other than their husbands, since they didn't marry for friendship or desire in the first place. (Normal too to fall for witholding jerks and enact the same pattern of pursuit and rejection and despair as in the past...)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for husbands to threaten suicide weekly and wives to mock them and dare them to do it, after too much repetition has moved it into "crying wolf" territory, even though it still terrorizes the children old enough to understand and makes them hasten to reassure him that he's not a failure as a father, lest he follow through on it (because no matter how much you wish he'd run away as he often threatened you didn't want anybody dead, except yourself now that the notion, and the means, had been suggested as a viable one...)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for wives to give up things dear to them, and insist that they really, really wanted to, not that they were pressured into it by their husbands at all, until too many years later to make a difference.
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for preschoolers to suddenly start biting their fingers until they bleed, after moving in with a new stepdad and being cut off from the grandparents who raised them up to then; maybe it's perfectly normal for small children to gouge holes in their scalps when forced to stop the nailbiting under duress - at least, I'm not the only one who has - or to returned to a modification, an undetected tearing of the sides of the thumbs after being caught eventually (once the scabs got large enough that they couldn't be ignored during hairbrushing) before graduating to compasses and razor blades and fire...
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for fathers to deride their children's stay-at-home mothers in front of them as slothful, lazy, parasitical eaters-of-chocolates lying around all day while they go out and earn all the money for the family by the sweat of their brow and never mind that it was also demeaning to a man to have his wife have to work as though he couldn't provide for his family; (three-course meals of course appear without effort and shirts starch and iron themselves.)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for mothers to look the other way when fathers go on a rampage of harangues and blows and destruction, to hide in a back room, or leave, or tell them outright that they'll always choose the breadwinner over the offspring, or sigh and tell their children that they shouldn't be so provoking, or - when admitting that there was nothing that could have been done or undone to avert the storm - that the one who has cried herself into an asthma attack for being yelled at for an hour for the crime of being insufficiently happy is meant by God to be a victim soul and should embrace the pain, to better offer it up. (I don't actually believe in mothers who protect their children at any cost, even though I've been told of their existence and in some cases by trusted sources; they're like unicorns or atoms, not actually within my scope of experience.)
--Maybe it's perfectly normal for fathers to tell their children that they're not just bad, but crazy, messed up, defective, "eat up" - that nobody really likes them, what's wrong with them for not being popular and able to make schoolfriends easily? and that the people from work who invited them to a birthday party must just be pretending to want them over for some arcane reason; maybe this is just part of the ordinary process of raising healthy, well-socialized offspring, for all I've ever known--
--Maybe it is better for children to have two parents of the opposite genders than only one of either, or two of the same, to be in accord with tradition, even if this is what "normal" traditional parenting is, even two parents who hate, despise, attack each other verbally and physically, fight proxy wars through their children, and alternately seek and refuse each other divorces in secret while boasting of their superior state of fidelity in public, even when they normalize abuse as inherent in spousal relationships and call it "love", maybe presenting this as not simply the norm but the nonpareil of human interaction is the best we can do--
Or maybe not. Maybe none of this is normal, just common, and anything which rips out this pattern and starts over fresh would be an improvement.
(Psst, Maine: you can do better than California.)
* Oh, I can't begin to tell you how ferociously I hated Pat Barker back in 1991, and hated the NYT for reviewing her and excerpting that passage where I could stumble over it by accident - how much easier it would have been to avoid looking at the whole damn cauldron of worms that was "romantic love" and Christian marriage in the twentieth century--! As bad as how they kept playing that song on the radio wherever I went that year...