WHAT? ME DREAD SUNDAYS? Readers Have Their Say On the Most Worrisome Day of the Week

THE BALTIMORE SUN

We asked author Regina Barreca to listen to and comment on recordings of the nearly 300 calls we received following publication of "Why Husbands Dread Sundays." Ms. Barreca's cover story in the March 21 Sun Magazine stirred the winds in the Land of Holy Matrimony. (For more on the original story and our survey, see the Editor's Note on Page 5.)

If there were space and time enough I would discuss every call about my article in detail. In brief, however, the responses were passionate -- and divided. Although the article addressed husbands' need for time alone on Sundays, nearly twice as many women called as men -- 180 to 93.

There was a female caller, whose voice I can recall with heartbreaking clarity. She admitted -- perhaps for the first time -- that she had carried on an extramarital affair for many years, meeting her lover exclusively on Sundays. Now that the affair has ended, she said, she does "everything possible" to distract herself from how long the day seems.

It is easy to say that this woman should change her life. But change is difficult for all of us. A number of callers offered possible ways to beat the Sunday blues: church, family gatherings and shared hobbies. These no doubt rank among the healthiest solutions and I applaud the suggestions. But . . . I bet that woman has tried some of them without success.

I hope one day that something will indeed work for her -- and for others for whom Sunday seems endless. I hope she can either get on with her life or get on with changing it.

Despite some good news about how happy many of you are with the weekend, I stand by my original argument that Sundays are often worrisome, anxious or stressful times for families, and for all of us -- men and women alike -- who individually make up those families.

I had argued that Sundays are particularly trying for men, who are discouraged by our culture from giving voice to their dissatisfaction. But I'll add to that a piece of important information culled from your calls to Sun Magazine: Women, too, want more time for themselves on the weekend. Of the 161 women who stayed on the line to answer the question, "Do you need time alone on Sunday?" 87 said yes, and the detailed messages some chose to leave reflected this need.

One woman declared that she could "not believe the article pertained to men only," and said she was happy there was a way to respond. "I was feeling like I wanted to be single while reading it," she said, summing up the general feeling of the many women who thought the "Sunday Syndrome" was not gender-specific. That women were not the subject of the article irritated many women readers; one mentioned that she had to double-check my name to make sure it was "written by Regina and not Reginald."

At least a dozen women said the article applied to their lives. "Boy, did this magazine hit home," one woman put it. "Not for my husband but for me."

As a professor of women's studies, I was delighted that women (( saw themselves in the piece, but I was also intrigued by the comments made by two female readers that the article appeared "chauvinist." Certainly the comments made by a great number of the men I quoted are not what any of us ever hope to hear at home, but the article itself was prescriptive rather than descriptive.

Based in part on a feminist treatment of the role of the husband in contemporary culture, my research for "Why Husbands Dread Sundays" drew heavily on literature (and life). And it was certainly informed by my desire to explore the differences in the ways that men and women approach apparently "shared" experiences. Its purpose was to give us all the opportunity to raise an honest dialogue on the issue. And the dialogue it raised among Sun Magazine readers was a fascinating study in contrasts and oppositions.

A male caller said of Sundays with his mate: "It all started out very nice, but ever since we got married, it's been downhill."

He was followed by a man who asserted defiantly that Sunday is "the best day of the week," the day that gets him ready for the next five days.

Explained a recently married man, "The only time Sunday is trouble is when we haven't planned anything to do. Then we get bored generally and get on each other's nerves." His sentiment was echoed by many callers, both male and female.

Interestingly, there seems to be a need for some sort of "structured play" for many of us, especially for those who have the habit of structure built into the rest of the week. While some folks want, like one adamant caller, to "go to the basement and do what I want to do and be left alone," many others want to make sure that the day is built around shared activities.

The business of arranging for these activities apparently continues to fall to the wife in many cases, even when she has put in as many hours at work outside the home as her husband. "It's wonderful to spend the day with my spouse, really wonderful," said a woman with a pleasant voice. She then paused to offer one qualification: "That is, as long as the weather is good. If the weather is bad, then he's in a bad mood because he doesn't like to hang around the house."

I knew it had been a long winter, but a shocking number of irritated callers mentioned weather as a significant factor. "My husband and I agreed from the start to share responsibility for the children on weekends," yelled one woman over the loud voices of what appeared to be preschoolers. "So guess whose responsibility it is to look after them every time the weather is bad and we're stuck indoors? Or if they're tired and want to stay home? Mine."

"My husband expects me to entertain him," muttered one caller, whose voice did lift with the thought that "with the warmer weather coming, though, he should be able to get out more."

Many women's voices contained clear anger along the lines of one caller who spoke through clenched teeth. "I hate Sundays because all I am around here is a short-order cook and a maid."

A sweet, ladylike voice followed soon after, but with a distinctly unladylike message: "Sundays would be a lot better if he'd get his butt off the couch."

Blending a complicated set of emotions was another female caller who said she didn't mind Sundays per se, but that she did value her time alone. "Right now, for example, my husband is out, and I sort of hope he won't be home for quite a while." There was a pause and then I heard: "But I do hope he will come home."

Clearly wrestling with her need to have some time to herself and her fear that somehow she'd be pushing her husband away, this wife represents the feelings of a number of callers -- both male and female -- who don't want to have to choose between their need for time alone and their need for intimacy with their spouse. One gentleman warned, "Don't get me wrong, I love my family and I don't long for my single days, but I need time to myself to be complete."

The lessons taught by these responses is that for all our differences, we are more alike than we admit. Women and men both crave intimacy even as they need solitude and time "to recharge the old batteries," as one caller put it.

Many agreed that the most significant part of Sundays is during the quiet hours of the early morning. Perhaps that is the time the we are most ourselves. If we are happy in our lives, then we cherish these moments. If we dread what we see facing us -- not only on Sunday, but every day -- then the nakedness of the early-morning light shows us the flaws in our future. We face our lives in these moments of reflection, before the coffee is made and the paper is unfolded.

The man who announced that "Sunday is the best day of the week" offers a sense of renewal, hope and confidence with which we should face every day of our lives, not just one day a week.

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