What is it about Sundays that sets married men on edge,leaves them gasping for breathing space and searching for escape routes?

THE DAY OF RECKONING

March 21, 1993|By Regina Barreca

"I never feel more married than I do on a Sunday, and I never like it less."

So says my friend Mark, a high school teacher in his early 40s, who has been what I would call "happily married" for a little more than 10 years. But on Sundays, he says, he is often overwhelmed by a sense of life's having passed him by. He is antsy, unsettled and uneasy. He reports becoming wistful, sentimental and prone to bouts of regrets.

"I love my life," he explained, "but sometimes I wonder whether there's another woman out there who I would have loved even more. Living my kind of ordinary life, I guess I'd never meet this Mythical Woman -- I picture her living in Bangkok or Rio -- but maybe she would have been the fabulous love-of-my-life that would have made me into somebody extraordinary."

Mark smiled sheepishly and suggested, "Maybe Sundays are still the days of reckoning, whether you're a churchgoer or not. Maybe it's the time when you reflect on your life and are bound to think that maybe it comes up short, and one easy target for blame is your marriage."

In the habit of many men, Mark believes his views are representative and was the first to suggest to me that I should ask other men who have been married more than five years what they thought of Sundays. In the meantime, he gave his own answer:

"Husbands hate Sundays," he said.

As it turned out, I had chosen a Sunday afternoon to call on Mark, since he said it was far easier for him to talk then than during his hectic workweek.

An old friend, he was one of a few dozen men I had been talking to in depth during the last year or so about the role of men in contemporary culture. I was doing research for a book on husbands and Mark was generally happy to talk about any subject.

But on this day, his usually cheery narrative gave way to a sense of quiet, barely suppressed disappointment.

The Sunday papers were spread around his living room, and he '' asked me about the story I wrote chronicling my decision to remarry in 1991. The essay had appeared in an issue of Northeast (the Hartford Courant's Sunday magazine) last winter. always paid attention to the weekend magazine, he said, almost idly adding, "That way I don't have to pay attention to anything else."

That's when we started to talk seriously about Sundays.

What kind of day is Sunday? Some people think, "Ah, perfect, the day is stretched out in front of me like a cat in the sun, relaxed and calm," while others think some version of "Escape, ++ how can I escape? How can I make the day go faster?" How we feel about Sundays is a pretty good barometer of how we feel about our personal lives in general. If you love Sundays, terrific, you feel comfortable in your own home and inside your own head.

Sundays seemed to take forever when I was a kid. After the

aunts got back from church and after the uncles finished washing the cars (treating God as if he were a relative on the wife's side of the family that only she had to visit), my big Italian family would sit down to what seemed like a 73-course meal in the middle of the afternoon. They talked and ate and talked until it was time for Ed Sullivan to come on television. The conversation was, to my kid ears, boring and endless. All my cousins and I wanted to do was get out from under that itchy, woolly, grown-up talk and head outside, away from their droning voices and the stuffiness of a day unmarked by the usual routine of school and cartoons. It was like trying to write on unlined paper, or to figure out what time of day it was without a clock -- the lack of specific demarcations made Sunday a tough day to get through.

I hadn't remembered these feelings in years until I began testing Mark's theory about married men and Sundays. Apparently, many grown-up men still experience that fugitive, need-to-run-away feeling on Sundays. The boy in every man wants to flee the parlor for the wildness of the back yard and alleyway, leaving the tedium of ritualized conversation and behavior far behind.

Sundays are a time when many married men long for their bachelor days. Single men can do what they please without anyone looking askance. They can get up and properly nurse a hangover so that they are ready to eat nachos out of the bag while watching the football game. Or they can get up at 6, run 10 miles, meet friends for brunch and work on their novel all afternoon without being disturbed. Both these scenarios depend heavily on one thing: not being disturbed. As one pal put it, "I have tremendous memories of generally reckless, ill-advised, unproductive but vastly entertaining adventures from my pre-marriage days."

The early days of relationship are also roped off from the usual Sunday pattern.

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