Why Does Fun Matter?

Braha Bender

The costs of women falling apart are devastating. But why is caring for our wellbeing always about someone else? The truth is that we deserve to have more fun, and that ought to be enough.

Hey, um, I was just wondering…why does fun matter? We could go all science-y on your question, slathering on the evolutionary biology, social skill mediation and pair bonding stuff. But that doesn’t really speak to the essence of your question, does it? Because you’re not questioning why having fun is of objective value – everyone needs to have fun, and everybody knows that!

You’re asking why having fun matters for you. More specifically, you’re asking whether you’re worthy of investment. Sure, everybody gets to have fun – but do you?

As women, we have a notoriously hard time responding in the affirmative to this niggling inner self-doubt. During 2020, Coronavirus cut down entire populations like trees in a California forest fire. It’s exhausting even thinking about that year, isn’t it? However, the healthy population that got thrown most decidedly under the bus were middle-aged women. That’s right, mom had it hardest! In most double-income Western households, usually the greater of the two incomes is that of the husband. In other words, men usually earn more. When the axe fell in the form of one spouse needing to stay home and deal with quarantine, Zoom school, and the general state of reality unravelling at our fingertips, usually the spouse who took the hit was the wife. Her income was the lesser sacrifice. Or so it seemed at the time.

While dads around the world got up, splashed their faces, grabbed a coffee, and locked themselves into a room to try to manage a few hours of income generation during what was arguably one of the most shocking, destabilizing, and horrifying events of our collective lifetime, mom remained free to take a deep breath, let her shoulders drop, and read to the kids on the couch while the scent of freshly baked blueberry muffins wafted from the open kitchen door. Ha! Just kidding. Mom remained free to wipe up feces, vomit, and any other bodily fluid being ejected in her environment and on her person, manage the emotional stability (everything is relative) of however many fragile human psyches existed precariously in her care, try to get the hordes fed and clothed according to some sort of pattern vaguely resembling a schedule, pick stuff off the floor, pick it up off the floor again five minutes later, check the various boxes of arbitrary accomplishment being doled out by the educational institutions that those under her care were affiliated with, and – oh, yeah, almost forgot – not entirely lose her cookies herself. (And that’s in the best of cases wherein anybody had a job at all. And where mom wasn’t also working – we can’t even begin to imagine what the stay-at-home professionals went through, we really can’t. We bow our heads in humility, ladies, we really do.)

But there’s no free lunch, not even when mom is making it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a whopping 1.8 million men leaving the job market since the beginning of the pandemic – as compared with an even more whopping 2.5 million women. Correspondingly, study after study found that the increase in clinical depression, anxiety, suicidality, and a range of other garden-variety and not-so-garden-variety mental illnesses amongst women rose at a rate three times greater than that of men. Time and again the majority of women surveyed reported some version of falling apart, but not the majority of men. Break it down: in a room of women and men, at least three times more of the women found themselves in deep mental health trouble. (Love data? Just Google words like “ women”, “pandemic”, “mental health”, and you’ll be rolling in it.)

Please don’t misunderstand: we are not claiming that having a job makes women happy. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. But the data does seem to indicate that having time to get away from the madness of home and nurture an identity outside of familial service provider did men some good. With women so profoundly overwhelmed (does that even begin to depict what we felt?), many marriages teetered hard on the brink and some exploded. For a time, many children effectively lost their mommies to a stuttering, empty shell of overwhelm wearing her face. Many of us rallied like the champions we are, but scars remain. It isn’t easy being a woman. As the African adage goes, we hold up half the sky – and sometimes it feels like a whole heck of a lot more than half of it. Sometimes it is.

Yet when I walked into a small, exclusive networking events for women business owners run by the luminous Azi Jancovic as the worst of the pandemic ebbed into a limping summer, a funny thing occurred. Almost every women I spoke to at the event described her business as struggling – and attributed the struggle to her own personal failure! We watched governments buckle under the strain of handling the pandemic, airports and entire industries shutter, leaders of every stripe around the world fumble the stumble and occasionally completely drop the ball – yet individual women still attributed their struggling businesses, families, marriages, and lives to their own personal inability to measure up.

That, ladies, is why we need to have more fun. Because until we act out the conviction that we are worthy, we will be unable to believe it. Until we offer ourselves the compassion, understanding, and even delight that we would offer a profoundly beloved friend, we will not recognize ourselves in the mirror. We will look into our own eyes and see nothing there, because we will be emptied of resources. We are withholding from ourselves the activities required to fill the well back up.

We need to have more fun because we deserve to have more fun, and that ought to be enough.

As it so happens, good things happen when we start treating ourselves like we are worthy of sweet care. We start to have more juice to go around for the kids and the husband and the partners and the business and the job and the errands and whatever else is pulling on the teat. We start to hear ourselves laughing again amidst the inevitable sighs.

We need to have more fun because life will not get easier but we cannot stay victims forever. (Well, the truth is that we can choose to continue believing that we are nothing but victims, but that is a dark road into a murky, sad ending. We’ve all seen women get stuck in those ugly woods, and we know it ain’t pretty.) However, we are not in fact victims. We are champions and we came here to rock.

And rock we will.