I grew up in the ‘80s. My mother never used the term “me time.” Neither did my grandmother, nor my aunts, nor my neighbors. And yet, while these women were around if I really needed them, I rarely knew where they were or what they were doing when I didn’t.
“Me time” was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary two years ago, but has already become less about seeking ways to relax and find fulfillment, and more about marketing. The term isn’t a mission statement but a sales pitch, and you can bet your bottom dollar what’s being sold is sexism.
The reason you never see men drinking out of coffee cups that read me time is because they recognize it for what it is: a scam designed to manipulate women into martyring themselves and giving more more more in exchange for a couple measly crumbs of respite. Sip from the poisoned chalice of me time, and you implicitly agree that the rest of your time belongs to everyone else.
It should come as no surprise that problem drinking is on the rise for women, with many abusing alcohol as a form of escapism. Can’t run away to a desert island? Open a bottle of wine instead. A little indulgence is good for the soul.
Search the #metime hashtag on Twitter and you’ll find lovely ladies advertising dermal fillers and gym memberships. Track it on Instagram and you’ll see women laden with shopping bags, women at the spa, women by the pool… Free time has become such a luxury that it’s now associated with high-end products and services encouraging us to “treat” ourselves should we ever manage to actually get a choice in how we spend our own hours — “spend” being the operative word, with an emphasis on splurging. Nothing free about that!
Our anxiety to capitalize on every single moment of the day means all the places where women used to retreat are now shared spaces. We watch women putting on make-up, see pictures of them soaking in the tub. If you like the silk pajamas someone is wearing while she “chillaxes,” you can follow a link and seamlessly purchase a pair. “Private” has become so synonymous with “irrelevant” that if any woman dares disappear from the public eye for more than 20 minutes, she offers excuses for her absence as soon as she returns.
What happened to curling up with a good book on a rainy day or going for a walk? It doesn’t cost a cent to look out the window. You can daydream without dressing up.
The quiet moments we may have once embraced however briefly in each day no longer seem eventful or glamorous enough to count towards our allotment of precious personal time. Choosing to sit and listen to music when there’s a festival happening just down the street feels a bit like planning a staycation for your week off work while everyone else books tickets to Hawaii.
You don’t owe anyone every other moment you’re conscious as compensation.
Then there’s the dilemma that arises when something brings individual satisfaction and pleasure, but also benefits others. Does it still count as me time if you coach your child’s team in the sport you loved through college, or prepare your favorite meal to share at a family dinner?
This pressure to escape routines, responsibilities, and simple daily rhythms in search of the most ah-mazing time eva! exists because society has made idle time a sin and tried to convince us all that our self-worth lies in systematically ticking off enviable experiences and achievements. Successful career – check! Satisfying relationship – check! Beautiful home, adorable children, interesting hobbies, busy social life, et cetera. We place zero value on standing still or opting out altogether.
No wonder we’re all so freakin’ exhausted. As research into maternal burnout syndrome mounts, some enterprising souls are even selling naps now. (Can we pause to appreciate the irony of having to book in rest to recover from being overscheduled?)
Me time has become the carrot we dangle before ourselves as motivation to just.keep.moving. It’s a bribe: if we do ABC for everyone else, we can do XYZ for ourselves. Or maybe just X. But that’s OK. We can do Y and Z next week instead. In the meantime, we bulldoze past every available opportunity to pause and catch our breath. The result is mothers hiding in the bathroom, desperate for five minutes’ peace.
If you love your morning jogs or dinner out with friends, that’s great. But you don’t owe anyone every other moment you’re conscious as compensation. Don’t apologize because you didn’t answer a text or an email as soon as you received it. Don’t feel guilty that you didn’t budge from the park bench to push your kid on a swing for the umpteenth time. If you want to sit in the car for a second before you walk in the door after a long day at the office, go for it.
When we carve out a solitary square on our calendar and call it me time, we turn our energy and attention into a quantifiable commodity, which subjects us to other people’s demands and negotiations. Our wish to exist as an independent entity becomes something that others have to accommodate and “allow.” These concessions put us in debt. We feel compelled to not only love the film we go to see, but to feel really, really grateful that we “get” to go see it at all.
As soon as we start requesting permission to spend time focusing on our own needs and desires, we reduce self-care to a treat for which we must beg and barter, e.g., if you let me go get my hair done, then I’ll watch the kids while you go for a ride; if I can spend Friday night at a salsa class, then I’ll do all the chores Saturday morning. Give and take are crucial in every relationship but there’s a fine line between working out a balance and keeping score.
The whole concept of me time can quickly become a source of resentment if it’s seen as a bonus instead of an essential component of mental and physical health. Don’t let being your own person become a reward for otherwise making yourself available 24/7. Find a way to take a quick break when and as you need it, and you’ll lose the sense of desperation around singular events.
We all deserve to drink a cup of tea while it’s hot and we shouldn’t have to make an appointment to do it.