Saturday, October 16, 2010

update: the road less traveled, iowa edition

I may have been harsher than I needed to be with M-. On the road yesterday, our crankiness got to such a level we inadvertently caused a beef with a waiter in a bad Mexican restaurant and went to bed huffy and tired.

When we slow down to talk, and listen, we can have complementary strengths. I pay attention to certain details and he to others. I could not have the patience for DJing a wedding and taking care of set up, logistics and whatever. This has been on his mind for weeks and it should be; it's a huuge favor for a good friend. If he screws up, he's ruined a wedding for everyone.

So he's had more than one thought in his head. He just hasn't had the thoughts in his head that are in mine.

But, to a larger point that was mentioned in comments below, there is Work that a lot of women do that goes unacknowledged. Especially married and mothering women - the work these women perform to keep a household running is largeley ignored, uncompensated and devalued. 

Since I must bring everything to the personal or memoir level, I'll think about my father.

As much as my father loved my mom, I don't think he really considered the amount of work my mother contributed to the smooth running of his home. Every morning, my sister and I were clothed, fed, prepared for school or church, food was on the table, clothes were clean and everyone was on schedule.

I think he expected it to happen naturally because that's what the gender roles dictated. But the actual details of that work escaped him and went completely unacknowledged, which made my mother fester. Now that mom is gone, I think he's had some time to think about it but during those years, at the height of his ministry, he had no idea.

He would plan dinners, invite people over, volunteer mom's time and it would be done without a thought. 'Oh, of course, Lucy won't mind making a huge Sunday dinner for 9 people; she is such a good cook!' As if her talent automatically translated into consent.

It reminds me of episodes of Undercover Boss. The CEO, or COO, walks briefly in the shoes of his frontline staff and he is astounded at the sheer amount of herculean tasks put in front of him - vaguely realizing that this labor represents a fraction of the work hundreds of people contribute to his bottom line. I wonder if most husbands are like that. (Though it's problematic to see wives as 'staff.')

M- and I don't live together; we don't have a shared household. We're still in the early part of our relationship so I'm not going to fly a huge red flag. Being present means you deal with what's in front of you, not spin out into fantasies of future disaster.

But it's something for us to think about as we take our baby steps toward living together. It means we have to consciously talk about expectations and division of labor - especially what we learned from our parents and what those triggers are.

Here's to having a great party and drinking lots of champers!


Anonymous said...

Yup. I’m at the beginning of a serious relationship with a guy after a serious, long-term relationship with a woman and am coming to realize that I had NO IDEA how different my share of basic, everyday logistics work would be this time around if I were to just let it roll my way. To some degree it may have to do with individual personality traits—and god knows in most other ways I prefer his individual personality traits to my ex’s—but whether it’s privilege or just spaciness, there’s no excuse for leaving your partner with the burden of making sure the two of you get where you’re going on time and have everything you need while you’re there. And, of course, the (ahem) strong suspicion that it’s privilege rankles all the more. Though confronting him about this crap can be a pain, I don’t want to find myself decades from now packing for him and planning out every meal for every trip the way my mom does for my dad—I’m sure she sees these things as acts of love, but I prefer to be able to choose the ways I show my love, and checking that a grown man has his toothbrush is not high on the list. Plus, you know, I have too much respect for his intelligence and his good will to believe he’s incapable of learning to think about certain stuff for himself. Even if he grew up in a household where he literally was not expected to take his own dish to the sink after dinner.
To this point, thankfully, changes have been made every time I’ve brought these issues up. At times I may feel like even having to bring them up is extra work—but no, talking about problems with your partner is never “extra work”, it’s part and parcel of any relationship. It’s just the problems that change. Internalized homophobia, gender roles, a whole slew of other things I’ve never had to struggle through with a partner—there’s always some gift basket of garbage bestowed by previous generations. What matters is whether you can manage to hold your nose and unwrap it, together.

Delia Christina said...

i love that last bit - whether we're willing to hold our noses and unwrap this garbage together.

i think we do. i sometimes have to gin up the courage to talk about it because, believe it or not, i haaate confrontation! i just like doing what i do and letting folks do what they do - as long as it doesn't mess with what i do.

but that doesn't work in relationships, does it? (or a well-functioning one, anyway.)

thanks for reminding me that this stuff requires constant vigilance!