I’ve instinctively struggled with the idea of gendered roles in marriage since we got engaged two years and two months ago. I’d like to think I’m closer to settling the matter in my mind by now but every time I turn a corner I find myself pausing, uncertain of where to go.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently since I’m about to enter a long stretch where the home, in a very real way, will be my domain. I’m not saying that having a baby will confine me staying home but I won’t be working, at least not for money, for a spell and I imagine that I’ll not be able to ignore the dishes quite as well as I’ve done in the past. So, by default, I will probably become a “homemaker”.
That word is hot and cold in my mouth, even though the transition’s already been happening. For the past few months I’ve worked primarily from home. The flexibility of my work has meant that we finally have a laundry day, our meals are generally planned and for the first time since we’ve been married, everything (save one mini suitcase) is unpacked. Furthermore, and this will make those who knew me even three years ago gasp, the house gets tidied and cleaned at some point every week.
I find myself taking pride in it, not in the sense that I’m fulfilling some feminine role (though there’s a bit of that too, if I’m completely honest) because competence is enjoyable. It’s like how I felt learning to play the guitar. There’s some creative fulfillment in it as well, as if acquiring new ways to be thrifty and changing the look of a room bore resemblance to writing a song. I also like the hospitality it allows. I usually don’t have to mentally check whether the house looks too much like a farmyard’s come and had its fun in it before inviting someone to spend time with us, spur of the moment.
I guess I feel a bit like it’s a “spousonomics” type of exchange between Laurence and I. For one thing, he works much longer hours than I do and earns a great deal more so I feel a bit like taking care of things domestic is my contribution to the “business” of our marriage. If the roles were reversed, I expect he’d be the one making sure things are spic and span.
But it’s a relational thing too. Something we discovered when taking a marriage preparation course (let me tell you, this was one of the hardest things I’ve done, one of the crappest times in my life but made our first year so much easier because all our personal rubbish was out in the open) was that he experiences love most strongly through acts of service and I through quality time. He really makes the effort to give me what I need and it would be more than a little selfish for me not to do the same.
So, it sounds like I’m down with this homemaking thing, no “issues” attached. But I’m not. I’m overly sensitive to any time I feel like I’m doing all of it (I never am) though I’m happy, time allowing, to do the lion’s share of it. When things do become messy because I’m too busy, tired or ill, I find myself making defensive jokes about being “a defective domestic goddess” or if I’m really trying to elicit a reaction, “a bad wife” – not that I actually think vacuuming has the slightest thing to do with being a woman or married.
These barbs protect the woman inside who’s scared of being taken for granted the way a lot of the women I grew up amongst were. Beneath their harsh tone, they’re quietly saying to him: “I know you’re not oppressive or distracted. I know you’re involved, happy to muck in with these silly domestic things. But I’m scared that eventually you’ll stop seeing me.” And that’s not fair to him. He’s done nothing for me to expect the worst.