For whatever reason, call it the social contract, the idea of a natural progression of a relationship endures. You meet the right person. You fall in love. You marry. You have children. You raise children. Your children lead lives of their own. We see our parents, our friends’ parents. We hear it in the schoolyard,
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes x in the baby carriage.”
It’s ingrained in us to such an extent that, of course, it’s natural. Why wouldn’t it be. Even those that claim to flout convention eventually pair up and have a child. Time passes. People mature. Relationships progress. I wonder if we wouldn’t be happier people if we didn’t allow ourselves to play Exquisite Corpse with our definitions of a successful relationship. Time passes. People progress. Relationships mature. We don’t allow for mature relationships until after children are grown. We equate maturity with getting to know each other all over again. It will be like a second honeymoon! What fun! Unless you don’t know each other any more. I didn’t see a difference between my idea of relationship unfolding and maturing and his belief that a relationship needed to progress along a more traditional path. I want a relationship that will mature, develop complexity and richness, outside of a traditional path. It’s a shame that it took me 14 years to figure that out.
Recently I found myself party to a conversation where the subject was being someone’s wife. One of my friends said she did not and does not ever see herself as a wife. When I was younger I didn’t either. Then again, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I seldom dated. Guys never saw me that way. I was the cool girl who was the friend and confidante-period. “You’re so cool. You’re awesome. Why can’t more girls be like you. Do you know Heather? Do you think she likes me?” I died a little inside every time. As I got older, I saw myself possibly being a wife, but not in a traditional marriage. I was raised in a faith that forbade cohabitation, which, in retrospect, is better suited to my temperament. If I wanted to be in a long-term, committed relationship it was marriage or nothing. I saw myself in an equal partnership with a man; sharing but at the same time having our own lives.
Then I became an actual wife and all of a sudden I felt like I was doing everything. I did the laundry, the dishes, the grocery shopping. I paid the bills and schedule doctors’ appointments. I cleaned, badly; mostly because I didn’t have the time to clean the way I like which is to remove everything, scrub down the space, and put everything back. I took care of the dry cleaning. I packed his bags for trips and unpacked them when he got home. I made our travel arrangements. I took the car in for routine maintenance. I took the cats in for routine maintenance. I did the dishes and made dinner on the weekends. The only things I didn’t do were cooking on weekdays and calling the contractor when repairs needed to be made. All this while working full time. We discussed the unequal distribution of domestic labour at great length, but nothing changed. He asked why I was so tired. One day he had me write down my daily schedule for a week. He saw that I was booked from 6:30am-9pm most weeknights, booked from 7:00am-9:00pm most Saturdays, and booked from 7:00am-5:00pm most Sundays. After that he helped around the house for two weeks. My woman’s work was never done. I was run down and resentful.
Did I mention he worked from home?
I ask myself, what did we do? We barely went to the movies. We had a 46″ television screen and to him it was better than going to the movies. We hardly went to the theatre. We never went to the philharmonic. We went to the opera once. I did these things more often in the first six months after our divorce then we did when we were married. We watched television, far too much television he complained. He played video games. We read books. He talked endlessly about his interests. But most of the time we did nothing.
His mother did everything. When we visited she would have out laundry folded and ready by the time we left. I usually washed and dried. She claimed to have trained her husband but when she started working it was regular visits from a cleaning woman who kept their home spotless. She did not train my ex; leaving that, she said, to me. I told her it was not my job to train her son. More fool me as it became my job all the same. She didn’t like my response. Perhaps she felt it inferred a failing, or the idea that the wife training the husband was a little old fashioned, like I didn’t have anything else to do. My son is a sexist cretin and it’s your job to remake him, I couldn’t. He hid his sexism well. My father told me of a conversation he had with my ex during our grad school years. My father told him he could do a better job of helping around the house. My ex’s response was that it was not part of his culture. There was no glamour in housework. He couldn’t show off like with cooking. We hadn’t failed at much over the course of our lives, my ex’s mother and me. She went back to work, climbed the corporate ladder, and supported the family. I had worked my way from not much and supported myself admirably. This, however, was a spectacular failure and we both knew it. Did you see this coming? she asked at the end. No, I replied. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Now that we are apart, I see that this was inevitable. Had it not been for his overwhelming case of babyfever, it would have been something else. I know that now.
She and others have asked how/why I lived with it for so long. Simple, I thought it would change. He’d get the tenure-track position he always wanted. We’d start over. Our therapist asked me if something else in his life had worked out the way he planned, would our lives have been different. Looking at this parallel universe, the hard truth is that it our lives wouldn’t have been any different at all. I would still be doing all of the menial, domestic chores. What’s more, if we had a child I would be taking the child to and from daycare and seeing to all of her or his needs. He would bring the child to parties, not get up for feedings. I would have been ground to nothing and he would bask in all the glory that comes when you do everything the world says you’re supposed to do. If, in this parallel universe, we were unable to have children, then things would have been identical. His babyfever would still hit. He would still be the one who wants to leave but doesn’t want to be bad guy. I would be the one to leave.
Funny how a parallel universe can look just like this one.