Let's talk about this Man-Woman thing again

I’m sitting in our nicely air-conditioned treehouse of a dining room with a book and my laptop.  My husband is outside, working on our garden.

Doesn’t that sound nice? “Working on our garden” sounds like he’s wearing brightly colored clogs and a big straw hat, using little tools appropriate for the work of tending to a glorious little garden full of flowers and rainbows and butterflies.

Ha.  Ha, ha, ha.

It’s in the high 90’s, our garden is a too-big strip of yard we tilled a few years ago in a fit of “we own this house!” motivation, and working on it involves very large, very heavy, often dangerous tools.  And the carrying of heavy-weighing things.

I should be helping.  Or should I?  This debate is how this post’s title came to be.

We have neighbors who are “that couple” – you know, cute (finished) house, nice (cleared, maintained yard), cool (paid for?) electronics.  They’ve been married and in their house five years longer than we have, which is what I tell myself when I start to wish we were more like them.

There’s always been a mystery: I’ve never (ever, not one single time) seen her working on anything outside.  Or inside for that matter, but I figure she must be.  Right? What else would she be doing?  He’s humping fallen trees or building things or trimming stuff; she’s nowhere to be seen.

I come back to this because every time my husband works on something outside, I feel like I should join him, and not out of a sense of camaraderie, but to show him I can. “I can do that, too,” I think.  “Even if he is a man.”

I like to think we’ve come a long way from this post, wherein I debated not ever cooking again only to prove I wasn’t That Woman.  Sometimes he cooks, we both clean, and we negotiate the dog-watching responsibilities.  “If you feed them, I’ll take them out.”

But now I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I pressure-washed everything.  Seriously, everything.  What started as a plan to quickly pressure-wash the back deck and porch turned into a multiple-hour project wherein I stripped last year’s quickie paint job off the porch.  Hours.  Many, many tedious and frustrating hours, not to mention hundreds of gallons of water.

{I digress: only people who’ve never lived in the desert can stomach the idea of using hundreds of gallons of water to wash a building, I think.  I spent every one of those hours feeling horribly guilty for the waste.  My husband’s response: “It goes back into the ground.”}

Today I want nothing to do with the stifling hot outdoors.  I want to make another dog bed, sweep up all the animal fur floating around, and (okay, fine) paint a few things for the back deck project.  If pressured, I’d paint the actual deck.  But the whole “maintaining the house” junk?  None of that.  Not today.

But he’s out there, and I feel like I should be, if only to prove I can.  Anything you can do I can do better. If not better, then almost as well when accounting for my smaller size and strength, but well enough.

I thought I’d come to terms with my girl-ness and his man-ness.  Much like I paint because I’m better at it, he carries things because he’s built for it.  He harasses the dogs (and they love it); I cuddle with them.  I’m the soft-heart; he’s the discipliner.

Apparently, though, I still feel like I should prove I don’t need him.

“What if I start to lean on you and then you leave me?” I asked him while we were dating.  He’d accurately pointed out that I wouldn’t take any of his help on principle when frankly, he had better tools.

“Then you’ll go back to doing it yourself,” he responded.

Oh. Right.

Once upon a time I would have foisted my help on him so he’d know I could do it too.  Now I know we work best together when we work alone, so I sit here, in the cool dining room, wondering whether going through our books is equal to digging out the garden, making a dog bed matches pressure-washing the driveway, reading a book while he works is as acceptable as him playing video games while I cook.

If you can’t be truly equal in a marriage (and you can’t, because people are different in so many ways, not least of which are those driven by our hormones), is separate but equal good enough, or is the whole idea of equal the problem?

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9 thoughts on “Let's talk about this Man-Woman thing again

  1. I vote for equitable rather than equal. I know I can take care of myself because I did it before I met my husband. I can lift heavy things even (if it hurts me the next day), and if I can’t, I can hire someone. But now that I have someone who *wants* to help, and who benefits from it equally, it’s just more efficient for him to do what he’s good at, and for me to do what I’m good at. Now he carries the heavy stuff, and does the cooking because he enjoys it (which means he does the grocery shopping because he knows what we need), and I do the cleaning and the financial management because it makes me feel more comfortable if I take care of those things (and I’m better at it). Sometimes I still feel like I should assemble more of the furniture because it’s a stereotypical “man” job and I need to prove that I can do it too… but then I remember: yes, I can do it, and I don’t need to prove it because we both know it. And then he’s the one who can get himself frustrated with the nonsensical Ikea instructions instead of me, and I’m contributing just as much to the irritating job by dusting it off afterward and vacuuming the sawdust. 😉

  2. This was a hard thing for me too. I was definitely more independent as a single woman, but like marigold said, if I couldn’t do it myself (change oil, fix leaks, repair my roof), I hired someone else to do it. Now as part of a couple, I married a TOTAL manly man. He does all those things and doesn’t want to hire anyone because in his words “Why pay someone else to do it when I can do it myself and know that it’s done right?” So for some of these tasks, I have become the helpless wife that lets my husband take care of it. I’m thankful and appreciative to have a husband who can do it, I will go back to having to fend for myself if something (god forbid) happens to him or us, but I know he also enjoys being appreciated in this way. I also like knowing that there are some things I do that he would rather not have to think about and he appreciates me for that as well. 🙂 So I don’t think you can be equal, but as long as there is mutual respect and appreciation I don’t think there will be a problem.

    • @Bam, Did I ever tell you the story about how, when my ex-husband and I first moved in together, we divided up the chores and then I hired someone to do my half? He hated the idea of having someone else do something he could do for free (fine, whatever floats your boat, man) so I figured he could do his own but I was perfectly comfortable paying someone else to do mine. Ah, those were the days before I paid much attention to the ridiculousness of my methods.

  3. I got married less than 2 months ago – and we are definitely working all this out! I usually cook because I love it – though I struggle with the gender roles aspect of it sometimes. He always offers to help, but sometimes (often) I’d really just rather do it myself, yet I don’t want to reject him. I am more organized so I do finances, but he often comes up with logical solutions to things and know more practical information. I struggle with the idea that he is always sharing knowledge on how to do things – I wish I just knew! And I wish I was stronger to help move things and lift things etc. Despite all that though, I think we’re working these things out, and I think it’s okay to separate roles as long as there is communication and understanding about WHY the roles are how they are.

  4. I’m trying to figure out how to make it work when we BOTH dislike doing domestic-type things. I hate to cook, he likes it okay, but I hate his style of food. We both hate laundry. We both hate cleaning. He mows because I’m allergic. Other than that, we both hate yardwork.

    So far, my only idea for managing this so that we are both happy is: winning the lottery.

  5. I used to consider myself progressive – I get pissed off when I’m putting the groceries away alone or when he doesn’t offer to give me a hand with dinner. But then I realized one day, that I didn’t even think it should be a question that I would not be mowing the lawn. I do not mow. I won’t mow. I don’t want to mow. I just feel like that’s his domain. So maybe I’m not so progressive after all. But I am lazy. =P

    We try to be equitable in pretty much everything else, though (I like the equitable v. equal comment, above), and I still inspire the envy of all my longer-married friends when I tell them that MY husband still does his OWN LAUNDRY. Oh yes, I’m feeling smug now 😉

    • @Vee, Yea, the mowing got me too. Oops. That said, I didn’t mow at the rental house I lived in when he met me, so he knew better. It makes me itchy and allergic for days. Regardless, I’ve definitely left the chainsaw-wielding to him. So, yea, not so progressive when it came down to it.

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