A female friend yesterday remarked that she doesn’t really think marriage, or indeed monogamous coupledom, is a realistic proposition. She wasn’t referring to fidelity, but more to the idea that men and women, such different beasts, could actually co-habit in a way that didn’t diminish either party. Especially in our modern world of supposed equality.
I’ve spent most of my life single, so I’m new to the whole relationship thing. But it’s a fairly steep learning curve. Learning how to disagree without ending up in a fight, understanding that it’s unlikely he’ll ever remember social events that you’ve arranged or indeed learn how to use the shared Google calendar, remembering to steer him to the right so the wet patch ends up on his side of the bed and not on mine... those sorts of things.
I consider myself a modern woman, and yet, in 2012, in my first and what will hopefully be my last adult relationship, I find myself pondering if I’m more traditional than I realised. I like him opening doors for me. I like him doing the things I consider “manly” around the house – changing light bulbs, taking out the rubbish, killing spiders and the like. Those are the traditional bits that appeal. But I also find myself doing the majority of the cooking, the washing, the online food shopping, sorting all the bills, cleaning the flat ready for the cleaner, organising all the social events, making him a packed lunch to take to work every day, and suddenly I start to panic. Am I my mother, but without the housekeeping cheque my Dad used to give her each week? Is this really the modern woman having it all? I’ve never wanted or expected to be a kept woman – I’ve always worked and hope to do so until I’m old and wrinkly, and my general attitude is that whoever has more disposable income picks up the bill more often – a rule my friends and I have often adhered to, which works quite nicely when one of them lands some TV work, or the ever lucrative advert.
I’ll be honest, I quite like cooking for him. Primarily because our rule is that if one cooks, the other washes up. And given that the kitchen looks like a scene from the Gremlins post midnight if he’s done the cooking, I prefer to cook. I also quite like feeding him, fulfilling that female role of giving the man his supper, which I didn’t really think I would. Susie Orbach talks about the role of wife and mother being centred around putting food on the table, not in the financial sense, but in the nurturing sense, and there is definitely some of that going on. But where is my nurturing? And if women are doing the majority of the household chores, plus their jobs, what are the men doing?
My female friend doesn’t think it’s possible to be in a relationship without one or both parties giving way to such a degree that it changes them. She is a bright, strong, financially independent, single mother of twins. She is uninterested in the more submissive men that find her strength and independence sexy. And she would find it seriously hard to play dumb, or temper the assertiveness that makes her who she is, so the more dominant men want someone a little more pliable.
I have another friend who never tells men they are wrong. She believes you have to lead them to working it out themselves, but never point it out, because their pride can’t take it, and they have to be the man, the leader. Which in effect left us in a traffic jam for an hour because he took a detour which we both knew was the wrong decision, but she didn’t warn him or advise against it. And so we sat there, patiently, and never commented on the fact that it was the worst idea ever. Given men’s general dislike for taking female instruction, quite why they decided that Sat Navs should have female voices is beyond me.
So, where’s the happy medium? How do you happily share responsibilities, finances, bodily fluids, in a way that is even (or at least see-saws) and transparent? How do you communicate your needs and desires in a positive and non critical way? Micky Flanagan has a great joke, when the wife tells the husband she’s having a fat day, and his response is “Well, don’t go out then”. Which I think sums up the difference of the sexes brilliantly. Men often just don’t get it. And I’m sure they would say the same about us. Which makes saying what you want, and understanding what the other person wants, rather hard. And I think women find it much harder to express what they want than men, because for all the feminist movements, I feel that we are still brought up to accommodate men a bit, whereas they are brought up to just be. And I think we generally have more emotional needs. We like to be looked after, to be complimented, to be kissed, to be made to feel special and sexy, and all things nice. And maybe men need all that too, they just don’t know it yet. Because the male “embrace your emotions” movement isn’t quite fully fledged yet. Christ knows what will become of us all when it is.
But you know, maybe that’s the joy of it. Maybe that’s the journey. We have no idea what we are doing, we have no idea what fears and foibles lie buried deep in the other person, which are gradually going to emerge. I guess it’s just a case of taking a day at a time, making sure your partner is the person in your life that has the most knowledge about you, and occasionally hitting them over the head with a brick when they are idiots. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is learning to read my mind.....