Last week I discussed the decision-making process I went through in choosing to move in with my girlfriend, and I hope that you could see echoes of your own cognitive approaches to heavy decisions. I wanted to make it clear that the decision wasn’t easy, and that my requirements and desires were being addressed in the choice. I needed to elucidate the process for you, because I planned to share with you this thing that has happened when I have shared the news with others: I have been ridiculed for it. I thought about it for a time, and decided what I believe is going on. Perhaps you’ll chime in as well.
What would you say to me, were I to tell you in a conversation over a drink, that I am moving in to the downstairs apartment of my girlfriend’s duplex? Keep in mind that I am 37. Here are some of the responses I have had:
“Well, that sounds like you’re moving forward.”
“She’s keeping you in the basement now?”
“She won, huh?”
“Finally joining the rest of us stiffs.”
“I guess we know who’s calling the shots.”
Now, not everyone talks to me this way. Some folks congratulate me and wish me luck. Some of them even mean it. But the comments above and others like it have prompted me to shut my mouth about it.
There’s a peculiar pattern about those comments. They all come from a single demographic: middle-aged, married white men. Men that fit into the classic stereotype of the bread-winner milquetoast father and husband whose wife controls the household and to a degree, him. Ideas like the “To-Do List” that she writes for him, the one room where he is allowed to decorate as he pleases i.e. “Man Cave”, the withholding of physical intimacy based on her whim which he must not challenge, even at great personal difficulty, etc. It’s an antiquated gender role that isn’t quite out of prevalence in the US, coming after the male-dominated home stereotype of the 50’s and before, but before the more modern equality-based models.
These men who deride me when they hear that I am giving up my own place to live with my girlfriend all grew up believing (and consequently still believe) that the right and normal course for an American man is to marry and become a domestic slave. A man whose only respite is when he can get away from the wife, into the garage, or out drinking with the boys, or other activities that she scarcely tolerates. A man whose spare time is spent working around the house at her bidding, on jobs he does not believe need to be done. A man who desperately wants sex but is only given it once in a long while when she deems his recent behavior (see: housework) rewardable.
This is the situation they looked for, found, and now struggle with. They believe it is fitting. They perpetuate it. And of course, they see it as appropriate for everyone else, too. And as they say, misery loves company. They delight in projecting their own deplorable situation on another male, because it confirms the validity of their choice to put themselves into awful circumstances.
But I do not believe it is fitting. Thankfully, neither does my gerlf. She and I plan to approach things from a position of equal footing, and to respect each others’ needs, plans, and desires as being of equal importance. Supporting each other, rather than limiting each other. I have found, partially because of the derision I’ve experienced when sharing the news of my move, that such an equality-based approach to cohabiting is not just what I’d prefer, but it is actually a hard boundary for me. I become angry at the suggestion I might do otherwise. And I wonder if this points to my own childhood. Did I flinch when my mother handled my father’s sincere feelings as trifles? I am unsure.
Perhaps it is the fact that one approach reflects love, and the other reflects resentment, and the fact that I see this makes me sensitive to suggestions that I would accept the latter in the guise of the former.
How does this reflect your own living situation? Are you and your partner on unequal footing, even if you planned to be otherwise? Did you ever date someone considerably younger or older than your own age and find their values in regard to living together were skewed compared to yours?