I’ve noticed that articles of wives complaining about their husbands have been gaining in popularity, with some going viral, so I figured I’d save Christine the terrible hassle of listing all of my faults, writing an article about them, and publishing it in a national newspaper (or instagram) and do it myself. It’s a long list, after all, and between running a business, taking care of the kids, planning dinners, going to doctor’s appointments, napping, and ordering things on Amazon, she doesn’t have that kind of time. Thanks to all of her hard work, though, I’ve got more than enough. We’ll consider it a contribution toward balancing out our emotional workload. I don’t know whether this counts as a household chore, but it seems like it’s one more thing that women are expected to do these days, so I’ll just take it off her hands. It’s the least I can do.
I admit I grew up squarely within the patriarchy. My mother, an intelligent women, the oldest daughter of a doctor who could have gone that route herself, nevertheless dropped out of college to marry my father, had four kids, and stayed at home to take care of us. My father worked and provided for the family financially, and although he was and is an excellent father, I don’t recall him ever cooking dinner or doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom (though to be fair, as is characteristic of children, I didn’t much notice or care who did what as long as I got what I needed). So I went into marriage with certain vague notions of what a wife should do for me. Not the make-me-a-sandwich kind of notion, but notions nonetheless. I won’t say it worked out well at first, because that would be a lie, and I’m a terrible liar, though not for lack of practice.
Christine is a high-intensity, ambitious, achiever, perfect for an entrepreneur. She wants to get things done, meet goals, and see results. She focuses on the details, makes lists, and checks them off. It’s one reason she’s very successful. I do all of that, too, except the opposite. You can’t get me to care about the little things, especially such a trivial non-entity such as the future. Ask me how we should spend our money, and I will launch into a philosophical monologue. Christine keeps the budget. It doesn’t particularly bother me that the house is a mess, toys are all over the floor, or our bed isn’t made. Sure, I see that pile of laundry or overflowing trash can and think to myself, “I should really do something about that,” but it doesn’t penetrate my heart, as it were. It can wait, and does it really matter? Is having a clean house what is important in life? Don’t we tend to place too much emphasis on perfect appearances? Couldn’t we use that time to do something more valuable, like spending time with the kids or napping? I’m sure it drives Christine crazy. She’s a flurry of activity, leaving big messes in her wake, especially when she cooks, but then she wants to clean it up, get it out of the way, check it off her list. I tend not to make big messes, but I’m fine waiting till it reaches critical mass, or at least tomorrow, until doing anything about it.
If you ask me to do something without immediate consequences, don’t expect me to do it anytime soon. I’ll rush you to the hospital if you can prove you broke a bone, but is there ever really a dental emergency? Certainly a yearly cleaning doesn’t count. I generally get a haircut about a month after I start thinking I need one. I mow the lawn only once it starts to become embarrassing. The laundry often sits in the dryer a few days (and then in the basket a few more). Oh, I have to sign these papers to put my name on our bank account? Meh, it’s just money.
And don’t ask me to call anyone. Forget about it. I won’t do it. I have a pathological fear of talking on the phone to anyone who didn’t birth either me or my children. Talking in person, too, frankly. Thank God for automated prescription refills and the self-serve checkout at Walmart and Panera. Call my siblings on their birthday? Too awkward. Call my grandmother to ask her to watch our dog while we’re on vacation? Nah, she won’t mind. Call a friend to meet up for lunch? That’s insane.
Those are just the big personality-related problems. I’ve got tons of bad habits and irritating quirks, too. I don’t put the recycling in the right place. I leave things on the landing of the stairs. I never plan anything ahead of time. I forget half the plans she makes, too. I don’t fold her underwear. I’m not great at encouragement or telling her how I feel. I don’t do surprises, and I’m not good gift giver. I can be kind of a know-it-all.
I’m sure there are many, many more that I can’t remember or that I never knew about in the first place. What strikes me as I write this is how hard it is. In general, we are terrible at recognizing our own faults and especially how those faults affect others. Maybe we know our biggest weaknesses or are constantly reminded of a particular failing, but most are formed unconsciously over the course of our lives, adapted to our circumstances and developed for our own convenience or pleasure. We never know the effect they have on others until we find ourselves in close contact with someone who has different assumptions and habits. That’s one thing that makes marriage so difficult. I didn’t develop my personality to annoy Christine. It just worked out that way. I don’t do little things to bother her on purpose, except when I do. Most of the time, I’m just not aware how much they bother her unless she tells me, at which point I feel blindsided and get defensive.
This seems to me an unavoidable danger in any relationship. I personally feel the pain and effort of doing something, whether housework or childcare or whatever else, but I don’t feel the pain and effort (of someone else) in not doing it. Part of being successful in a relationship is learning to feel and account for the the effects you have on your partner. But that’s not our default state. It doesn’t take as complex and ambiguous a concept as sexism to explain why men expect more of their wives than they do of themselves. Tradition, culture, environment, family, and everything else play some role in what those expectations are, as they do in all things, but changing the roles only shifts the problem to somewhere else.
I don’t expect more of Christine because I think less of women but because I think only of myself. I expect her to forgive my faults. I expect her to correct them. I expect her to fill in the things I can’t or won’t do. I expect her to complete me in all the places I sense I am lacking. I expect her to make me happy. It’s a dangerous thing. Mostly because it’s impossible. She can’t fix me or give me everything I need. She doesn’t find my faults adorable, just frustrating. She doesn’t exist so I never have to do anything uncomfortable or difficult. She didn’t marry me to make my life easier.
For us, it’s not about cooking dinner or washing dishes or putting the kids to bed. I do that and more. We both work and take care of the family. There’s no level of effort or division of labor that will leave you without expectations and the resentment that follows. You have to empty yourself first. Rid yourself of the false belief that if only he did this or she did that, everything would be better. It’s not true. The best times in our marriage have been when Christine, trapped in bed by pregnancy or sickness, was least capable of helping. That’s when our expectations were shattered and our faults exposed, when we got over the injustice of it all and did whatever was needed, when we stopped worrying about all the things we hated and started caring more about the person whom we loved.