Cross-posted with permission from patriarchalDISORDER.
I’m waiting for Tipper Gore to talk about why she ended her forty-year marriage to Al Gore. I’d be surprised to discover that he’s the one who needed a change, not that I know anything about Al Gore’s inner life but mostly because I can well imagine how a woman who is married to a public figure and has played the helpmeet role for four (count ‘em four) decades would like a new job. Or maybe she’d like a husband who pays attention to her.
I’m a married woman going on twenty years with the same man and I like our private economy just fine but I think what I’ve got going here is probably unusual. It wasn’t always so, but at this stage of our negotiations of how to live together it has worked itself out so that my husband does all those domestic chores typically assigned to the wife. He does them because 1) he does them better than I do and 2) they are more important to him than to me. He shops and cooks, I pay the bills. I went through a period of cooking for the whole family, which consisted of my husband and my three stepsons, and it was like putting on a performance every single day. One of the kids would come home from school and shout "What’s for dinner?" At the time I thought I was winning the war to be accepted by my new family, but as the years passed it became clear that my presence in this broken family was cook or be shunned entirely.
I can cook but I don’t like to cook when I don’t feel like cooking and most days I don’t. Crack open a can of tuna, stick a spoon into a jar of peanut butter, grab an apple and I’m good. Books to read, thoughts to think, blog posts to write, videos to make, podcasts to upload…I’m BUSY! I’m also 56 and aware of the window of opportunity gently closing on my ability to have an impact on patriarchy and its disorders, so please don’t take up my waning years with spaghetti and meat sauce or lemon chicken or any of the other brilliantly improvised dishes I served when I was gunning for the distinction of The Good Stepmother. I’m the Bad Stepmother now and wearing it not proudly but realistically and taking advantage of the greased lightning lifestyle suddenly available to me.
Have you ever known a woman freer of relational brakes? Get this: no children (although I am sometimes a surrogate mother to a niece), no parents, no pets and a husband who shops and cooks, and shops and cooks extremely well, better than I ever did or ever hoped to. I am FREE to read, think, make art. I have never felt freer and when I stop to wonder what it must be like to be sandwiched between children, husband and elder parents needing care, I stop breathing in terror. I am free. I didn’t plan it to turn out this way but then again I didn’t have children, probably the defining reason that at age 56 I am free. If I had had children in my 40′s as so many of my contemporaries did, I’d still be raising a teenager. Been there done that with my stepsons. Maybe it would have been lovelier and sweeter with a daughter of my own, but I’m not spending time yearning for what can’t be. I’m free of menstruating, too, free of painful periods and erratic floods of blood that made me afraid to go out in public. I’m free, even, of a sexual appetite ruling me. Sure, sometimes it’s nice, but let me just say that I don’t gotta have it and I like it this way better.
I like it just fine that I can decline and my husband not only understands but gets it, because, after all, his testosterone is also on the wane.I like it just fine that nobody but my husband has a claim on my time, my attention, my empathy, my listening, my feeling that I must help in any way that I can. I like it. I like feeling the freedom and the road stretching out before me to be determined only by the expression of unfettered me-ness. It might be the first time in my life that I know this place, not just because I got married and helped to raise stepsons, not only because my four orphaned cousins came to live in my nuclear family when I was ten, not only because my mother counted on me to be her helper, but because I was raised to believe that it was my role as a woman to be there for everyone else. And I’ve been trying, in all kinds of ways, to figure out how to fulfill that expectation and at the same time discover me, my SELF. Lemme tell ya, it’s been confusing. Very.
But I have just simplified my life enormously and decided not to continue a few relationships where I am seen as the Giving Tree. Remember The Giving Tree? Yeah, well, I’m NOT. I’m keeping the husband because his mother trained him well and he has never expected me to be his servant in any way. I trained him to tolerate a messy house. And then I trained him to leave me alone when I’m thinking/writing/researching. He likes to chitty-chat throughout the day, which is sweet, actually, but NOT when I’m really cranking out the feminist theory or chasing an artistic imperative. It’s taken some training but he really understands that my work is important to me and that no, I can’t multitask when I’m really really really thinking. So, we get along, the Mister and I. I wish he were more interested in my work, to be honest, but he does try.
So, Tipper, I hope you’re feeling free, like me. I look forward to hearing from you because I suspect you have quite a bit to say…