Sunday, March 31, 2002

Marriage Material

I think it's dangerous to make sweeping generalizations, about anything, and regard them as absolutes. Of course there are relationships and marriages where both the husband and wife contribute equitably to the union. Of course there are marriages where each partner is satisfied with the other's level of contribution (whether it is, from an outsider's view, equitable or not). I think that by writing "all husbands" and "all wives" Maushart discredits her point of view.

With that said, however, based on my experience and that of many of my friends, even the most independent-minded women are surprised, and confused, when traditional marital roles sneak, surreptitiously, into their marriage. I am in my early thirties. I am divorced after a pretty-good, but not completely satisfying, 6-year marriage. My parents had a "traditional" marriage. They got married while at university. Mom didn't finish her degree because she had a child. Dad did. Dad was the primary breadwinner. Mom stayed home with the children until we started school then she worked part time. Even though I saw this as a model, I was told, by both my parents, and by outside influences, "You can have it all. You can have a satisfying career. You can travel. You can find a partner who will respect all these things, help with the housework, be kind, sensitive, and present for your emotional needs." This may be possible. I didn't find that person.

Both my husband and I automatically fell into roles we had seen our parents perform (even though we consciously tried not to). The role of "wife" was new to me. Though I had been told one thing, I had seen another. Many times, the role I had observed was the role I took on. So maybe marriages in which division of labor is more equitable will be more common in the future, where young women and men will have had role models for this behavior.

In hindsight, however, I wonder, hmmmmmm. I was told about all the benefits I would derive from a wonderful, modern-day marriage. Yet, I wasn't told about the sacrifices I would need to make (because there are many). I wasn't told how much work our relationship would take. I wasn't taught how to compromise. How many people (women and men) are taught these things? How realistic are our expectations? How hard are we willing to work to accomplish them?