Q: Dear APW,
My partner and I are getting married in August. I have always seen him as an ally, a feminist: he never diminishes my feelings, strives to understand my experience, and advocates for the Diva Cup to his co-workers. In our home life, we definitely have gender roles, but they are usually explicitly talked about and agreed upon until we understand what the other is comfortable with. Much of our partnership is shared on a basis other than gender.
So why, when it comes to wedding planning, does everything feel so gendered, stereotypical, and awful all of a sudden? My partner has done nothing to take the reins on this thing. We are planning a big wedding because my family is huge, but I felt we had decided that together, and he is the one who proposed. At first, I let him off the hook, making excuses like, “He isn’t good at calling venues,” or “We are planning it in my home state, so I know more.” I’m afraid I set the precedent for a tired and sexist wedding planning process, in which because I have a vagina, I have an innate event planning ability (I definitely don’t—I’m disorganized and I don’t know anything about decorating), and now, it’s starting to hurt my feelings.
We have six months to go, and I really don’t want to feel like I’m dragging him through this. For me, it is starting to become symbolic: does it really matter to him? Why am I trying to plan a meaningful ceremony if it will hold no meaning for him? He has given me his guest list and estimated alcohol costs, and both are things I had to “nag” him for. Ugh. I feel like it’s pushing me into an identity crisis… is this my married self? Naggy, with a dismissive and uninterested partner?
I would really like for him to get online, get some ideas of his own, even show initiative and ask me where we are in the process and what needs to be done. On the other hand, I get that he is really busy (though, as the major breadwinner, so am I) and, to top it off, he is quitting nicotine. And I know that is really hard, and will be for months. So, do I let him off the hook, delegate some tasks and give him a break? Accept that this isn’t his forte, and stop taking it to heart and interpreting it as the future of our relationship? Help!
It could just be a fluke. Weddings are weird! They’re complicated and intense, and most people don’t know how to plan them—and never have before, and won’t need to ever again. So maybe this is just a one-off issue. But, no, you don’t let him off the hook.
Because while it may be a fluke, there’s also a chance it’s not. There’ll be plenty of other times when you guys will need to do something that he’s not innately interested in doing. And when that happens, it’s all too easy to make excuses for our partners. Be real. Are you super pumped to call venues? Even if it is your home state, do you really have all that much insider knowledge about the wedding vendors there? And yet, you’re still doing it! Wedding planning isn’t always fun. But it sounds like that’s the case for both of you, which means you should be sharing in this big task—and in the ones that come your way down the road.
How much should you be sharing? Well, that’s where it gets a little complicated. At bare minimum, he has to help with task completion. No arguments. Tell him I said so. But, there’s also the emotional labor of remembering what needs to be done. Put another way—there’s the actual work of making phone calls, and then there’s the emotional work of knowing that the phone calls even need to be made. If you just want his help with the first part, tell him so. Ideally, that can be fixed immediately. If you also want help with that second part, that may take a bit more time and a little practice.
In heterosexual relationships, womxn are typically socialized to be the rememberers, the ones who carry the emotional burden of researching, planning, and storing all of the mental info. If you find yourself falling into that pattern, it can take real effort to help your partner keep those same mental logs and take the initiative to tackle them without your delegating and prodding. If this is coming up now, it’ll probably continue to come up for a good long time. Plus, you’re the breadwinner! And still, you’re not just doing all of the legwork of wedding planning, but also the mental work, too, while he sits back. If he’ll do this now, my gut says he’ll for sure do it again and again in the future. Are you up for that?
Now that we covered that, there are a few more things I gotta say. I know it’s tough to sum up your whole life in one email, but some of what you mentioned made me pause. Advocating for the Diva Cup doesn’t make the “super feminist!” cut for me, and would make me really uncomfortable if I was one of his coworkers. And having roles is a normal part of cohabitation, but when you call them “gender roles,” it makes me wonder if they’re being assigned according to who wants to do what (which wouldn’t make them gender roles, just roles-roles) or who has which gender identity.
“Feminist” is an important word, and it’s terrific if he self-describes that way… but only if he walks the walk. None of us will get it right every time, particularly guys (who haven’t personally faced the kinds of sexism we endure). But, saying you’re a feminist dude, and then telling the womxn at work how to care for their uteruses, or assigning household roles based on gender, or letting the womxn around you do all the dirty work… it doesn’t add up.
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THIS POST ORIGINALLY RAN ON APW IN May 2016.