Today’s post is an anonymous post on a subject that is so profoundly important to the health and success of our marriages (and something to which, even several generations into feminism, we don’t really have an answer to). It’s about figuring out how to balance home-work and work-work. It’s about figuring out how to find balance and partnership. It’s about figuring out how to make the work of running a household not just women’s work. Today’s post holds no easy answers, but hopefully it will prompt all of us to ask questions of ourselves and each other, and discuss.
I have a loving spouse, great health and money in the bank. I recently finished my PhD and am lucky to have a job doing what I love. As a couple, my partner and I look very successful on paper: ambitious yet balanced. At work I am a role model for younger women (or so they tell me) who want to “have it all.” I spend a growing proportion of my time mentoring, encouraging, and dispensing advice to these young women (and sometimes men!). We have a wonderful group of friends with whom we socialize regularly. We share our enthusiasm for books, music, and movies with each other. We often travel together for work and for vacations. We have sex regularly (although not as much as we both would like!). He considers himself to be a feminist and is supportive and encouraging of my career. He is the partner I always dreamed of, and more.
And yet, and yet. Despite appearances, the truth is I am scared for our future and almost every day I wonder if our marriage will survive. Our jobs demand so much of our time and energy that there is little leftover to nourish ourselves and each other. We want children in our future, but we also want to provide those children with a home where the parents are engaged and happy, not preoccupied or simmering with resentment. But even without children, we struggle to achieve this. Already (less than two years into marriage), one might say that I am The Bitch in the House because of my frustration and resentment of the inequalities in our relationship.
Because even though we each pay lip service to equal partnership, and in spite of our similar incomes, educations, and careers, there are inequalities. I do more of the housework, grocery shopping, and cooking. I also commute much farther for my job. The responsibility for vacation planning, gift buying, and keeping up our social life falls on my shoulders. Of course there are reasons and excuses for each of these. We have different expectations of cleanliness (APW has helped with this one!), I have a more flexible schedule (often I can work from home), I am naturally more organized and money conscious. Me running our household is one way I can help him in his battles with anxiety, which insidiously works its way into our lives. We tell ourselves this won’t last forever, that we are working for our shared future, that we will reap the efforts we sow now in that glorious future.
Now I’m afraid that we have sown something else, despite our best intentions, and reaping it is decidedly not what I dreamed of. Too often we are like Trojan planets that share the same orbit but never collide. In my darkest moments I feel like I have a grown child that I am taking care of. I think of my mother, who never really had her own career, but who raised me to be strong and independent so that I could. I fantasize about living alone again, maybe moving to Sweden (not unheard of in my field).
Other days I realize that my existence would be hollow without my partner at my side, and I feel overwhelming gratitude for the solid foundation of our marriage. Even though it can be painful, we talk about my feelings candidly, and I listen to his side of the story. We are trying to shake off our ingrained expectations and assumptions, which are so often shaping our narrative. We are trying to prevent work stress from spilling over into our home life (one of our toughest challenges). We recently adopted two cats, whose antics remind us to be playful. We remind ourselves that this life is an adventure, that we are fortunate. And I have hope.
Photo by: Julie Randall Photography