The Self-Full Wife

Me being self-full at Alt, as taken by Maggie. Check out the rest of the shiny self-full-ness

Last week, on a flight to visit family (I’ve been traveling way too much this month), I read an article in San Francisco’s excellent 7X7 Magazine about being fifty-eight, single, and deeply happy. Rad, right? Well. Almost.

I’ve written before about how I worry sometimes that by writing a website about weddings and marriage, I risk glorifying the relationship as the ideal state for the modern woman. Which is tricky. Because the whole truth is, had I been blogging in my very-single early twenties, I would have been writing about how much I loved being single. And I did. So much so that I refused to even consider dating David for years and years. So I absolutely agreed with Jane Ganahl’s open letter to “All you young ladies pining for a husband,” Where she said, “Whether you land a man or not, you will be F-I-N-E.”

When I was single, and living in Brooklyn in my twenties, I would regularly look around my bedroom and think to myself, “Enjoy this. One day you’re probably going to have a husband and a family, and you’re going to look back on these as the glory days.” And the truth is, I do miss that single state, sometimes. I miss sleeping totally sprawled out across my bed in a giant X. I miss getting to spend uninterrupted hours writing in my journal. I miss getting to decide totally on a whim what to do with my day, what New York adventure to run off and have. I miss staying out late, night after night after night (if I wanted), drinking wine and bourbon with friends. I miss being able to paint my whole bedroom purple. I miss girls nights and slumber parties (yes, we did those) without having to accommodate anyone else’s schedule. Of course there are other things I don’t miss, like having to cook for myself, and being constantly broke, and not having someone to talk to when I got really anxious in the middle of the night. But I would say that all in all, the plusses of singledom way outweighed the minuses for me.

But then I got further in to Jane Ganahl’s article, and I put on the brakes. She talks about how she didn’t much enjoy being a wife, because she wasn’t selfless enough. Ganahl says, “I resented how much of my energy was spent making sure everyone else was happy and thriving and how depleted it left me of time to tend to my own life. I suppose I could have enforced the current self-help advice, ‘Take care of yourself first,’ but most wives (especially mothers) will tell you that’s an uphill battle.” She goes on to say, “But it’s not just the housework, is it? Relationships themselves take work. And we all know who does the bulk of that work.”

That’s where I began to have a serious problem with the message. Not just the message of this particular article (because hey, it was promoting being single as an empowering state for women), but the message of our culture at large. A message that, even within the women-empowering feminist community, we seem to have a hard time dismissing. The message is that being a wife (and let’s not even get into how much this message is amplified by the time you’re a mother) is about selflessness. The message is that this is the natural state of things—that men, and partners, will always demand more of ourselves than we have to give, and will never give back to the degree we need.

When that is the message we hear ad nauseam, it’s easy for that to become the truth. He doesn’t do his share of the chores because, “He doesn’t value cleanliness the same way I do.” He won’t consider changing his name because, “He’s not interested in that option.” He needs support for his dreams and careers, but can’t find the time to support your dreams and careers back because, “He’s busy, and that’s just not the way he’s programmed.” He finds solitude in his man cave, but if you need your own solitude of journal writing and girls nights you’re being selfish, “Because don’t you run the rest of our lives?” He makes more money hence has a bigger allowance than you “because he contributes more to the relationship.”

When the message is “wife-hood requires selflessness,” it becomes so easy to accept the pat answers for why your partner can’t work harder. Because you’re the one sacrificing, and that’s just the way it’s done.

And I call bullsh*t.

My marriage is not about selflessness. When I don’t have time to take care of myself—when I was working day and night and feeling like I had no options? I was not a very good partner. As the New York Times recently wrote, we’re better partners and have a happier marriage when we are personally fulfilled. Or as the always smart Lauren said, her husband told her from day one that for him he was the most important person in their relationship. And once she got over being pissed, she realized he was right. She is also the most important person, to her, in their relationship (by a little bit).

These days? Things are better around here. David and I both work from home some of the time, but never on the same days (because d*mn it, I want to be able to blast Dixieland Jazz and dance around the house). I decided to pay rent on an office as the first thing I did as a freelancer, because you know what? Investing in my sanity was worth it (and almost any man who started a business would think that having an office was just part of the deal). I go on girl lunches during the day sometimes, and gossip. I’ll have ice cream on the way home from work if I feel like it. (And not bring my husband back any. Or even tell him about it.)

After a long, hard, slog, I’m myself first, and a wife second. As it should be.

That doesn’t mean I don’t make sacrifices for my family. But it means I make self-full sacrifices. It means I sacrifice now with the full expectation that my husband is willing to sacrifice later if it’s needed.

So ladies? You’re going to be F-I-N-E if you stay single. But if you’re married, you’re going to be F-I-N-E too.

Now go home, and tell him to pick his dishes up off the living room floor, and then make a chore wheel*. You’re going to be out eating an ice-cream cone. By yourself.

*Full-on APW chore post coming soon, I promise.

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  • A++++

  • Mary Jo

    This is why I read APW every day. We all need this! Thanks Meg!

  • I will probably have a very deep an insightful comment later when I have fully digested this post (and fully awakened). But for now all I can offer is this:

    Preach woman!

  • Michele C.

    This is why I read apw. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Casey

    Exactly, exactly, argh! Since I’m now a married lady, I’m welcomed into these circles of other-married-women in our families, in which one is expected to punctuate normal conversation with “classic examples” of men being men and us having to be selfless for their asses, and then everybody chuckles grimly and shakes their heads. Eff that noise! Eff that kind of circle!

    • ellabynight

      I can’t “exactly” this hard enough. Eff that noise indeed!

      The women in my family have these conversations, too, and it always leaves me at a loss. I never know how to respond to them. I can’t honestly commiserate with them, but saying “Oh, I have no idea what that’s like” or telling them that their relationships don’t have to be that way makes me come off as smugly superior or naive (as a younger woman in the bunch who just doesn’t know what it’s like yet). And just being honest an saying something along the lines of “wow, I just don’t put up with that sh*t” doesn’t really help either.

    • Ive already gotten looks of shock (and a bit of dismay) at big family gatherings. I’ll invariably get stuck in the kitchen with the other ladies when it comes time to set the table. Then I proceed to do shocking things like enlist my husband to come help set the table. Or take his own plate back to the kitchen. I’m not sure what’s more shocking, that I would expect him to help with that sort of thing, or that he’s perfectly willing to do it.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        My husband is like a damn hero at family gatherings because he always takes it upon himself to serve drinks to anyone whose glass is empty and he often starts in on the dishes before anyone asks. My mom asked him once if he was going for son-in-law of the year and he just said “No, I just know you guys don’t get to see Abby-Wan that often and I figured you’d rather visit than do dishes.”


      • In general, we split things pretty evenly (and my partner gets the dishes done), but I had a dinner party with some friends a few months ago, and I was shocked at how quickly the women ended up loading the dishwasher while the guys sat at the table and had drinks. It usually doesn’t happen that way at big gatherings with us, and so I suspect it had something to do with the group (or the theme of the evening – 1950s), but it was a little startling and definitely encouraged me to speak up at the next one.

        • Amy

          It never fails to shock my mother that every Sunday when she calls, my husband is making dinner while I do laundry. Why aren’t I making dinner? Not because I can’t (or don’t like to cook), but because he hates laundry and I don’t mind doing it.
          Along those same lines when we hosted Thanksgiving for my family we were both in the kitchen about equally. Because its not me making a dinner for my family, its about us both hosting our guests.
          And then he joined me in griping about my dad who never, ever budges from the couch but feels free to shout comments into the kitchen. Good times!

          • THIS is one of the reasons I want to marry my intended. He does the same kind of thing.

          • I remember my parents having two fights. One was about who did the dishes. My mom felt she should since she’s the wife. My dad liked doing them. So they both wanted to do the dishes. That fight got settled with my dad doing the dishes and my mom doing the laundry.

            The second fight was about who got to put up the bookcases in my bedroom. Mom wanted to so she could have some mother/daughter time. Dad wanted to because he’s the guy and has the tools. I can’t remember who ended up putting them up.

    • It happens in both family circles and friend circles to me. I thought so many of my friends were independent and strong women not interested in gender stereotypes, but they support the men being men bullshit and it saddens me.

    • I’ve found that that conversation is beginning to happen with our married friends as well, and it’s kind of uncomfortable. I think part of it is a kind of , “yes, we’re married now, we can have this conversation. And yes, I love commiserating with others in similar situations as much as anyone else. But this man/woman selfish/selfless script is not one that we have to pick up and reread like the cast of thousands before us. The last time this happened I turned around, claimed a spot on the recliner section of couch, grabbed the remote, and caught an episode of some random crime drama. I needed a different kind of noise.

    • Nataliah


      and also I think they secretly (and not so secretly) just think I am a ball-breaking, lazy, b!tch because the mister “does so much to help”… i.e. 50%. Which is apparently multplied by a factor of 3 if the person doing the chores is male…

  • Except for the part where we’re now going to have a chore wheel – the writing in this post is damn good.

    • meg

      Well, you don’t have to have a chore wheel (we don’t), but some people need it.

      • Oh. We need it. ha.

        • meg

          Ha, you crack me up. Yeah, we probably need it to.

          • I can’t wait to see this chore wheel. We make a list and end up picking teams like we’re in elementary school. Spinning a wheel would be fun.

          • I’m afraid I would end up with “cooking dinner.” I made veggie chili with butternut squash the other night. Sounds delicious, right? Well, it is … but problematic when you substitute in DRIED chipotles. Yeah. My nose had chipotle snot coming out of it for 2 hours. My husband’s intestines have been on fire ALL DAY.

            I should audition for “Worst Cooks in America.”

      • No chore wheel for us either… we say “Let’s tag-team this place!” and then we go to town cleaning the entire apartment at once – together. It’s the only way it gets done thoroughly. Plus then it feels like it’s a team effort instead of, “I asked you to put away the dishes and you didn’t do it…” Or, “I did the laundry, what did you do???”

  • Meg, what you wrote is making me want to put into words something that has been rolling around in my brain for a while, which is (at the risk of pissing many people off, so deep breath) that women who were deeply happy when they were single might have happier and more fulfilling relationships/marriages. Of course, there are all sorts of important reasons why some people might have been happier when they were single and some might not have been (i.e. family issues, other stuff happening, etc) but I guess I am talking about the ability to really OWN your current state in life, and rock it, whatever that might be.

    I loved the shit out of my single years. And I feel that the time I spent by myself, and the energy and time I devoted TO myself contributed to the way I am able to do that as a wife. And while I love being married and find myself astonished at my sheer luck in finding such a perfect partner (for me), I never thought that my life would be incomplete if I DIDN’T find this.

    If I had spend my single years pining for a relationship and depressed about not having one, I wonder if I would have been willing to sacrafice more of myself once I did find one, out of desperation to keep it around. My name change issue, for example- keeping my own name created a HUGE conflict in our relationship, a few months before our wedding, and I wonder if I’d have been as able to stand my ground if I thought that this marriage was the end-all-be-all of my life.

    Or maybe it’s too early in the morning for me to try to put this into words. Anyway, you are spot-on as usual with this post- thanks for making me think!

    • “I am talking about the ability to really OWN your current state in life, and rock it, whatever that might be.”

      I think this is so true.

      I was quite happy when I was single to be single. I never saw myself as one to get married and I was okay with that. I think, mostly in part, because the only examples of marriage I had were similar to Jane’s article. And I didn’t want anything to do with that.

      I find it interesting that it wasn’t until people my own age started getting married that I finally had some good marriage role models. They were the first to show me that it is possible to create the kind of relationship/marriage you envision. That it is possible to not fall into default mode, if we don’t want to.

      Finding good role models made me realize it is possible to get what I want out of a relationship. Default mode is a choice, not inevitable.

      Now that I am married, I don’t feel like I’ve given up anything vital. I am in it and owning it.

    • Marchelle

      YES, YES, YES, EXACTLY. Precisely this, in my opinion. I was completely happy & fulfilled in my own self when I met the boy, and remain so now. Sure, there are added benefits of being a wife to my pre-existing self, but in no way have I lost, or sacrificed, or given up part of myself to sustain this relationship.

      In comparison, when I was much younger & more foolish, I was in a relationship where I did sacrifice parts of myself, because I thought that was part of making a relationship ‘work’. It was disastrous bullshit.

      Also, thanks for this one Meg! A meaty one to chew over.

      • Marchelle

        I want to clarify one thing – I do think there can be such a thing as being *too* self-reliant, when it involves becoming so inflexible that one loses the ability to enter the give-and-take (note: give AND take, equally) of a relationship. And I think women are just as capable of this as men. But I don’t think that automatically equates to the self-fullness described in this post. Although, I think a lot of naysayers *do* equate the two, and hence doom to failure all marriages where the wife is so ‘selfish’ as to recognise that she is a human being with needs equal to yet apart from those of her husband.

        • long time reader, first time commenter

          I want to come out of my creepy reader shell and actually say something to this post: I love it. I believe for me, in my relationship, it is about knowing yourself first. When I would sacrifice bits and pieces of myself, thinking I was “giving” I was actually forgetting who I was. Now, my fiancé and I make sure we spend some time apart doing things that we individually enjoy. He tells me he will cook. I tell him, yeah, and you will do the dishes, too! And it works for us. There are days when I do the chores from the chore wheel all by myself (figurative chore wheel, mind you) and he has his fun day.

          I enjoyed being single and I enjoy being in a relationship and look forward to being married because I know exactly who I am and who I am is NOT defined by who I am with – it adds craziness to my life but in no way does it change my identity.

          Thank you for talking about the give and take. I’m also comforted in hearing that others sacrificed themselves in previous relationships- what in the world makes us feel like we have to do such a crazy thing?!

    • I kind of wish there was an exactly times a million button for this. My time as a happily single woman was great. I fully believe that it was needed for me to now be a happily married woman. I learned who I was, and how to be entirely self reliant for my happiness. Carrying that self confidence, and self awareness into my relationship has only strengthened it.

      • “My time as a happily single woman was great. I fully believe that it was needed for me to now be a happily married woman.”

        Exactly!!!! While I never took marriage as an option seriously, I still had a mental list of things I wanted to do/accomplish before I even thought about hitching my wagon to another. And I did them all.

        I think it is important to live it up when you are single and do whatever it is you want to do becausenot only does it enrich you as a person, it ultimately makes you a better partner in the future.

        • Nataliah

          I am interested to know why you’d need to complete your ‘list’ before you get married though? Unless the list is “sleep with heaps of men” etc (which is fine my me), I can’t see why marital status should impact what you want to do.. To me the idea that you need to complete all these things before you get hitched kind of implies what Meg is talking about, that you have to do them first because they’ll go out the window once you’re married…

          • meg

            Well, I get that though. There were lots of things I wanted to do before I got married, and I did them. Not because I *couldn’t* do them after I got married, but because I needed to really have a solid sense of self, and my own set of life experiences before I partnered up.

          • I see how you could take it that way, but mainly my list consisted of living alone. I had co-habitated with a boyfriend from age 19-20. After that was over I told myself I didn’t want to do that again unless it was with someone I felt sure about in the longterm. I also wanted to make sure I had the experience of living alone before I ever even thought of cohabitating again. I lived with roommates until I graduated college and during that time it seemed impossible to me that I could ever support myself without splitting costs. After I graduated college, lived abroad for half a year, I finally got my own place. And it was really rough for the first year. With that experience alone I grew so much and learned a lot about myself. It was an experience I was afraid I would miss out on because I wasn’t sure I would be financially solvent and I observed many around me going straight from parents’ home to continual cohabitation. It made me realize I didn’t want that so I made it a priority. Seeing as one doesn’t live alone after marriage, it uniquely qualified so I don’t necessarily equate it with what the post is speaking on. ;)

          • The other things on my list are a little more personal but Meg’s comment sums it up best.

          • Katie Mae

            Replying to Jehara, but the thread is too deep already.
            I wish I had lived on my own for a while before getting married. I lived with several different roommates during college, then moved in with him without ever living on my own. And then we got married and now it would be weird to have my own place. It’s really hard to figure out what I want when I don’t have anything to compare to besides other peoples’ lives and magazines.

      • EXACTLY!! We’ve talked about this a lot. We knew who we were. We had many years to figure out who we each were individually and be comfortable with that. It’s definitely helped the two of us.

    • Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. I have these conversations with my friends all the time. You need to provide for YOU first, then the world. End of story. Funnies thing? The people who own their happiness are usually the first to attract a serious relationship. Because who *wouldn’t* want to be with the girl who is happy all by herself?

    • Exactly! My partner and I regularly laugh as we tell people that when we first got together we were trying to not be too serious… “and look how that ended up!” We were both content as-is, and I think you’re right to say that that probably contributed strongly to our together happiness.

      And being able to stay strong and stand up for what you feel is right for you (in this instance, with Lauren’s name changing), for me, is a huge part of being a good partner. I expect him to do the same, and for him to talk to me about it when he has opinions which differ from mine. Of course, we’re still learning how to make those conversations go smoothly, but no one’s perfect!

    • “And while I love being married and find myself astonished at my sheer luck in finding such a perfect partner (for me), I never thought that my life would be incomplete if I DIDN’T find this.”

      YES, absolutely. I resisted dating anyone seriously until I was 23 (and met my now-husband) simply because I loved being single. And now I love being married, but I never felt (still don’t) that my life would be incomplete without a husband (though I love mine beyond words)… and I do think it helps our relationship tremendously, this knowledge that we want to be together but aren’t trapped or dependent on each other for our identities.

      • Valerie

        yes exactly. Everything Margaret quoted and added. It was so important to me that my life be adventurous and fulfilling and satisfying, no matter my dating status, but also especially as a single person. I didn’t want to be “waiting for my life to happen once I finally met that guy,” I wanted it NOW; why wait for a guy? That approach was so shocking to my southern traditional friends and family who glorified marriage, and thought life didn’t really start until you met “the one.”

        I had 12 fantastic years of on-my-own single-hood, and I agree that all that I experienced and accomplished, and learned about myself in that time, has made me a better partner in my relationship. We aren’t together because it always felt like something was missing in our lives, we are together bc we are so in love with who the other person already is.

      • Amandover

        I love this discussion. For my perspective – I didn’t start dating at all until I was 21, and didn’t really consider myself “single” (as in, dateable) until I was 23! This was not for lack of trying, but I needed to learn so much about myself and the world in school – guys just weren’t as important. The 5 years of mid-20s singlehood, though, were absolutely essential to being a partner my husband-elect can be proud of. I learned exactly what I had to offer, and that a partner of mine needed to offer just as much self-suffiency.

  • This is the challenge hubby and I have been working on. Chores, etc. are not really the issue with us. We lost ourselves in each other a bit while creating a life together in a new country. It was necessary for the first few years. We are now looking forward to finding ourselves again (not in a new-age, ohh-waa-waa way). The first thing on our list: rediscover our hobbies and then pursue them separately.

    • I think that’s a good plan. We started out very separate and individual (in his country), are now about 70% through a just-us-in-a-foreign-country period, and are already looking forward to how we’ll set up shop this fall when we move again (to my country). Every once in a while, when I catch my partner just wandering around the house, picking things up & putting then down again, then coming to see what I’m working on, I’ll tell him to “get a hobby already!” ;)

      • Morgan

        I was totally doing this too a few months ago! So I took up oil painting. I heart hobbies.

    • meg

      Agreed. We’re still getting over this problem, that developed when we moved to SF together 3.5 years ago. It just takes time, but it can be done.

      • This. I was telling Robin this weekend that I find myself really wishing that I had one close girlfriend out here who knew me in my single life because it’s so easy to isolate yourself in a couple-unit when you move and everyone you meet knows you as married. But I think what I really need is just a reminder to keep pursuing the things that made me happy as a single woman and to make friends who are “my” friends and not “our” friends.

    • YES. Moose and I have begun to re-discover our hobbies and we are so much happier for it. Not to mention, when he’s in the driveway working on the car, I get to watch as much Grey’s Anatomy as I want. :)

    • Ditto. It’s a bit hard too, because I had no problems rediscovering my hobbies, but rediscovering a social life outside of our home is much more difficult for me than it is for him, and I therefore wound up losing myself in . . . well, myself. And I love spending time with myself more than most people I know! But we aren’t just us to ourselves and to each other, but to the world as well, and to our community, and I’m realizing the importance of that aspect.

      • Tina

        This exactly. I am very good at finding ways to occupy my time. I had to do a lot of that in a very isolated town in a foreign country. However, I moved back to the city nearest my hometown after being gone for 3 years. I moved in with my long-time boyfriend who had a job, friends, and an established life in a city that I grew up in. All of my friends were in other states and close friends from college didn’t go back home like I had. Finding a way to rely on more than each other and ourselves has definitely taken time. But it does happen.

    • CAMinSD

      My boyfriend and I are totally on this bandwagon for the new year. We made it part of our holiday gift giving — now I’m in sewing class two nights a week and he’s back to playing organized badminton. It’s nice that we we able to facilitate and support each other in completely separate endeavours.

      Among the many pluses to this arrangement, perhaps I can worry slightly less about his cholesterol now!

  • Carbon Girl

    Yeah! A full article written by Meg and its wonderful. I want to keep this on my desktop to remind myself that what I am doing is OK. When I talk to my mom on the phone and mention that I went to get a massage (this is even medical as I have nerves that get pinched in my neck otherwise) or say that I skipped making dinner to go to the gym, I get a disappointed silence on the other end of the line. But these things I do for myself make me a better person to be around. If I am grouchy and haven’t gone to the gym in a few days, my husband is known to make me go. As in he will handle whatever is going on in the next 1.5 hours, and I just drop everything and go.

    It is important for us to know what we need to be happy and make those times we carve out for ourselves (for journal writing, the gym, girls nights) “non-negotiables” with our partners. In that you both make sure you get the time you need. Of course, some weeks that may not happen but the expectation is that it is a regular thing.

    • LilyBriscoe

      Oh, my mother (who has been happily married to my father for forty+ years) cannot fathom my marriage, and it makes me a little sad. I get a, “Well, I just don’t understand you two” comment frequently: when we arrive for family visits in two cars (because we might, you know, want to do different things over the course of the week), or I talk about planning a trip to the beach on my own, or she asks what we’re having for dinner and I say I had a peanut butter sandwich and she says, “Well, what will Mr. Briscoe eat?” as if he isn’t a person who can happily make his own dinner. I don’t really bother explaining these things any more; she’s not going to change her mind about them, and it seems like a waste of energy, but it does, again, make me sad. Not just that my mother doesn’t understand some of the basic premises of my marriage, but that she probably didn’t see them as options for herself.

      • tupelohoney

        I have a similar issue with my mother-in-law, except for me it’s annoyance. She was over the other day and I said to my husband, “What’s for dinner?” and his mom said, “He should be asking YOU what’s for dinner.” Like she could not fathom that my husband would either cook or help with the decision as to what we eat. Mind boggling. But, different generations…

        • I think it’s “different generations” + “every couple is its own world”.
          When we go visit my ILs, the only time we see his father is at dinner. He comes home late from work, goes into his office to work for an hour or 2, comes out for dinner, then sits on the couch with his brandy & watches TV for a bit before going back into his office to work some more. His mother has already worked a full day, taken care of the dog, studied English (they’re Spanish), taken care of misc. housekeeping stuff, and made dinner… she does ALL of the dishes afterwards, too. And she gets surprised when partner & I wash our own lunch dishes before she gets home from work.
          I’m so, so baffled by how things work in their house… our house and relationship are just SO different! But seeing them do things so differently does help us to decide which things we do and do not want to do in our own lives, so that’s nice!

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          We get this a little bit too. In our relationship we tend to divide responsibilities by scope – he handles the little day-to-day, I handle the bigger, more planning-intensive stuff. So he usually figures out our meals and remembers that Wednesday is trash day and I work out our next vacation and travel arrangements for his cousin’s wedding.

          This works for us without our thinking about it until I ask in front of other people, “Do we have any eggs? I have a hankering for omelets.” Then we get some weird looks (or rather I am judged for not handling my own household). But he never gets the critical eye when he doesn’t know which weekend his niece’s birthday party is and what time we’ll be getting in to town.

          I hope that our families and friends will eventually stop being surprised (or disappointed) that I’m not queen of our kitchen, but I’m not holding my breath. Instead I’m just trying to hold my head up while I aim my shame-blasters.

          • Rasheeda

            “I’m not holding my breath. Instead I’m just trying to hold my head up while I aim my shame-blasters.” OH YES YES YES..Precisely!!! My grandmother says to Hubs-Elect- “You are marrying a woman that can’t cook?!” and makes the shame shame under her breath noise. What can you do but laugh? I tease her that she could always marry him to which she responds “I never wanted no husband”…C’est la vie!

        • Victoria

          I have the complete opposite reaction from my mother! She and my father have been happily married for 40+ years, and she has always been the caretaker of the whole family (cooking, cleaning, working…everything). Sometimes when we get talking about chores and basic household stuff she’ll say, “I really raised you and your brothers wrong. I was bad example. Your father should have done more.” When I’m tired after work, she usually ends that with telling me to just go buy dinner or let my fiance figure it out or some equally sane comment.

        • I was at a birthday party for my niece recently, and my husband asked if he could get me a drink, as he w as getting up from the table (and he’s thoughtful like that :)). An older relative was sitting nearby and observed, “You can tell he’s a NEW husband – he’s still offering to do stuff!”

          Blehhh. I don’t know whether it was purely a generational thing, but it’s SO not the kind of thinking we aspire to in our marriage.

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            Yeah, I don’t like the ‘sit-com’ rhetoric. We really try to avoid all those conversations rooted in the idea that marriage is a drag and men and women are totally different and he never does any housework and she never lets him go golfing. Normally when people start steering the conversation that way one of us will say something like “Oh my gosh, we are so BAD at marriage. Remind me to start nagging you constantly, and let’s stop having fun together. Want to cancel tomorrow’s breakfast in bed?” Usually that shuts people up long enough to change the subject.

            We hates the negativity.

    • So it’s the massage therapist in me saying this, but…you never, ever need an excuse for a massage (medical or otherwise). Touch therapy in its various forms is a necessary part of the body’s craving for equilibrium.

      Sorry for the tangent but I get super riled up when people are looked down upon for trying to heal themselves. Happy body = happy life.

      Erm, soapbox over.

      • My husband does not enjoy massage, we’ve gone a few times and it isn’t his thing. I however love it, and now book couple’s massage appointments with a girlfriend so we can relax and catch up.

    • Colleen

      “It is important for us to know what we need to be happy and make those times we carve out for ourselves (for journal writing, the gym, girls nights) “non-negotiables” with our partners. In that you both make sure you get the time you need. Of course, some weeks that may not happen but the expectation is that it is a regular thing.”

      I exactly you! I think, like Lauren said, being aware of what we need to be happy individually helps both parties be more self-actualized people & therefore better partners, and makes for a happier marriage/relationship. Meg mentioned how this can be even more difficult for moms. I agree that it’s definitely critical to have this during parenting. I have a 5 month old, and about a month back was going through a rough patch, as I realized I was being a mom 24/7, which left no time to be a person beyond that. I really was losing my self. Once I could articulate that to my husband, we worked together to carve out time so that I could also be a Woman and a Wife. Part of that involved figuring out what quick, little things that meant for me. For example, I can go a day without a shower, but tooth-brushing? Non-negotiable. Coffee? Lip gloss? I can do those relatively easily (and one-handed!) and feel like my self again. There are days in which even doing that is tougher than others, but we’ve seen what happens without it, and have both made it a priority.

  • On the way home from a very relaxation vacation, Moose (my husband) and I had a length conversation (which may or may not have resulted in crying on public transportation, yay!) about this very topic. My argument was that I sacrifice myself to the relationship too much while he too frequently exercises the option of refusing to do things he doesn’t want to do. His answer: “Uh, duh.” I was furious. I couldn’t believe he’d acknowledge that I give up more of myself than he does and worse than that, that he had been allowing it to happen. But as our conversation progressed, the overarching theme wasn’t that he needed to sacrifice more, it was that I wasn’t taking advantage of my right to self-preservation, my right as he put it, to say “No.” Specifically, to him. (Which, by the way, is not the argument I would have expected him to make. But go figure. I suppose that’s why I married him).

    So that’s what I’ve been practicing lately. Saying no to self-sacrifice when it isn’t something that I *want* to do. I still think that there is a place for both of us to give in a little bit (i.e. his “debilitating fear” of making phone calls isn’t really cutting it anymore and my refusal to touch chores, nay look at them doesn’t exactly propel the relationship forward). BUT, and this is huge, I’m no longer a yes man, propelled by the need to accommodate those that I love (It’s complicated because I only tend to ask for things when I really NEED them, lest I seem incapable, so I assume anyone requesting my help has already tried to solve a problem themselves. NOT the case.)

    I’ve begun exercising my right to say no and taking full pleasure in it. And so does he. We both relish in the ability to deny each other. Because when we say yes, it doesn’t feel like an obligation. It’s just a nice thing we’re doing for each other.*

    *Side note: I think this holds true for more day-to-day issues. I’m actually really fine making compromises on big life things because those ARE mutual compromises. It’s the “Can you take the trash out? What’s for dinner? Did you call my mom back?” stuff that makes me want to rip people’s eyeballs out.

    • SusiQ

      I think you hit on an important point. Many of us are blessed with great guys who love us and WANT us to be self-full divas. That’s who they fell for in the first place! But, somewhere along the road, our instincts clicked in to say, “NOW. Start sacrificing. Start surrendering. It’s your JOB.” It’s not always the case, but often our special someones didn’t ask us to kill ourselves with selflessness–we decided that’s what we are supposed to do. It would be so easy to just blame them, wouldn’t it? But, alas, it’s often us. Or, let me speak less generally, it’s often me.

      • Precisely. I think in marriage we also suffer from reverting to our familial histories (which has been pointed out in an above post). A lot of our demons come from the fact that Moose comes from a very giving mother who cooks and cleans and does everything for her family and is seemingly very happy to be in that providing role. While my mother did those things too, but begrugingly and usually while mouthing the word “ingrates”.

        I think it’s our responsibility to teach each other what we expect from ourselves and each other, otherwise we’re just going to look to our families for inspiration, which may or may not be a good thing.

        • TNM

          Ha ha. I got called an “ingrate” a lot by Mom while growing up. With love of course. But looking back, it seems like good training to learn as a kid that yes, Mom (and Dad) are working hard for you, and yes, it is “work.”

          • I remember having to look it up in the dictionary lol.

    • “propelled by the need to accommodate those that I love (It’s complicated because I only tend to ask for things when I really NEED them, lest I seem incapable, so I assume anyone requesting my help has already tried to solve a problem themselves. NOT the case.)”

      Totally. And you know what’s interesting? I do this with most people in my life EXCEPT my husband. In part because after years of being together he knows he’s supposed to attempt things on his own first & and then I’ll gladly help him when he needs it (and thus doesn’t need it as often, funnily), and in part because my family of origin is full of people who try hard on their own and then only rarely ask for help when they can’t solve something. But my friends? Apparently they were not raised that way, so I often find myself doing too much (and then resenting it sometimes), and that’s when we have issues (and also when my smart partner tells me to stop doing so much for friend X because she’s never going to stop asking as long as I’m willing to keep giving).

    • Amy

      Yes, this exactly (for me anyway) its the day-to-day issues that snowball in my head. Like, oh god, I’m always the one taking the trash out, does that make me a subservient wife? will he expect me to take the trash out for the rest of our lives? Cue freak out.
      I’ve started to take a deep breath and be less afraid of being the martyr in the house, and saying no. I also started to look at things from his perspective. So what if I take out the trash and the recycling – he’s the one who makes the coffee every day and will go get groceries before I wake up. He’s also the one who does the bulk of the driving and errand running, because I don’t like to. And that’s ok – it works for us.

      • Tina

        I’m learning this too. It’s all about perspective. When I think, “Why am I vacuuming the upstairs and washing these dishes again?” And then I remember, oh wait, he helped me grade papers. He gets my lunch and breakfast ready in the morning so I can take a few more minutes to look my best and eat healthier than the frozen meal I would grab if left to my own devices. It’s easy to snowball on the things that, for a while, were only getting done by me. Then I have to readjust my perspective and realize, he’s doing a lot for me too. I’m not going to act like a martyr for vacuuming the bathroom yet again.

        We’ve gone through many shifts in a few short years. Me jobless, moving in with him and feeling like I should be a good little “house wife.” That didn’t last long. Then both of us busting ass at difficult jobs. Now he’s jobless and I’m the breadwinner. Our at home duties have adapted to these changes. Through discussion and hard work we’ve finally found a balance, but sometimes I still need a little reminder to myself to keep that perspective.

    • Maddie,

      Thank you so much for your comment – it (plus Meg’s awesome post) sparked a definite “so it’s not just me!” moment. My relatively new husband and I have been working through this in the past few months and it’s been a hard thing to articulate.

      Here’s my general problem: not only do I trend toward self-sacrifice (being the oldest child, I have a history of taking care of other people and end up in the self-martyrdom zone more often than I’d like to admit), but some of the tasks in which I find myself drowning, I originally really like. Example: In general, I love to cook. So hubby *let* me cook. However, what I realized following a sizable emotional breakdown is that I don’t like to cook EVERY night after working/commuting 10 to 12 hours a day. It’s exhausting. I didn’t like feeling frazzled and worn out, while he came home refreshed from the gym. I wanted to go to the gym, gosh darnit!

      Anyway, I finally grew up realized I was blaming him for something I never told him. We talked about it and amid tears, I admitted that I can’t do it all, as much as I want to and think I can. He said he never expected me to do it all – basically what your Moose did as well. So anyway, we’re still working on it, but thanks for this:

      “I’ve begun exercising my right to say no and taking full pleasure in it. And so does he. We both relish in the ability to deny each other. Because when we say yes, it doesn’t feel like an obligation. It’s just a nice thing we’re doing for each other.” — EXACTLY!

      • KateM

        This is a HUGE HUGE point. If you tell your partner how you are feeling, they can’t help. Especially in the early part of living together and figuring out who is doing what, what is shared etc. I love to cook, my fiance does not, nor does he really know how. I plan a weekly menu that includes one meal a week that he can cook.
        I know how to cook because my mother taught me, she thought all women should know how to cook. My father is the cleaner of the house and he is the one who organized all of us kids and our chores and washes the hardwood floors once a week. During the week when he is working and my mom is home, she cooks. On the weekends he plans and cooks most of the meals. My dad is awesome. Three of my brothers don’t cook, one does. My fiance’s mother does all the cooking. He was never taught. So while I am cooking because it is a skill I posses and like, it is actually a product of gender specific roles from our families. I am teaching him slowly to distribute the responsibility some. However, you can be sure all of my children male or female will know how to cook. It is life skill.

  • Thank you for saying the stuff that needs to be said.

    When I do things that involve some level of self-sacrifice, it’s only because I know my husband would, and does, put in just as much effort to make my life better.

  • Olivia

    I’m not myself first, and a wife second. I’m myself, and a part of that is being my husband’s wife.

    • Perfectly said!

    • meg

      That’s super, in interesting that I don’t think I personally agree. I’m me, and that allows me to be a great partner. Part of the essence of me is not a wife, never has been. That doesn’t stop me from being a happy wife, mind you, but that’s somewhat external to my core sense of self.

      • Olivia

        I understand what you’re saying.

        Being married has never been part of my essence, but it’s part of who I am now, just the way I evolve in other aspects over time too. I find I’m happier in my marriage when I don’t draw the line between “myself” and “wife.” When I focus on that line, I invent a conflict for myself.

        • Man, it is so freakin’ neat how we all have these different ways of “building” our ideas of self, and everybody organizes the blocks differently…

          I hand-flailingly love these discussions.

      • I know I am myself, and I know I am a wife too; however, I rarely actually think of myself as a wife, let alone consider it to be part of my identity. I just think of me as me, and I happen to have a husband. This probably makes me odd.

    • peanut

      I feel like this during our day-to-day lives; it’s the times when we’re discussing our Future or Money or figuring out whose parents to spend holidays with that I feel the Wife-ness competing with my Single self. Like, clearly if I were not a wife I would plan my future or budget or holidays differently, you know? That’s when the sacrifices start kicking in.

  • Great article. I’d also add that selflessness in a relationship doesn’t mean picking up the slack for one partner who just can’t be bothered. You do things for the other person because you love them and want to make them happy or make their day easier, and they do the same for you. Last week I did a mountain of my fiance’s laundry (which he hates doing) while he was away because I thought it’d be a nice thing for him to come home to. When the brakes on our car failed and I got into an accident, he handled the repairs and brought home a delicious dessert to make me feel better. Things like this shouldn’t feel like something you have to do, but something you want to do. And lots of things will feel like chores and you’ll fight about who cleans out the fridge, but I don’t think marriage should feel like either partner is really sacrificing much,

    • Great point. There is a huge difference between doing nice things for each other and expecting everything from each other.

      • Bloom

        I couldn’t agree more, sometimes I find myself being really oversensitive when I do something nice for my fiance. I worry that the nice thing will become an “expected” thing, and lose sight of the fact that he’s doing a lot of really nice things for me too. It’s such a hot button for me…I need to remember that when I do something nice it’s not going to trap me into the role of ‘selfless’ wife.

    • Aine

      Exactly. That’ is something that keeps coming up in our Pre-Cana classes. The priest (at least once every session) points up to the crucifix and says “That is what you two are doing. Are you willing to give everything to each other? Because that’s the only way a marriage will work.” I don’t totally agree with him, but I really, really appreciate the emphasis that BOTH of us are going to be making those sacrifices, out of our love for each other, not just me because its “my job” as the wife.

  • amen.

    thank you. thank you SO much for this and for this community always being here….

  • Marchelle

    Out of the ballpark with this one, lady.

    I’m just so TIRED of all the noise about wifehood equalling sacrifice and selflessness, and husbandry equalling living large on the back of that. I love my husband & I love being his wife, & I refuse to feel guilty because I consider putting my own needs first at times. I can’t fathom being happy in the long-term in a relationship where we aren’t BOTH able to look out for ourselves, as well as each other.

  • fleda

    This is great Meg. In several of the comments I see stories that point to the fact that there’s a generational/historical gap here, among other things. Women from earlier generations have lived in a world where, as lilybriscoe nicely puts it, they didn’t have options like the options some of us now have. They infuriate us by evoking gender stereotypes, but those stereotypes represent the reality they’ve always known. It’s sad. Like when my middle-aged (female) landlord, who lives with a pack of constantly drinking (male) idiots said to me with a wry smile “because of course men don’t take the lint out of the dryer,” and I just felt so bad for her, because in her experience this is a categorical thing. When in fact there are men (like my husband) who not only take the lint out of the dryer, but also cook a mean dinner.

    For me the independent-self within marriage thing comes through most saliently in the brutal business of fitting two careers into one marriage. Right now my husband and I have jobs in different states, so we have two apartments and see each other on weekends. I can’t tell you how many people just sort of stop talking and frown when I explain this; they (and also my mother!) seem to think our (new) marriage is doomed, that we’re not serious about our relationship, that we care more about our careers and aren’t willing to give up anything for the sake of the marriage, that we don’t understand what we’re doing, etc etc. But being whole selves (including stimulated, proud, interesting professional selves) is essential to our relationship. That’s how we do it. I think this may be something that wasn’t a reality in earlier generations.

    • Marchelle

      Fleda, my husband & I are in the same situation. SUCH a conversation killer! It also infuriates me how everyone assumes *I* will automatically be the one to follow him in order to bring us back together again. Um, maybe, but only if that works really nicely for my career too. Otherwise he’ll be doing the following. And we’re both fine with that!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My husband and I are doing the exact same thing. Our parents are all pretty supportive (though constantly asking if either of us has job leads that will get us in the same zip code), but there is a whole group of people that really don’t accept this. To them we’re not “really” married.

      This is crazy. We’ve both worked really hard to get where we are now and each of us being fulfilled in our careers is so much more important to us than living together right now. Of course we continue to try and find fulfilling jobs in the same place, but we’re willing to wait for it to be right.

      Hit me up to commiserate anytime – marlasinger84 [at] yahoo [dot] com :)

      • Again with the great handles, Abby-Wan. Love it!

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          Okay, you can email me too. Flattery is getting you everywhere, lady :) It’s probably becoming apparent that I’m a movie geek. Guilty as charged.

          • Tina

            While not married, I’m really trying to avoid being apart from my partner for grad school since we’ve been there done that for over 5 years. The thought of being apart after finally having lives together is daunting. At the same time, I want the best for my future school possibilities. (I’m considering going back after years in the working world) It’s great to know that people are making marriages work that ensure the happiest future for themselves first and each other second.

    • Emilie

      Agreed. My fiance is in the army getting ready to deploy and whenever someone asks about our future / marriage, you can hear the crickets when I say, “Well, I am going to grad school.”
      The silence is then followed by, “Well, why would you want to do that? Can’t you take the same courses online? Are you sure you want to get married? How are you going to make that work? Couldn’t you get a different degree?”
      Granted, people said the same thing when I got a fellowship and moved to Germany for a year, however, I am always surprised by the reactions we get. My fiance completely supports my decision and has been my biggest cheerleader because he realizes that I need to do what makes me feel fulfilled. Thank goodness for that.

    • Carbon Girl

      I think a living apart while married post would be a great reclaiming wife post. This situation may be mine in the near future and I want to know how other couples came to the decision and are handling it.

      • Zan

        I second the motion — yes please!

        • Yay! I never imagined that anyone else was doing this ‘being married, living separately’ thing. (Well in seven weeks we’ll be married).

          That is so good to know and helps me talk myself out of some of the guilt I’ve found myself feeling because…er obviously it should be me who does the moving because…er that’s a wife’s job to do the sacrificing…

          Wow! I really needed this full-powered recharge of my shame blasters. Thank you one and all.

          • I would most definitely consider myself married but my husband works in London all week and I live in Somerset (3-4 hours drive) because my job is in Somerset. He travels up weekly and we spend (most) weekends together in Somerset although roughly 1 in 4 I go up to London.

            We moved out of London to Somerset because it seemed better to have our permanent base in the countryside but he loves his job and I would never ask him to change it. I am a lawyer and although theoretically I can work anywhere, in this climate jobs are few and far between. I can’t see the situation changing for the foreseeable future, although I guess, for the right job, I might move back towards London.

      • Leona

        I have a husband in the Air Force and we may be forced to live apart at some point but I have my parents to look to for an example. When my dad retired from the military, he had to take a job a couple states away and my mom couldn’t afford to leave her career to follow so they lived separately for almost five years, seeing each other only every other weekend and holidays.
        My heartache is that since high school I’ve wanted to enlist in the Peace Corps and I can’t bring myself to leave hubs (and my dogs!) for two years. For now, it’s on hold until he leaves the military but it is a burning desire for me. Meanwhile, I’m in grad school too and I definitely get a lot of looks when I say I plan to study abroad as much as possible.

  • Chelsea

    Ugh, this is what I needed today. Husband is in law school full time AND works full time, and I end up feeling like I’m in charge of everything… not cleaning, necessarily (he’s pretty good with that), but the planning and shopping and dog walking and cooking and generally keeping our life humming since he’s gone from 8 am to 9 pm every day. And it’s starting to wear on me and make me feel underappreciated, because the general feeling is that I have the easy job – all I have to do is work full time and run our life, at least I don’t have to go to law school every night! But my job is hard, too, as I’m sure Meg understands. I’ve been consciously trying to carve out time for myself, but it always seems to be the first thing that gets pushed aside when things get crazy.

    Anyway, also, point 2 is that one difficult line to draw is that sometimes, for me, being self-full involves being selfless – I honestly LIKE being someone others depend on, and can count on, and trust, and it makes me a happier person (for example, we’re dogsitting for my father in law right now… of course it’s adding to my stress but I like that we’re there for him because that’s what families do). But it’s really tough to satisfy that part of me without crossing a line and just becoming a perpetual people-pleasing machine, which does NOT make me happy. I suspect it’ll be a lifelong struggle.

    • Me too, Chelsea (on point 2). I like making people–especially my partner–happy, and it is a struggle to make sure I sometimes do other things with my time/energy. Once my husband asked why I had to do [whatever it was] for someone, and I said, “Because I like being the kind of friend that someone can turn to when they need help.”
      An upside of that, though, is that when you are that friend, later those people will do the same for you when you need it (hopefully!).

      • Amy

        Chelsea – I totally understand, and it is really, really, hard to take out time for yourself, especially when you’re sometimes doing that at the cost of doing something for family or friends.
        Hopefully though, you (and your husband) get that sometimes time for yourself is more important than clean laundry or a home-cooked meal.

        • Chelsea

          Oh yeah, we definitely don’t always have clean laundry and a home cooked meal (if we’re lucky, we might have one of the two!) – right now, it’s more the mental energy of planning and keeping track of everything that’s wearing me down. For example, I honestly don’t mind cooking if I know what I’m making and have everything I need, but I get stressed if I get home (starving) at 8:30 pm and open the fridge and have no clue what’s inside.

          • Amy

            The planning is the part of cooking that always bugged me too. I made a weekly meal planning spreadsheet that we use to grocery shop, so now, Husband is in charge of deciding which meal we’re going to have and laying everything out before I get home. It’s made a HUGE difference to my after-work mood.

          • My husband is the cook in our house, but he hates to grocery shop. He plans meals, makes lists and I’ll trudge through the aisles. I really love the fact that I’m not expected to complete what I consider a chore the minute I get home from work. Sometimes this makes me wonder about the kind of mother I will be perceived as if I am not cooking meals for my family. Then, I smack myself in the forehead – my family will eat well regardless of who cooks. I’ll keep buying groceries.

    • Rhiannon

      I totally empathize with point 2. I love taking care of people, i love cooking dinner for my partner (almost) every night, but i so easily lose myself in it. I constantly struggle with that line of what pleases me and others and what wears me down. There has got to be a way of enjoying selflessness without turning to a 1950’s housewife. We just need to figure it out…

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I find that there’s a way to cook that is therapudic and enjoyable and there’s a way that I think of more as “throwing a meal together”. For me it’s about the process – if I’m rushed and multitasking it isn’t fun. If I can slow down a bit and focus on chopping tasty veggies it’s rewarding. I try to only do it the second way. Husband actually does most of the cooking in our house, if he’s not in the mood and I can’t enjoy it we eat leftovers (or junk food) or go out.

        That’s sanity for me – I never want to forget that cooking can be an experience so I try to always make it one.

  • clampers

    I think that being happy in a relationship (or “selffull”) has a lot to do with whether or not your partner takes advantage of your giving nature. We all know that women are typically thought of as being more giving, nurturing, etc. Some more than others. The trick is finding someone who won’t exploit that characteristic, finding someone who doesn’t take advantage of it. Someone who will say, “No, you’ve done the dishes the past two nights and even though you’re insisting on doing them, I’m going to do it because it’s my turn.”

    • meg

      Ha! That’s me laughing at the idea of me offering to martyr myself over household chores and needing to be stopped (that might be a good thing if it were true). So, while I think you’re right, I don’t think women really are more giving, I think we’re just trained that way. And trained to be that way at the expense of self, often, which is unhealthy for society as a whole, I think.

      • It took me a while to realize this – I am not, by nature, a tidy person, so why was I trying so hard to have Martha-worthy bookshelves when we moved in together, and then having subsequent flip-outs? I had to realize that nobody was coming to photograph our house, and that even if they were, it is not my responsibility to keep it clean – it’s OURS.

        Of course everyone is different, but I definitely don’t think that “women are more giving/sacrificing” as a blanket statement is accurate, and ultimately it does a disservice to both genders – if I were a man, I think I’d be pretty tired of being told that I’m a selfish jerk.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          I’m always baffled when people describe themselves this way. I’m naturally a slob. As a single girl my place was practically a health hazard. My husband and I together are… untidy. He usually keeps the more terrifying messes at bay, but our place is never ready for company.

          I do feel pressure to have a tidy place when other people come over, so my real housekeeping strategy is to have company over at least as often as the bathrooms need cleaned. The disconnect is that generally things are messier than Husband would prefer, but when we’re entertaining I have a higher standard than him and that’s frusterating for us both.

          Anyway, I guess my point is that women certainly are held responsible for the state of the household by others, which is why I (wrongly, I think) care so much more about it when other people are around.

          • I recommend having people over often as a domestic cleanliness strategy. I am also living in a never-ready-for-company space, and we have around ten people over for a potluck dinner every other week. Floors get swept, bathroom and kitchen cleaned, we feel like Real People. And it’s fun cleaning (I know) because we’re a little rushed to get things out of the oven and get the bathroom suitable for humans and we listen to records loud and yell up the stairs with our dish gloves dripping.

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            That sounds like heaven Evie. I’m definitely suggesting this to my husband. A regular event would certainly improve my cleaning habits, plus it would be a fun addition to my social calendar.

          • You and I should start a support group. :) The continuous battle in our house is who can outlast the other in terms of their dirt threshold.

            I. Always. Win.

          • Englyn

            Fortnightly potluck dinner filed under – great ideas to look at when I’m not planning a wedding and a 4 month world trip and and and argh.

          • I’m glad I’m not the only one! We’re not dirty-slobs (though I have been known to let the dishes sit for a few days, but never longer than a few days), but we do have a lot of clutter, and we don’t sweep/mop/go through junk mail/make the bed/put away clothes NEARLY long enough.

            If we had a larger place, we would entertain more, and probably clean more. I also feel like we would have less clutter because we would have places to put things. But that’s probably not true. :)

      • clampers

        Absolutely. I don’t think women “are” more giving either, that’s why I said women are typically “thought of” as being more giving.

        I too scoff at the idea of saying, “Oh no no, I’ll do the dishes. You sit and rest.” Not happening. I do have a few friends who are like that though. I call them “helpers”. Always wanting to help other people at the expense of helping themselves.

        • Mejane

          Sure, but you did imply that it’s a woman’s responsibility to select a partner who won’t exploit her giving nature and will instead effectively counteract it – and that’s a problematic idea, even if you say that women are simply “thought of” as being more giving and nurturing, instead of saying that they are inherently so. It sounds an awful lot like a passive acceptance of gender essentialism.

          • clampers

            I don’t think I implied that at all. I made that example to stay on topic.

            It everyone’s responsibility–regardless of gender–to not take advantage of your partner’s vulnerabilities or “weaknesses” (for lack of a better word) in character.

            For example, I’m aware that my partner is a non-confrontational person. I think it’s important to not exploit that part of his personality just so I can win the fight every time.

          • meg

            Yeah, I don’t think saying that we should choose people that don’t take advantage of us is problematic, I think it’s really on point. I was just re-emphasizing the fact that we can shake off the mantle of being more giving whenever it doesn’t work for us.

        • Arachna

          I agree very much.

          I’m someone who has more or less intentionally arranged my life so my husband does more of the chores than I do but I also don’t think that just because person X is giving and will try to give too much it absolves person Y from any responsibility if they passively accept all that giviing. Yes it is person X’s responsibility to say No but it is also person Y’s responsibility to know their partner and take care of them by actively not taking advantage of their nature. It’s not enough to say “no one asked you to do a b c” you should also actually stop them from doing a b c and do it yourself without being asked if necessary – IMO that’s what distinguishes a caring adult from either a child or a selfish jerk.

      • Valerie

        I’ve never really thought of myself as a particularly giving person. Agreeable/friendly/caring, sure, but have always emphasized fairness. I’ve always thought I’d always be that way, but reading the comments makes me wonder if I’m taking that for granted. Will I find myself changing after we get married.

        I guess my question is to everyone is: Do you feel like you suddenly became a giver/nurturer after marriage? Or did you always consider yourself a giver/nurturer?

        • Morgan

          I found myself fighting for things To Be Fair, even when not required. Balance doesn’t equal 50-50 each day, and that took a while to learn. I had to learn to be more willing to do some things and more willing to sit back and pass on others, and to not make it a Big Deal.

          So, I’m no more of a giver/nurturer than I was before. I’ve just got better at not keeping track of who does what for how many minutes when.

          • Bee

            I think that’s a really important point about fairness. I had an ed professor who used to always tell us that fairness doesn’t mean every person gets the same thing. Fairness means every person gets what they need. In school this means that maybe Susie is dyslexic and needs aid reading a test, and Johnny is not, so he doesn’t get aid with the reading. They are getting different things, but both are getting what they need to learn to be successful. I think that can apply to relationships too. Things may not always be divided equally (he does the dishes one night and I do them the next or we do equal numbers, etc) but the important thing is that we both get what we need from each other and from ourselves. That might mean one night I cook dinner, even though I hate to, because he has to work late, or on the flip side, he does the dishes because I have a mile-high stack of papers to grade.

      • I had to laugh at this, too. In our house, I am the one who has no problem simply stepping over a pile of [insert — clothes, dishes, papers, toys] on my way to do that thing that I want to do.

        I think individuals, regardless of gender, are giving in ways that are meaningful to them. My fiance (thank goodness) is a giver in the chores-affection-time departments. I’m a gift-affection-time giver but I have never met a household chore that I would do without some cajoling or bribe. The result is that he gets great presents, snuggles and conversation, and I get someone who will keep our household running smoothly, snuggles and conversation. It’s good balance for us, but definitely not gender-normative.

        Also, we’re older (he’s in his 40s; I’m in my late 30s), so I don’t think it’s necessarily a generational thing.

        • Class of 1980

          52 here. Still HATE the housework and haven’t turned into Martha Stewart yet.

  • Yes!

    “But it’s not just the housework, is it? Relationships themselves take work. And we all know who does the bulk of that work.”

    Bullsh*t indeed. Why would I want a partnership with someone who doesn’t want to put in any effort to that partnership? Sure, I might talk about it more because that’s my nature, but damnit, he’s working hard at us too.

  • Rachel

    I am also one of those lucky ladies whose partner wants her to take care of herself. I was a very independent and confident single person, and this post helps assure me that I can be an independent and confident married person as well. I’m finishing The Conscious Bride and meditating on mourning my single life but just because that lifestyle is ending doesn’t mean I have to lose myself in my marriage. I don’t have to give up my girl’s nights or be afraid to travel alone if I have to. :) Thanks Meg.

  • Argh, I don’t have time to read all the comments (baby’s naps are short!) but what an amazing post. First Meg, you look sensational on this picture. Second, yes, complete bullshit. Selflessness never serves ANYONE. It is possible to take care of your partner and your kids and not to forget yourself. I don’t, I’ll never do!

    • meg

      Mwah to you and baby. May she grow up to be full of self :)

  • LPC

    The most important piece of this is putting each other as first as possible. Without reference to cultural stereotypes, relying only on a real desire to care for someone else, and your own sensitivities to what they need.

  • i think this pinpoints a problem i had in my last long relationship. i felt like i was making all these sacrifices and he wasn’t making enough because he was the man and he was allowed to be selfish. he was allowed to get a dog and i was expected to help take care of it, but i wasn’t allowed to go out with my friends if i wanted without him feeling abandoned. that’s not a partnership at all. actually looking forward to the chores post…because that is a whole beast that drives wedges into relationships.

  • Kashia

    What a brilliant article. And thank you Meg for bringing up what is clearly something that many of us feel very strongly about.

    When I was a kid I remember that my dad would do something annoying or thoughtless or infuriating and my mum would counsel me to just let it go because “that’s just who he is.” And this made me really angry. For the longest time I thought that it meant she was agreeing with all of that cultural noise about being a wife means accepting that your husband will be selfish and just continuing to give and give until you have nothing left.

    Being an adult with some much better perspective on relationships and on my parents, I realize that what my mum was trying to model for me was “he’s going to do things that bug you, but you need to go and do your own thing anyway and not worry about him so much.” Which is awesome. And my mum is off doing those things that make her self-full (like starting her own business in her 50’s, and having sleep-overs with her girlfriends and taking dance classes just because) while still being an awesome wife who is present and happy in her marriage. And I think it rocks.

    My mum also likes to remind me that we get most of our our emotional support and fulfillment from ourselves and the women in our lives and only something small (like 5%) comes from our husbands. So she says that you’d better take care of yourself and your friendships just as much as your marriage.

  • Sarah

    I’m writing this BEFORE reading. Serious discussions to come later:

    You just wanted an excuse to show off that picture, didn’t you? ::winks::

    • Morgan

      Can you blame her??

  • Bailey

    Reading this post today was like getting a bear hug from a friend.

    My husband works in insurance, so the end of open enrollment period means he’s working ridiculous hours right now. The chores, the work/life balance and even the last names of our future children have all been hot button items and I’m trying to tread the line between understanding/supportive and doormat. This article was a perfectly timed reminder for me, and reading through the comments reminded me I’m not alone. Thank you.

  • Rasheeda

    Wow Meg- you have done it again! Spot on as always…Before I found Hubs-Elect, I had a fantastic single life: trips with girlfriends, nights dancing till my feet hurt, days spent reading-alone-phone off; and I never wanted to subtract those things, I only wanted to add to them with a Husband.
    I remember talking to an ex telling him “I am a giver, thats my nature but if you take and take and I never replenish, I won’t have more to give- Think of me as a cup, my cup must runneth over before you can drink from it”- He didnt get it, we didnt make it. So I found a man that understands that and makes me wonderful dinners while I sit in the nook in our bedroom and get lost in novels-phone off.

  • I think one thing that is important to note is that if the author is 58 the man she was married to was a completely different generation than the men we are married to. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed being a wife if I had to do it in my mother or my grandmother’s time. But now- with my husband and our partnership (and admittedly, he is the one who does the lions share of what my grandmoter would call woman’s work) I am a fulfilled and happy wife. And a good one.

    • meg

      Excellent point.

      Though, I will say, my parents are older than 58, and I don’t think they fell into any of these patterns. They sacrificed as needed, but my dad did all the cooking and my mom did all the plumbing, and they both had their own passionate hobbies. Being 58 does mean that you came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, which means you should have full aces to liberation, yes?

      • Class of 1980


        I’m 52 and my generation and especially women who are 10+ years older than me are veterans of the war for equal rights. I know younger women don’t mean any harm, but I often hear assumptions about “how things used to be” that are way off base.

        Go watch Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin (1980) punch out her groom, toss her wedding veil to the wind, and walk away rather than become a traditional wife to a self-absorbed man. That movie was coming off of 1970’s sentiments.

        No matter how big a topic feminism was in the sixties, seventies, and eighties (AND BOY WAS IT!), some women either chose not to partake or just fell into a traditional arrangement by happenstance. There is a vast difference in experience from woman to woman.

        Everything that is discussed on APW was discussed in earlier times also. I get deja vu a lot here. If you were to go back and read some magazine articles from earlier times, I believe you’d be astounded at how long these discussions have gone on.

        I don’t even chime in on the name-changing discussions, because for me, it’s like “Round Two”. In my circle of friends, a lot of the husbands do all the cooking even if they earn more money. A lot of the marriages have had husbands and wives taking turns on who earned the lion’s share of money.

        Actually, the voice of feminism is far less passionate now than it was way back then. It had to be passionate then because you couldn’t take anything for granted. We were asking for things that did not yet exist.

        HOWEVER, I figure each generation has to work it out for themselves and that’s what APW does. New challenges get thrown into the mix of current culture over time and that requires asking new questions, or asking some old questions again.

        Someone help me down off this soap box.

        • meg

          Here is a hand to step down.

          But yes, I agree with all of this. And that was my problem with that part of the article. We all KNOW better that to equate marriage for women with self sacrifice, but we still do it, over and over and over. And why is that? And how can we STOP ALREADY?

          • Class of 1980

            Yeah, I really can’t believe someone wrote that.

            I most definitely DO NOT associate marriage with self-sacrifice for women. I see marriage as both people making some sacrifices.

            I never wanted to negate my very being and I really never thought I had to!!!

          • Class of 1980

            And thanks for getting me off the soap box. I don’t even know how I got up there! ;-)

          • Personally, 1980, I don’t want you to step down. Great perspective. :)

        • Kess

          I think you have a valid point, but you also have to remember that certain parts of the country were certainly more liberated than others. More rural areas have traditionally been much less progressive, so that also may factor into that issue.

          • Class of 1980

            That’s why I said it varies tremendously from woman to woman. Some people look at their own parents and think they represent an entire generation, but it’s not true.

            BTW, I know all about the time warp in rural areas since I moved to one 10 years ago.

            I grew up in a suburb of a major city – not particularly liberal. Feminist ideology was impossible to escape in the seventies when I was in my teens. It was louder than now. And everyone had an opinion about it.

            Feminism was such a force that any girl who was competing in a beauty contest or up for Homecoming Queen was automatically asked for her opinion on feminism.

            The dumber ones always said “I’m for equal pay, but that’s all.” That used to make me shake my head.

      • Agreed … sort of. My mom is 53, and was a single mom. She raised me to be a “RAWR” feminist*, as raising me on her own (with help from my grandparents, but not from my father) really had her come into her own. However, it’s to the point that now, at 53, blonde, petite, intelligent, and beautiful, she doesn’t want to date. Because she’s “set in her ways.” She still has these very rigid, “old school” ideas about dating and relationships and she is unwilling to let go of her sense of self. I’ve told her she doesn’t have to, but she just.won’t.listen (for example, she HATED that I would call boys and ask them out … “They don’t respect you if you do that!”).

        So, while I think that’s true, and I don’t think your parents are necessarily the exception to the rule, I don’t think they were a majority. Maybe … 30%? 40%? But, a lot less prevalent than now.

        (*Anytime she makes a comment about me being overly opinionated on some topic, I remind her that it is her fault (she loves it)).

        • (Of course, I have no actual numbers to base my percentages on, sooooo … take that with a HUGE grain of salt.)

  • Exactly to the whole freaking post. I, too, am sick and tired of women being expected to carry the weight of the relationship (and adult life?) because “that’s just how men are.” BS. It’s the grownup equivalent of “boys will be boys.” I find it hard to believe that some of the (otherwise very lovely) men I know are capable of obtaining a masters in engineering, but incapable of figuring out how to wash a load of laundry without destroying clothing. Or otherwise pulling their weight in adult life.

    • EXACTLY! You nailed it. It’s this “boys will be boys” thing. What is that about?!

    • Yeah, I don’t buy that at all. If you can be a productive member of society, you can be a productive member of your household, full stop. I’ve called out my mom on letting my step-dad slide on things like this – the man runs a business, he can sure as hell figure out how to clean a toilet.

    • Amy

      Your comment is spot on. I ‘m an engineer (went to an uber-engineering focused school) and was a resident assistant for boys for a couple years in college. You would not BELIEVE how many times we had to have laundry classes for young men who were otherwise practically geniuses.

      • Amy

        (This is a different Amy who is not good enough at math to be an engineer btw)
        I took a good male friend shopping for “nice” clothes in college. He got the concept of doing laundry, but trying to explain that he had to hand-wash and hang out a cashmere and wool sweater to dry just baffled him to no end. The care and feeding of nice clothes is generally not a skill learned by teenage boys.

        • Morgan

          Which I think means that those of us who plan to have kids will have to make an effort to train them. I totally agree with Abby Wan below – grown ass men shouldn’t need to be “trained” but you can and should train your children to be responsible for themselves.

      • Danielle

        I was engaged to a guy like this. Now we’re not engaged; partly ’cause of laundry/chores and partly ’cause of a whole host of other reasons that relate to this post.

        But sometimes when a guy can’t do his own laundry, he’s also unable to take care of other emotional and physical basics. Just sayin’.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Agree – and I also hate the flip side of this, the idea that it’s a woman’s responsibility to “train” her partner. How is it my job to teach an overeducated, self-sufficient adult how to do tasks I’ve been doing since I was 10? I’m willing to grant you that my business professional wardrobe is a little more complicated than his all-cotton professor-casual look, but that does not excuse him from doing a load of towels.

      And of course, I married a man who’d been a bachelor for nearly 40 years. He was totally able to do his laundry, cleaning, cooking and personal hygiene all on his own when I met him. Yet I still often get credit for having “trained” him so well. He isn’t a puppy, I didn’t housebreak him. He’s a grown-ass man and he doesn’t get a special treat for pushing a vacuum around the house every once and a while.


      • Amy

        Ha, my husband is more than happy to put a load of laundry in the wash but he knows better than to even figure out which (if any) of my clothes go in the dryer. The concept of hanging out professional clothing (or bras, or jeans, or fancy things) on a drying rack is, admittedly, a concept that is beyond nearly every man I’ve ever met.

        • Sylvia

          G has this one covered! What can I tell you? He gets cross with me when I hang the laundry up because I don’t do it ‘right’?! He hangs everything up perfectly, pairs of socks next to each other, everything facing the same way and sometimes (he thinks I don’t notice this) his things on one side, mine on the other!

          • Class of 1980

            I have a friend my age (52) who married an older man in her late twenties. He was in his forties when they got married and now he’s 72.

            He had a big time career and always earned far more money than her AND he has always done every bit of the laundry.

          • Amy

            Lucky you Sylvia! My husband does understand the concept of hanging clothes out to dry, the execution is what stymies him. That, and having sent his clothes out to be washed/dried/folded for the previous ten years! Happily, he is very proficient with drying and folding his things and the towels/socks/etc.

      • My husband has reminded me more than once that he had been doing his laundry for X years before he met me and that he still functioned. I’m here to train anyone, it feels good to be reminded.

        • I’m NOT here to train anyone… oopse!

    • Yes! Actual conversation with my husband:

      Maddie: I’ll do the laundry, but I need you to fold.
      Moose: But I don’t know how to fold your weird clothes. *holds up skirt* What IS this?

      Mechanical Engineer FTW.

      • My husband doesn’t and never has done his own laundry. He’s perfectly capable, just prefers not to. I am perfectly capable of cooking my own food but he loves doing it more. I HATE washing dishes. He doesn’t mind. Pefect trade, to my mind.

  • I think the most selfish thing my husband and I both do in our marriage is put each other’s happiness first. Because we’re both giving our full selves to this cause of supporting and loving each other it’s not unbalanced or unsatisfying. It makes for a life full of good laughs and really good sex. It makes big dreams like quitting jobs and going freelance, hiking to Mt. Everest and back, or going to grad school a reality. It makes leaping off metaphorical bridges not so scary because I know he’ll be there to catch me and vice versa. I don’t think you have to sacrifice yourself in the least bit to make someone else happy – but then again, it’s my husband who’s doing all the laundry and dishes. ;)

    • meg

      I think this is a GREAT point. In that, when you find the right partner, supporting them and pushing them to go for their dreams makes you really happy (most of the time, at least). It’s when supporting your partner makes you feel depleted, and you’re never getting anything back that you have a real problem.

      • I think “supporting without feeling depleted” is going to have be my new mantra. Because I am one of those “nurturing” folks who likes taking care of people and being helpful, but sometimes it crosses a line and I just feel tired and taken advantage of (despite the fact that no one is asking me to be a martyr!). If I start feeling depleted, then it’s clearly time to step back, say no, do less…

  • I internalised this message whilst growing up as something along the lines of:

    “You’re not a proper woman if you’re anywhere but last on your own list.”

    I don’t really know how, because my mother and her partner often spoke about equality, in my sociology classes I read about Ann Oakley’s study into the hugely unequal division of labour within the home, and Arlie Hochschild’s study into ‘The Triple Shift’, whereby women do the bulk of the emotional work in relationships. I had my feet firmly planted in the feminist camp from a very early age and yet, despite all of this, I retain an underlying suspicion that I am not a proper woman.

    Especially when I wish my kids were as easy to feed as the cat.

    • Especially when I wish my kids were as easy to feed as the cat.


    • ellabynight

      Exactly! I was a women and gender studies major in college and I, too, am firmly in the feminist camp. At the same time I really struggle with the “You’re not a proper woman if you’re anywhere but last on your own list” message.

      Maybe it’s *because* we’re so aware that this standard exists that we feel like we don’t measure up to it? I’ve read so much about the sacrifices women (are asked to) make that I know those expectations inside and out. Maybe if I hadn’t studied every aspect of those roles I would just be able to shut out that sort of message as cultural noise that can and should be ignored.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I think some women (myself included) are subject to that old adage “The act of observation changes the observed”. Knowing that we may be influenced or pressured or internalizing these ideals makes us self-examine to the point that we don’t know what it is we feel.

        I occasionally have to shut off my feminist analyzer and try to separate what I actually want from what I want for all womankind. It’s tough, but usually a couple glasses of wine and a frequently reread book will get my mind off of things long enough to reset my perspective.

        • I completely identify with the need to sometimes turn off the feminist analyzer. I have strongly identified with feminism my whole life and my mother was very involved in feminism in the 70s so it is very easy to always be reading things in gendered terms. I have been in a committed relationship for the past 5 years and it is definitely a challenge sometimes to balance a critical feminist perspective with the knowledge that many of the things I like, or he likes, stem from who we each are and not just the mere fact that I am a woman and he is a man.

  • Man. It is funny how sometimes things appear right when you need them. I needed this article this morning. Thank you.

    • That happens a lot here on APW. It’s nice. :)

      • I just sent you a follow request on twitter. It wouldn’t let me send a little message along with it there, so I’m doing it here. Hai! I’m not a bot, or a creeper!

  • Theresa

    Thank you so much for this post! Just like we don’t lose our identity when we get married, we can’t stop taking care of ourself either, all in the name of selflessness. As you said in one of your posts, “No one asked you to be a martyr.” Thanks!

  • Rachel

    So. Freaking. Good.

    I am totally self-full (and, by the way, thank you for not saying “selfish,” because you’re right that that’s where people’s minds go).

    Today, Dan went food shopping and brought home 2 packages of those little chocolate cakes covered in marshmallow and coconut called Snowballs. Both for me. I love that he knows just one wouldn’t have been enough! So here’s to being self-full, AND to having husband that WANTS you to be self-full!

  • Such a great post. Meg, you look HAWT.

    YES to owning where you have been and are now. I started dating my husband when we were 16 so I never really had a “single phase.” I think culturally singlehood is deemed the all-important phase of self-discovery, but I’m sort of a black sheep in that I “discovered myself” when I was with someone else. Of course the fact that we were long-distance in college helped, but I guess my point is that I don’t regret my “lost” singlehood. Being with Mark through that time felt so natural that I don’t even think about my lack of a “single phase” until moments like this when other people talk about theirs. I own it, and it’s kind of fun. :)

    Also, I do agree that self-sacrificing and losing yourself in your spouse is sort of the cultural default. I’ve totally caught myself doing it, and he’s caught me doing it too. I think it becomes easy to beat ourselves up about falling to the cultural trap, and I often have to remind myself that it’s not that I’m a lesser woman, just that I’m a human receptive to cultural messages and that I should work on it.

    • Rhiannon

      I started dating my husband when I was 18 but we where long distance for the first five years. The funny thing is, I still feel like I had a single phase just without all the dating. I still had all that time to build myself and figure stuff out, but i had this safety net just a phone call away. Best of both worlds :)

    • I am somewhat of a serial monogamist. This is just who I am. I do my best when I have a partner who balances me out. So I never really had a big single phase. Well I guess there was that summer in the UK…

      But back to my point, I think singlehood isn’t something a woman needs to go through to discover life and find herself.

      But I do want to shake my single friends and tell them to enjoy it so that I can at least live vicariously through them.

      • Amy

        I certainly don’t think that everyone needs to be single, but there is something to be said about the level of self-reliance you build up as an adult single person. I know that I can travel alone, pay a mortgage, pay bills, manage an illness by myself, etc, etc. These are also things that until recently, men were expected to be able to do but women weren’t. And it is amazing to know that I am more than capable of handling those challenges. Having a partner for some of those things is certainly nice, but its not required. Though, knowing I’ve already proved myself (to an extent) in my single life, I think I feel less like I *need* to prove those abilities in my partnered life.

    • Katelyn

      Definitely. We’re rounding the corner for year #6 of dating – and I hardly count being single as a teenager as a chance to be “single” in the traditional sense. But we’ve both worked really hard to define our relationship on non-codependent terms.

      We have our shared hobbies, but a broad range of independent hobbies as well. We have a large group of mutual friends that we are perfectly comfortable hanging out solo with as well as going out as a couple.

      The downside to our very self-full relationship is that we are both total slobs and sometimes we run out of underwear.

      • That’s not always a negative. ;)

    • ka

      “I think culturally singlehood is deemed the all-important phase of self-discovery, but I’m sort of a black sheep in that I “discovered myself” when I was with someone else.”

      Yup. Thanks for bringing this up. I sometimes still feel this way even though I was 23 when I starting dating husband-to-be. I look at all my still-single and almost 30 friends partying all nite every nite and wonder if I had “enough” single time. But deciding what’s “enough” is up to us — why worry about what other people’s paths look like? Like you said — if it feels right, then own it. Now to heed my own advice. :)

    • Lisa B.

      I started dating my boyfriend when I was 18, summer after I graduated high school. We’ve now been together for 6 & 1/2 years, and even though I definitely went through a phase where I regretted not being single, I came to see my time with Sean as my growing up phase. I learned how to pay bills, how to buy a car, how to deal with parents’ illnesses and estrangement and I don’t see it as a bad thing anymore.

      I love reading posts like this, because it provides an opportunity for perspective-broadening, especially when my situation doesn’t fit exactly. :-)

    • C

      Thank you! I started dating my boyfriend at 16, and then a year later we went long-distance and have been that way to varying degrees ever since (and we’re coming up on year 5). I grew as a person when we were more apart and when we were more together, in different ways, but all important.

  • i just want to throw out there that selfless and selfish are very seldom opposites. in fact, they can easily be the same. and neither is an inherently bad way to behave.

    p.s. what is a chore wheel and where do i get one?

  • AMEN! Amazing. So true!

  • it’s just a teeny, tiny bit scary because, for me, it was much easier to be self-fulfilling when i was single. the whole point of those delicious, exuberant years was that i was totally focused on myself. i was very selfish, in a very needed, healthy way. i was crazy busy, obsessively clean, and wore lots of glittery clothing. and, on the edge of marriage now (couple months out), it’s a bit foggy on how to be self-fulfilled as a partner because it’s just not as flipping obvious and sometimes i can be a little dense (but, don’t worry, glittery clothing is here to stay). Like can I still be self-fulfilled if I can’t paint my whole kitchen grapefruit pink? Probably, but it’s going to look a bit different. That’s hard. it will probably look something like me getting up early to read my blogs and spending quite a bit of money and time enjoying coffee and pastries with friends. that’s self-fulfilling, in a not-quite-so-obvious way. but i can be hard not to think of a pink kitchen and inwardly freak a bit.

    the other thing i need to work on, as a big part of getting ready for this marriage business? i am going to stop apologizing for sh*t that’s not my fault. like the other day, I worked from home and was crazy busy and didn’t get to the laundry. Amos came home and, as I was apologizing for not doing housework during my workday (what. was. i. smoking.), he looked at me just for a second and said, so nonchalantly, why are you apologizing for that? um…. why indeed. didn’t think about it. it was just my reaction to not getting something done. put that on the “things to work on about myself list.”

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Two things that I thought of while reading your comment. My husband frequently quoting a stand-up comedian – “Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies. If you are going to use glitter, you should be prepared to have it on you for the rest of your life.” He says this every time I put on glittery shirts (or hair clips, or eyeshadow… what? I’m *classy*), but it definitely hasn’t stopped me from glittering up.

      As for a pink kitchen, my husband and I have actually kind of enjoyed figuring out how to combine our decorating styles. Like when I saw a ridiculous child-sized pink leather chair that I *had to have* I was totally surprised when he told me to get it. He remembered it matched the pink in the James Bond movie poster in our living room. I was like – you won’t be embarrassed to have this in our living room? It isn’t even functional! His response was that he knew I was ridiculous when he married me he didn’t expect me to change now. Bliss!

      And btw, that tiny chair is just the right height for painting my toenails :) Totally functional after all.

      • Amy

        Abby – just wanted to thank you for sharing the joke about glitter. I swear, glitter is my husbands mortal enemy. He cringes every time we get a fancy card in anticipation of potential glitter.

  • YES. I just went down – exactly-ing all the comments.

    One thing that’s been totally bizarre for me is that as soon as we got married, everyone assumed I was my husband’s social secretary. WHAT? Especially family. I know this might seem strange to some people, but I don’t actually know what my husband is doing every second of everyday. If you want to plan something with him, you need to ask him. I think he finds it equally bizarre.

    I was recently talking to an older family member and they mentioned they just got a thank you note from a relative who got married about 18 months ago. I sort of defended the couple and she said, “Oh it’s not HIM, it’s his wife. SHE should have known better.” Again… what? This crazy idea that – oh, you know men, you can’t expect him to get a thank you note out – but what horrible manners on his wife’s part. That is so backwards.

    It’s just all these strange little tasks that women are assumed to take on as soon as you get married. And it just doesn’t work that way in our house. We both do chores, we take turns cooking dinner, we support each other equally in our careers, and sometimes he goes off and does things that are just for him. And sometimes I have to go out and do things without him. We’re thoughtful of one another and we give each other a lot, but we give ourselves a lot too. I can’t take on that self-sacrificing role. That’s just not me. And I don’t think that’s what my husband wants.

    This kind of stuff is the reason I read APW every single day.

    • Chelsea

      YES EXACTLY about being his social secretary! I nipped that one in the bud early – every time soneone from his family would call/e-mail me to make plans, I would have HIM call or e-mail them back.

    • N

      Yes! This is so true–I’ve encountered it in wedding planning. My FMIL asked me what we were doing about my fiance’s suit, and I was like, I don’t know, he’s in charge of that. And she was like, well you might have to help make sure it gets done. You think he can’t manage to find himself something to wear? And if somehow he doesn’t, then that would be MY fault?

    • Exactly! Sometimes I don’t know exactly where my husband is or what he’s doing either. And sometimes I get home late because a friend invited me to $4 mojito happy hour. The crazy part, he’s just fine without me, and I’m just fine without him for a few hours. We’re not always together, and I think it works much better that way.

    • Yes, this. Also, the guy friends who assume that your husband is only free to hang out/do stuff with them because you “let” him. One of Jason’s best friends regularly asks me if I will “let” J. play computer games online with him. WTF? Do I look like his mother? Does it look like I need to arrange (or approve) playdates for my husband?

      • Harriet

        There is a great Bob Dylan line that applies to this situation: “I wanna be your lover, baby, I don’t wanna be your boss.”

    • Sarah

      SIGH, I confront this every time I spend time at my FMILs home — they have a beach place that we sometimes use when they are not there. Somehow, months later, she’ll take me aside and remind me that we didn’t self clean the oven, or that the sheets that were in the dryer weren’t 100% dry and got moldy, all the while not ever considering speaking to my fiancee about this. When they are there, if we don’t make our bed or the like, I hear about it, while my fiancee is blissfully unaware that it’s even going on because “he is the boy.” It makes me a bit tense around them because I feel like I’m under scrutiny, whereas he’s just enjoying his holiday. The thing is, he’s just as domestic as I am. I think it’s just about her generation’s assumptions about what I should be taking care of for us as a couple.

  • It’s interesting, in our house we are about to have a major shift toward the 50s (I’m terminally ill and have to leave work, my Navy husband will be working full time to support us). Right now we split everything. We both work, we both do chores, we both cook, and we like it that way. But when I quit teaching I think I’ll feel lazy if I don’t take over all of the household duties. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an artist and I have plans to pursue that, and I’d like to do volunteer work for as long as I can, but I think I would feel like I was letting him do all the work if he was also responsible for half the chores in addition to working full time. I have mixed feelings about this. He says he WANTS to split chores like we do now, but I have this intense fear of being a free-loader and it just doesn’t seem fair to do it that way. I also have a fear of being the stereotypical 50s wife with nothing to do but taking care of the house. I want to do those things for him so that he will be less stressed, but it’s important to me that I don’t lose myself somewhere in between laundry and dishes. The pastor who is doing our premarital counseling says that whichever partner is better at each task or enjoys it more should be the one who does it, which I think is awesome. I just think I’ll feel guilty if he comes home from a long day and then has to cook dinner or do dishes or whatever. He keeps telling me that I should find an online master’s program, so maybe I will do that to keep myself occupied.

  • Articles like this are why I come back to APW every day. Thanks, Meg.

  • So this post got me thinking (cuz that’s the point, right?). When I was younger I loved being single and I lived a very fullfilled life. I loved being married (divorce be damned) and lived a fulfilled life (till the end, but that’s another story). And post divorce I learned to love being single again. What I learned going there and back again is that being “self-full” makes you the best person you can be.

    Period. Paragraph.

    When I take care of myself (when I attend to my emotional and physical needs) I have more room for abundance. Which makes it possible for me to share this abundance with others; whether it be my partner, my mother, or my neighbor. And that’s the point right? That being your best self allows you to be your (and not anyone else’s standard of one) best wife/partner. And should the growing of children or the procuring of them by some other means be your thing, allows you to be your best mother.

    • meg

      Yes. This.

  • april

    I really, really REALLY needed this today. THANK YOU. Typing thru tears right now, so I’m off for a bit but will come back to re-read this post because it’s important and true.

    And oh-by-the-way, Meg: You look rock star fantastic in your sequin dress!

  • Dear dear Meg!

    This was EXACTLY like sitting across a table with one of the girlfriends that I adore and having a passionate conversation/life check that I CAN GET BEHIND. In part because it’s so positive and choice-affirming and good. And in part because two days ago I said “You don’t do this, so I’m going to exercise my option to not do it too. And while I’m at it, I’m changing my name, but not to yours.” And he was so happy because I was being as self-full as he is. And that’s the balance we needed to find. And this? This is SO well written and SO a breath of fresh air that I needed because my sassy girls are far away.

    Any bourbon in Ohio is on me, you’ve already provided the girl talk!

  • I’ve never understood women who constantly complain about their husbands. Did they not get to know them first? Did they think they could change them? I worry that people jump into marriage because they’re so afraid of being single.

    My husband is the BEST. He pulls his own weight around the house, even though I’m a housewife and he works full time. We respect each other and are kind to each other and don’t make unreasonable demands of each other. It IS possible. I was never happy single. I’m a people person, I don’t like being alone. However, I didn’t rush into marriage. I ended a 6-year relationship with an awful man and then met the love of my life. I got married at 29, which some people consider “late.” I am happiest when with my husband, and I’m fine with that.

    A lot of times when the woman is the selfless one in the relationship, there’s something wrong with the relationship. No one should have to give themselves up.

    • I was at work one day, shortly after my wedding, and a few co-workers (age 40-50s, both married with kids) were chatting about the stupid things their husbands had done lately (nothing horrible, just not done “right”).

      I was trying to mind my own business, having nothing to contribute to that conversation, when one of them turned to me and said “You will realize soon that husbands are idiots.” The other woman nodded in agreement.

      I was totally at a loss for words. I kind of sputtered something about how I really didn’t feel like my husband was an idiot (I mean, we’d been together for 5 years… Why would marriage turn him into an idiot suddenly?), and that I tended to be the sloppier/more forgetful partner… but of course, after I said that, they just sort of sniffed and changed the topic. I definitely felt like I was just kicked out of the “marrieds” club or else they assumed I’d “learn soon enough.” :-P

      • Exactly! I used to go to a nail salon like that. All they did was bash their husbands. Why attack the one person who will always be there for you? If they’re so horrible, why did you marry them? I’ll never understand that negative attitude. It makes me so very sad.

      • Before himself and I got married, my dad told us that regardless of what was going on between he and my mother, neither of them let other people say a bad word about either of them. Somehow I imagine that this sentiment extended to them not saying a bad word about each other to other people as well.

        Why would you want to badmouth your partner?

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I’ve been in that conversation before and my reaction was something like “Maybe I will discover that eventually, but we’ve only been married 6 months and I’d like to enjoy the blissful ignorance as long as possible. Don’t ruin it for me, would you?”

        I mean, after 6 years with my now-husband, there are plenty of things I could complain about. But there are seven times as many things that I’m grateful for, so why would I spend my time bitching about those minor annoyances?

      • I hear this kind of thing all the time at work, too, and it breaks my heart what a rut of complaining everyone gets into (not just about marriage, either).

        Before our wedding, a wise widow in my master’s program gave me this advice: “Remember you married your favorite person in the world. Because you picked him for a reason.”

        I’m always reminded of that during those lunchtime bitchfests.

  • I had a relationship in college where I gave my whole self away. His needs always came first. My goal was to be the “best girlfriend ever” (so he’d never leave me right?). As anyone could guess, this had a spiral effect where I became more and more miserable. You know who isn’t the “best girlfriend ever”? A miserable girlfriend. We broke up.

    So the next time I found myself approaching relationship territory, I was scared. I knew I couldn’t give myself away like that again. I couldn’t self sacrifice to that extent. But then I found myself in a relationship with a man who didn’t sacrifice at all and neither did I.

    The whole thing is a balance. Take time for yourself. Learn to love yourself. Love yields love. Find a partner who loves himself/herself (not is overly self-indulgent) and therefore is able to love others too. Long-term love means sacrifice both ways. It took me awhile and a bit of practice but I found it and practice it. I’m not perfect at it and neither is my partner. But we continue to practice self-love and sacrifice and we grow happier and more fulfilled by the day.

    • Alyssa

      You’re so smart, as always.
      Who was it on here that said (or their grandmother said) that you give 75% of the time and then they give 75% of the time and it’ll eventually even out in the end? I think about that all the time, I’ve even smacked my husband on the arm and hollered at him, “Give 75%!” But that 25% is all about you, and it’s precious too.

      A big part for me is to know when I’m making a sacrifice for the good of us, or I’m making a sacrifice to say that I made a sacrifice.

      • meg

        “A big part for me is to know when I’m making a sacrifice for the good of us, or I’m making a sacrifice to say that I made a sacrifice.”


  • In part, I agree. I don’t think I’m a very good partner if I’m not taking care of myself (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually). However, I don’t quite agree that selflessness isn’t something to aspire to. If women are the one’s doing it, then the answer isn’t to have women stop being so, but rather to acknowledge that it is needed from men as well. Perhaps, I’m not clear on the definition of selflessness for the purposes of this article. If we’re talking about being the best person you can be which contributes positively to your relationship, I can get behind that. However, I don’t think that effort is in lieu of acting selflessly. Selflessness motivated by love and care I think is part of the glue that sticks people together. Now if it’s selflessness motivated by a martyr complex, that leads more self-righteousness and resentment, though it’s not true selflessness, it’s a show of of a virtue for the sake of recognition.

    I also want to point out here that making marriage work often involves sacrifice (which I think could also be defined as selflessness). I think it’s actually a crucial aspect of staying together. Two people are rarely on the exact same trajectory and it takes sacrificial adjustments to stay on the same course from both parties.

    • meg

      Well of course, and I’ve also talked (rather endlessly, it feels sometimes) about the sacrifices I’ve made for my marriage, and the fact that making sacrifices for our families is a reality of life that we need to face up to.

      • Yeah, what I got from this is that there is a huge difference between making mutual sacrifices on behalf of your relationship and becoming a doormat on behalf of the cultural standard.

        • YES. You make sacrifices for the good of your partnership, because that’s what being in a partnership is about (not always, but a big part of it). But bending to someone else’s whim until you break? No.

  • Your picture is fantastic. Not that you need me to tell you that.

    I love this post. I can’t quite decide how I feel about it yet because it keeps making me think and then I go off at a tangent and then there’s more thinking.

    Making me question and think – that’s why I love your writing.

  • I LOVE THIS POST. Also, I think this post is just as, if not more important, for single women to read. Upon reading this post, I sent it to my single sister, who also loved Meg’s message. The FH and I share chores (he does garbage and bathroom cleaning, and I clean kitchen, do laundry, etc…), but sometimes it does get to a point with certain chores (i.e. dishes) that I have to ask for help. Know his response? “Thank you for asking for help!” He was happy that I asked for the help when I didn’t NEED it, but wanted it, before it became a real issue. It’s a nice feeling to say to myself that I was 100% happy with Olivia before I met the boy…it means that he fell in love with the true, 100% honest me, and I love knowing that.

  • Alyssa

    Maybe it was my narcissistic theatre training, but I’m obnoxiously self-aware in certain aspects of my personality. And one of those aspects is that I recognize that I like doing things for other people. Not because I’m naturally good, I just plain like feeding people or making them comfortable because it makes ME feel good when they are grateful. It’s selfish and I’m okay with that.
    That part of my personality makes me fall into a pattern of traditional wife/husband behavior, but what’s crazy-freeing about that pattern is that I know I choose it. Doing my husband’s laundry or cooking him dinner makes me feel good, so I do it. And if it didn’t, I wouldn’t because I don’t have to. That makes all the difference for me.

    That’s what I love about this post. It’s not about making any of us strive to shatter a barrier because it’s there, it’s about figuring out what we want and then going for it. As long as I’m being true to myself, it’s okay that my true self is a little bit Suzy Homemaker. THAT’S what makes the difference about APW, there’s room for all of us, just as long as you’re really being yourself.
    Maybe it’s this post, maybe it’s the snow day, but I’m feeling extra warm and fuzzy about APW today. And you too, boss lady Meg. Big group hug!!!

    • Jillian

      I want to “exactly” this a billion times.
      I’m the same way, I love cooking, but I love even more at the end of the meal when he says, “Wow, that was good, thanks for dinner!”
      But I really agree with your point about CHOOSING to do these things. My fiance isn’t standing behind me with a pistol to my head ordering me to cook. I love food, it’s a relaxing activity I enjoy, and lucky him, he gets to enjoy it too!

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  • lolo7835

    LOVE it. And we rock a chore wheel and it’s awesome.

    • Alyssa

      We need this chore post because I have no idea what a chore wheel is….

      • N

        I think a chore wheel is where you have the people who do the chores on a wheel and then a bigger wheel with the chores listed and then you stick one of those metal tab things through the middle of both so you can turn the wheel every week and the people rotate what they are in charge of.

      • Katelyn

        Um, yeah, we are a couple in SERIOUS need of a chore wheel. Or similar ilk. Not because of an imbalance of cleanliness, just a general lack thereof.

        • Amy

          We like to go by the strategy of having people over every 2-3 weeks and then run around frantically cleaning before they arrive. What? Everyone doesn’t do that?

          • Haha, YES!

          • Yes, yes we do. :)

          • My mom realized we had a problem when we were growing up when she’d start getting after us to clean up we’d immediately ask who was coming over.

          • Dude, that’s what we do.

  • It’s so true. If a woman is in a committed relationship and has chosen to be in such a state, she’s gotta make herself OK first before she can even *talk* about sacrifice, etc. Because that’s what sacrifice is–to give something of yourself for another party in their interest. But if you have nothing left to give because you’re depleted, then everyone (husband, kids, dogs, clients, BFFs) are out of luck.

    It’s kind of like on airplanes. In the event of pressure loss, make sure you put the oxygen mask over your own face before you help another person with theirs.

    • N

      I love the oxygen mask metaphor! I am going to file that in my brain.

    • meg


  • This post really resonates with me.

    I am 22 years old, recently married (REALLY recent; our one month anniversary was yesterday) and I’m a senior in my last year of college. I’m involved in a Latina woman’s group on campus and the general talk, at times, seems to be that relationships are harmful and self-sacrifice seems to be the main culprit of this problem, in their eyes.

    I can’t help but feel offended because I’m married, doing my thing while the huz does his, and maintaining a general level of happiness in my life. Chores get split down the middle and we try to both pull our own weight.

    Instead of running around and saying how destructive relationships can be, maybe we should say how destructive excessive self-sacrifice is in any given situation/relationship.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I’ve felt this before and I think it can be really counter-productive. Instead of attacking all relationships and talking about the negative possibilities, what you really need are examples of good relationships. Possibly what your group lacks are role models – especially people in the group in healthy relationships. I always find that people are more indiscriminately negative when they don’t know how to get to a positive outcome. It’s harder, but more rewarding to talk about what goes into a good relationship than to tear down all the bad ones.

    • Vmed

      I hear you. My mom used to tell me all the time that once I got married I would have a husband to take care of and wouldn’t get to do things for myself, so I’d better do what I want while in college, and unattached, and not envy the girls who married young (she married my dad young and didn’t finish her college degree). And so I also used to avoid commitment (loudly). Until I learned to be with a boy who didn’t take too much.

      But I think you might want to try as hard as you can to not take their objections to all relationships personally. You mention that this is a Latina group in college. That says to me (as a 2nd generation mexican american in academia) two things:
      1) these women have probably observed many latin culture relationships, which I have known to be more of a high contrast gender role organization. Especially when viewed from the outside. Mothers and aunts don’t always share details of who is actually in charge of what (e.g. it may look like a mexican wife lacks autonomy because she doesn’t work outside the home, but in fact she decides how to distribute household funds.)
      2) these women are in college and there might be some academic pressures to value scholarly achievement over relationship bliss. Or develop hard skills at the expense of soft skills. In grad school, after telling my lab I was getting married, a few coworkers immediately asked, “why?” or said “Ugh.” So… these minority women might be trying to fit in with academic culture by adopting the pro-single woman attitude, and conversely seeming anti-relationship.

      All I’m saying is, it’s a lot of noise. They are trying to find their way, and think this is how to do it. I’m sure that some of them notice that you are happily attached (married even! congrats!) and also achieving your goals with the support of your husband. You’re probably a mystery to them, but I bet if you’re patient they will ask you how you do it.

  • Yeah, I do not get the selflessness argument. A good relationship is a partnership. Which is not 50/50 on any given day (or sometimes any given year) but that doesn’t mean that you should feel like you are sacrificing your self. I mean, if you realize that you’re averaging 80/20 ALL the time, then I would reassess.

    I’ve been in a relationship for a long time, and I’ve come to appreciate the fact that sometimes we both put in the effort and sometimes one of us needs more (and we’ve gotten good about saying it) and sometimes neither of us has the time and we benignly neglect the relationship for a while and focus on ourselves. And we can do that, for a while, and it’s such a huge relief to have something strong enough that we can leave it alone for a bit and not feel even a little bit bad. We just know that we’re eventually going to have to build it back up.

    • meg

      This is so beautifully said. Hum. And it makes me happy.

    • Zan

      I already “exactlied” this but I think it bears repeating, “A good relationship is a partnership. Which is not 50/50 on any given day (or sometimes any given year) but that doesn’t mean that you should feel like you are sacrificing your self.”

    • Class of 1980

      I love what you said.

  • Tara

    This is *exactly* why I donated money to help you launch Reclaiming Wife!

    • meg

      Just to be clear, you donated money in a drive to help me pay Alyssa and Lauren as editors. Launching Reclaiming Wife is a whole other project with a whole other budget and a whole other timeline. I don’t want you to be disillusioned about that. The $5K we raised last year is in a fund for editor’s salaries, which are being paid right this second.

      • Tara

        You said “It’s time for me to get moving on launching Reclaiming Wife as it’s own site (first half of 2011), it’s time for me to be able to pay my intern Lauren, and Alyssa, who writes a weekly column. It’s time for me to start to ponder a forum, because you guys need a place to talk directly to each other. And I could do all this by myself, it would just take time. So any money that you give this week will go straight into growing the website this year.”

        I interpreted paying Lauren and Alyssa as allowing them to do more, allowing you to shift priorities so that you could launch other things, including Reclaiming Wife.

        Don’t worry, I also donated money because I support what you’re doing here at APW.

        • meg

          I also said that, “Every penny of that is going into APW staffing for 2011, starting with Lauren and Alyssa, because I believe in paying people a decent wage (or as much as we can afford, to start). And it seems fitting that community money goes right back into the part of the APW community that makes the posts happen every day.” Which is exactly what is happening.

          We raised $5K, and that’s about 2/3rds of our current staffing costs for the year on APW. RW is not too expensive to start, but we need a budget and business model in place that supports the additional work load. We’ll talk about that more in the coming months, but in the interest of transparency, I want you guys to be 110% clear on where your money is going – which is straight into payroll.

  • yes, yes, yes! This post is awesome and so right! I don’t think I could make it through if I thought I had to give more than he gives me! I fully accept that we give to each other in different ways. Different, but equal. And sure, maybe sometimes it’s not always equal. Sometimes I take more, sometimes he does, but it always balances out. I think that believing you need to give more and be selfless and SACRIFICE to be happy is ridiculous. Sometimes we are selfless and sometimes we are not. And that’s just the way it is.

  • Class of 1980

    Any time one person in a couple is sacrificing more, it’s a recipe for burnout and resentment. Both are entitled to down time and personal fulfillment.

    Limited periods where one sacrifices more because there’s no way around it is one thing, but making it a lifestyle choice isn’t wise.

  • Well, my chore wheel would look mostly like a chore pizza. Still round (but I am eating pizza while my husband does dishes and laundry).

    My inclination was to type right here “I lucked out” and I did – but he did too. Because though I don’t dust, because of me he has health insurance and he can afford to live in a one bedroom in NYC instead of a guest room in long island.

    Anyway, chores aside, I thought that this was a wonderful post and got me thinking about a struggle that I have been having lately: That my husband is starting to become the most interesting thing about me. I have lost myself a little bit and default to his friends, talking about his work (I hate mine and his involves juggling), and beginning every sentence with “We”. I miss my single life a bit – rooms looked just like I wanted, no checking with anyone else before making my evening plans – but know that I really have to bring the “single me” back into the relationship. I become a much more interesting person (and wife) when I am happy on my own. After all, that’s the girl he fell in love with, and the girl that was content enough with her life to let someone into it.

    Going from the transition of engaged person, where I felt like every conversation started to revolve around the wedding (not that I approve of this, but it happens), to now married person where every conversation includes husband. What did I talk about before? Surely I had opinions on politics or “Top Chef” or something. I have to fight to bring that back.

    • beth

      i completely identify with this. i JUST got married and while i was a (mostly) confident/happy/fulfilled single person (i had that gig DOWN) the engagement/marriage transition has left me feeling less like “me”. i know i’m there and i know this is all a part of the transition process… but i have to work really hard to remind myself of who i am for fear that i will lose me forever. so, yes to the having to “fight to bring that back” part!

  • Jen M

  • Helen the Snowy Owl

    Oh my God was that something I’ve needed to read for a while! I’m not yet a wife, I’m currently a co-habiting fiancée but the whole selfless/selffull rings really true right now. I’ve spent most of the past 6 months being the breadwinner and housekeeper and caring for my fiancé after he spent 4 months in hospital following an infection and I’m only just regaining my sense of self as my whole existence rebels and has tantrums about being the “caring woman” any more :o)

    How on Earth can I be a good partner when I haven’t taken the time recently to remember who I am?

  • Heather G

    Once upon a time, I was completely “selfless” in relationships (which is almost like being selfish, if I really thought about it). As some of the other commenters noted, I thought that if I did EVERYTHING right, and did EVERYTHING period then nothing could go wrong.

    I tried that with the FH for a while and it didn’t work. Turns out he actually doesn’t like me when I am “selfless” (which again, for me, is really selfish and all about control). He likes when I am ME–a girl invested in hobbies, interests, AND in a relationship.

    And though it felt odd and maybe a little uncomfortable at first for someone to tell me I don’t have to give all of me, I eventually came to realize this is precisely why I need and want this person for a long, long time.

    • Class of 1980

      You said it. Emotionally healthy men don’t want sacrificial lambs.

      • Heather G

        Sacrificial lambs! I love the way that you phrased that. No, no, no, that simply will not do.

        Lioness? Now that’s more like it.

  • best last paragraph ever. Love it.

  • Other Katelyn

    As a not-yet-married, I’m really struggling with this already in my relationship. I’ve caught myself slipping into totally unhealthy thought patterns such as “my boyfriend’s house must be clean, or else I’m not a good girlfriend,” and doing things like skipping my own housecleaning to do his. I’ve stopped doing that, but I still feel like in all of the love and sweetness and unbearably wonderful weekends spent together, I sacrificed some of the important stuff that made me ME. I’ve been unhappy, and it’s completely a cage of my own imagining. My boyfriend would love if I were to start writing professionally again, or if I had a more fulfilling job, or if I started volunteering. But I’ve been wrapped up in how much I enjoy spending down time with him, and in some of those weird self-worth equations based on the wrong things.

    Yesterday I signed up for some canning classes! And I’m thinking about going back to school, scary as that would be for me. Thanks for the reminder that a healthy relationship starts with two (relatively) healthy individuals.

    • N

      I love that you signed up for a canning class. Because its self-sufficient in two senses. Also, you’ll be able to make jam. Awesome.

  • YAY! Thank you for this post. It’s all been said already, in what are probably now over 200 comments, but yes, thanks, amazing.

  • ka

    Sequins and wisom are not mutually exclusive.


    And bring on the chore chart. This is a discussion I NEED to have.

    • ka


      (it’s that kind of day)

  • Kate

    I wish I had more time right now to read all the other awesome comments, but I just wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation and say, like many others, that this post is just full of awesome APW-ness and I LOVE it! I have spent so much time thinking about these kind of give and takes, about the messages I get from culture and how I react to those, about sacrificing for my career now but thinking my husband will in the future (right now he is in the military, which is a whole very unique thing). The most important thing to me is that we are a team when it comes to planning out our career, and that our baby family (with added children someday) is always the #1 priority. When I get insecure about the sacrifices I have made so far, and my ability to reach my professional dreams in the future, a talk with him always sets me straight and makes me feel better!

    Not to mention, when he is gone on training for a while (as he is now), I miss him, but I get supreme me time. Yoga in the living room, whatever girly TV shows I want to watch, and plenty of time with girlfriends. I definitely related to that aspect of your post Meg. Though the military-related separation is tough, I do see all the me time as a major silver lining!

    Anyway, enough rambling – thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Fabulous, fabulous post! I had begun to wonder if I am a weirdo because I don’t see it as reasonable for me to do more of the household chores, cooking, cleaning, than my wonderful fiancé. He does a fantastic job at keeping up with cleaning and is a great cook. To me, it just makes sense. We are both very busy Ph.D. students with very similar, hectic schedules. Why should I do more housework because I am a woman? That’s crazy! It’s much more efficient to share the chores.

    I too loved being single when I was single. I was in no rush to get married. I think the time I spent being single taught me a lot about myself. I learned to be independent and strengthen my familial relationships and friendships. I think it is very powerful when you know how to take care of yourself and make yourself happy. You can contribute so much to a relationship.

    Thank you for posting this awesome post, Meg!

  • This is awesome, simply awesome, and exactly what I have been feeling lately.

    Thanks to the spirit of yoga, and a book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, I’m working on figuring out what makes me fulfilled (and, as my wise yoga teacher says, also full-emptied). I’m opening to the winds of grace, accepting all the things that make me happy, and going for them. And you know what?

    It’s making me stronger, and it’s making our marriage stronger. So, Self-Full it is!

    • Danielle

      Omg I love that book! I’m actually reading it for the 2nd time now. Something about her message (loving/accepting yourself, seeking balance, etc) can take more than one reading to sink in :)

  • suzanna

    Would it be a huge over-simplification to say this article might be due to generation differences? Ye olde 2nd wave of feminists (blass them for all their hard work) often still have black and white ideas of what women and relationships are capable of. They have a tendency (big generalization here) to think things like career vs. kids instead of career and kids. Here it looks like married vs. single instead of “make your marriage what you freaking want it to be”.

    • meg

      Maybe. But I think that’s underselling what that generation accomplished. As I said earlier in the comments, my parents are older than 58, and they broke gender roles left and right in their marriage, and I don’t think my mom was particularly self-less in her role as wife. So I think this is just a case of consistently bad cultural messaging seeping through into more feminist messaging (though the article’s overall message was awesome).

    • Class of 1980

      Suzanna, I’m not sure where you got that idea.

      At 52, I can tell you that the vast majority of women my age worked full-time and had children. Daycare exploded in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

      Full-time mothers were in the minority.

      • Most of my peers did NOT have stay-at-home moms. My mother was younger than most of my peers’ moms (but not by much), so I can say this is pretty accurate. I see it more now, actually. However, the workplace has evolved to support this – more comprehensive leave plans, flexible work schedules, work-from-home capability, etc. We have a LOOOOOONG way to go, but it’s pretty impressive to see how far we’ve come. Stay-at-home vs. work has become a true choice, and not one that involves the level of sacrifice it once did. I wish it was more comprehensive than it is (Sweden has a good model, I’d like to see THAT), but I’m happy with the progress so far. I just want it to CONTINUE.

  • Marissa

    I 100% agree with this post! Also, it reminds me of a Shel Silverstein story with a closely related message, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. If you’ve forgotten or never read the story, here it is on youtube (the text animation is a little corny, but whatever).

    Here’s to being Big and Little O’s, rolling alongside our partners :)

  • CB

    This is pure Meg sass – love.

    I always hear people talk about chore wheels and I don’t know what they are! I mean, I know it’s about allocating chores, but why is it wheel shaped? Wouldn’t it make more sense it if was a table?

  • Englyn

    Grr. A relevant article popped up on an Aus news site today:
    and while the overall story is positive to neutral, I can’t help thinking that it’s got a split personality. It almost looks like somebody wrote it ( and found experts to back up) as per the title – replacement not loss of skills – and then some nosy editor rearranged it to accuse modern *women* of losing domestic skills that past generations had, just for the ratings. Grr. And didn’t even manage to fix the grammatical error in the caption of the picture.

  • I so agree. This was my visceral reaction when reading parts of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed,” particularly the story about the red coat of her Great-grandmother’s. It seemed like such a negative, unfortunate perspective on marriage. Maybe relationships scrape bare the walls of the soul when you’ve been through what Gilbert has been through, but… man, I have never felt that way in my marriage. And if I ever felt that way in a relationship, I called foul before I felt soulless. Why does being a wife and being a mother (if you are) have to be such a freaking sacrifice!? It doesn’t. That’s the thing.

  • Chore wheel! Totally happening (soon) in this household. Can’t wait for that post :)

    “After a long, hard slog, I’m myself first, and a wife second.” Preach!

  • Carly

    I’m not sure how I feel about Lauren’s part- “her husband told her from day one, that for him he was the most important person in their relationship.”
    Maybe it is just the wording that bothers me?

    I’ve thought about it and I honestly don’t see myself or my fiance as more important in our relationship (to me). I feel like I fight for us both equally. Sometimes I’ll need something for myself, and sometimes he’ll need something but won’t be willing to give it to himself- and in that case, I’d fight for him. And it works the same way with him.

    Having said that, I’d rarely make excuses for him. If I feel myself starting to do that, I talk to him about it, and either I do something big just for me, or he’ll do it for me. I’ll never do his washing (unless it is something I don’t want him to wreck), and he washes up while I cook, mops the floors when I sweep them, etc.

    I think because I saw my mother so unhappy and selfless in her relationship, I am very wary and determined not to end up that way.

  • Danielle

    Meg: as one of your (many, I’m sure) single readers, I want to thank you for posting this today.

  • Tina

    It’s been a long day, and I’m reading APW before bed. I don’t have time to get through the comments yet, but man, oh man, I can’t wait for the chore wheel topic. Ours isn’t so much a wheel, but a handwritten chore paper that we hashed out after a long hard talk about expectations, gender roles, and the works. What a great post to end the day. Gritty, hard, inspiring, perfect! I love the ice cream comment too. Empowering in a subtle (or not so subtle) way.

  • This post right here? This is exactly why I just called off my wedding. I forgot how to be self-full and got way too good at being selfish. I was unhappy, I was making my fiance unhappy and we both realized we need more time. So here I am, learning how to be self-full again. And our interactions and our relationship (regardless of what happens to it in the future) is so much better for it.

    • Totally meant self-less, not selfish.

  • commenter

    By the way, the author’s name of that article is JANE Ganahl, not Jan. As a journalist and a good friend of her daughter’s in elementary school, I know I would be frustrated with the incorrect byline.

  • TJ

    I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion here. I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve been so terrified of how marriage might change who I am that we’ve stopped planning the wedding altogether. I really needed to hear this, and read these comments. You may have just saved a marriage (and somewhere out there, our vendors are breathing a sigh of relief).

  • Kimikaze

    I swear, anytime an issue comes up in my relationship, an APW article comes out that points out I’m neither crazy nor alone in feeling this way.

    Last night my fiance asked me to help clean the kitchen…and I gently reminded him who had been cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry all week. I need a couple of nights in the week when I can leave dishes dirty, and just have a beer in front of my computer. And I felt guilty for asking that he clean up by himself.

    I always need to remind myself that while I’m putting effort into the relationship, and saving hard for our mutual goals, it’s equally important that I take time for art, and dance, and videogames, and therapy. I did not fight my way free of depression only to fall back in by ignoring my own needs.

  • exactly. meg, i swear, i tried talking about this same thing when the NY Times article first came out and I was a bit confused….but you hit the nail on the head…it’s hard, wanting to be a good partner and not wanting to be a selfless-sacrificing-wife…wanting to care more about him than yourself…keeping his best interests at heart…knowing he does the same for you.

    this is an excellent post, meg.

  • Laura

    Thanks, Meg. I loved the article, and the comments. The timing (as it seems from everyone) is incredible. Yesterday my fiance and I moved into a new apartment, and I was surprised that as we packed up our old home I felt a lot of sadness that many of the reminders of my single i-have-my-own-apartment life are vanishing. I spoke last week to a friend who has been married for several years about this, and she insisted that the sadness never goes away. Your article helped me find an alternative to this feeling in reminding me that becoming a wife doesn’t need to negate the things that made me a rad single person. Like you, I think there is a lot to celebrate about those days (they were lived boldly! And sometimes wildly!). And, in remembering the importance of self-full-ness, I hope to revisit and magnify some of the things I loved best about single Laura. A lot of those things are the reasons I’m a good partner: finding joy in the seemingly mundane and in an uncertain, still-developing future, an attraction to adventure, a love of anything new, and an ability to make an adorable home and life with almost no money. They are traits to be nurtured. Thanks for that reminder.

    Also– I much appreciated your comment that you are yourself first, and a wife second, rather than being a wife feeling like an extension of yourself. I won’t be married for another 3 1/2 months, but as my partner & I discuss what marriage means to us, I find myself doubting that being a wife will ever feel like an extension of my self, any more than being a fiance does. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s the truth. (Can’t wait for this engagement thing to be over: I’d much rather be planning a dance production than planning a wedding.)

    Anyway, thank you for your perspective. As I unpack boxes, I plan on celebrating the years of awesome partnership that lay ground-work for our upcoming marriage. And, the years of bold singleness that do, as well.

  • CK

    See also: Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.”

  • And this is why I’ll keep reading APW even after I get married this April, because of posts like this one. Thanks Meg for bringing it real!

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  • TrudiG

    Even though I’m late as hell, I wanted to say THANK YOU, Meg. This post made me feel great, about myself and my marriage. Once again, you’ve done it!

  • I love this post! And I love that photo of you! So fun and free.

    I got married really young, and while I have no regrets, I do have to remind myself that I am a priority too. In order to give my husband all I’ve got, I need to take care of me. <3

  • My wife reads your blog somewhat regularly and shared this post with me, particularly because I am a contributor on a marriage blog which focuses on marriage from the male perspective – intending to break down male stereotypes and discuss how we live out our marital commitments in our lives. I couldn’t help but post a response to this post on our blog. Feel free to check it out –

  • Lizzie

    Of course it goes without saying that I appreciated this post as a whole–but damn, thank you for saying that about the ice cream cone.

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