Last week, my partner made homemade lasagna for supper. It was sooo good, cheesy and satisfying. His recipe is unlike mine; he uses chopped eggs in the place of cottage cheese or ricotta; he prefers his own method for the sauce and even constructs the layers differently than I would. But I don’t complain. I just clean my plate and thank my lucky stars that I have a man who enjoys cooking for us.
It wasn’t a snap for me to surrender occasional kitchen duties to anyone. I’d gone completely alpha-batty doing all the household chores by myself since being divorced and I kind of liked it. My newfound independence was actually quite empowering – a post-divorce Rosie the Riveter with a cordless screwdriver and yoga pants.
This new identity was 20 years in the making. As a young bride, I agreed when my husband insisted on managing two household chores – doing the laundry and paying the bills. He had a business accounting diploma, while I barely squeaked by high school math, so it was a no-brainer to let him handle the finances while I brought in a second income, raised the kids and cared for our home.
Everything we bought was a joint purchase, but who am I kidding? He did the negotiating, chose the investments and made the payments. While my signature dutifully appeared alongside his on bank and insurance documents, I was basically a silent partner because I chose to be. Aside from handling all of our household finances, he also did the bookkeeping for my business while I concentrated on working for my clients.
When the marriage went bust, one of my first panic-stricken thoughts was, “Oh great. Now I have to learn to do all the banking.” In all those years, the only financial transactions I concerned myself with was what came out of the ATM – now here I was, about to climb not one, but two very steep learning curves. Aside from inadvertently moving cash out of one account instead of into it and miscalculating a business expense or two, I did pretty well on my own. The bills got paid on time, I set up some new savings for me and the kids and still managed to have money left over at the end of the month.
It was the beginning of a long list of things I’d never done but unexpectedly had to learn to do, do well and do fast. My ex had not been terribly handy around the house, but all the same I’d never lit a gas grill or the pilot light in our fireplace, never taken the car in for an oil change or had to troubleshoot a wonky wifi connection. But thanks to Google and my father’s saintly guidance, I picked up those skills and more.
Soon, I was mowing the lawn and cleaning the grease trap under the barbecue without breaking a sweat. I changed a burned-out tail light and reset a breaker. I put together furniture. I trapped and released a gypsy moth the size of a Mini Cooper that flapped its way into our house one night. I fixed the loose toilet seat and a leaky faucet. And not only did I replace a hot water tank, but a roof (both requiring professionals, but I chose the contractors and more importantly, paid for it all).
No, I didn’t miss having a husband around to do these things. But I did miss having someone to take notice and say, “Hey, you’re doing a great job handling all of this. I’m proud of you.”
And then someone did take notice. I met my partner and 17 months later, he moved in. Suddenly, I had to put the brakes on doing everything I’d learned to do by myself and somehow let a man back in to help.
I bet Rosie could’ve related to the predicament. You’re obliged to step up and learn decidedly unfamiliar, un-girly and un-fun duties in the middle of a crisis and then, once you finally get the hang of it all, you’re expected to relinquish those jobs when the menfolk return. It comes as a welcome relief at the same time it feels grossly unfair.
Women are genetically programmed to multitask; we do what we can to the best of our abilities, which means we’re accustomed to carrying most of the workload. That’s why I get irked when pseudo-psychologists say things like, “If you want a man to take the lead in a relationship, do less. Instead of making it easy for him by doing too much, relax back into your feminine and allow yourself to receive.”
Ugh. If we girls just sat back and “allowed ourselves to receive” we’d be waiting around a long damn time for some stuff to get done. Not long ago, I nearly blew my stack when a friend said she was awaiting her husband’s return from a trip so that “he” could change a light bulb. Ridiculous! What if, God forbid, he never came home? Would all the light bulbs in their house gradually die off one by one, forcing her to live by candlelight the rest of her life?
Splitting household chores by traditional gender roles is, thankfully, an old-fashioned notion. I want my son to know how to wash his clothes as much as I want my daughter to know how to check her oil. I want them both to know they can Do. It. Themselves.
Essential life skills aside, I concede that it is important to allow your partner to contribute. But understand that once you’ve been let down and left hanging, it’s hard to allow yourself be vulnerable (more on that in a future post) again. I’m the first to admit that I can go to extremes, becoming a domestic Tasmanian devil caught up in my own cyclone of getting things done NOW instead of giving my partner an opportunity to pitch in. Fortunately, he speaks up when I need reminding that he’s glad to lend a hand and that he appreciates feeling needed around here too.
Usually that’s all it takes to get me to take a step back and allow someone else to clean the fish tank, wash the dishes, clear snow off the driveway or make lasagna for dinner. It doesn’t come easy for me, but I’m learning to let someone help lighten the load from time to time. I may be an alpha female, but once in a while it’s good to know I don’t always have to be the one to man up.