Some people would say that I have a non-traditional marriage. For our first few years, I was the major breadwinner. My husband does all of the cooking and grocery shopping. He does his own laundry; I do mine. And over the last 5 years we have lived apart almost as much as we have together. He just got back from a month-long writing retreat and is heading out again this evening to spend a weekend with running friends at Angeles Crest.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m a “very good wife” to let my husband do these things (referring not to the cooking or the laundry but to him being away). I suppose by one definition I am – I do think it’s important for spouses to support one another’s careers and interests, which, assuming one has one’s own career and/or interests, often means agreeing to be apart. But I often wonder if people who say that mean to imply that I actually have the power to grant permission one way or the other. Considering I do not want him to have that power over me, I hope that he doesn’t think I have it over him.
I perform some traditionally female tasks (like all the cleaning) but he actually does the emotional maintenance, checking in and pursuing dialogue about any and everything. I pay the bills. It works for us, this particular sharing of tasks, time, and space. Other things work for other people.
I often have a hard time imagining what the world looks like from inside marriages that are obviously so different from ours. But when I think about how much of a collaboration marriage is, and how collaborations are always different depending on the individuals collaborating, I realize that even people with marriages that look very similar to ours might actually be doing something very different. This infinite number of possible permutations affirms my belief that a marriage, a partnership between two people in love, could just as easily be between two men or two women as between a masculine woman like myself and a feminine man like my husband sometimes is. Gender is fluid like that, and biological sex is only one of many aspects that makes up gender identity. When I think about how much love and joy and adventure I get out of my marriage, I simply cannot imagine denying anyone the right to do that with the person they love because their marriage wouldn’t fit a traditional definition. By that criteria, my husband and I need not apply either.