On Divorcing a Feminist

Trigger Warning for Unadulterated Bitterness

On a humid summer day, and old friend and sit in a restaurant balling our eyes out, tears streaming down into little bowls of wasabi, as our sushi sits untouched.  I have just told her my husband has asked for a separation.  It was not my feelings about losing him, however, that had us tearful for ten solid minutes as fellow patrons tried to be subtle about their gawking — it was my fears, and her empathy, about losing my kids.

You see, my friend and I have something in common.  We both went through infertility.  We both know how hard being a mother is, but we both know how it feels to fear you’ll never get to be one.  For months now I’ve lay awake at night thinking about what it will be like to someday lay alone in bed in my house knowing my kids are sleeping somewhere else.  And she can imagine all too well what that would feel like, especially after willing our kids into existence against every odd.

Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey, my husband sits with some friends over drinks talking over how good I’m going to have it after the divorce because I’ll still have him doing half the childcare.

Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey, my own family members laugh aloud about how I’m going to cook and clean for myself now that my “wife” is leaving me.

Marrying a feminist rules, but friends, let me tell you, divorcing a feminist sucks.

Marrying a feminist means a true parenting partnership.  Divorcing a feminist means losing half your access to your kids.

Marrying a feminist means it’s not the woman by default who does the most housekeeping.  Divorcing a feminist makes all too clear the sexist notions people had about your marriage.

A woman does more housework in a marriage and no one bats an eye.  A man does more, and the same people who are ready to erect a statue in his honor are quick to draw conclusions that his wife is lazy, incapable, ungrateful, etc.

No one stops to consider all the ways in which a relationship can be egalitarian, all the different types of work that go on in a household, and the many reasons why one person might end up doing certain work over another.

When I agreed to share childcare 50/50 with my husband I did so in the context of a family.  I wasn’t giving up time with my kids, I was gaining a partner, someone to parent with.  It never crossed my mind that when that partner would choose not to be my partner anymore, parenting together would morph into parenting half the time.

Having a fully capable, fully involved parent in your bed with you at night in case a child gets sick or is upset, is not the same as sending your young child to a strange home without you.  Both of these situations could be called egalitarian, but they are far from the same.

Having time to yourself because you’ve made arrangements with your life partner and best friend to be with your children is not the same as having time to yourself because your children are with a man who prefers to build a life with someone else.  That person’s investment in you, in respecting your wishes, in your general well-being, is never going to be the same.  And your ability to really know him and trust his motives will never be either.

So I’m not just losing a husband and best friend.  I’m losing the family structure that I chose for my kids, and the parenting structure that I chose for myself when I decided to have them.  I know I’m not losing my kids, but I am losing time and access to them.  I’m losing the ability to know who they are with and how those people are treating them, to know what they’re being fed, what substances they are coming into contact with in the their environment, what types of experiences they are having, and what the little expressions on their faces will be when they have those experiences.  It’s missing out on first-times, kissing boo-boos, comforting them, and even knowing comfort was needed.

I don’t say any of this to denigrate my ex-husband as a parent.  He is an incredible parent.  But I didn’t spend three months on bed rest willing my precious O and J to survive so I could miss those things.  And I didn’t make the choice to parent with someone who isn’t invested in me as a life partner.  I guess this is all just part of the terror of parenting, because however we conceive our kids, whether with a partner, a donor, through adoption, a gestational carrier, etc., we don’t ever have complete control.  There are governmental forces, legal forces and unknowns about our child’s other parent(s) that we will never have complete control over.

The truth is I have no more control now that I did in that bed wishing to god my cervix would stay closed long enough.  But that was random, and this doesn’t feel quite so random.  This feels like a betrayal.  It feels like a betrayal of my trust in the person I chose to parent with, because for me, I wouldn’t have chosen to do it alone.

Marry a feminist and you can look forward to a cushy lifestyle of reasonable contributions by your partner to childcare and housekeeping – lofty contributions nearing 50% – which far exceed the average in which women still do twice as much.  But beware.  Every single thing that male does will stick out like a sore thumb to everyone in your vicinity, including him, and the things you do will be as invisible and undervalued as women’s work always has been.  You will know your relationship is 50/50, but someday you may realize that no one else sees it that way.  Because a woman with an egalitarian spouse looks oddly similar in a lot of people’s eyes to a woman lounging in a pool sipping a tropical cocktail, and parenting 50/50 in a marriage can suddenly morph into only getting to parent 50% of the time.

Feminist, if you want my completely jaded, absolutely colored by bitterness and anger, totally situationally-bound, and thoroughly inappropriate opinion… don’t marry a feminist!  Better yet, don’t marry anyone.  Keep your bank account to yourself.  Keep your kids close.  And ladies, if you have to partner with a feminist, for god’s sake, make it a woman!

Copyright 2013, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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I Was “Leaning Out” of My Career Before it Even Began

Why was I sacrificing for motherhood before I even decided I wanted children?

After working his ass off to land a job in “big law,” my husband left his firm after less than two years.  He explained to a dumbfounded male partner that he felt he could not avail himself of the options open to female employees to improve work/family balance.  The partner merely agreed that as a male, doing so would make it impossible to have a future at the firm.

Our infant twins were around six months old when Seth concluded that in order to be the involved, egalitarian dad we both wanted him to be, he was going to have to “lean out” of his career, and “lean in” at home.  This Times piece suggests men must “lean in” at home in order for women to be able to take Sheryl Sandberg’s now famous advice to “lean in” at work.  Indeed, Seth needed to make changes to his career so that mine could continue.

Seth and I were both angered and shocked at the workplace barriers that existed for him.  Taking a 70% schedule, as many of the successful women in his office had, would have meant career suicide.  Instead, he made the choice to leave “big law” all together, in favor of a job where he would still work extremely hard, but have more control over his hours.  Along with this came a massive pay cut of almost 1/2 his salary.

As Rampell point out in the Times piece, parental leave options are dreadful in the US.  But if those options that are available are, either systemically, or culturally, not options for men, that essentially forces women to “lean out” of the work world, while preventing men from “leaning in” at home.

Continue Reading HERE at RoleReboot.org.

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How Queer Saved My Soul From Motherhood’s Closet

Seth has been amazingly supportive since I came out as Pansexual last fall.  It wasn’t a shock by any means.  He knew I was attracted to women.  But now I was asking him to embrace an identity I hadn’t really had when he married me, and he did.  He keeps asking me the same question though… why now?  What about having kids created this impulse to embrace a queer identity?

All I knew was the possibility of being queer no longer felt like an intellectual exercise, but a necessity.  I wondered if it could be hormonal.  My attraction to women felt stronger than ever, could this be some kind of bisexual hormone surge?  But that didn’t feel right, because my need to identify as queer was about so much more than just finding women sexy.  The truth was, that need did grow out of the mommy role.  It grew out of months of feeling isolated and lonely, attempting to connect with other moms, but feeling thoroughly unsatisfied and unseen.  For the first time in my life, passing as straight felt like being invisible.

When I got “married,” in some ways we had a rather queer wedding.  We called it a partnership ceremony, took communal vows which included working toward marriage equality and creating an egalitarian family which celebrated diversity.  I kept my name.  We eliminated anything gendered from the ceremony, as well as from the marriage itself, setting up the structure of our relationship based on other aspects of who we were.  I never felt erased or closeted by my marriage, because I never felt forced into a hetero-normative, un-feminist role when I became a wife.

In fact, during my marriage I actually became more fully who I was.  I felt the safety and stability which allowed me to explore my sexuality and sexual orientation.  I was able to be open with Seth, and felt truly known by him.  During the years between marriage and becoming a mother, I was getting my doctorate in psychology, a role which fit my sense of myself as an independent, ambitious, intellectually curious woman.

Before graduate school there was a period of years when I waitressed for extra money.  I can remember feeling utterly invisible, seen by most patrons as uneducated, with nothing to offer other than serving their food, and in some cases, being a sex object.  But I have never felt more erased than when I became a mother.  When people look at me, they see everything society ascribes to a mother, and erase everything it doesn’t.  Intellect, erased.  Sexuality, erased.  Curiosity, ambition, creativity, desire, activism, politics, raunchiness, erased.  The creepiest part was the distinct feeling of suddenly becoming asexual in the eyes of the world.  But I could deal with society labeling me, rendering most of me invisible.  I could even deal with relatives and friends who ignored me as if only my babies existed.  I could understand that, my babies were, in fact, quite captivating.

Pride Onesies for the twins!

What I couldn’t deal with was trying to fit myself, a square peg, into the round hole of mommy culture.  I saw other moms not only accepting this invisibility, but imposing it on themselves.  I’ll never forget a mom who had been an accomplished professional before having children advising me to make sure I left the house sometimes because she waited three years to leave her children alone with her husband, and he wasn’t comfortable with them now.  All these smart, educated, skilled women seemed unable to connect around anything other than babies.  It was as if they were trying to convince each other that yes, in fact, those other parts of their identities had been neutralized.  I felt so lost, so unseen, so different after these gatherings, that I was left asking myself… what am I?

I have always been queer.  Even before I was sure my sexual orientation wasn’t straight, I was queer.  I was queer when I stood up to my misogynist father when my mother wouldn’t.  I was queer when I devoted myself to studying gender and identity, and became an activist against discrimination and in favor of human rights.  I was queer when I created relationships that didn’t fit neatly into platonic or romantic, straight or gay categories.  I was queer when I met and fell in love with a man, and we created a nontraditional, egalitarian marriage.   I was queer when I spoke up and spoke out in situations where other women were unwilling or unable… when I allowed myself as a woman to be competitive and ambitious.  Yes, I was queer when realized I was attracted enough to women to no longer consider myself straight.  But I have never been as queer as I am as a mom.   I have never had to be.

I am a mother.  I am a loving, devoted mother who has moments of sheer bone-shaking, organ-trembling terror, like any mother, at the thought of harm coming to her babes.  But I am so much more than that.  And I am different.  Not just because I like girls, but because I don’t accept the role society tells me to take on as a mother.  Queer is not just a sexual orientation.  It is not just about one part of one’s life.  It is a perspective, a stance, a refusal to fill the role society dictates, and an insistence on being who we truly are.  Just as I got married, but did it the way that felt right to me, and just as I am a woman in the way that feels right to me, I have to do mommy my way.  And I am going to need every piece of my soul for this one.  The mommy juggernaut is just too powerful.  I can no longer afford to be quietly queer.  I am banging down the door of motherhood’s closet.  This is my coming out party.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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Math is Not Enough – Negotiating Egalitarian Marriages and Partnerships

I recently received an email from a reader asking how Seth and I negotiate finances in our marriage.  Conflict over finances and division of labor is rampant in marriages and partnerships, whether traditional or egalitarian.  In traditional marriages where roles may be clearer, with men laboring outside the home, and women inside, conflicts may still arise about how to spend money and who controls it.  If roles are reversed, the same dynamics can still appear.  For example, a stay-at-home dad talks about how he found himself going out of his way to sexually please his high-earning wife to gain power over financial decisions in this post on Role Reboot.  Conflict can also arise when partners disagree about how traditional or egalitarian their marriage should be, essentially a question of how power will be negotiated.

In egalitarian marriage, there is a commitment to equalizing power.  This inherently asks more of partners in the way of negotiation.  If power imbalances exist, we are called on the rectify them, rather than accept that as “just the way it is.”  The main power dynamics in traditional, heterosexual marriages relate to gender.  Thus, in egalitarian marriage, we equalize power by giving gender less weight.  Firstly, this means power is not given out or assumed based on gender (traditionally on being male).  Further, the value of labor is also not dictated by gender.  Traditional “women’s work” has historically been devalued.  Additionally, women do not earn the same pay as men for the same labor outside the home.  As a result of these societal realities, to be truly egalitarian, the value of labor must be separated from its monetary value.  Thus, our value in the relationship is not earned, it is inherent in us as people and independent of our earning potential.

Egalitarian father Seth, holding O's hand

Secondly, in egalitarian marriages, decisions about how to structure division of labor in families are made based on criteria other than gender.  For example, a question may arise about who will do the dishes after dinner.  A traditional way to solve this problem would be concluding doing dishes is woman’s work.  An egalitarian way to solve it could be to base it on who cooked dinner, who washes dishes more efficiently, who has time on a given night, or deciding to take turns no matter what else is going on.  You can see where the answer might be clearer when based on gender.  Gay couples do not have the option of dividing labor based on gender and thus are sometimes more well versed in  division of labor negotiations.

Often it is tempting to assume in egalitarian marriages “everything is equal” so there are no power dynamics.  But, power imbalances and negotiations occur in all human relationships.  Egalitarianism requires constant negotiation.  It is not a pronouncement made at the beginning of a relationship that holds true for all time, it is a guiding principal that informs our continual interplay with our partners.  I frequently see couples attempting to “balance” power in marriages and relationships with math.  For example, couples will calculate who spends more hours working, who does a greater number of household tasks, who spends more time at childcare, who brings in or spends more money, or who feels like the most shit at the end of day (okay, that one is less mathematical).

These mathematical negotiations can sometimes give us a global idea of how equal things are.  For example, Seth works full-time and I work part-time and am home with children part-time.  When counting childcare as work (as any sane person should), Seth and I both work approximately 12 hour days five days a week.  We split childcare on weekends (not with any kind of mathematical formula, it just works out that way).  Obviously, working full-time, he makes more money than I do, but I provide childcare which enables him to leave the home and work.  Seth and I don’t plan out our schedule so that we both work the exact same number of hours, but doing this math gives a rough estimate of basic equality of workload.  However, there is way more to equality than this kind of math can quantify.

Seth's creations for a dinner party

Our finances are completely combined, which is ironic, and a little frightening, as I swore for years to never mix my money together with a man’s.  Before marrying, Seth and I had a plan to pool our earnings together, no matter how different, make all necessary monthly payments, and then split the remainder into two separate accounts.  This would be “our own money” with which we could do what we pleased.  This plan was egalitarian in that the power to make financial decisions was not based on level of earnings or the type of labor each partner would be doing.  When this plan was made, however, Seth and I were living in a magical fantasyland where people have extra money at the end of the month.  One major thing we didn’t anticipate was that shortly after having children, Seth would leave a job at which he was miserable, for one that paid almost half as much, but affords him greater happiness and more time with our precious babies.

This experience is a great example of continued negotiation.  We make a plan for division of labor and finances, than we tweak it and tweak it, and sometimes throw it out and start all over.  From what I’ve seen, in most marriages, one or often both partners feel they are doing more than their share.  Math calculations meant to “prove” who is doing more often fail to take into account critical aspects of true equality.

Aspects of equality that can’t be measured by math and should be part of division of labor negotiations:

1)       Strengths, Weaknesses, and Limitations – People are wired differently.  My husband simply has more energy than I do (or than most anyone does).  He keeps going and going, like the energizer bunny.  Asking him to do less tasks just to make things exactly even is a waste of family resources, and expecting me to become more like him is unrealistic and unfair.  There are also times in our lives when for whatever reason, we are capable of more or less.  Emotional and medical crises or ongoing conditions may require us to take on significantly more than a partner.  Unless these situations are deal-breakers for our relationship, they need to be taken into account when dividing labor.  Equality does not mean equally capable at all times, it means equally contributing to the extent one is able.  Yes, egalitarian marriage is a little like socialism.

2)      Happiness – A related concept.  If everything seems “equal” according to math, but one partner is horribly miserable, things may need to shift.  Equality must take into account a balance in overall happiness, including ability to pursue life passions, career satisfaction, personal and spiritual fulfillment, etc.  For example, one partner may take a less appealing job that pays more so the other who has been miserable in his job for years can go back to school.  Supposed “equality” can really suck if one’s partner is miserable!

3)      Emotional Toll – Some labor is more emotionally gruelling , and thus takes a toll on the body, mind, and heart in ways that cannot be quantified by time.  An hour spent consoling a screaming child, talking a suicidal patient into voluntary commitment, sitting by the bedside of a dying parent, or taking a critical deposition of a hostile witness really can’t be mathematically compared to an hour spent entering benign data into a database, writing a brief, monitoring children playing harmlessly, or creating an architectural design.

In general, childcare is extremely emotionally taxing, and care of one’s own children is emotionally taxing in ways our culture fails to grasp even at a basic level.  Inner turmoil and guilt surrounding natural ambivalent feelings about our children can tax us to the extreme.  These feelings are particularly culturally forbidden for mothers, and may be worsened for mothers who make the choice to practice equal parenting.  Additionally, mothers do not receive the positive validation men do for childcare.  On the other hand, men who engage in frequent childcare must face the emotional toll of being perceived as gender variant, as well as not performing their culturally sanctioned roll as “provider.”  Many of us experience the effects of these feelings but are unable to articulate them to ourselves or our partners.  Emotional work, whether in or outside the home, requires extra time off to process, decompress, unwind, and care for ourselves.

4)      Physical Toll – Some work is also more physically grueling than others.  Again, garbage collecting, landscaping, and repeatedly carrying 20 pound twins cannot really be compared to sitting at a desk or in meetings most of the day.  An hour at a physically grueling job may take a greater toll and require more time to recover physically.

5)      Personal Preferences and Quirks –  Ahhhh… the downfall of many a well-meaning egalitarian couple!  There are levels of necessity for both household labor (including childcare) and work outside the home.  For example, feeding children is a life-or-death task.  Sweeping the floor can be put off for a time, but eventually has to be done.  You could probably get away with never folding sheets, although most people would typically want this to be done.  Waxing furniture is a task that could be seen as totally unnecessary.  Partners will have different opinions about which tasks should be prioritized and how much.  For example, if one partner cannot leave the house unless the sink is empty of dishes, that person may end up doing more than “his share” because he has this requirement.  The less necessary the task, the less weight it should be given in the division of labor.

Many people require their homes to be neat and clean in a way that goes well beyond safety, cleanliness and even basic aesthetic desirability.  These people cannot really expect their partners to do half of that work if they don’t see it as necessary.  Further, some people are workaholics and do way more work at their jobs than is necessary.  If this fills some need for them or is just part of their personality, they can’t really expect their spouse to rise to the same level of workload when it isn’t necessary.  Some people view cooking as a hobby, or find cleaning soothing and relaxing.  These tasks should be given less weight when compared to onerous chores.  In general, if a partner has preferences or quirks that require unnecessary work to be done, the other partner cannot be expected to fully reciprocate that.

6)      Division of Labor Equalizes Over Time, Not at a Given Time – Calculations meant to assess division of labor at a given point in time in the life of a relationship cannot possibly take into account inevitable ebbs and flows.  While one partner is engaged in an artistic, educational, or vocational pursuit that is all-consuming, the other may take on a greater share of household and childcare labor or financial burden.  Several years later, the other partner’s goals may be prioritized.

7)      Career and Earning Potential Losses – Partners who spend time at household labor and childcare inevitably make career sacrifices.  For example, I am progressing in my career slowly right now because I am doing more childcare and working part-time.  To look at it pragmatically, if Seth and I were to break up, I would have incurred vulnerability in terms of my earning potential and be less advanced in my career.  Things like missed promotions, earnings one could have made, research that could have been published, and books unwritten are impossible to mathematically quantify.  I often hear partners complaining that their partner is not contributing financially, but I rarely hear those partners recognizing the sacrifices their partner is making by “not contributing financially.”

8)      Normalizing Overload – This is a big one!  Many people assume that is they are completely overtaxed, their partner must not be doing his/her share.  The fact that one or more partners feel completely maxed out and almost at the brink of collapse does not necessarily imply inequality, at least not within the couple!  This is especially true if a couple has young children, needy aging parents or other crises going on in their lives.  The truth is two people can feel taken advantage of and miserable and the reality can just be their lives are equally sucky at that time.  Taking feeling overwhelmed as a sign your relationship is inequitable can unnecessarily add marital problems to your long list of stresses.  I personally believe family life structured around one isolated couple and their children is quite unrealistic and leaves us all overburdened, especially when combined with economic inequalities and lack of social supports for families, but that is another post or twelve.

9)      Sometimes Equality Requires Outside Help – There are times when in order to reach equality, not just based on math, but based on the criteria above, outside help is needed.  For example, let’s say Amy and Sue are a lesbian couple.  Amy is extremely high energy and ambitious.  She works 80 hours a week at a hedge fund.  Sue stays at home with their toddler, and is pregnant with their second child.  If Sue has a typical energy level, it may not be realistic for her to do childcare almost all the children’s waking hours while Amy works.  Even though Amy is the one contributing financially, Sue may need at least part-time help to stay sane and remain the person Amy married.  In my opinion, getting a bi-monthly house-cleaning service is the single most cost-effective way to lessen the labor load in a household.

10)  Respect and Basic Fairness versus Mathematical Debate – If discussions and negotiations of division of labor respect both partners, allow both to be heard, and focus on compromise they are likely to be more successful.  Negotiations based on proving one has been wronged or putting down the other partner’s contributions are doomed to fail.  Partners who feel criticized, blamed, and underappreciated are unlikely to agree to compromises that make the other partner feel things are more equitable.  We need to be able to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and truly empathize with what their labor is like in order to respectfully negotiate.

So how do you know if things are “equal” then?  There is no mathematical equation that will spit out what each partner is “worth” in terms of productivity level in a family’s division of labor.  The most important thing is to remember how much your partner is worth to you.  If you are with the right person, your partner is priceless, so his or her happiness  is of the highest value.  Maintaining an egalitarian marriage in an emotional, not a mathematical calculation.  Ultimately we must ask ourselves if there is basic fairness in our relationship, and if there is, avoid making our partner the enemy.  Focus negotiations on solutions rather than blame and accusations.  If basic fairness is lacking, that may signal that partners don’t agree on a foundation of egalitarianism.




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Marriage and Compulsory Monogamy – Are We Making Informed Choices?

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Originally Posted on RoleReboot.org.

What’s the best way to predict if a couple will get married?  Find out how many of their friends have!  In many social groups, once one or two friends marry the rest will drop like flies.  So is marriage merely a form of peer pressure?  Do we all want to avoid being the last single person left standing?   If so, are we really getting married for the right reasons?

Between the ages of 28 and 32, I felt like I was attending one wedding per weekend.  As someone who had always viewed marriage with skepticism, it was only when I found a truly egalitarian partner that I considered getting married for the first time.  Seth and I viewed our “un-wedding” partnership ceremony as a form of resistance to peer pressure.  But despite our insistence on expressing our feminist values, honoring those who did not share the privilege of legal marriage, and refusing to engage with the wedding industrial complex, we were still thinking relatively inside the box.  We were still making a heterosexual, legally-sanctioned, long-term partnership with an assumption of monogamy.

One of my best friends is getting hitched next month.   Almost five years after my wedding, as I support her through her journey to marriage, I’m seriously wondering if my own is going to make it.  After a stressful infertility experience and fifteen months raising twins together, my relationship is in its toughest period yet.  I’ve never had a “that won’t happen to me” attitude about divorce.  Being a therapist, I understand how tough the dynamics of couples’ relationships can be to navigate.  I always felt that even trying as hard as I knew I would, it could, indeed, be me.  What I didn’t know was what it would feel like to try that hard and have to face the possibility that it might not be enough.  I didn’t understand that I could still be so in love with my husband, still see him as an amazing partner, and yet wonder if it’s possible for us both to get our needs met while raising children, managing careers, and constantly evolving as individuals.

I’ve realized that most of Seth’s and my exposure back then was to the beginning of a marriage.  For our parents, the reasons for marrying, the life-stage they were in when it happened, and the ways in which they negotiated their relationships were so foreign, it was easy to write-off those marriages as having nothing to do with ours.   We really didn’t have much interaction with people who’d been married longer, were divorced, were single by choice, or who were in non-marital relationship structures, either monogamous or polyamorous.  We understood that our gay and lesbian friends weren’t focused on marriage, but our response was outrage that they could not marry, rather than questioning whether matrimony was or should be everyone’s ideal.  I can only imagine how alienating that time period was for many of my queer friends.

That lack of exposure led our social circle to a kind of groupthink about marriage – an assumption that even though it would be hard, it would be worth it.  I even found myself about a year ago proclaiming the benefits of marriage to a friend who was thinking more critically about whether to marry.  My argument included the ways in which the cultural meaning of marriage and the social support marriage engendered had deepened and strengthened my relationship.  But cultural acceptance makes a lot of other paths—paths that I have rejected—easier, too.  What about encouraging more social support for other relationship structures?  Were the positive feelings I attributed to marriage merely evidence that I, who once saw marriage an oppressive, patriarchal institution, had caved to the peer pressure?  Was I basking in the glow of doing the popular thing, rather than in the glow of marriage itself?

Even if those around us don’t actively pressure us to follow their paths, a lack of other models creates a tendency to default to what others have done.  I have seen that kind of “default” at play as, on an almost daily basis, ultrasound pictures appear on Facebook.  Can they all really making a fully conscious choice to raise families, I ask myself?   At the same time, I’ve watched the rare friends who have chosen not to have children feel alienated and misunderstood.   Resisting peer pressure can be painful, but not resisting it can be as well.  This year Seth and I felt like our own family was being torn apart as our “couple best friends” divorced.  Just like marriage, divorce can spread through social groups as unhappy couples see others finding a way out and exploring new lives outside their relationships.  Other challenges to traditional notions of marriage can also spread through social groups such as exploring queer identity, kink lifestyles, and/or polyamory.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t come to the place where we are ready to consider all of our options until we have the big, socially sanctioned life choices like marriage and children under our belts.

If I could talk to myself back then, before the marriage juggernaut came barreling towards us, I wouldn’t necessarily tell myself not to get married.  I would, however, ask myself whether when I decided I could be a married feminist, I was still defaulting to a hetero-normative, monogamous lifestyle, rather than making a more conscious, more intentional choice.   I would want Seth and me to at least consider a long-term, non-married partnership.  I would want us to talk about whether two adults in a marriage really is the best approach to both relationship and family structure.  There are times when it feels like both my marriage and child-rearing would be more manageable with more adults involved.  I wish someone had warned me that when the terror of spending life alone is not drowning them out, our desires to explore our own sexuality can become louder.  We can suddenly feel unhappy with our level of sexual experience, find out we are a lot queerer than we thought, or that we are not sexually compatible with our partner.  In all marriages, we inevitably realize there are things our partners can’t provide us, and have to reconcile either getting those needs met elsewhere or going without.

Can we ever really fully understand our vows when we make them?

Many couples discuss whether they will have children, what religion they will practice, and how they will handle finances before marrying.  But, few discuss how they will keep their sex lives exciting, how they would handle it if their marriage became mixed orientation, or whether polyamory or an open relationship might be an option.  Seth and I thought we were thinking outside the box, but we didn’t realize that there were other boxes.  Ironically, marriage often provides the stability and safety for us to explore ourselves more fully.  For some, this can deepen the marital relationship, but for others it can lead to the realization that the partner they are with is no longer the right one.  These are the things they don’t tell you in the bridal magazines, or talk about at all those wedding showers.  How many romantic comedies end with the female lead realizing that, while her husband is really good in bed and a great father, he’s not emotionally available enough?

The peer pressure to marry doesn’t necessarily suggest a problem with marriage itself, but a lack of other cultural models.  This results in a lot of people choosing marital and family structures by default rather than by intention – a kind of compulsory monogamy.  If I were advising young adults today, I would tell them to seek out people who have set up their relationships and lives in a variety of ways, including traditional monogamous marriage.  I would tell them to pursue diverse sexual experiences and explore their sexual orientations before committing to monogamy, or consider relationship structures in which continued exploration could be on the table.  I would tell them that marriage is hard–incredibly hard.  But, I would have to add that the best things in life inevitably are.  I don’t regret getting married, but as I make the decision each day to remain married, I believe I’m doing it with greater and greater intention as I glance down more of the roads not taken and realize what it is I’ve actually chosen, and what I’ve given up.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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Out of Which Closet? (My Husband Does Do That Part 3)

Not my mom.  So who am I then?   Or should I say what am I?  Sometimes my husband and I feel like we are different, gay perhaps, or maybe queer?  Is there more to being gay than the sexual preference part?  Where is the line between gender and sexual orientation?

I love and have sex with a man, but I don’t feel straight.  Women are sexy too.  I think I’d love being with a woman, but I can’t say I’d prefer it to a man.  But I also feel like there’s more to my not feeling straight than that, so calling myself bi doesn’t feel right either.

Perhaps it goes back to not believing in gender as most people see it.  Labels of gay and straight necessarily imply hard lines between male and female.  To define one’s sexuality by “who” or “which” one is attracted to, one must buy into the concept that there are clear males and clear females.

What about those who do not fit neatly into those categories?   Did you know there are roughly as many intersex people as there are Jews?  That’s a sizable portion of the population, and it doesn’t even begin to cover those along the transgender spectrum!

I went to a talk once where I was introduced to the term “omnisexual,” meaning attracted to basically anyone, because you reject the notion of dichotomized gender roles.  Is that what I am?

How does one “come out” as omnisexual, pansexual, genderqueer?  And does one have to look the part?  I surely don’t.  And what about the other aspects of my lifestyle?

My husband and I don’t live as male and female the way most people seem to.  We don’t organize our lives around gender… at all.  None of the daily tasks we do, the way we raise our kids, the way we organize work in and outside the home, the way we relate to each other, the power structure in our relationship, none of it is based on the fact that he’s a man and I’m a woman.

I often feel like this is my dirty little secret.  I don’t know how to talk about it.  There’s no word for it.  I don’t know how to find others like me.  This must be how it feels to be gay before one realizes there’s a concept for “it.”  How amazing would it be to be able to go to a bar or a website where everyone is, well, whatever I am?

It always amazes me that so many people seem to exist on the earth who fit into already existing categories.  There’s another “man” who “has sex with men,” must be a “gay man.”  Hell, there’s even a category for people who like animals!

What about the spaces between the categories?  What about new categories?  Isn’t our desire really way more complicated and varied than the available labels we have?  Where’s my category?  I want to come out, but I can’t figure out which closet I’m in!

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My Husband Does Do That Part 2 (Not My Mom Part 3)

In the early 1900s, pink was considered a color for boys.  Wikipedia quotes an article from a 1918 trade publication as saying; “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink.

Imagine seeing a boy baby dressed in pink?  Imagine dressing your baby boy in pink?  How can these things feel so wrong down to the fiber of our souls and yet be so completely and utterly culturally constructed and random?  But they are.

Despite my belief that gender roles are largely socially constructed, I do not practice what I preach.  I don’t live my life as an androgynous being.  Anyone who saw me would know I was a woman.  Not a girly girl, but also not a woman who is trying to make a statement about gender.  Just your average woman.

I don’t wear make-up or much jewelry, don’t do nail polish, refuse to spend more than five minutes doing my hair.  That said, I enjoy looking nice, and let’s be honest, part of that is looking my gender.  Unless I can somehow magically extract my own mind from its cultural context, I’m never going to look in the mirror at the long dark hair on my legs and think –  I look so beautifully natural, time to go out for a night on the town. 

I try to strike a balance in which I can feel good about myself in the real world, but don’t allow myself to be convinced that I have to mutilate myself, go through painful procedures, put chemicals on my face, take drugs or pills, or buy expensive hair and skin products (again filled with chemicals) to feel like a woman.

I guess you could say that balance is also reflected in my choice of mate.  While Seth also looks like a man, his gender role is quite flexible.

Seth doesn’t have a macho bone in his body.  I know more about sports than he does, and that’s not saying much.

He doesn’t talk shit about women or make nasty jokes or brag about sexual conquests (no really, I’m certain).

He is 100% comfortable with homosexuality.

He is wonderfully domestic.  He is a better cook than I am, does more housework than I do, and he is every bit as competent with our infants as I.

I’ll never forget the first time my husband and I had my Dad and step-mom over for dinner.  Seth cooked so I could talk to my family.  My Dad was utterly perplexed.  He just sat there stupefied, unable to understand what was going on.

I had arrived… I was not my mom!

I often hear women complaining that their male partners don’t “help” enough with children, do housework, etc., but these same women don’t seem willing to be flexible in their own gender roles.  As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and lead nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the domains of children and home.  How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our entering the public sphere?

If you want a truly egalitarian life, don’t accept a partner who doesn’t, and don’t be fooled by the belief that there are no men out there with flexible gender roles.  You don’t have to swear off gender all together, but be willing to practice flexibility yourself.  Be the kind of person you want to find.

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