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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Lyla Cicero… Feminist, Sexpert, Divorcee

All questions, no answers...

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”  George Bernard Shaw

I used to think life was about accumulating answers.  The more you learn about yourself and the world, the fewer questions you have and the more answers, right?  There have been stretches of my life (albeit short stretches) were I felt like I was racking up the answers – like I was closing off certain paths and possibilities and narrowing my focus to others.  For a few brief moments, I had this moderately stable, fairly typical identity.  Mother, wife, professional.  I was a happy, content, straight person.  I had answered enough questions that the big decisions were made, and it was time to settle in and “live.”

Lately, it feels like the opposite, however.  Lately, it feels like I’m accumulating questions instead of answers.  The answers I had before seem less and less relevant, and the questions are piling on with a vengeance.  I’m drowning in them.  I find myself re-opening old questions I thought were laid to rest, and wondering what I was thinking with the conclusions I drew in the past.  All this soul-searching leads me back to my faithful friend Q.  Q as in LGBTQ.  All this questioning makes me feel awfully queer.  When I try to put my finger on what happened since that brief moment of heteronormative stability, those are the words that come to mind.  Was I just too queer, is that why it didn’t take?

Then I revisit my other old friend Q – the “Questioning” Q.  I used to think of that label in very black and white terms.  Someone who was not sure of their sexual orientation or gender identity was “questioning.”   Now I wonder if questioning can be an orientation in and of itself.  Other people seem to get to that point where the major questions are answered and stay there.  Was I really too queer for contentment in my former life, or is it more that I’m just a questioner?   Perhaps I wasn’t so much queerer than other people, but just asked more questions.  Too many questions?

Am I the person who picks at a scab just because it’s there when others would just let it heal?   The truth is, Pandora’s Box is always there just outside our comfort zone, ready to render all our answers meaningless and dizzy us in a whirlwind of question-demons.  That box of questions is always there, straight, queer, heteronormative or otherwise.  It seems like most humans manage to ignore that thing, while I’ve just got to repeatedly fling it open just to see what comes out!

What happened to that relatively content straight person?  Was she ever really straight?  Was she ever really content?  Was she in some kind of denial?   Were all her answers woefully inadequate, or was she asking the wrong questions?  Was she choosing the path of least resistance, or was she following her truth at the time?  Why does a woman who had strongly considered, even desired a homosexual existence at twenty conclude she is irrevocably straight, then proceed to marry a closeted homosexual, only to open up the marriage  in order to date women, causing that closeted homosexual to realize he is gay and leave her?  So many questions.  Not an answer to be had.

So what was at the root of the anguish and rage of the last few months – of finding out I am going to lose my life partner because he is gay?  Was it the queer, or was it the questioning?   What it something I set in motion years ago or very recently, or was it an utterly random set of events that was always beyond my control?  Since Seth has come out and decided to leave our marriage, several people have suggested that if I had just left well enough alone, not had to pick at that scab, I’d still have a marriage, and a happy one at that.  There are probably plenty of blissfully ignorant women married to gay men who just left well enough alone, they suggest.  But what kind of existence would that be?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t so bad right about now, as I prepare for my kids’ dad to move out.

More questions – cause that’s the thing – we were happy.  At least I was.  And yet there’s this part of me that just can’t get on board with thinking there wouldn’t be something insidious about staying ignorantly content and never finding this version of ourselves.  It’s the part of me that just can’t leave that damned Pandora’s Box closed – that will probably go to my grave flinging it open letting all kinds of demons and fairies on the loose… letting myself loose… demons, fairies and all.  I may not know much about who I am, but I know this.  I am “Questioning,” and I probably always will be.  The things that feel settled and stable to other people just don’t to me.  The questions that feel long answered are always up for debate somewhere within my psyche.

Does my questioning nature make me happier, more self-aware, more authentic, or just miserable?  Perhaps all of the above.  Who can say.  That’s yet another question whose answer will never fully satisfy me.

Copyright 2013, 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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Maybe we are all Undercover (My Husband Does Do That, Part 1)

There were wonderful mommy play-date moments where I felt like, wow, they get it, and believe me, no one who doesn’t have twins gets having twins.

(Don’t tell me your one and two year olds are “just like twins!”  Don’t tell me you were “supposed to” have twins.  The fact that your aunt’s secretary’s dog lives in a house with twins does not make you get it!  You do not have twins!  Goodbye.)

But a lot of the time in the midst of such gatherings, I felt this ill, empty kind of feeling as though large chunks of my identity had left the building.

Of course I could relate to topics like getting your twins to sleep (please, for the love of God!), dealing with teething, when to start solids, etc.  They may not have been riveting, and yet, I found myself hanging on the every word of those more experienced mommies… until about 6 months rolled around and I started to have this nagging feeling that… this just isn’t all that complicated… and this nagging desire to, oh, I don’t know, talk about something other than our kids for the love of fuck!

This one night, I attended a twin mommy’s night out.  It was AT A BAR – swoon!  I was so excited, I thought, ok, now we’re actually going to get to know each other, the mommies will be loosened up, away from their babes, bring on the slightly inappropriate, sexually suggestive adult conversation.  FAIL.

I remember at one point wanting to stab myself with my fork when they moved off the topic of what’s the best minivan, to a lengthy discussion of how to find baby socks that fit right.  I actually lost the will to drink.  It’s then that I started looking around at these really quite lovely, but not very interesting moms, and realizing just how white, rich, and straight they really were.

There were many other play-date topics to which I couldn’t relate, my personal favorite being why our husbands suck (and let me assure you, some of these husbands really and truly did suck quite hard).

Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass.  Then again so can I.  Of course I fight with my spouse.  But the truth is, (hushed whisper) I like my husband.  He is a fantastic husband.

But okay, not everyone has the perfect marriage.   It was the gendered aspects of the husband complaints which eluded me most, husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching” the kids, not “letting them” buy jewelry, etc.  Really?  Am I living the in the 1950s twilight zone?

I was only willing to do marriage if it was going to be the same deal for my husband and me.  The traditional wife/mother role seemed like a much better deal for a potential husband than for me.  I guess it didn’t occur to me that others wouldn’t feel the same.

And who wants to be a total asshole and sit there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.  He’s a much better wife than I am. ”

Then again, am I really even there if I just sit and nod and sip my white wine?  I feel like I’m “passing” in a way. Not in a way that could be clearly labeled, but in a more subtle, and yet poignant way, I feel closeted

I long for the day when I can find a way to be out and proud, but I’m not even sure what to come out as.  There is no magic word for my lifestyle, or the collection of identity bits that make me up.  I find myself wondering if we are all really undercover, looking at each other from inside our closets thinking she’s just a little too normal.

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Sleeping with the Enemy (Not my Mother, Part I)

I got married for one reason.  I found someone I wanted to marry.  I didn’t decide I wanted to marry and then find a man.  In fact it just as easily could have been a woman… or no one at all.  And yet, here we are.  The relationship I am in is nothing of what I pictured when I envisioned marriage – probably because I was envisioning my parents’ marriage (shudder).

My parents’ marriage was not only traditional in terms of gender roles, it was abusive.  So for me, demanding to be treated as an equal wasn’t just a preference, it was a way to ensure I wouldn’t be a victim.

For a long time, when I thought about who I wanted to be, the answer was a resounding, “Not my mother!”  I utilized many strategies to accomplish this goal including pretending boys didn’t exist, wishing I could take a pill to make myself a lesbian, and repressing any and all sexual or desirous impulses and feelings.

Many expensive years of therapy later, I was ready for an experiment.  I had finally started dating, not seriously, just getting my feet wet.  Then I met this kind of vile guy.  He was arrogant and thought he was a huge stud.  We’ll call him Russell.  Let me provide some examples to illustrate his ridiculousness.

1) He lived in a filthy apartment with a kitchen where everything was covered in a layer of crust.  Pots lay on the stove with rotting month-old food.

2) He had the nerve to tell me my sink was “disgusting” and need to be cleaned.  (He was absolutely right, it was the double standard that got me.)

3) After staying over the night at his place, he failed to offer me any food or drink in the morning, but proceeded to make coffee for himself.  When I pointed this out, he sent me across the street to a convenience store.

4) He believed as the man, he should always drive.  (Uh, hell no).

5) This is the funniest one.  He did not believe in waiting longer than three dates to have sex.

This was the kind of person I had always feared, as though somehow his mere existence would turn me into my mother.  And yet I ventured courageously into his web of double standards and sheets that had gone way too long without being washed.

I did this to prove something to myself.  Russell wasn’t like some kind of disease that could be caught and turn me into someone else.  Dating him taught me that I didn’t have to hide away because my self-respect could be lost just by his presence…  I compromised some, and so did he.  I let him drive a lot of the time, but you can be damn sure he waited longer than three dates.  In fact, I would venture to say he learned something from all that waiting.  Most importantly, when it was over, and I always knew it would be (poor guy, I don’t think he realized it was merely an experiment) I was still me.

A few months later I met my husband.  On our third date I told him I never wanted to have a television in my house, that I could never wear a diamond engagement ring, and that I was only interested in raising children if my partner shared the childrearing 50/50.  Nothing I said seemed to scare him off.  He took me bowling with his sister and some friends.  His sister showed me her tattoos.  He lost miserably.  I had never seen a man so comfortable sucking at something.  He had a blast.  He let me drive.  On our third date I blurted out aggressively, “I’m not going to have sex with you.”  He told me I was presumptuous.  The rest is history.

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Undercover in the Suburbs

I never wanted to get married.  I never wanted children.  I was sure I could have a wonderfully succulent life without these instruments of the patriarchy, and I’m certain I could have.  Okay, in all honesty, I still thought boys were icky well into my twenties, so it was downright hard to envision marriage and children would ever happen to me anyway.  Thus while my feminist ideals were entirely sincere, they also helped me avoid being disappointed.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I walked into a clothing store in New York City and fell in love with a girly pink dress with just a teeny bit of lace trim around the bottom.  Instead of squelching my desire as I normally would to quell the inevitable cognitive dissonance attached to such urges, I walked out of there wearing the dress.  Screw the fact that I didn’t have the right shoes or bra to go with it, or anywhere fancy enough to wear it.  My mother had just died a few days before, and I was feeling a bit like a snow globe whose little white bits had gotten all shaken up, and it was yet unclear where they would land.  I wondered who I would be without my mom, who would I be if I wore this dress, who I would be with all these contradictory parts of me floating around in a little glass orb…  Was I suddenly just like all the other girly girls or a tomboy enjoying one aberrant evening in my new pink dress and sneakers?

So here I am seven years later, and my whole life feels like that dress.  Definitely what I wanted, but also not me.

This blog is about feeling like a radical and looking like a soccer mom.

This blog is about maintaining one’s creativity in a cookie cutter world, and being a smart girl at a time when everyone seems enamored with idiocy.

This blog is about feeling not quite conventional, a bit too eccentric, not straight enough, and way too feminist to hang with the other mommies, but not quite out there enough to take my kids and move to some kind of collectivist commune or join that lesbian separatist movement after all.

This blog is about being a mom of twins, as if I didn’t already feel like a freak!

This blog is about trying to live a holistic lifestyle without relocating to a giant bubble on the moon where no one has ever heard of McDonald’s.

This blog is a tribute to the love of my life, a true partner in every sense.

It is about sustaining an egalitarian marriage while systemic barriers force us into traditional roles.

This blog is my anthropologist notes from a culture that is both mine and yet deeply foreign.

This blog is my answer to such frequently asked questions as “Where’s your minivan?”

This blog is my study on whether to speak up and say my husband DOES do that, or just smile politely and pretend I’m also living in the 1950s.

It is about wanting and not wanting and trying to reconcile all the different parts of myself.

This blog is about acknowledging that I love my kids with a kind of passion like nothing I’ve never felt before, then admitting that the endless days of repetition are turning my brain into a pile of poo-poo, and that I skip out the door on my way to work.

This blog is about who I will be as wife and mother, and who I will be apart from a wife and mother.

This blog is my coming out party, and my attempt to figure out which closet I’m in anyway.

This blog is about waking up one day, undercover in the suburbs, trying to reclaim all those little pieces of myself, and watching to see where they will land.

Copyright 2011-2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com. All Rights Reserved.

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