When I first read this week’s Modern Love column, “Honey, Let’s Get a Little Divorced,” I admit to feeling a bit smug and self righteous. In the piece, author Rachel Zucker concludes that “I’m going to try to follow my version of the Zen admonition to live as if you have already died by trying to be married as if I had already been divorced.” Why should you have to pretend to be divorced in your mind to recover the autonomy and egalitarianism you possessed before diving into a serious relationship or marriage? Shouldn’t a partnership already value these traits?
In theory, yes. In practice, not so much. As much as I want my husband to take on more of the household tasks, part of me is reluctant to cede control, making me complicit in my own unhappiness. If I’m not the one to pay the bills, go grocery shopping, and pack my daughter’s lunch, then what is my role in this partnership? Oddly enough, contemplating this question jars me more than resenting my husband’s inattention to household stuff.
Since I’ve noticed that women tend to write more about the experience of marriage, I asked my husband to read Zucker’s piece. Here’s his thoughtful response:
It’s interesting, although I think the “let’s act divorced” is more of a device and a hook than something seriously considered. I say that because what she is really talking about, and does a good job of explaining, is that marriage tends to assign men and women roles that are customary — perhaps determined by culture or tradition — even today, when men and women earn roughly the same and both bring home the bacon. Mmm. Bacon.
Perhaps we are still adjusting to the changes in workplace demographics that have occurred so quickly over the last 20-50 years. Then again there also could be legitimate desires on both men and women’s parts to hold some of those customary roles. They gave definition to one’s place and mission in life, even as they were restrictive and stifling. Remember the movie with George Clooney [Up in the Air]? His job is to fire people, and he has an affair with that married women, although he doesn’t know she is married at the time? The themes in that movie were all about reversal of roles, and increasing anomie in the traditional male role. And the woman seems to be doing what men used to do when they felt constricted by their home life and needed to “feel alive”…have an affair. Complete with separating the worlds so that they would never collide.
The thing is these days we will never be able to go back to tradition. First, socially we have all moved past that. Second, financially we cannot afford to. Very few people would make enough money with only one income. So instead we need to adjust to a new world and find ways to make everyone happier while finding your own role. The responsibility for doing so has shifted more than ever to the individual, which can also be empowering. I think that is more or less her conclusion, as well.
I think I’ll make bacon for dinner tonight. Mmm. Bacon.
If a more egalitarian marriage means bacon for dinner, then I suppose I can step away from my more traditional role and embrace a brave, new marriage.