The first time my husband Nate met my best friend, she stared him down over a tiny table in the bar where we were playing pool and asked, “Are you a feminist?” I was embarrassed for about eight seconds before I realized these two dear, wise people agreed on this obvious criterion for dating me. Of course they did.
For a long time, he and I debated about whether to get married at all, unsure whether we wanted to participate in an institution built on the idea of women as property, and one that, at the time, only offered its legal and social benefits to people in heterosexual relationships. But for various reasons, most of them practical and some romantic, we decided to do it. Nine years later, we have two kids (a six-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son), our second house, a family business, lots of community and volunteer commitments, a sometimes-thriving social life, and deep connections to both of our extended families. All of this would have been possible without getting married. The legal contract of our relationship is just a small detail compared to the complex commitments we’ve made, built, and rebuilt together over the years. But it sure helps with taxes and health insurance.
One of the reasons to get married (at least for us) was to establish a household together. Taxes and health insurance are part of that, and so are dishes and laundry and yard work and holiday gatherings and bedtime rituals and shopping for toothpaste. In the world of dual-wage-earner households, high expectations of parental involvement, thriving and active elders, a clear need (for us and the world) for us to be civically and socially engaged, a household has a huge number of moving parts. Both of us often feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities and the sheer complexity of the everyday. And despite our deep commitment to equality in all things, we find ourselves operating out of unexamined and even unconscious assumptions about how all that domestic and emotional labor gets done.
We see families of all shapes and sizes all around us struggling with these same things. Resentment, guilt, and frustration about chores, family relationships, and the elusive, so-called “work-life balance” are so common that on some level, it hardly seems worth talking about them. It’s obvious without even looking at the (abundant and well-thought-out) studies that domestic equality has yet to be achieved in America, even in our liberal, middle-class college town, where lots of us have the resources and flexibility to make liberating choices. Nate and I want to be as intentional about our domestic tedium as we’ve been about the foundations of our relationship. We’ve made some big decisions that have built feminism into our lives, but we think there’s room for more progress, and we’re tired of feeling guilty and frustrated. So, we’re setting out to examine our patterns and assumptions, with the goal of creating a more perfect union — one that is based on our values, and on rational, transparent, mutual commitments about the ways we want our household to work.
There’s a definite tendency to curse softly under my breath when I start to think about how we can sort through all the stuff we do, talk about it, maybe organize it a little better, maybe even agree about some new-and-improved habits and systems. Nate and I both tend to be a little on the anxious side, and looking at the big picture can trigger big feelings. So instead of talking about All the Shit We Have to Do, we have given this work another name (with a big credit to our therapist, who’s always helping us reframe):
All The Things That Need To Happen For Our Rich, Full Lives to Go Well.
We’re not sure where this process will take us, but we’re going to document it here in hopes that it might be interesting to other families who are striving to create calmer and more equitable domestic arrangements. Wish us luck.