When Hubby and I were dating, we discovered that we had a couple of unusual things in common. One thing was that we both are allergic to penicillin. The other thing was that we both lost our same-sex parents when we were very young.
For Hubby, the ramifications of growing up without a father were mitigated by his uncles and older cousins. He grew up in Lebanon where traditional gender roles and tasks are still the norm. He did have to work in a bookstore run by one of his uncles; otherwise, his mom, grandma, and three sisters took care of everything else. As one of my friends put it, “Oh, he had staff.”
Couple that with the expectation that he would marry a nice Lebanese girl who would take over for the woman folk and you have someone launched into his post-college years who didn’t see the problem with throwing red polo shirts in with his white work shirts until it was too late and ate fast food every day.
Contrast that with me. I had the experience of a father whose heart disease pushed him into disability. And he had asthma and arthritis in his knees that was so bad that I could hear them grinding as he walked around the house or tried to get comfortable in his recliner. He did the cooking while sitting on a swiveling bar stool between the kitchen table and the stove. That worked, but anything involving stairs or getting down on the floor was out of the question. That’s why I ended up doing laundry, heavy lifting, and how I learned more about plumbing and electrical repairs than many other late elementary through high school girls did, ’70s Third Wave feminism or no.
This came in handy one night when a rubber union joint on the sump pump decided to rupture during a post-tornado power failure. Of course Hubby was in Michigan for another round of work on his mom’s house. I called. He told me to get the neighbor. As if I am going to wake said neighbor up when he has to be up at 4:30 AM. No. Tell me what to do. Turned on the flashlight, found the screwdriver and another union joint. Put him on speaker and he talked me through how to replace it. Once done we both went to sleep. I felt better knowing that the repair was done. Hubby was relieved but felt horrible about not being here to do it himself. It took a lot of reassuring that it just was what it was and it just needed to be done. Many things have nothing to do with a person’s gender, and that repair was one of them.
Ongoing negotiations of dividing domestic chores have lead to many colorful and interesting discussions, needless to say. However, somewhere along the line we split up the tasks of daily living according to who does it best. It might look a little more traditional than expected on the surface, but it’s just assigned by skill set. I cook because I’m better at it. Hubby deals with the cars because he’s better at it. I do laundry because I’m better at it. The yard work is kind of cooperative. He’s better at mowing and uses it as his moment of zen. I plant things. I am very good at making sure that the green side is above ground. So is Hubby, but he’s better at the maintenance side of things. And while I’m good at picking up on odd noises and smells while driving, he’s better at dealing with the care of the cars.
The big bone of contention is cleaning. He’s a lot better at it than I am but he doesn’t have time. I have time, but am not only bad at it but I hate it. I like the end product, but the journey I don’t need. His mother set impossibly high standards. We settle on me running the vacuum once a week or so and cleaning the common bathroom as needed. And wiping down counters in the kitchen. He mops the ceramic floors. Not frequently, but when he can. When we need to do a take apart cleaning such as when guests are expected, I step out of his way so he can practice his vocation and cook plenty of tasty food for him as a thank you. Once a month or so I run the vacuum upstairs. Otherwise, we’re each responsible for our personal spaces.
We have among our friends several couples where the woman does small house repairs and the man does the cooking. There is no problem whatsoever as long as it gets done.