One of the peculiar aspects of the identity of many women seems to be a feeling of responsibility for everything in the lives of those closest to them. This feeling leads us to not only overlook failings of men in our lives, but to actually justify them and assume them as our own responsibility. While overlooking faults can sometimes be a great grace (or at least a coping mechanism!) it is not ideal. The highest form of love is one which sees the faults of the beloved and then continues to love. Such a great love first accepts reality and then offers the beloved appropriate help in pursuing the remedies within reach.
But most of the women in my life are very much like myself in their failure to love well because of their inability to honestly accept and confront the failures of others. If something is wrong, it must be my fault. If only I were better at this, then he never would have failed at that!
I do not have the resources to deal with the deep problems of abusive relationships and codependency, so I will stick with something concrete which is a bit less troubling in itself but distressingly pervasive. You know where this is going, right?
In a recent conversation with a few other young women the topic of housework came up after we asked one newly married woman how marriage was going. She replied with a simple “it is a lot of work!” and we all laughed, until we understood what she meant. The woman in question works full-time and then returns home to do all of the housework. Instead of doing her own laundry, cleaning up after herself, and heating up pre-made food or leftovers, she is now doing laundry for two, cleaning up after herself and a man who is home most of the day, and cooking a full meal each night. She said that she likes taking care of her husband, but she is absolutely exhausted.
This story is striking because it is absolutely clear that the husband in question is selfish and fails to love his wife half as much as he loves himself. But it is really only a slightly worse situation than that in which many women find themselves. Somehow there is this idea that women are responsible for the domestic work, no matter what their situation, and that if a man “helps out” it is exactly that–helping with something which is viewed as the woman’s problem.
If a woman is a student and a man works full-time everyone knows that she should do the vast majority of the domestic work. After all, her schedule is flexible! But if a woman works full-time and her husband is a student everyone knows that she is still responsible for most of the housework because he is busy with school! And we know that school is so much more demanding than an easy 40-hour work week.
The problem is even worse when children are added to the mix. Even in the case where the woman is not employed outside the home, she is often expected to do far more work than the man. She may work at home all day cooking, cleaning, buying Christmas presents, and chasing toddlers while he works away from home. But somehow at 6:00pm when he comes home everyone expects that he will rest while she keeps on working. The old rhyme “a man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done” is suddenly not funny. It is a sad way of phrasing the reality that in many homes, the wife is viewed by both spouses as less worthy of love, care, and honor. At the end of a workday the husband clearly deserves a break, but not the wife. Even when the wife is pregnant and exhausted she is expected to feel particularly indebted to her husband for “helping” her with a little bit of the housework!
I am painfully aware of all of this because in my house er.. apartment, things have been reversed for the past few weeks. I have done virtually no housework. It is true that Josh works from home and it is easier for him to do some things (I can’t exactly toss in a load of laundry in between phone calls at work). But at the end of the day it is still the end of the day for both of us.
When Josh starts the day by washing out my water bottle, grinding flaxseed, and making a smoothie for me to take with me, and then makes himself lunch (while I am at Mass, and then maybe back at my desk on Twitter drinking the rest of my smoothie, but certainly not doing anything resembling cooking), and then both pulls together and cleans up from supper while I lie dazed on the floor… two things are clear. First, Josh loves me. Second, I don’t really love Josh.
Because love does not take advantage of another.
Love does not neglect obvious opportunities to make the beloved’s life easier.
Love does not continually take from another without seeking to give more in return.
Love does not allow sexism to justify selfishness.
Love does not leave dishes for another to do “because I’m too tired.”
Love does not wallow in obliviousness while housework is miraculously taken care of by another.
Expecting one’s spouse to do all of the “extra” work is an indication of a serious lack of love.
I told Josh about how clear it seems to me that certain men simply do not love their wives and asked him what reasons he could think of other than pure selfishness which explain this behavior. Josh responded that many men may simply not notice or think of housework as significant. I asked him what a wife should do in such a situation. His answer? Nag.
I don’t think that nagging is a particularly good solution most of the time (more on that in another post!) but I also realize that it is unloving to do nothing. If you passively allow another person to take advantage of you without honestly and lovingly addressing the situation, you fail to provide the space and support which they clearly need to mature into a mutually self-giving relationship, that is, Real Love. It is not enough to simply do more of the physical work in a relationship, real love requires that one be willing to occasionally pick up the slack in initiating work on the hidden issues.
Of course real love is not always possible. Not everyone cares enough about his or her spouse to be willing to work for love. Sometimes caring enough to address an issue means that one just gets burned by the glaring fact that one’s spouse does not love enough to work on resolving the problem. Sometimes the best one can do is to pick up the pieces and move on while nurturing the hope that someday somehow things will get better. Real life hurts, and sometimes love does as well.
And sometimes you get lucky and the one who is slacking off happens to have been socially programed to do housework. In that case you can get away with patiently waiting for a few weeks and then she will get her act together and return to love in the form of grocery shopping.
- Leather and Consistency
- I am thankful 12/12/2010