I just read Vicki Larson’s article Why Do Women Lose Themselves in Marriage? on Huffington Post. The first comment, presumably by a man, was:
And married men never “give up” any “part of themselves.” Thanks for clearing that up for me.
Let me ask, what if a man had written this about men? How would women react? Yep. We all know the answer to that.
Okay, let’s address the question of men before we go on to discuss women’s problems: Yes, certainly there are men who sacrifice themselves in a relationship. If this had been an article about men, I would have sympathised. “Poor men, it’s no good giving up all the things you love for women. In the end, you will both be happier in the relationship if neither becomes a martyr!”
It is true that this article could have been written in a gender neutral way because there are men who behave this way in relationships. But I would say that is a fairly recent phenomenon. Up until the last decade or two, women have been brought up to give up everything for a man, and men were brought up to expect women to do just that.
In the 1950s there were honest-to-god guide books for young wives where women were advised to have a hot meal ready when the man comes home from work. Perhaps a hot meal alone doesn’t sound like asking too much if the woman was at home all day while the man was out working hard for the money? But that wasn’t all women were expected to do. The same guide books also advised wives to look their best when the husband came home. The little wife should touch up her make-up, arrange her hair carefully and change into a pretty, fresh dress before receiving her husband. Changing into a clean dress was essential because the wife’s house dress would have gotten sweaty and dirty during a day of cleaning the house. The husband would naturally expect the house to be clean when he comes home from work.
The kids should also be clean, content and noiseless when their dad comes home. Preferably, the wife should receive the husband with a fond kiss, a drink and a pair of heated slippers, direct the poor exhausted man into a comfortable arm-chair to sip his drink and relax while the wife sets the food on the table. The guide-book made a small concession to the woman’s exhaustion after a day of housework by advising the wife to take a 15 minute nap right before the husband arrives so that she might be fresh and relaxed for him.
I wonder how the wife would have managed to steal that 15 minute naptime in the middle of cleaning the house, preparing the food, dealing with the kids and getting her dress and make-up in order. The worst part was that the guide-book advised wives not to get upset if the man didn’t show up after all. Women were supposed to not ask too many questions if the man came home late. The guide-book hinted quite heavily that men were entitled to their little affairs, they worked so hard to support the family.
The point is that even without the now humourous demands for tolerance for the man’s infidelity and the advice to serve a hot meal in a pretty dress, always with a smile, the attitude that women exist to serve men sits deep. And even in relatively enlightened communities where that attitude is no longer explicitly taught to little girls and boys, many girls are still brought up “to see a romantic partnership as the main event of their life” as Vicki Larson writes.
That’s why losing touch with one’s own interests in a relationship is more common for women than it is for men, and that’s why this is being treated as especially women’s problem. This is not to deny that some men also have the same problem.
So, because many women are still brought up to believe that a romantic relationship is the most important thing that will ever happen to them, they are ready to make sacrifices to ensure they don’t ruin the thing they have been waiting for all their lives. A friend of mine gave up her favourite hobby because her man didn’t like it. She said everyone has to make sacrifices to make a relationship work, and that her happiness was well worth the small sacrifice of giving up a hobby.
That’s all very well, except that it wasn’t a small sacrifice if you consider that along with the hobby went a large circle of friends. Even worse, that hobby had been a long-standing passion of my friend’s until her man’s negative attitude made her lose interest in it. And interestingly enough, my friend didn’t feel the need to ask her man to give up any hobbies, friends or interests for their relationship.
Luckily that situation has now been resolved and I trust my friend will stand her ground in the future. But it was shocking that someone as independent as her would succumb to the old mistake of giving up too much of oneself. Perhaps it’s an easy mistake to make in the beginning of a relationship when the hormones are clouding your judgement? Perhaps I was like that too when I first met my man? I can’t remember, but somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, now I have grown perhaps too independent and jealous of my own space. Equality concerns aside, I don’t feel like I’m an ideal spouse. I come and go as I please, I cook when I feel like it and I spend a lot of time doing my own thing. But then, I don’t feel the need to be an ideal spouse. I’m glad to have a husband who understands I have other friends and interests beside him, and I bet he also likes having the freedom to do things without me.
Sometimes I get the feeling he would like a bit more companionship out of me. But he understands that I just wasn’t made for a clingy relationship, and I bet he wouldn’t like it either if I started sulking when he spends the night out with his friends. Symbiotic existence is fine in the early stages of a relationship but after a while both need to start finding their own interests and independence again. It can be a bit of a struggle to get that balance between freedom and companionship right, but if you try to live your whole life for just one person, you will certainly get it wrong.