Soon-to-be-wed Kelly Siegel explores whether she despises certain household chores because she genuinely dislikes them, or if it’s because they’re what a woman is “supposed to” do.
On New Year’s Day I found myself crying on the sofa while my fiancé looked on, concerned and unsure how exactly to console me. We had just taken down our completely dead Christmas tree, and as he dutifully swept pine needles into a dust pan, I criticized his ability to handle a broom until he was frustrated enough to say something and I, for lack of a better term, freaked out.
After 11 days at home over the holiday break, I was attempting to bring our lives back to normal before heading to the office the following day. I had spent the morning finishing a DIY project, cleaning the kitchen, taking down the Christmas decorations, and making an enormous pot of soup. My fiancé had been quick to help whenever I asked, but he had also spent a good deal of his day off (he did not take any vacation, never mind a week and a half) enjoying a new video game he had received as a Christmas gift. By all accounts, he had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet I still felt overwhelmingly as though I was being saddled with all of the work of keeping our home in order, and frankly, it pissed me off.
Part of being engaged is setting expectations and boundaries for what married life will be like. And although we lived together for more than three years before he proposed, somehow I’m still working through what exactly our roles in this marriage will be. I’m reminded of a favorite web comic of mine that states “Tips for Living Together: The filthiest player wins.”
My fiancé certainly has a higher disorder threshold than I do, and over the last several years we’ve worked out what I think is a pretty good system for coping with this. We’ve divided up the list of household tasks by what we like to do and what we naturally stay on top of—I cook; he deals with the dishes. I sweep; he vacuums. I clean the sink; he cleans the toilet. I make the bed; he empties the cat litter. It’s a fairly equitable division and he is always more than happy to do any of the above chores, I just have to ask. But now that I’m going to be a wife, the asking part has been harder to cope with. Girlfriends ask. Wives nag.
When I was growing up, my mom did the laundry for our whole family. I hate doing laundry, and have made it clear that he is to continue doing his own laundry always and forever, as long as we both shall live. But I don’t hate vacuuming, or cleaning the toilet, or emptying the cat litter. And now that I’m going to be a wife, I’m afraid that all of these duties will eventually fall to me because “that’s what wives do.” They cook and clean and generally keep the household.
What frustrates me is that some days I genuinely can’t tell whether I am satisfied after cleaning our apartment because I like the feeling of a clean apartment, or because I like feeling like a successful homemaker. I love to cook, but not when it’s a chore. I enjoy hosting parties, but I hate feeling like it’s my job to stay in the kitchen and keep out of everyone’s way. And sometimes I’m honestly not sure if I hate doing laundry, or if I just hate the idea that a wife should do her husband’s laundry, because that’s how it was in my home growing up and in my grandparents’ homes when my parents were growing up.
From the outside, my life looks pretty traditional—will be married at 25 with a ring and a white dress and saving for a mortgage. I have these things not because I’m supposed to, but because I wanted to. I fell in love young and I like my sparkly ring and I look good in white, actually. But it’s hard to live a life that looks so typical because on the inside, it doesn’t feel that way. I’m the breadwinner, he hates spiders, and I don’t do his laundry. In many ways, we line up pretty well with a traditional marriage, but in many ways we don’t.
Trying to navigate through what actually works for us, what society says we’re supposed to do, and what I maybe only am doing because I’m annoyed about what society wants me to do can be tricky, especially when you throw in the idea of setting a precedent for the rest of your life. But at least our engagement has given me time and space to figure this stuff out, before I get stuck matching his socks forever and always.
When I finally calmed down and managed to explain to him how I was feeling and why, he immediately offered to help with everything and do as much as possible. But that wasn’t really the point, and at the end of the day, I don’t want it to fall to either of us to do everything. We’re learning to share the load, not negotiating on who will take it all on. So as he picked up the broom to start sweeping again, I stopped him. “It’s OK,” I said. “I’ll sweep, if you’ll vacuum.”
Kelly Siegel lives and works in New York City where she focuses full-time on education and politics, and part time on feminism. She loves to cook, read, and travel.