Thursday, February 11, 2010

Modern Marriage

I was listening to NPR in the car the other day, and heard a show about the Modern Marriage. It focused on the fact that, traditionally, women increased their financial stability by marrying men who were breadwinners and higher educated than themselves (because the women weren't very education to begin with). Men, on the other hand, worsened their finances by marrying and taking on that extra burden of providing for a wife and family.

However, this show was discussing that "men are increasingly likely to marry women who make more than they do, according to a new study on the changing economics of marriage." The one guest suggested that the whole idea of marriage has changed more in the past 30 years than it had in the previous 3,000. And, of course, it made me think about my own marriage.

I feel so immensely privileged to have what I consider a true partnership. Our expectations for each other are not based on traditional roles or self-serving interests (Keith, bring home the bacon!), but what is best for us, what each one desires, and—now—what is best for Eleanor.

Sometimes it frustrates me when we fall into traditional gender roles, like that he is the primary provider, and I am the primary caregiver. When we first started living together, Keith was very underpaid. During college and a few years after, I was the "breadwinner" of sorts, though not by much. Then he started getting promotions and raises and better jobs, and now he makes significantly more than I do. So when we decided to have kids, there was no real discussion of who would be working full-time, and who would be (mostly) home with the baby.

A part of me wondered: Haven't we moved past that?!? But someone has to make the money. The big difference is that, were the situation to be reversed, I don't think that Keith would have a problem staying home / working part-time to take care of Eleanor while I worked full-time. Or at least, he would have the same kind of struggles with being a "house spouse" as I do, in terms of reduced productivity and a complete lack of visible results. On the show they were talking about how hard it is for many men whose wives earn more, because the men define themselves by their jobs and their ability to provide. Once that's gone, they feel useless.

I found myself wondering whether the men were older, because I don't see that in Keith or myself at all. When we were engaged, I forced him to come to coffee shops with me and discuss "life issues" like parenting and finances and careers. We both discovered, to our surprise, that neither one of us would consider ourselves career oriented. We both just wanted to have a relatively comfortable work environment, and make enough money to enjoy our lives without work interfering. The priority is us, our family, and our friends.

Of course, writing a post called "Modern Marriage" inevitably brings up the question of whether one can actually define what defines a "modern" marriage. I am very happily married to the love of my life and my best friend. True, we've only been married 5 years, but we've been together for just over 13 years (since we were 18), and our relationship has withstood many trials. To me, our relationship works because we're partners, we talk about everything (whether we want to or not, including mea culpas), we laugh together, and we accept each other's strengths and weaknesses.

I'm grateful to all of the women (and men) who made this type of relationship possible, instead of just accepting the status quo. I'm grateful to my parents, who gave me a wonderful example of what a good, nurturing marriage looks like. I'm grateful to Keith, for being who he is and being foolish enough to think he's the lucky one in the relationship. I hope that, one day, Eleanor will be grateful to me for showing her that a Modern Marriage is whatever you want it to be, as long as you're happy and nurtured and loved.

Happy upcoming Valentine's Day!


Jonathan said...

Interesting post. Our roles are pretty much defined by the kind of person we are - I am the plodder, therefore I go to work each day without thinking too much about it. She is the one who gets bored, so she has the fun of child wrangling during the day.

I think you're right - it's whatever works for you - not whatever society expects.

M. Lubbers said...

Interesting point regarding not just income level, but personality as well. I wonder how often the personalities fall along gender lines, in that the mother is happier/more challenged at home and the dad ends up working? Half the time? More or less?

As long as we choose, even if we end up doing "what society expects," I think we'll be okay.