I was in Ace Hardware today, trolling the housewares department for gifts for a friend, and was witness to three instances when men came in to return Christmas lights and decorations. The explanations were all the same, some version of “she didn’t like these.” What I found so interesting was the obvious fact that none of the men seemed upset or angry to have been sent on this errand. They didn’t act like they felt inconvenienced or picked on. They laughed and joked with the cashier while explaining and it seemed when I thought about it later that I could even hear in their voices the underlying fondness they had for their wives. One guy said he had been there twice already today, taking home different things on approval. He talked about this calmly, smiling and in quite good humor.
With a recent change in my living situation on my mind, I couldn’t help thinking how nice it was that these guys seemed to have made peace with the fact that their wives cared way more than they did what the holiday display looked like. It was just part of their lives and not cause for a single ruffled feather. It wasn’t about them, even though it involved them. Nary a comment about “the old ball and chain,” even. Mind you, these men were all older, gray-haired and probably retired, because they were free to run errands for their wives in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
I left the store with a good feeling, sort of heartwarming and hopeful. If I can keep working and working on being more patient and giving and flexible, I should be able to face whatever comes up in my life with that same calm good humor. How nice.
Afterward, as I drove home, I was thinking that some of the conflict between the sexes stems from the very different pressures our culture brings to bear on each. I know for a fact that the way I prioritize my time and the things that cause me to feel vaguely (or very) inadequate are at least in part programmed by the household and culture I grew up in. I mean, my mom still wipes the tops of all the stinking door sills every time she cleans. “It doesn’t take very long,” is her stock statement about it.
I was raised with the ‘50s housewife as the paragon to emulate, and I have never, ever managed to meet that standard. The sane part of my brain doesn’t even want to. But it’s always there … the little voice that says “the vents need dusting” and “the windows need washing” and “the baseboards are covered with lint” and, and, and. Being the perfect cook and cleaner and decorator and laundress and groundskeeper and gardener is exhausting, especially when we also have to go out and be successful businesswomen. It’s too much for one person to do alone, to run a “proper” household and still have time for frivolities like sleep, fun, relaxation. I don’t think we necessarily even know who we’re trying to please anymore, but we still keep at it, day in and day out.
It was such a relief today to imagine having a partner who will pitch in and help lift some of the burden of chores, someone to cheerfully run to the hardware store to return the “ugly” lights. Sigh …