Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Being Married to a Person

It was about to be my fifth wedding anniversary when I started writing this post, and I was really glad to come across this article at such an appropriate time: "The Most Difficult But Greatest Lesson I've Learned in One Year of Marriage." It's a lesson my husband and I have learned (and, honestly, are still learning) as well—that we are married to people, not stereotypes.

From the article:
I grew up hearing that men and women are so different. Opposites. Things about Venus, Mars, and spaghetti.

Men need sex. Women need emotional intimacy. Men only need respect. Women only need love. Men watch sports. Women go shopping. Men are doers. Women are feelers.

Over the weekend I read yet another Christian list of "10 ways to show love by respecting your husband!" Be kind. Don't interrupt him when he's speaking. Show interest in sex. Join him in activities.

And as I read this list, I thought, "Wait. I want every single one of these things from my husband."

If certain writers of certain books were to hang out with Mike and me for a few weeks, I think they might be a little confused by our life. Like when Mike does all the cooking, because I hate/am terrible at cooking except for special occasions. Or when I really, honestly don't care whether he gets me a gift for my birthday, or our anniversary, or Valentine's Day, and actually he's the one who would be hurt if we didn't make a big enough deal out of the day. Or maybe especially when we talk about our plans for the future, and how Mike would prefer to be the stay-at-home parent, while I know now that I never could be.

When Mike brings me flowers, of course I appreciate it, but that gesture means a lot more to him than it does to me. I, on the other hand—at the risk of telling you too much about our personal life—am the one who needs physical intimacy. Mike doesn't watch sports; I don't like shopping. We're both "feelers." We both have the same annoying instinct to offer solutions to the other person's problems, when the other really just wants to rant. We're both pretty insecure about certain things, and we both have a really hard time talking about our emotions. Basically, in the seven years we've known each other, we've spent a lot of time laughing about how the two of us do not fit the stereotypes of our genders. (One of my personal favorites is parking, at which Mike, by his own admission, sucks, and I am really good. When we were dating and I lived in an apartment in crowded south Provo, Utah, he would often get out of the car and ask me to park it for him. He still would, if we lived somewhere where parallel parking was an issue.)

"The God of the universe has not created more than 9 million species of animals, only to create two types of people. He has not created more than 315,000 species of plants, only to create "a man" and "a woman." He has created, instead, billions of wildly unique individuals."

If Mike and I went into our relationship expecting each other to behave like "a man" and "a woman," it didn't take us very long to realize how little those stereotypes have to do with either of us as individuals. Instead, we've gotten to know each other as actual human beings, and what we've found out is that, far from being opposites, we are a lot alike (even in some bad ways; see the previously mentioned insecurities, oversensitivity, and difficulty talking about our feelings). In some ways we are very different, too—but I am much more like Mike than I am like plenty of other women, and the same is true for him with other men.

We have hugely overlapping interests, and we have similar personalities. We both have reclusive tendencies, which works out well when we want to spend the weekend hanging out in the library or snuggled on the couch with snacks and The Big Bang Theory. We have different ways of arguing, which are very obviously traceable back to our families and the different ways we grew up; we've both had to adapt in order to make our arguments constructive. (If we thought those problems were just the innate differences between men and women, would we work to change them? Can you change what planet you come from?)

We each have quirks, faults, and strengths that are very particular to us as individuals. Long before I am "a woman," I am Miri. Long before he is "a man," he is Mike. Our relationship is far from perfect. But it's our relationship, and so far as I can tell, it bears very little resemblance to that of Mars and Venus. 


Melissa said...

I love this Miri! I've felt similar things before. Along the lines of gender stereotyping...I had a friend tell me to my face that she would never let her children have a male teacher because they are "creepy" and "what kind of man wants to spend that much time with young children." At the time, my husband taught third grade so I don't know what she was trying to get at, but I really appreciate that I've married a compassionate nurturer (even if society tells us it isn't "typical" for a man to have those qualities).

Miri said...

Wow, what a terrible thing to say to someone! It's really incredible, the things patriarchal culture has convinced us to believe about people. I come from a family of those nurturing men, and not one of them is "creepy" because of it. This is an example of one of the huge ways patriarchal culture hurts men, too. Gender roles hurt everyone.

Meg said...

This is great. One of my favorite things to do when we hang out with other married couples is when Eric and I talk after about why that marriage works and why it wouldn't work for us. People are all so different and have such different needs, and in order for two people to be happy together forever, they need to address those individual needs, not societal norms.

Beth said...

I found your post on Pinterest and just want to say that I needed to hear this! I recently became engaged to my partner of 4 years and we hardly (read: do not) resemble the "normal" couple. While I've learned more and more just by the changes that accompany entering my late 20s, I better understand that it's perfectly fine to be a couple that defies the norms, even at the risk of being criticized or ostracized (the former occurring more often than not). We're beyond happy and know that totally embracing this way of living will help us to have a more loving and lasting relationship. Plus, we're still in a honeymoon period four years in and believe that adhering to what works for us as opposed to how couples are supposed to act has played an active part in keeping that.

Lis said...

Great article- it's so easy to group people in an effort to understand them, but it actually has the opposite effect. Everyone is so individual that you need to get to know them on a one-on-one basis.

Miri said...

Beth, I'm so glad the two of you can be happy with your relationship the way it is, even when other people don't like it. I've learned very sad lessons about how cruel people can be to others who don't behave the way they think they should, and it hurts most when it comes from people you're close to.

Miri said...

Meg, Mike and I do that too. :) Lis, I think that's exactly what it is—I think we all just have a need to categorize things, and we feel like things work the way they're supposed to work when everyone fits in a certain group and we know what "kind" of person everyone is. It's funny, because kids do that, and you'd think it's something we'd learn to stop doing as we get older... But I guess for many of us, that realization takes a lot longer than it should.

Risa said...

So good, Miri. I am a person, not a gender role!

Lauren Donna said...

Oh my!! I have read those same pins on Pinterest on being a more Godly/Supportive/Loveable wife and I was shocked. I have friends re-pinning these same articles and blog entries, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. It's possible they haven't bothered reading them before pinning. You know... Pin now, read later...

As a single person, I find the idea that a woman has to behave/look/act a certain way to deserve her husband's love ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous to think that a husband COULDN'T love his wife if she didn't fulfill her "role" adequately - and vice versa. Also, where are all the articles about ways husbands can be more deserving or worthy of their wives' love??

So amen and AMEN to what you've written here. It's reassuring to think that a marriage is made of two people, not just a man and woman with preassigned to-do lists.

Miri said...

I see those pins too, Lauren. :) They work for some people, and that's totally fine. And I think there's a difference between the blog posts that say "this is the fun stuff I did with my husband" and the ones that say, "this is what wives should do for their husbands." Aside from the fact that there never do seem to be comparable articles about how to honor your wife, there's the fact that not all men want the same things from their wives. Of course people need to respect and show love for their spouses, but that's something that needs to go both ways (and doesn't need to be broken down by gender), and it's something that should probably be specific to your actual relationship, not checklisted from the internet. (When I read those lists, like this one and this one, I see primarily a bunch of things that (1) Mike would hate or not care about, (2) I would hate doing, or (3) are sexist at their root.) Basically, any time you're saying "husbands want this" or "wives want this," you're making assumptions about people based on their gender instead of recognizing that what each person wants/needs from a relationship is going to be different.