I married not one but two patriarchs. Practice makes perfect (For those who recognize sarcasm, good for you. For those who don’t, work on your game). I was two months shy of my 17th birthday when I married for the first time. That’s crazy, right? Of course it is! That marriage lasted 7 years (Tragically endured, though, is a much better description of that martial train wreck). I married my second husband, or as I tell him, my favorite husband, three years after my first divorce. We are now 20 years into this marital adventure.
Marriage has ancient roots. It has been around for a very long time. Marriages were ceremonious, but initially, there were no preachers or marriage licenses involved. No big fancy chapels, dresses, over-priced everything. Historically, love had little to do with marriage, actually nothing to do with marriage at all. Marriage was a way of making alliances, obtaining property, and expanding the family labor force. Women were given away in trades with other families. They were not an asset, but a liability.
In more recent years we have tried to make marriage about the love, unity, and loyalty between a man and woman. Yet the remnants of the property exchange still remains as the expectations between genders continues to linger.
I was taught marriage is forever. That teaching is still wide-spread today. As taught, marriage is to be a covenant between a man and a woman and it is to last all of eternity. Yet, more than 60% of marriages end in divorce. Odd, huh? I don’t take marriage nor the ideas of love, commitment, and loyalty lightly, but I do believe the conceptualization we have of marriage is archaic, outdated, and frankly, harmful. This special union, this coveted role, yet so many are crushed by it, its “failure,” their “failure,” the inability to make it work, make it last (And for my last trick I will sprinkle on a big ol heaping helping of guilt to top off your world falling a part).
Part of the patriarchal system is to understand and accept the defined gender roles. To be paired off with someone and live “happily ever after.” Yet, no one tells you happily ever after includes living and navigating through many moments of frustration, hurt, anger, growth, development, change, dirty diapers, financial struggles, outside influences, meddling whores, flirtatious men on social media, and all the other messy, nasty things life throws at you.
My first husband was, how do I put this nicely….? He was a control freak. Capital “C”. Capital “F-R-E-A-K.” I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not, not even for the sake of humor because it was anything but funny. I remember the look he gave me the night we tied the knot and in the span of that nano-second I instantly knew I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. But, marriage is marriage. Marriage is forever and I was stuck in it now.
He took pleasure in telling me what I could and couldn’t wear. When I could wear make up. Who I could see and who I could not see. He went into hyper-gear with alienation tactics. He was an extremely jealous and possessive person. A byproduct of his raising and self-esteem issues, in conjunction with his own multiple affairs during our marriage.
For seven years I was required to eat mayonnaise on my cheeseburgers. I DO NOT like mayonnaise on my cheeseburgers. I like mustard on my cheeseburgers! Yet, Hubby Uno, always ordered two burgers and he always ordered both with mayonnaise. He didn’t like mustard or onions, and therefore, I wasn’t allowed to have those on my burgers either because as he stated; “they might mess up HIS order.” Gee, that sounds fair.
He would throw things at me. Yell at me. Tell me I’m stupid, ugly, fat, make false accusations constantly. He would keep me awake all night criticizing everything about me knowing full well I’d have to work the next day. It was nightmarish, a living hell. Sadly, you start to believe this is normal. At 17, 20, 21… I assumed this was just part of the bargain. This was what I signed up for. I couldn’t navigate these choppy waters. In fact, I got lost at sea.
I became a shell of an individual. Lost, with no place to turn. When we were in public or around other people Hubby Uno would act so kind and helpful. Charming and funny. Toward the later part of the marriage I could no longer hide my disdain. People didn’t understand, they just couldn’t fathom why I acted so terrible to him (To him?). The secrets were always behind closed doors. They couldn’t understand my anger, my frustration, but I wore it as a cloak daily. I was counseled about my behavior. I needed to just try harder. Marriage is forever.
This was, by all accounts, an abusive marriage. And, yes, it was more than patriarchal, but he lived what he learned. And, I too, was living what I learned. The only problem being my will to survive fought harder than societies pressures to remain a unit. My internal voice wouldn’t stop shouting. A caged tiger, pacing, begging, scanning the landscape, pleading for someone, anyone, to please set me free.
My second husband, too, was raised in a patriarchal system. He was raised in a charismatic, male-centered, male-dominated religion. The same for his family structure. Mom stayed home and raised the children, took care of the home and her man. Dad worked, disciplined and provided guidance to his children. From the outside looking in, society, the church, would all define this as a “perfect” marriage.
Ironically enough, my husband will tell you what he found attractive about me was my sense of independence. I am certain, oh so very certain, that truth has caused him much angst over the years (This woman will be the death of me!).
Try as I might, I don’t fit the mold. The religious personification of “wife material… the crown jewel.” We live in a perpetual tug-of-war. In the earlier years of our marriage I was more willing to concede. I was more willing to set aside my wants, desires, feelings, to hide the tears, to say sorry, in order to just keep the peace.
I quickly, almost instantaneously, fell into old familiar patterns. I certainly didn’t want to fail at this thing (marriage) AGAIN. I took on the care taking, the cleaning, the cooking. I stopped watching television because he liked sports and that is what we watch. We don’t park behind Dad’s car because it is an inconvenience to him and he needs to get to work (So, of course, we park behind Mom’s car, because her career is….). I don’t cook chicken or fish at home because he doesn’t like them. Although, I do. I can count on one hand how many times he has cleaned the toilets in our home. Uh, no I can’t, because it has never happened.
This isn’t a beat up my husband post. I am equally responsible for allowing these dynamics in our lives just as much as he is. We both contributed to this “idealistic” way of marriage. In fact, we actively sought to implement it to some degree. The problem is I could never keep up the charade. And, it almost seems unfair to change the rules at such a late date.
After years of conceding you start to lose your sense of individuality. You start to feel sub-human. You began to wonder if you do, in fact, actually exist. Some simply die inside. Some divorce, And, some push back, not willing to give up or fail, but also not willing to go on as “things have always been.”
Women become more vocal, a little more demanding. This gets touted as selfishness. But, is it really? Is it selfish? Re-establishing boundaries and changing old patterns of behavior is down right hard. A fish swimming against the current. It is exhausting. It causes instability and confusion. And for a man who grew up in a patriarchal system, who has lived as the patriarch, I can only imagine it just doesn’t make any sense. Where is this coming from? Who is this woman? What in the hell is going on?
The “system” has shown up in my relationships in large ways and in more subtle ways, but it is still very much alive. Compromise is a great thing. Marriage requires a lot of compromising. There’s a difference between a compromise and a submission. In compromise there is no winner and no loser. Submission, however, requires one to give up their personal power to another. Required submission, consciously or unconsciously, is like burying land mines all over your relationship. Someone is eventually going to step on one, detonate the entire group, and the whole thing is going to blow up.
It is a great thing to love another individual. It is a beautiful thing to be there for another person. It is a great thing to be partners in life. To have a shoulder to lean on and an ear of understanding. It is a great thing to give and do for one another. To give and receive trust. To share in responsibilities, obligations, successes, and celebrations. What I am discussing exceeds what one might simply do out of the kindness of one’s own heart. It is a manifestation of the training of one’s person based upon nothing more than gender. Done in the all too subtle shadow of a lingering fear or out of concern. At the risk of consequences or for the reward of love.
Fear should never exist between spouses. Communication should be free and flow between the two easily. Mutual respect being the lubricant that keeps the wheels greased and flowing. Feelings not oppressed, but expressed.
I once had a seventy year old widower sit in my office and tell me he needed to get another wife because he was going to have surgery soon and he was going to need the help. No shame as to his dominion, his coveted role. In fact, I believe if you inquired he would state it with much pride. Religiously ordained, even. The man is the head of the household. The leader. Da’Man!
We are created as autonomous humans. Individual in our own right. Thoughts, feelings, ides, consciousness… You can hide it. You can fight it. But, you can’t deny it.
Women forget they have a voice. And when they finally locate it, it roars. When people accuse me of; “You just have to have your own way,” my question to them is; “As opposed to whose? Yours?” And, thus, the tug-of-war continues.