in light of my recent turn towards “traditional gender roles,” in theory and in practice, I have somehow unearthed a memory of a conversation I had with my mother ~15 years ago, when I was a teenager. I won’t pretend to understand why this conversation attracts my attention and imagination, for the risk of going full freudian, but I find it newly illuminated and illuminating, so here you go:
I was at home or in the car or whatever with my mom, and she told me that she had had a strange exchange with our neighbor recently. (for reference, the neighbors are a married couple about 5 or 7 years ahead of my parents with two somewhat older children, and of similar middle to upper-middle class SES). the context was something like, my mom saw the neighbor come in from a walk, or vice versa? and neighbor casually remarked something to the effect of: “oh, gotta stay in shape for our husbands now that we’re getting older!”
of course, my mom in relating this to me, feigned bafflement and mild offense at (and even pity towards) our neighbor. but here are some things our neighbor definitely did not mean by her comment:
- all men are pigs.
- abandonment is inevitable, but you can delay it maybe?
- that husband of yours sure seems like a cheating scumbag.
- my husband is a scumbag, and I want to worry everyone else about theirs now too.
- marriage vows and promises of fidelity mean nothing.
- a woman’s only value to the world is her beauty.
- every married man just wants a newer model once he’s gotten kids from his wife.
- I worry every minute of every day about my appearance.
- I don’t trust my husband, and you shouldn’t trust yours either.
I’m not sure what my mom’s motivations were, in even telling me about this exchange. was it out of “wow just wow,” in that she was very deeply offended by our neighbor’s insinuations, and she needed to vent? on the other hand, perhaps she was genuinely concerned that our neighbor was on to something but she just didn’t like it. I don’t know.
but here’s the point: as an adult woman who has by now gathered her own experiences in the realm of gender relations (and even marriage), I can begin to appreciate what really happened here. our neighbor was, in some combination, expressing a bit of natural anxiety about the major life change of becoming an empty nester, offering solidarity with my mother, gesturing towards common-sense advice, and making small talk of what she presumed was mutual interest.
I now believe that there was nothing at all wrong with what my neighbor said to my mom; it was mildly overly personal at worst, and reflected the honest truth: that marriages work best when people try at them, that men and women are expected to bring different blends of goods to the marriage table, and that to pretend otherwise doesn’t make your marriage more liberal-progressive, it makes your marriage more fragile. I don’t know why my mom wasn’t prepared to acknowledge this (obviously, it’s tempting to blame feminism), but that refusal didn’t do her any favors and, though I don’t care to make a victim of myself, the attitude that she passed on to me has heretofore threatened my life prospects at the margin as well.
though this is just an ungeneralizable n=1 situation, for what it’s worth, I can’t resist adding that that marriage, and related wealth, and the family, remain intact today – while ours do not.