What Gay Couples Can Teach Heteros About Marriage

Cindy’s been married to Dave for five years. Both of them work full time, and when they both come home exhausted at the end of the day, Cindy makes dinner while Dave checks his emails or watches a bit of the game. After the meal, Cindy cleans up the kitchen and Dave takes out the trash. On weekends, they split the “chores”. Cindy cleans the house, while Dave does the yard work. They never discussed which jobs they’d each do, but simply just sort of fell into them when they got married, and the division of work isn’t all that unlike the one you’d have found among any couple in the 1950’s, except the fact that Cindy makes just as much money as Dave does. Despite this financial equality, however, Dave still considers it his responsibility to bring home the bacon and often doesn’t share his worries about money and the economy with Cindy. He’s the man, after all. That’s his “job”. And although Cindy is just as tired as Dave at the end of the day, she still does the majority of the cooking, cleaning and laundry. She’s the wife. That’s her “job”.

Trent and Ryan are a gay couple who’ve also been married for five years. They also both work full time, but at the end of the day, when they both come home tired, Trent usually cooks the meals. He loves to cook – it’s his way of unwinding and he looks forward to it all day. Ryan doesn’t care much for cooking but doesn’t mind at all cleaning up the kitchen after they’re done eating. Trent is more financially minded, so he tends to pay the bills, but financial concerns are always discussed by both of them. The housework is divided equally based on what each of them likes to do (or doesn’t mind too much) and on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Neither one of them feels the pressure to fulfill the role of “wife” or “husband”, because they simply don’t apply. In fact, neither Trent nor Ryan really had any role models in terms of how to structure their relationship, so they’ve had to make up their own rules as they went along.

And so have all gay couples. Even though we often try to superimpose our “traditional” views onto gay couples and make one of them the “man” and one of them the “woman”, this is nothing more than an attempt to squeeze a round peg into a square hole. We try to make sense of their relationship using the only model we’ve ever known: the male/female dynamic. But it simply doesn’t apply. Even if one gay man is more effeminate than the other, or one woman is more “butch” than her girlfriend, this does not make either one the wife or husband. The simple fact is, we don’t know what a relationship with no gender roles looks like. No one does. But I think it’s about time we figured it out.

The inherited model

If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, chances are that you’ll have taken on, at least in part, your parents’ model. Oh sure, things aren’t exactly the same – some men are staying home with the kids, women will be in charge of paying the bills, both parties are working, you communicate a lot more than your parents did – when people get married, these long-buried, preconceived notions of what it means to be a “wife” or “husband” often come up to bite them in the ass. And before they know it, they are feeling pressured (by themselves or their dead great grandmother) to fill those roles, even in part.

Women all over this globe stress themselves out because they’re trying to have the perfect house. Why? Because that’s what a good wife is supposed to do. Men often still don’t share their financial worries with their wives, or even if they do, shoulder the brunt of the burden. Why? Because a good man is supposed to provide for his family. This is also why many men, even if they logically agree that women should be paid what they’re worth, still hate the idea of their wives making more money than them.

At some point, we decided what it meant to be a “good little wife” and a “good husband” and beyond that, what it means to be a “good woman” or a “good man”, and even though the lines have gotten a bit softer over the years, they’re still very visible. We may not like it or even realize it, but a lot more of our identity is tied up in these labels than we’d care to admit. But not with gay couples. When the roles of “wife” and “husband” don’t apply, and when you’ve pretty much obliterated the traditional gender roles by having the hots for the same sex, you have no choice but to reinvent your relationship dynamic and your gender identity from scratch. While I recognize that this is by no means easy, I’m going to leave that discussion for another day. Gay men and lesbian women can be extremely masculine, feminine or anything in between. They are not nearly as bound by gender stereotypes as the rest of us are. But we aren’t really bound by those roles – we just think that we are.

While gay couples usually divide their responsibilities based on each individual’s strengths, weaknesses and preferences, straight couples often fail to have any discussion about who does what. They simply fall into their assumed roles, and then resent the responsibility that’s been placed upon them. And, while both sexes are guilty of this, women often torture themselves far worse than men do.

The Good Wife

When a woman gets married, she tends to take on ownership for, well, pretty much everything. She becomes the “mom”. She organizes the house, assigns chores, picks up everyone’s slack (often doing everyone’s jobs before they even have a chance to, because she just knows they’re not going to do it anyway) and generally becomes responsible for the whole world running smoothly. Over time, this can lead to an involuntary but very present attitude of “everyone is incompetent and lazy except me and I have to do everything”, mixed with guilt over never being able to do enough. The resentment and stress that this kind of situation creates can be enormous, leading to not only emotional but physical ailments. In short, she feels that she has no choice but to carry the world on her shoulders, resents being sentenced to do so and simultaneously beats herself up for not being able to juggle chickens and sing the national anthem while twirling the world on her finger like a basketball. Gay men rarely do that. Lesbians may, but then perhaps they’ll fight each other for who gets to be the biggest martyr.

But no one ever assigned us this level of responsibility. It’s all in our heads. We’ve adopted a slightly relaxed version of what we saw modeled to us by our parents and on TV, elevated it to some “perfect” ideal and then we judge ourselves against that standard. And yes, we all do it to some degree or another.

What if…

But what about if you got to decide, from scratch, situation by situation, how you’d like to define yourself? What if you could reinvent the meaning of the word “wife” or “husband” or obliterate those words altogether and simply be, oh…I don’t know… YOU? What if you and your mate discussed the division of responsibility openly and honestly, without feeling the heaviness of what a “good anything” is supposed to do, but rather on what you actually like and don’t like and then found solutions to each problem together? What if you didn’t expect anything of your mate (or feel that they were expecting anything of you), but simply asked each other for what you want? What if it was truly ok for a man to show weakness? What if a man took care of the kids all afternoon, not because his wife had a doctor’s appointment, but because she was getting a manicure? What if he joined her for that manicure? What if the label of man or woman didn’t come saddled with limitations but was just a way to describe gender? What if everyone simply expressed who they were, instead of who they thought they ought to be? What kind of world would we have then?

The young ‘uns are leading the way

The beautiful thing is that we’re already moving in that direction, and not just in the LGBT community. When you look at young couples in their early 20’s, you’ll notice a distinct blurring of the gender roles. Just as each generation before them, today’s youth has relaxed the code of conduct, and since the global energy is rising faster and faster, the gap between each new generation and the one before it is wider than ever before. “Kids today” weren’t as subjected to traditional gender roles – they often grew up with single moms or dads, who had to take on all responsibilities – womanly or manly or whatever. Not only that, but today’s youngest generations simply aren’t as willing to be trained into limited thinking as those that came before. They tend to reject labels and roles and prefer to make up their own minds.

But this doesn’t mean that you’re doomed if you’re not a 20 year old. You can decide to strip off the labels and discover who you really are at any time. What does it mean to you to be a woman or a man, a wife or a husband, an employee or a boss, a mother or father, a granny or grampy, to be single, in a relationship, gay or straight? Do you agree with the definition that comes to mind? Does it resonate with you? Did you decide on this definition yourself or did you just adopt it?

The New World

We are in the midst of re-defining all labels and roles. Husbands stay at home while wives have high-powered careers. Employees work remotely and are increasingly becoming independent contractors, often so highly skilled that companies have to woo them (completely changing the boss/employee paradigm). Parents are letting go of the need to control their children at every turn and are seeing their kids as individuals with opinions worth considering. Grandmothers no longer sit in a rocking chair and knit, but take cross country trips on motorcycles and get tattoos, or run multi-million dollar companies. Being a single woman in her 30’s is no longer cause to feel like some kind of a failure as a woman. It’s a choice which many women and men are making, just as many are choosing not to have children. Relationships are being redefined – monogamy is great, but so are open relationships of all kinds. It’s up to each of us, individually, to figure out what we want and how we want to live our lives, based on how we truly feel and not on what we think society expects from us. We get to decide. We are free to make our own rules, and to obliterate old ones. What will your rules be?

Image Credit: http://cutestcats.tumblr.com






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  • Avatar jim syyap says:

    Thank you for this article. If I may share this with my friends? Thank you.

  • Avatar Sara says:

    Hi Melody,
    this subject is a very persistant aquaintance, many generations before have intensely worked out the implications of gender roles and patriarchal tradition. Of course things evolve on and on, but, as I perceive it, the awareness of gender and lifes reality has been much keener in other periods of history of western culture than nowadays, probably due to the sharpness of contrast.
    There are many developments which foster individuality in general nowadays, one e.g. is the economic factor (diversity and workculture), another the average age of a population, and there are many others. Youth has in all periods of human history developed its own dynamics, which appeared to go beyond their parents generation achievments (but look at the same generation 30 yrs from then).
    Do people develop into more tolerant, considerate, sensitive, individual personalities due to younger birthage? Do gay couples act out equal rights and individuality more? And is it because of their (relative) detachment (psychologically, often socially) to societies rules? Are we inclined to traditional gender roles due to our personal predisposition, or victims due to lacking awareness/intelligence, peer pressure, maturity? Are men as much negatively affected by traditional gender roles as women?
    In my experience, to achieve individual freedom and fulfillment in relationships is chiefly a matter of your individual approach to it, and less a matter of the time and cultural trends you´re living in. There have been people at any times who claimed their individuality in every area of their life (successfully or unsuccessfull) and others, the majority of people, who prefered to follow the dominant culture. And that´s how it will always be, people are choosing their experiences by their prevalent preferences; the majority still seems to be prone to experience restricted gender roles; women try hard to bring their womanhood into being by bearing children, doing the housework, especially preparing the food and serving the family in the home; men try hard to prove their manhood by providing for a family, exploring the world, alliancing with other men and so forth.
    On the other end of the stick you have the ones who have gone beyond societies structure, who have integrated the whole spectrum of human experiences, and are capable to make any choices they like, often give direction to society through channels of literature or art. Most of us are somewhere in between of this development.
    I have struggled my whole life with my claims and my abilities. And it had lead me to the highly individual approach to life of metaphysics so far..
    Too big a subject for just some lines to write…

    Some words: I speak from my personal lifes perspective and generalize it. I don´t think that younger people know less than older, I think that everyone knows what she/he knows quite well. Actually I try hard to remember my knowlege of my younger years, as I know about its pricelessness. Sharing is what makes a relationship, and relationships are what makes a life.

    Mammoth hugs to you, Melody, and everyone who likes to share!
    Sara

    • Hi Sara,

      You’ve asked so many amazing questions – this really is a thinker. 🙂
      Of course, it’s always an individual thing and there have always been those who defy all roles. But I do think we can look at the trending in overall society and see that gender roles (as well as all other labels) are starting to blur, and become more open. There will always be the extremes – those who are outrageous and defy all classification and those who cling staunchly to stereotypes. But then you have the general population (the middle of the bell curve). And that whole Bell curve shifts a bit towards openness every generation. Now, we’re experiencing a major shift (IMHO…) and it’s beautiful. 🙂

      I knew this subject would get you, ha!

      Huge hugs!
      Melody

      • Avatar Sara says:

        Yeah, the subject has taken me by the scruff of the neck since early age, and I came a very long way with it since! Somehow it involved so many crucial questions for me, and I needed answers.
        So my view on this has become quite wacked, and I can´t participate in a perception of a “new dawning”. I don´t believe in a general progress of new generations in this issue or others; if things progress due to circumstances they regress again by them.
        I believe in individual progress more.

        Glad you know me so well so far!
        Sara 😀

  • Avatar Mary Carol says:

    Hi Melody,

    Living in a foreign country, for me Mexico, is a great clarifier of the absurdity of expectations. Observing the cultural differences, it’s pretty easy to see that all rules are arbitrary.

    One thing that has struck me is that it’s much harder in Mexico for a woman to be friends with a man. My two best friends in the US are men, nothing romantic, but here (at least where I’m living), that seems almost impossible. You’re perceived as a slut if the man’s single, or trying to steal a husband. And this is for saying hello with a smile! Everything may relax once you become better known, but it still pays to be cautious. Going out for dinner is tantamount to an engagement announcement! Acckk!

    Let me clarify that this is a female expectation. In my experience, the men I’ve met are relaxed and respectful, defying the stereotype of the macho Mexicano.

    It’s also interesting to observe expectations of ‘foreigners.’ It generally causes a shock to learn that I’m not rich, and I speak fairly fluent Spanish. Taking on a new role makes crystal clear the absurdity of all roles.

    Can you talk a little about defining yourself honestly when there’s a lot of social pressure? I try to conform about being less friendly with men, mostly because I hate being talked about.

    Changing the subject, a meditation I like is to imagine yourself genderless. What if you were neither male nor female, who would you be? Liberating!

    Thank you for bringing up a fascinating topic, Melody. Thinking about roles is another way of getting at limiting beliefs. Cool!

    Many hugs to all,

    Mary Carol

    • Hi Mary Carol,

      Oh man, that’s a whole new aspect isn’t it: Looking at our own stereotypes and adopted roles through the eyes of another culture. I totally agree with you – it really makes you take a look at yourself and how you define yourself, not only in terms of gender, but education, nationality, etc. I think it’s so interesting that the women in Mexican culture would perpetuate the stereotype more than the men. But I’ve been there, too. My friendliness is often misinterpreted as flirting and while men seem to be ok with it (truly ok, they don’t get grabby or anything) their wives often automatically assume that I’m trying to steal their husbands. It’s really their own insecurity coming out though, so I no longer care. And when I stopped caring, so did the wives. Now, even when the man gets a little grabby, the wife gets mad at him! Ha. Gotta love LOA!

      Oooh, a genderless meditation. Love it. Anything to try out different perspectives.

      Thanks so much for adding your wisdom here!

      Huge hugs,
      Melody

  • Avatar Pete Goumas says:

    Destroying traditional gender roles! Thanks for another informative and well written post!

  • Avatar The Vizier says:

    Hi Melody,

    I have long been a student of change and history. Any preconceived roles and views we have in life are simply that. The world is a dynamic place. Whatever gender roles that may have been relevant at one point in human history may not be so at another point. Also, each couple is different so it would be futile to try to force people into roles they are not necessarily good at.

    For any marriage to be truly happy, I believe open communication is a must. Unless both parties are comfortable enough to discuss and share everything in their lives with each other, there are bound to be barriers as one secret leads to another.

    Change is the only constant in life. Before you adopt any idea, it would be prudent to examine its source, the reasons for it and whether it is relevant to your life or not. Following something blindly can only lead to future problems because it may not be the best fit for a particular situation.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

  • Avatar Japhet says:

    Nice comparison, I can get a few pointers from this blog.

  • Avatar Bill Dorman says:

    I know you probably tire of my ‘true stories’ but here’s another one. My parents divorced when I was in my early teens. My mom turned to drink and my dad relived his youth. They became my role models as what NOT to do when I got married. Subsequently, I wanted a very traditional relationship which I achieved. My wife has never worked and she raised our two sons who did quite well in school and are now on their own embarking on their careers.

    My oldest sister however, left her husband about 15 years ago and has been in a committed relationship with another woman since. I was always accepting of this and if it made her happy, then full steam ahead. Their relationship seems to work and I don’t think either one assumes the male or female role; they just know what it takes to make it work inside the house.

    I think my sister wasn’t sure if we were fully accepting so when she invited me to a recent birthday party, the family was invited from 3-6 and her ‘friends’ from 6-until. She said I was welcome to stay after family time and I eagerly accepted. I had the best time and drank way, way too much and fortunately didn’t have to drive home. I rec’d my honorary lesbian card, so that should be worth something, right? However, I did tell them if I had to shave my legs I didn’t want any part of it………….:)

    Probably TMI, but that’s the life of Billy……

    • I will never tire of your stories, Bill. Imagining you as an honorary lesbian (hairy legs and all) is too worth it. Ha!

      I’m so glad your sister got to see that side of you. I’m sure that next time, she’ll feel more comfortable introducing her two worlds to each other. It’s strange. I live in a world where gay people can be openly gay. It’s not an issue at all. Like, AT ALL. But then I occasionally hear stories of gays still being persecuted or disowned by their families. It’s like hearing that someone’s cousin got burned at the stake for witchcraft, just surreal. My honest reaction is always “there are still people who react like that?!” Insane. I prefer to live in my bubble of happiness and peace and acceptance. 🙂 Anyone who wants to join me here, is welcome to.

      Huge hugs,
      Melody

  • Avatar Fred Tracy says:

    God, I SO agree with this article. Even though I’m a guy, I’ve always felt that I should be pampered. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want to take care of me? I feel that I’d like to be something of a stay-at-home dad, minus the dad part. I’d like the opportunity to get caught up on my videogame playing and start some awesome TV watching, and I just don’t have time for that right now with all the work I do.

    Thank you for saying that my dreams ARE possible Melody, thank you!

  • Avatar patricia says:

    WE tried to be a team, but with building an architectural office for income and I was just making $500 and no benefits a month – the roles rather got stuck to us. I do everything including the money – except bring in a decent paycheck. For a number of years, I made enough to cover our health ins. as a family.

    Then 2008, My partner leaves the house at 5 am ( exercises ) goes to work and come home about 8:30pm for dinner. Cooking for Celiac Disease is nearly a full time job too. We had no work for a year, my health ins. was cancelled, and I have no retirement left.
    So now I am trying to build a second business – Wise Ears: Professional Listening Services – and I am wondering when my turn will come up for pampering and a vacation too. Well, I just have to add that hubs is making Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes for supper tonight and he does the Latkes too each year.
    I just am disappointed that our roles are so locked in and he does not want to discuss anything – he is just tired. I also did not go on his 6 weeks bike trip vacation…I just have to figure out how to pay for it and get it off the credit card.
    I have moment of resentment, but not much time to even think about it.

    He is 64, but on his insurance physical comes in at age 38…he has to work until he is 74 to pay off our child’s medical bills. I am 62 but come in at age 68…and I am tired.

    I so wanted to be a team, particularly with parenting. Ah well, nearly done in…I have what I have and I might as well enjoy it – Our house is stunning and way ahead of it’s time energy efficiency wise….I would also like the computer systems to run the house so I do not have to open the curtains at the right time and make sure the fans are running properly…gives be something to do besides watching Soaps and eating bonbons!

    • Hi Patricia,

      I find it so interesting that many wives/mothers who basically do EVERYTHING except bring home the paycheck, still feel like they are making less of a contribution because they aren’t contributing financially.

      Let me tell you a story. Back in my corporate days, a fellow female executive, with an even more jet-set life than mine (she was constantly on the road, I wasn’t traveling all the time), had a conversation with a male director, where he made fun of her for not managing to get her travel plans in order until the last minute. He figured that she couldn’t possibly bee too busy, given that she was single. He had a wife and kids, after all, and still managed to get everything done. He had himself a good chuckle, until my very eloquent friend asked him when he last worried about cleaning the house (or dealt with the cleaner)? When did he last cook a meal, worry about the kid’s homework, take his clothes to the dry cleaner’s, go grocery shopping, decorate the house nicely so it was a home instead of a hovel, remember to send cards to someone’s birthday, take the dog to the groomer’s, make his own doctor’s appointment, etc. etc. The fact that he had a wife allowed him to do his job and get everything done without going insane. She took care of everything else. He came home to a beautiful home, to a warm dinner and didn’t have to worry about anything else. We single girls came home to that morning’s dirty dishes, to a stack of stuff that had to be dealt with. I often quipped that what I really needed in those days was a wife of my own.

      Also, you don’t have to change your husband’s mind. Just change your own mindset and you will elicit a different perspective from him. Focus on what’s going well, instead of what’s not going well. You have a beautiful home. You have amazing kids. You have your magic balls. And you’re starting a business! Yay!

      Huge hugs to you!
      Melody

      • Avatar patricia says:

        I can not go back and change anything – I am just moving forward and I do appreciate all the time I got to have with my children especially. I feel lucky I just have moments of resentment – many, many of my peers have massive depression from being at home and not being heard or appreciated.

        I think I just wanted to say that I was hoping for different roles in our team…being the good hippie and all…a great protester and Viet Nam War era person…but for many of us the timing was just not right

  • Avatar Steve says:

    I think it’s important to rearrange labels and roles to suit your current needs and reality. This is something I’ve had to do with my wife. She makes way more money than I do. At first I thought I was ok with it, but it did bother me eventually. I just talked it over with her and things are great now and it is no longer an issue.

    Our chores around the house aren’t divided in any way. Usually the person who has more time to spare does it. So the house duties fall back and forth between us. It works pretty good for now.

    • Wow Steve. It’s so great that you were able to recognize your feelings and talk them over with your wife. Sooooo many men aren’t willing to go there and the resentment just simmers underneath. Great for you!!!!

      It sounds like you guys are one enlightened couple. 🙂

      Huge hugs to both of you!

      Melody

  • Avatar Sam says:

    Fantastic post!!!

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