Today happens to be my 24th wedding anniversary. My research has highlighted the ways my husband and I are different, and the unique combination formed by the two of us. I'm fortunate that I'm interested by him every day, often surprised and amused.
After so long together, it may seem odd that he's still a bit alien to me. But part of his masculinity--or perhaps his personality--is a need to have things done crisply, his way, which may not be mine. I know he'd deny that. In fact, he'd immediately list the many ways he gives in to me, often spending his minimal discretionary time accompanying me to places I enjoy (craft fairs, tulip fields) rather than locations he'd prefer (dank forest paths, record stores).
We have different styles, and over the years he's relaxed enough to allow them to co-exist. He let me decorate our kitchen in the bright Caribbean colors I crave. He voluntarily relinquished the entire upstairs of our home to our guests, children and me, lest he discover the disorder he despises. Not that I'm so disorderly, but the collage of family photos on the wall above my desk is to him the epitome of chaos; the clothes dropped by children on their bedroom floors intolerable. In his comfort zone, books must stand upright, arranged by height and color within subject; I'm known to let some slant, and at times my desk is encircled by piles of papers on the floor, organized by task. By contrast, he handles each incoming piece of mail only once, and can't bear to see items that could be disposed of or dealt with resurface again on, say, a chair.
Our differing approaches have enhanced our marriage. I'm easy, flexible, smoothing things out. He keeps me (and us) moving, completing, focusing like a laser beam. Our family benefits from both. As a team, I benefit from him; he tells me the same.
Though I was a proud feminist when that term was progressive and liberated rather than passe, now my life looks embarrassingly traditional. Even biased university scholars presently admit that sex-related stereotypes weren't just the result of oppressive socialization, but based on validated gender differences. Post-women's lib, a gathering current acknowledged the truth; graduates of Women's Studies classes launched Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus onto best-seller lists.
Gender themes have become difficult to abjure. Guys are more physical, sexual, controlling, and competitive than women, who tend to be nurturing, social, verbal, emotional. I've got a dozen books sitting right behind me on the shelf with studies and statistics to support what nearly every culture has incorporated in its structure over the past four thousand years. And yet, policy and politics repeatedly try to deny what physiology posits.
In our marriage, my husband laments the chore of paying our bills, but won't delegate it to me despite my offers, lest he lose control and mastery over even the smallest aspect of our finances. He insists that each expense over $1 be recorded immediately. He's a guy, exhibiting the male need for control in the "responsibility to support the family" arena.
(I know there are many macho men whose finances are a wreck. But they probably express their needs for control in another area. Sports? Work? All of the above? I know there are many wives who are expert in handling family finances. But is it a control thing, or a nest-keeping skill?)
My husband's collection of classical music CDs is aligned in his office precisely, in alphabetical order by composer. The shelves of CDs he has yet to open are in one section (acquisition of the music is his hobby); the discs he has consumed in another. His filing system seems obsessive-compulsive, and yet his vast knowledge of music (and indeed, nearly everything) engenders my awe.
And yet, as invested as he is with his CDs, he is equally indifferent regarding his wardrobe, earning the descriptor "sartorially-challenged." Every plea to take him for a quick trip to Men's Warehouse is rebuffed with disdain. Efforts to purchase clothing for him at Nordstrom Rack result in a perfunctory try-on at home with instant dismissal. "I don't need new pants," he says definitively, light glinting off his shiny knees where once wale adorned corduroy.
After a meeting at the White House, he was taken aside and told his black jeans and light-colored sport coat were a bit below the bar.
But I've given up worrying about that. After all, he understands what this woman wants: flowers. He buys me a bouquet every day. One of many good things about him is that he hears, and heeds. What gender trait causes women to like receiving flowers, especially if you pick them out yourself and present them with a word about why those were chosen? If he's been out of town, the next time he stops at the market on the way home, he gets two bunches. To make up for the gap.
I'll be posting some of what I'm writing, about marriage as the only setting to mesh the opposite sexes. But today, on my 24th anniversary, I'm grateful to have such an endlessly fascinating opposite as my soul mate, with whom to contrast and enjoy. I absolutely cannot believe it's been so many years since the photo above...