My partner goes into her clutch and slides me the credit card when the check comes. It’s actually her credit card from her bank account, but she slides it to me anyway. She almost always does this whenever we go out to eat. While she’s surely picked up some feministic opinions since meeting me, her solidly traditional upbringing has left her a sucker for decorum.
See, in polite society -— the kind of society that doesn’t read Sandra Bartky or even bell hooks — men are supposed to pay for the food, along with everything else. We’re expected to buy the house, buy the car, pay for the jewelry and pay for the vacations.
But that’s not how things work in my marriage. In fact, they’re almost completely the opposite. My partner, as an office manager, is the breadwinner, and I, as a writer, represent the crumbwinner. She goes to work in the morning, whereas I spend much of my mornings writing and use up most of my afternoons reading or meeting with people. I also cook dinner and try to keep our home clean as best I can, though I don’t have the eye for detail that my partner does.
And if I read society correctly (on the faces of my friends and family, that is), I’m supposed to feel bad about the role reversal in our relationship. I should be scouring the want ads for a job that makes at least as much as my partner makes. “Don’t you want to be able to buy Rocio a house and a car?” my precious grandma once asked me. “Cuídala,” my mother-in-law constantly implores.
Of course I want to buy my partner a house, a car and the rest of the things we are supposed to want. But not really. I mostly want her to live comfortably and have love in her life. I do what I can to increase her comfort and I do my best to provide the love. My desire to buy her things, strong at times, must come from some primitive part of my being, from a time when our ape ancestors didn’t know what love was or how to express it properly.
Luckily, in spite of her penchant for propriety, my partner Ro feels no need to see me earn as much as she does. And unless she’s been putting up an act these last four years, I think she quite likes being with someone who’s decided to seek out a life of their own creation.
“I think it’s crazy how much I love you,” my wife told me the other night. It’s one of her favorite confessions. I think it’s crazy that she loves me at all. Sure, I consider myself a good lover, good at loving Rocio. By focusing on loving her beyond what I thought I was capable of, I try to make it easier for her to love me back.
Still, I think it’s incredible that she loves me back at all, given our surroundings.
Society has applied more force toward pulling us apart than anything she or I have done. If it’s not our family or friends, then it’s pure strangers. My name is listed first on our lease, and it’s my name preceding hers on our joint tax return. Not only are these cues to Rocio that she didn’t marry the right man, but they’re also cues to me that I’m less of a man because I don’t have my wife under my wallet, as any real man should.
But I don’t want Rocio under my wallet, under my roof or under my anything. I give her what I can and she gives me what she can, and we don’t tally up who owes who what at the end of each day because these are not business transactions we’re engaged in. We’re engaged in love, and love always gives purely for selfish and selfless reasons. Love gives because it feels good to give, especially when you love someone. And love doesn’t expect a house or a car, just knowledge. Love wants to know people.
That’s what I mean when I say I give Ro what what I can. I’m a writer, which unfortunately means I’m poor. So all I have to offer is myself — my thoughts, my feelings, my memories and my hopes. I pry myself away from my work each day to be beside her, to talk with her, to listen to her, to place my skin next to hers so she knows what I feel like. Rocio happily gobbles everything I offer and offers herself to me in return.
When love works that way, it doesn’t matter who’s paying for dinner.
[Photo: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr]