Be Careful What You Wish For

For a long time, I despaired of ever having a fully equal partner, one who did exactly as much work as I did around the house and never expected me to do one bit more. Now, I’ve got one. This pretty much means we live in a filthy apartment and only eat food that people bring to us in cardboard and plastic. Turns out two times zero is zero. Oops.

Well, Al does a lot of laundry, and I try to Swiff and/or vacuum the dog hair before it gets organized and attacks, and somehow, the dishes eventually get done and the sheets and towels get changed and the toilet gets cleaned–albeit all of those things on a schedule that is undoubtedly preventing my mother’s soul from resting peacefully. Our theoretical standards are different–I was mortified to learn he invited a friend over last weekend while I was out; it certainly wasn’t company-clean, to my mind–but our practical standards are pretty similar, so it works. Basic hygiene is taken care of, and we’ll both get around to the clutter when we get sick of tripping over it, so we don’t fight about the state of the apartment, which is refreshing.

Cooking, however, is another story. Neither one of us is a talented or experienced cook, and neither one of us could stand doing it every night. One of us, though–who happens to me–enjoys doing it sometimes. And you’ll note I said “enjoys,” not “doesn’t mind” or “can tolerate.” I like cooking, when I feel like it–it’s just that that’s not very often.

Problem is, Al does not like it, and will not do it. That in itself is not a problem–I don’t care, don’t expect him to, and don’t feel in any way cheated because I occasionally do something he doesn’t. The problem is that he’s so concerned with keeping this relationship equal, he actually discourages me from cooking.

The other night, I decided to make baked potatoes with a bunch of crap on them for dinner. Just about as simple as it gets: put taters in hot box for one hour, chop vegetable crap, open packages of fatty crap, et voila. He was willing to let me go to that much effort without getting antsy about his lack of reciprocation. But then came the bacon issue…

Before I went to the store, I asked him what he wanted on his potato. He listed the usual suspects, including “Bac-Os.”

Me: Baco-Os, or real bacon?
Al: Bac-Os.
Me: You actually prefer them?
Al: Yeah.

And so I bought Bac-Os for him and real bacon for me. Then he came into the kitchen while I was cooking the bacon for me.

Al: Wait, you’re actually making real bacon?
Me: Yeah.
Al: Oh… Can I have some of that?
Me: Of course, but why the hell did I buy Bac-Os?
Al: ‘Cause I wanted bacon, but I didn’t want to put you to a ridiculous amount of trouble.

Yes, folks, slapping bacon strips in a pan and flipping them once or twice constitutes a “ridiculous amount of trouble” in this house.

It’s sweet of him, really–and infinitely preferable to a guy who expects my vagina to produce a wholesome home-cooked meal every night–but for crying out loud, it’s okay to be “unequal” sometimes. Isn’t it?

I mean, Al has upgraded the technology in this apartment to levels I literally did not know were currently attainable. I can hit a button at the top of my keyboard and watch TV on my computer screen right now, if I feel like it. And if I use his wireless card, I can go anywhere with this computer and watch TV the same way. Before I met him, I not only didn’t know Slingboxes existed, I didn’t know wireless cards existed. The boy’s earned a couple strips of bacon with that shit.

Furthermore, because my computer’s a piece of shit, and I don’t remotely understand it, I e-mail or IM him with tech questions at least once a week. He hates it when people do that to him, but I get to cash in my special girlfriend points and receive patient answers anyway.

There’s stuff he knows that I don’t, and stuff I know that he doesn’t. And actually, more precisely, it’s usually that there’s stuff he’s motivated to know that I’m not, and vice versa. He most certainly has the intelligence to make a passable spinach lasagne, and I most certainly have the intelligence to divine the correct sequence of buttons to make our new living room TV go. As it is, though, only I know how to do the former and only he knows how to do the latter. Before the Slingbox, I just didn’t watch TV when he wasn’t here, which never seemed like a huge sacrifice to me. And if he wants spinach lasagne, he’ll pay a trained professional to provide it. It’s not that we can’t learn, or refuse on principle, it’s that we see no compelling reason to. I could live happily without a TV; he could live happily without anything except beer in the fridge, ever. Other way around, not so much.

Unfortunately, our respective lacks of motivation correspond with traditional gender expectations. Bleh. And because Al is not an asshole, he understands that traditional gender expectations traditionally lead to the woman getting fucked over somehow. And so he is wary of the technology-for-bacon exchange.

I can see why, sort of. My mother was famous for throwing hissyfits about how my father expected his dinner on the table by 6 every night, and then he’d always complain about her not making the right thing. In reality, it was her dad, not mine, who was that kind of asshole. My dad’s pretty much a goat, and as long as somebody’s pouring Scotch, he’s in no rush to get to the table. But my mom’s baggage was so heavy that “Okay, I’ll just have another drink” meant, “I’M GOING TO DROWN MY SORROWS BECAUSE MY DINNER’S NOT READY, YOU WORTHLESS BITCH” and “Please pass the salt” meant “CAN’T YOU MAKE ANYTHING TASTE GOOD?”

Yet she would never have dared not to cook every night, because she came of age in the ’50s, and because one time, she left my dad in charge of feeding my brother and sister, and he gave them each a bowl of hot tap water and saltines. (“Soup.” No lie.) So she did it for forty years and increasingly resented the fuck out of my dad–who would never have thought to shift for himself in that respect, except when he got to play with an open fire–and so yeah, dinner fucking sucked at my house. Al’s particular experience was different, but shot through with the same fundamental yuck factor, so we’re both excessively wary of anything that bears a passing resemblance to that sort of pattern.

BUT. I’m totally confident that there’s no danger of my growing to resent Al for consistently eating my cooking without contributing any of his own, for the simple reason that I have no intention of cooking consistently. The important thing to me, equality-wise, is that he doesn’t expect me to cook, any more than I expect him to.