(Trigger warning: using gendered terms)
In our gendered world, women, in particular, are raised up with the idea of a “Prince Charming” coming to sweep us off of our feet into a life-long “Happily Ever After”, with the “perfect” courtship, the “perfect” wedding, the “perfect” marriage. But, life isn’t “perfect” and often, we awaken to a world full of stress and anxiety and fear about whether we can really keep up with the Joneses and live up to the world’s expectations that we will beat the odds and keep our long-term relationships happy and intact.
Despite feminism and because of patriarchy, these standards not only hurt women, they hurt men, as well.
Despite the growing liberation of women, men are still expected, in a lot of ways, to be able to provide for a wife and kids and the women is expected to hold it down at home, doing the cooking and cleaning and still looking slamming before she steps out of the house to go to work, every day.
Our parents aren’t perfect, and very often people are raised up in families and homes that are deeply dysfunctional on a number of levels, mentally and physically. Yet, when we are grown up, we are all expected to know how to build and manage the perfect relationship, yet so many people rarely actually do.
There is some reason for hope. As women are embracing careers and deciding for themselves whether or not to have children and parent and whether or not to live alone or get involved in long-term relationships, including marriage, men are also embracing the idea that career is not the end-all be-all of masculinity. They are raising their kids in tandem and with as much effort as the mothers of those children, even embracing the idea of being at home with the kids while she brings home the bacon. More men are doing the housework and handling the household, the way that women have done for centuries.
With the growing acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and relationships, new relationship dynamics are being witnessed and explored. Monogamy and heterosexuality may still be “the rule”, but there are more exceptions being welcomed and with open and accepting arms.
For years, I lived the life that said “the man leads the household” and accepted that, until my first marriage, and I realized, the hard way, that embracing what he wants was not always what was best for me, our marriage, or our family. Despite attempts at compromise, things fell apart. It was only in hindsight that I realized that I could have and should have said “No”, to so many of his ideas. We eventually divorced because I was no longer willing to say “Yes” and he was not willing to compromise.
I blame this on my religious upbringing that expressly instructed that the man is the head of the family. No exceptions. That women should submit, despite her own reservations. The more I peer through the bonds of patriarchy, the more I recognize what bullshit it is. Men have always had the reins and done everything in their power to keep good women; women, in general, down. They continue to distort reality, making women “always” weaker than men, unable to control their emotions or their bodies, too dumb to know how to manage either, regardless of circumstance (and yet, they still expect us to know how to raise babies, cooking and cleaning, under the mistaken idea that those things don’t take very much intelligence and physical strength and endurance).
Recently, my husband and I fell into a rut, in our marriage. We were kind of quietly falling apart, but we didn’t know how to stop it. Even though our marriage already started out, kind of, unorthodox, I was still expecting certain specific and somewhat gendered behaviors from him and likewise, he from me.
Almost from the moment we moved in together, he took over the cooking and the cleaning. He waited on me hand and foot. If I needed him and called, he’d drop everything and come running. But when it came to intimacy, we were sorely lacking. So was initiative.
He was waiting for me to tell him what to do and how to do it and I was growing weary of always having to do so. Our lives had become so routine that we kind of grew accustomed to the fact that neither of us were going to get what we wanted and we were just going through the motions, hoping for a miracle. In my gendered thinking, the man almost always knows how and when to touch a woman in certain ways and in his gendered thinking, I was always ready, because he was.
I finally broke the ice and we had a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching discussion about what was wrong. I thought that it was because he needed to “Man Up” and take the initiative in learning how to please me and tease me in our romantic and sex life. I thought that I needed him to be more “manly” in how he solved other problems in our life. But, the one thing that he continued to bring up, over and over, was that he needed my help; my direction, in figuring out what to do and how to do it. He wanted to keep doing things for the household and for me, he didn’t want to give up his less traditional role.
It wasn’t enough that I screamed, “Yes, Yes!” when things were good. He needed me to tell him, “No, no, no… that’s not working for me!”, more often and more vocally. Instead, I would give a few directions a few times and when he would get lax, I’d just give up.
So, I did some research on his personality type. I’d never encountered it in my life. A man who wanted to do the housekeeping; who wanted to please me, for his sake, not really for mine? What a concept!
I realized that it was me that needed to embrace a different kind of gender role; a role where I was in the lead and my husband was the submissive spouse. I came across the idea of FLR or female-led relationships. I had researched such a thing in the past, but my first husband was not interested, even from a role-playing point of view, so I put that away as a “not in this lifetime” sort of idea. So, when I presented the idea to my current husband I was very surprised that he embraced it, immediately. And, together, we have been studying the central ideas around it and learning how to navigate a new relationship dynamic.
Right now, we are still kind of newbies, at it. We are still making up the rules. Or, rather, I am (and he’s agreeing to most of them). But, the change in our relationship and how we are connecting has been incredible. The level of true intimacy between us has gone up significantly (because I am training him when and how to be affectionate or to give me the attention that I need and I am also teaching him to ask me for affection, when he feels that he needs it). I have taken sex off of the table, for the time being, as we get to know each other in this new relationship. I want to make sure these lessons stick, before we take it to the next level.
*YMMV: This blog is just one way of many that my spouse and I do FLR/Female-Led Relationships. Like anything else, this lifestyle is not for everyone. It may not even be for us, in the long-term. But, for now, we are trying this and hope to journal our story for posterity and maybe in the hopes that somebody else can learn from us or that we can try new things on the advice of others.*