When a teenager, I always swore to myself that I would never be dependent on a man. I was going to have my own, successful career, I would have my own, separate bank account, and if my husband and I had shared finances, I would know everything about them down to the penny.
And things did start off that way. When my husband and I got married in our mid-twenties, I was a corporate lawyer making a nice salary, I had control of my own checkbook and paid my own bills, and when we bought a condo together, I made sure that my name was on the deed.
But somewhere along the way, things devolved. I gave up my salaried career in order to write books full time – which, while I love it, is hardly lucrative – and my husband and I merged our bank accounts because it just made sense. And when we had two kids in less than three years, I was too overwhelmed to deal with paying bills or keeping track of our investments, so I let my husband take it over and I pretty much just stopped paying attention. I became, in short, exactly what I said I never would.
But it doesn’t end with just our finances. It’s the division of labor, too. I’m responsible for making (or ordering) dinner every night, going to the market, making the kids’ lunches, driving carpool, organizing playdates, buying the kids’ clothes and making their doctor and dentist and haircut appointments, volunteering at school, keeping the house clean (okay, not something I do personally, but I oversee the outsourcing of it), doing the laundry, and running household errands. My husband is in charge of coaching the kids’ sports teams, getting things around the house fixed (or, again, handling it’s outsourcing), securing tickets to sporting events, changing light bulbs, taking out the trash, paying the bills, and handling our investment, retirement, college, and life insurance accounts. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow, I feel like we’ve morphed into a version of a 1950’s family sitcom, falling somewhere on the spectrum between Ward and June Cleaver and Ralph and Alice Kramden (but probably closer to Ralph and Alice).
The thing is, we didn’t plan any of this. It’s not like he hit me over the head with a stick and said me man, you woman and insisted that I have a hot meal on the table when he got home every night. And we never sat down and had a discussion about me being in charge of the “domestic sphere” and him being in charge of the “public sphere.” It just kind of happened naturally, probably because we’re both control freaks, but in totally different ways. For example, I can’t handle someone else going to the market for me, because I like to know exactly what I’m eating and whether it’s organic or has nitrites or was shipped from Guatemala or grown in California, and I know that my husband would never pay attention to those things the way that I do. My husband, on the other hand, is obsessive-compulsive about finances and likes to make little charts about how much we spend on food and entertainment and doctor’s bills and swim lessons, and could never tolerate not knowing where every last dollar was spent if I were to pay the bills and not make little charts, which, I can assure you, I would not.
And yet, despite the traditional roles we’ve fallen into, I don’t feel like I’m “dependent” on my husband in the way I feared when I was a teenager. He may make the bulk of our income, but we share it equally. He may be in control of our finances, but they’re transparent, and I can see what we have and where our money is going any time I want. If my husband were to disappear tomorrow, I wouldn’t be panicked. I’d be sad and overwhelmed, but I’d figure it out and I’d manage. And the truth is, he’s just as dependent on me as I am on him. I mean, the guy can’t cook to save his life, and I’m pretty sure that packing two lunch boxes every day would be down right terrifying for him.
So I guess the bottom line is that, 1950’s sitcom or not, for us, it works. Once again proving that teenagers have no idea what they’re talking about.