Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Know the family lifestyle you're choosing, and why
Mason-Dixon Romance: My boyfriend and I were raised very differently. He is very traditional, believes the man is the head of the household, appreciates having his dinner set before him on the table, etc., while I was raised by a single dad and believe strongly in gender equality. Over the holidays, I spent time with my boyfriend's family and was kind of touched by the way their home ran, watching the mom serve the dad and so on. I think there's something romantic and sweet about it, and I am willing to try to fit that role more for my boyfriend.
My friends are horrified. I think it's probably fine as long as everyone is okay with it. What do you think?
Carolyn: Wow. Before you commit to anything, define "probably."
Also, find out what this agreement looks like below the surface. Presumably she serves him dinner, he handles the cars and the lawn, and then . . . ? Who makes decisions about money? Can she say no to sex? If she gets sick, will he take over the cooking and laundry, or will he whine and abdicate and leave a mess to greet her when she rises from the half-dead to get back to serving him?
If she decides she's through being a homemaker, will he support both her career goals and hiring household help, or will he resist and pout that this isn't what he signed up for?
Or does she already work? Is she coming home to a second full-time job, while he's free to dine in comfort and go read the paper after a day at his one full-time job?
What if they disagree on something fundamental — say, she wants the kids to have private schooling to get special needs addressed, but he wants that money for himself. Does he prevail, simply because he's male?
I'm not saying these things to vilify men. Obviously men have been instrumental in getting rid of these exact stereotypes I've just dusted off. And certainly not every "traditional" family is built on a foundation of oppression. Plenty of intelligent and talented women choose to be homemakers, with the respect and support of husbands who see them as equals.
I also think the whole purpose of the women's movement wasn't to make sure a wife never serves her husband dinner again; it was to make sure that men and women both get to choose their roles, not just at home, but also in the workplace and in civic life.
Of course, you needn't listen to your friends or me or anyone else when it comes to deciding how you'll shape your life with a partner. Even if it's warped all the way, it's your warped.
But you do need to think hard before shaping your life around a 48-hour Norman Rockwell moment. Remind yourself — or inform yourself, if you never looked closely at the women's movement, particularly its mid 20th century American phase — of exactly what kind of misery drove so many women to rebel so forcefully.
In other words, choose away, but not before you know exactly what you're choosing. While you're there, it also wouldn't hurt to ask why: Do you want this, or is it just about pleasing a guy?