Adjustment period

ImageBeing back at work has definitely made my new living situation both feel more normal, and a lot harder. The first two weeks of living with my man were filled with quiet days of unpacking and then vegging on the couch. Indulging the ‘playing family’ fantasy we all have as kids – cooking, wearing an apron when greeting him as he walks through the door, all that schmaltzy but kind of awesome jazz.

Then reality set back in, and instead, I’m coming home with little over an hour of me time before he gets home, which just gives me time to collect myself and then wash the dishes from the night before. Ah, dishes. The bane of a shared household. I know when I lived in my first share house, the Christian hippies I lived with didn’t seem to believe in cleaning. The dishes, the floors, their baby… I’m not a neat freak by anyone’s standards, but I do appreciate seeing the surface of tables and knowing there isn’t mould growing on unexpected things (just don’t look at the lemon that decided to mutate overnight in our fruit bowl, ok?).

Learning how to live with someone new is an adjustment, no matter who they are. When it’s someone you love to bits, the pressure to make sure things go well is even stronger. So when the inevitable stresses and strains of working life started back up, it filtered into our home life a bit. We got snappy, we had tense moments. I asserted my feminist foot stomps just slightly too much (refusing to do both the cooking and the dishes didn’t go down well – could have handled that conversation better!). The moments have been fleeting, however, and now Simon is sharing the cooking with me we’re both responsible for the series of disastrous dinners we’ve had this fortnight.

We did have our first big storm away from each other, impassioned ‘discussion’ the other night, which was a highly unpleasant but apparently healthy part of being in a relationship (so everyone has been telling me). We’re learning more about each other every day, including the signs we should just stop whatever we’re doing to each other and cool down. Some are learning these lessons more quickly than others! But in the end, we love each other. For those who know the MBTI system, you’ll get a fair idea of our mismatch moments when I tell you that he is a very strong INTP and I am a very strong INFJ. We’re considered the ‘golden couple’ by many in the personality typing world, generally because of a glorious misunderstanding of each other. I don’t think that’s entirely true for me and Simon, as I like to think I’m getting to understand him more each day. And I love everything about him being an INTP, even the bits that frustrate the hell out of me or confuse me. Sometimes we are that couple in the picture above (thanks Pinterest), taking it in turns holding the umbrella.

All up though, I’m very happy. It gives me a warm glow thinking of waking up next to him in the morning (and also gives me the giggles to think of his sleep talking). And our dinner disasters have been fairly hilarious. We have developed an uncanny knack of planning one thing, it going horribly wrong, like the time the steak we had planned to stir fry had gone funky, and then our back up plan also going haywire. Like putting frozen fish in the oven, turning it down from the high heat used to start cooking the frozen chips and not realising that turned the oven off. I came back, cooked our vegetables, opened the oven to serve up and found some slightly soggy, partially melted fish. Mmm, tasty.

Not all dinners have been complete write offs though. We made the mistake of grocery shopping while hungry on the weekend, and Simon convinced me we should get some rib eye steaks. One each. I have never had a rib eye before, so I didn’t realise how huge they are. I have never eaten so much meat in one sitting in my entire life. The thing didn’t even fit on my plate! I didn’t quite make it through the whole thing, but by god, it was delicious. It’s the little things like this that are making it heaps of fun to be living with Simon. That and the stupid goofy feeling I get when I look over at him and realise I get to see him all the time.Image

Feminists need to eat too, you know.

Before dating Simon, I despised cooking. No, that’s not entirely true. I was known to go through phases of devoted baking. But I hated preparing dinner, for myself or for anyone else. I always knew a time would come when I would either no longer have someone else who would do the cooking (thanks Mum), or I would get sick of rice with cheese and the frozen meals section of the supermarket. In preparation for that time, I would occasionally buy myself an inspiring recipe book. I would then read through the pages, starting out with an excited determination to become the next Julia Child and gradually sinking into a state of overwhelmed despair. The recipe book would join the others on the shelf, and I would put the idea of being a brilliant cook on a shelf in my mind, until the next colourful recipe book came along.

When I met Simon, we were just friends for a very long time, and I didn’t think I’d ever have a shot at being his gal, so all those pressures of trying to be impressive and a desirable partner weren’t a bother. I know, I know, we should all just be ourselves anyway, but who doesn’t like to present their best self when trying to lure in a potential match? Simon got to know the real me from the beginning, once getting past the walls I use to keep most of the world out of the ‘real’ me space inside. So he knew going in to this that I am not a cook. He declared his enjoyment of cooking, and I thought that was brilliant – my ‘dream guy’, if you can have such a thing without becoming one of those List Girls I dislike, would come with mad culinary skills and want to keep me out of the kitchen. He would cook, I would clean, and we’d live in a world of wedded bliss. As I said, dream guy…

Simon is a good cook, I’ll give him that. Though the first meal he cooked me, I couldn’t eat, and felt so awful about it. I’m not a big fishy fish eater, and it was one of those late night, let’s cook whatever is in the cupboard moments. What was in the cupboard was a tin of salmon and some rice noodles. In went the salmon, some frozen veggies and the rice noodles. Rice noodles didn’t go in for long enough, the salmon was overpoweringly fishy, and my first and final mouthful went into a piece of paper towel. Since then, all meals have been great, and he is a master at cooking spaghetti and pasta sauce, so we’ve eaten that. A lot. Which is great, because I love pasta.

As the idea of us living together grew, we started discussing the division of duties. I’m not going to be stuck with all the jobs, thought I, the powerful feminist. I’d been doing the housework at his house on weekends for a couple of months already, as I like a clean house and he’s not always that fussed about it. And I figured it was my way of contributing to the household, as he wouldn’t let me chip in for bills/rent even though I lived here about a third of the week.

I began to get a bit nervous about having to cook. I knew once I didn’t live with my mother, I would be the woman of the house and would have to shoulder some of the cooking burden. The original plan of him cooking and me cleaning had gone out the window when he got into law school – working full time and studying full time equals nights dedicated to learning, not sustenance. After I met his mother, the nerves got worse. I love Jane, and she’s been really welcoming. But she’s got things so under control in the house, it’s quite intimidating. She’s an amazing cook, and a creative one as well. I’ve eaten the meals she’s sent home to Simon while he was living alone, and the things she’s cooked when we’re at her house. As much as Simon says he doesn’t mind whether I can cook or not, I know he’s been raised on that food and that attitude that the woman cooks and provides for her family that way. Unlike my family (a giant shamozzle of divorce and weirdness), his is very traditional – his dad is an executive and has worked his butt off to provide a solid life for his family, Jane is a teacher who has created and maintains a lovely home, and they’ve been together forever (well, near enough). Which is beautiful and I greatly admire that, and would hope the same for my life (with differences, of course, but a long term, stable relationship would be lovely).

However, coming from my life, it’s quite daunting. The feeling is all of my own creation, as Simon loves me for who I am and tells me he doesn’t want me to be anything like that, we’ll create our own lives and ways of doing things. His mum would love for me to step into her shoes though, and mentions things along those lines when I’m around there – in the loveliest way, of course, but still, you know the hope is there. I’ve praised her cooking a number of times, so when it was my birthday recently, she got me a present. As I was opening it, she was fussing, saying she wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I did the stock line assuring her I was sure I’d love it. The wrapping coming off, I saw it was some kind of books. I gave an anticipatory ‘oo’, and she cried ‘Oh, don’t get too excited, you might not like them – I know you’re a feminist!’. Puzzled, I opened the rest of the wrapping to unveil a couple of recipe books. Amazing recipe books (1000 best recipes from the Australian Women’s Weekly – the recipe bible, in my opinion, and an easy recipes book). I was suitably grateful and excited, and Malcolm, Simon’s dad turned to Jane and said ‘See, what on earth were you worried about? Feminists need to eat too!’. Which really tickled me, and it keeps going through my mind as I learn to cook decent meals for me and my man.

I’m learning slowly that keeping a nice house and cooking good food for a family (of 2) doesn’t automatically push me back into the 1950s. Feminism is all about having choices, as my mum reminds me when I have an identity crisis (they happen about once a week at the moment – it takes me a bit to get used to changes). The problem with being barefoot in the kitchen back in the day was that it was all that was allowed for women. You got married, your outdoor life was done and you served your husband. Which is a lovely thing, but not when it’s not acknowledged as equally as important as the man heading off to work on the train. Now, we can ‘have it all’, which generally translates to ‘doing it all’, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, I keep reminding myself that I’m not degrading myself by looking after my boyfriend. I’m choosing to do it, as it’s a way for me to show my love. I’ve never been particularly good at verbalising my feelings – they’re too intense and words don’t do them justice (says the writer – a horrible situation to be in), so I show my love. And seeing the look on Simon’s face when he comes home to a cooked meal, one that tastes so good he goes back for seconds (nailed a cottage pie yesterday!), makes me so ridiculously happy I start to reevaluate my thoughts on those 1950s housewives. It’s nice to be able to provide something for the man I love, whether it be part of my pay check going towards the household expenses, or a hot meal. He cares for me too, and does things around the house on weekends when he’s not studying. Even his studying is his part of looking after us and our future. I wouldn’t say I’m quite reconciled to this whole housewife vs feminism deal yet, but I’m learning.

 

My first attempt at a cottage pie, from the recipe book Jane gave me. Nailed it.

 

The lady of the house

My first goulash in my new house - totally nailed it.

My first goulash in my new house – totally nailed it.

 

I’ve always been a feminist. My father spat the word at me once when I was 4 years old, after I’d stood up for myself or commented on some remark he’d made. I knew the tone he’d used meant something bad, so when I was back with my mum (oh yes, a child of divorce) I told her and her good friend Lynnie that dad had called me something bad starting with f, and I think it was that thing from toothpaste. After establishing he hadn’t, in fact, called me fluoride, Mum and Lynnie asked me to tell them what I’d been doing before he’d said the word. I remember them grinning at each other and asking me if he’d called me a feminist. I said yes, and they laughed and said that was an awesome thing to be called as it meant I was a strong and independent woman. It was one of the first times I felt like one of the gals, a member of a new and fascinating club that had a special name. It was also my first experience of the double edge of being known as a feminist – some folks see it as an insult, something to be thrown in your face and then dismissed.

My life hasn’t been full of strength and solid bra burning choices. Sure, I did attend rallies and protest meetings with my mother a few years after that, chanting ‘We have the right…to reclaim the night!’ as I marched alongside men, women and children down the main streets of my nearest city (though born and raised for a while in Melbourne, I soon became a rural child). Mum remarried, and lucked out by finding a legit psychopath to join and then split up our family. He claimed to be a feminist, but gradually our sense of self and strength eroded under his delicate manipulations. Not entirely though, and I never gave in completely. I’m proud to say that one of the excuses he used to eventually leave my mother was that she was a feminist (something he originally admired, while it served his purposes). I’ve never been a man hater, but I was raised by strong women in my early years, and my mum always taught me that I had an inalienable right, as a person, not as a man or a woman, to achieve whatever I put my mind to. If I wanted a Barbie or a My Little Pony to play with, I had it. If  I wanted a remote control car, or a carpentry set, I had those as well.

Just like everyone, my life has been peppered with highs and lows, and many challenges. I’ve come through the darkest places I’ve known to exist (kicking my step dad out of my life was a big part of that), and worked hard on myself. And then, when I least expected it, as cliche as that sounds, I met a man. A man who intrigued and fascinated me. A man I found attractive, not just physically (though he is the perfect blend of all the classic leading men I’ve loved in film) but intellectually. He was unavailable when I first met him, so it was strictly a friendship that developed. I doubt I would have had the courage to speak to him if I’d known he was single. But speak to him I did, and little by little the walls I’d built up around myself came down and I found a new best friend. His life changed, and we were able to be together. It’s been 8 months now (conveniently, our anniversary is New Year’s Day – mainly because I took my heart in my hands, screwed up every skerrick of courage I possessed and turned up on his doorstep to resolve the back and forth crap we’d been doing for ages), and he asked me about a month ago to move in with him. Totally took me by surprise, as our beginning was so rocky it still astonishes me that we’re actually together, that I can be this lucky.

I moved in last weekend, and have decided to keep this blog to record my first experience of ‘living with a man’. My man. It’s strange, thinking I’m now the lady of the house. Before this, I’d lived at home, left to go to uni, and then had my mum move in with me in the last year of uni after she split with my step dad. I set some ground rules, as I didn’t want to go back to being the child, but still – she was the woman of the house. Now it’s all me. I’ve found out some things about myself these past few months that have surprised me, and I’m sure I’m going to find out more as I go along. I’m sure there are millions of women who have gone through the same things, so this is me, reaching out to the world wide web worth of women, to share my experiences with you and hear about yours in return.