We started dating as freshmen in college, and we were only eighteen years old. I--of course--thought nothing of that age at the time; I was grown.
But I was young, and there was a lot of me left to develop (just as I hope there's still a lot of me left to develop in the future). When I came to college, my personal politics were largely unformed. I came from a family of independent voters in a heavily conservative area. I had been exposed to very little diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation, religion, or culture. I did not harbor much actively prejudicial thought toward people different from me; I just didn't harbor much thought at all.
College truly changed my life. Getting exposed (even in a small Midwestern college) to diversity opened my eyes to the world. I began to think of oppression and became the often-ranty equality-minded person you love (or love to hate) today. But I mean "began to think" very literally; this was a process over time.
My husband--who had grown up in an urban area and went to a very diverse school--didn't need quite the cultural primer I did, but college was expanding his world as well. He studied politics and journalism, and he was constantly exposed to new perspectives.
Neither of us explicitly studied feminist theory as undergrads, but we both took some critical race theory and--partially because we are an interracial couple--we talked about equality often. As we grew through the steps of moving in together, joining our finances, getting engaged, etc. we negotiated an increasingly equitable partnership that carried over into our marriage. There was no big conversation, though, about our views on gender roles and equality. We just dealt with things as they came, and we came up with arrangements that worked for us.
Then, as I've written about before, having a baby threw a wrench into our otherwise equal arrangement. Where before we had the benefit of time and gradual changes to negotiate our responsibilities, having a baby threw a whole slew of never-before-attempted work into our laps at once. And there were some tensions that revolved around gender roles.
Understandably, since I was breastfeeding and had a much longer leave from work than he did, the early weeks of parenting fell more on my shoulders. In many ways, this left me the "expert" (a term I use loosely, because I had no clue what I was doing most of the time) in the parenting field. That left me in charge of so many tiny decisions that it felt like death by a thousand paper cuts. Then things seemed to snowball for a while.
My husband is a great man, and when I voiced these concerns he really, truly heard me. But neither of us knew how to fix it. That took time, but we started to figure it out.
But do you know what I never, ever had to say in those conversations with my husband (all 8 million of them) to get to this space? I never had to justify my equality. I never had to argue why the work of the home shouldn't just fall on my shoulders. I never had to explain the patriarchy or justify my desire for a fulfilling profession. I never had to convince him that his role as father was as important as my role as mother. Sure, we had to fight through some potentially gendered habits, but we never had to fight through a philosophical foundation of inequality.
And I didn't realize until recently how very fortunate I am. There are many, many women who I know personally that have to fight to justify their need for equality in their own households. There are many women who simply will not get it from their partners. I am not making this observation to say that I am somehow better than these women because, honestly, I didn't know to have these conversations before I got married. I knew that my husband was a great man, but I had no way of knowing that he was a feminist because I didn't know to ask those questions.
And what if he hadn't been? What if we hadn't grown into the understanding of equality together? Some recent conversations have reminded me that there are plenty of people for whom the assignment of roles in a relationship are based purely off of genitalia, without a second thought. Did getting married so young put me at a greater risk of entering into a relationship with someone whose thinking had not yet evolved (after all, my own thinking wasn't yet on that level)? Or did starting so young give me the opportunity to grow with my husband, to make discoveries in how the world works simultaneously?
Either way (or neither way), I am so very glad that this mutual equality evolution happened in my household.
Photos: anitakhart, Pablo S Rios