Early in college, I had firm ideas about what my future would hold: I wanted to have a career, I wanted to travel, and I didn’t want to sacrifice anything for a relationship. If you had told me at 20, that by 25 I would be living in a small town with my fiancé, unemployed, and relying on him to pay the bills and provide transportation, I would have been dismayed.
The truth is, it’s not so bad—and it’s necessary for our relationship. We met when I was studying abroad in the U.S., dated long distance for three years while I pursued grad school and he started a career, then decided to get engaged and live together. I won’t bore you with the details of immigration matters, but suffice to say I don’t currently have permission to work, so we have to survive on his income alone.
Even though it’s a situation that many women have lived with—my mother and my future mother-in-law included—it’s not a set-up that women of my generation aspire to. At least, not openly. I’m a feminist, and while I know that that does not require me to have a job, I’ve had to reconcile my sense of identity with my current constraints.
My fiancé works 60 hours a week, and we have to manage his—our—money carefully. I’m responsible for most of the cooking and cleaning, and I spend a good chunk of time at home alone, since I can’t have a license yet. This was inevitably a terrible arrangement, at first. Most days were spent watching Netflix, grumbling to myself about the housework and dreaming of what I could be doing back home in London. He would return from work, exhausted and wanting to relax, and I would pout because I wanted someone to listen to me about how much my life sucks.
In some ways, being together in strained circumstances is harder than when we lead independent lives in different places. In grad school, I was free to go to the gym, watch a movie or hang out with friends without checking in with him first. We generally talked once a day, and would see each other approximately every 5 weeks. It was hard, and we missed each other, but the time we did spend together was amazing. Now that we live together, the quantity of facetime has increased, but it takes a special effort for it to be quality time.
Over the past few months, we’ve had to work to make each other happy. I’ve had to back off about him being untidy sometimes. He’s had to be more communicative about his plans, if he’s going to be out and not make it home for dinner. I’ve had to make more of an effort to be in a good mood when he gets home. He’s had to make time to give me rides so I can accept social or volunteer invitations. Even though we’ve been together for years, we’ve had to get used to more ways that we’re vulnerable to each other.
With that said, there have been a lot of benefits to being, as I think of it, a reluctant housewife. First of all, I came to understand how much respect my mother deserves for running a household. She stayed at home with us when we were little, but once I (the youngest) went to school, she went back to work. When I think about how she raised three children, always had dinner on the table and kept a spotless house while having a full time job, I am truly humbled.
Secondly, once I cut myself off from Netflix, I started to pursue the things I didn’t have time for in grad school. I jog around my neighborhood and work out at home regularly, I volunteer for local nonprofits, teach creative writing classes for local teens, run a book club, organize community events and, occasionally, I stop procrastinating from wedding planning. I used to be focused on the general concepts of being independent and having a career, but the time spent at home—first wallowing, now working—has been a gift. I have a lot more clarity about what I want out of my life and my relationship.
When I was 20, my version of feminism was such that I would not have accepted the idea that a relationship could be equal if one person paid all the bills. I’m not saying that all financially disparate relationships are balanced, but in my case, it really is. Financial imbalance is not something to fear if you love each other equally. Staying at home was never my plan, but it is possibly the best thing that could have happened for my writing, my relationship and my future career. In all honesty, I might be a little sad the day my work visa arrives.
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