My partner, Scott, has been considering taking a job in Chicago over the last few months of back-and-forth telephone calls and interviews with a Chicago hospital, and it’s been interesting to experience how every bit of outdated binary gender roles I could muster have come to the fore as I basically drove myself a little nuts trying to answer the question: Do I follow this person halfway across the country when I would have to a) leave a secure job in Boston at Harvard — a very stable company indeed, and b) essentially accept what I saw as the lesser role in the relationship as the person who subsumes his own life under the life and career of another person?
I consider myself to be, relative to the cretins with whom I grew up, the picture of enlightenment on sexism and gender roles. Nonetheless, it turns out these were not easy questions for me.
The first question should logically have been the hardest. Giving up financial and job security to move to another city without a job on the horizon — for a man to whom I am not married — was a dilemma the reaction to which broke down nearly exactly along traditional binary gender lines.
Women were almost exclusively of what I will call the dare-to-dream school of thought: if you love someone, you have to take that chance. Besides, they reasoned, if I do no follow Scott to Chicago I will always regret the road not taken. Love conquers all.
The men were another story. Gay men gave me a strange amalgamation of what I consider to be traditional male reactions. If I were a straight man possibly giving up my security for a woman, these men would primarily be from the Screw Her, Look Out For Your Own Needs line of thinking. Except there was a gay twist: instead of saying I should just walk away, my gay male friends were just as likely to add that I should walk away only if Scott refused to put a wedding ring on my finger.
How’s that for progress?
But requiring marriage as a pre-condition of the move struck me as a form of blackmail that trampled over questions of trust and commitment. It also went completely against an argument that regular readers will recognize my having made many times over the years: unless there are children or substantial amounts of shared assets involved, a marriage license ought not be necessary to cement a relationship that should stand or fall due to its own strengths and weaknesses, respectively.
And it turns out this was all tied up into my old-fashioned notions of not only the rules for opposite-sex marriage, but also the rules governing the meshing of two men’s lives into one.
My relationship with Scott is non-traditional. He is much younger than me — a June-September relationship, if you will. (OK, May-October — whatEVER!) He also makes far more money than I do, which makes him — to borrow an annoying term from my grandparents’ time — the “breadwinner” in the relationship.
My friends have kidded me from time-to-time about my “sugar baby” boyfriend, and I’ve always laughed, even though the jokes made me uncomfortable in ways I didn’t fully understand until the possible move to Chicago came about.
I don’t like being the one who’s seen as dependent upon my boyfriend. I don’t like going out to dinner where most of the time my younger boyfriend picks up the tab if the meal is at all pricey. (Even though waiters will almost always drop the check in front of me.)
Of course, Scott has always maintained that none of this bothers him. He loves me; he loves my company — whether it be at a restaurant dinner or an overseas vacation — and my presence makes all of it more meanginful.
I chose a career — journalism and writing — where the rewards are, for the immediate future of the field, largely of the intellectual variety and not financial. He is in a field — medicine — where the monetary incentives are substantially higher. We will do what makes sense: pay for things according to our incomes.
Of course, as several people have tried to hammer into my psyche over the last few months, these questions would not arise if we were a traditional straight couple — with Scott in the role of the bring-home-the-bacon man. Which makes me the homemaking or underemployed woman.
And therein, I realized, was the problem. I felt emasculated. I was the woman. How terrible for someone who’s barely been able to bring myself to move across a city for a man, much less across the country, to be subsuming my needs and ego beneath those of another man. It made me weak — less of a man.
Goodbye Boston. Hello Chicago.
Jeff Epperly is the former editor of Bay Windows. He blogs at jefferly.com.