Many of my friends are men. It has been like that for all my life and maybe, just maybe, there is a reason for it. (I have a few very close girlfriends as well. But man, you don’t want to mess with these girls.)
Contrary to a popular belief, men like to talk. As a friend, I often become a landing point of their views on life, love and marriage. And everything in between. When I first heard, a very long time ago from a very good friend of mine, that he is seeing people outside of his marriage, I was not sure how to take it. Some good-girl values struggled with reality for a while, but then I figured out (quite selfishly, I admit) that what mattered to me was that he was a great friend and his lose morals were his personal business. I asked why, though. I am a curios person (which often is a cause of many of my life’s problems). He told me that he and his wife had nothing to talk about anymore. He did not think she was interesting as a person. “Yeah, right”, – I thought back then, cross-checking in my mind the photo of his last catch to that of his wife (and you thought men do not share photos?). Whatever.
I have heard this story many times since then. Often, it had nothing to do with another woman (after all, my friends are good guys). Men who did not want to go back home because all what’s waiting for them was wife and kids. Men who were hanging out at gyms, offices, sports’ bars and were desperately looking for a colleague to grab a drink with after hours, as if seeing one’s colleague 10 hours a day is not enough. Every time I heard such a story, something inside of me errrked. Really, you too? If most single people act like they want kids and family, why people who actually have kids and family don’t want to go home? Or are all of those who want that women?
Of course, not all the men who have families don’t want to go home. Some of them pretty much rush there and are over-the-hills happy about it. You have friends like that, right? Well, my sample is admittedly limited.
Somehow I did not buy into the conventional wisdom of all men being bastards (or hunters, if the same version of the story was being delivered by men). I know plenty who are just great people. So I went back to this thing my old friend told me back in the days and decided to give it some drill. Maybe, just maybe, there is a different truth to it.
– Marriage is a joint venture, – one friend of mine, given wings by the fact that someone takes interest in men’s point of view on this trivia, laid out his hypothesis – 50/50, best case. Love and sex have nothing to do with it.
– Then what’s in the 50 that a woman brings? – I needed more data.
– Hmm – I guess, no one has properly applied the research methods to the subject before.-Taking care of kids?
– But is it really 50%?
I know, kids take a lot of work (and I am not doing a favor to all the women out there who have decided to dedicate their lives bringing them up by writing this post). All the men know it, too. That’s why they judge it as high as 50%. As much as paying the bills and other hard work that they, men, do. Then why the equation does not work?
In the world with a limited attention span, time is the scarcest assets of all. True that. So we often think that spending time with someone is the best we can do for them. Time equals love. In a way, it is true. Nothing beats being there for someone we care about when he or she needs us, in person. Nothing can replace celebrating birthdays, hospitals visits and school plays… But how frequent are these crucial moments? Life is made by small things, not by epic events. Small things happen every day. And guess what, for the small things quality means more that quantity (there are already many of them, since they make up to a life). Understanding is quality. Sharing an interest is quality. Challenging ideas is quality. Introducing us to something great is quality. Leaving space is quality. Even winning in a scrabble game is quality! And men need those things, too.
Now, ideally, we all want to give it all to our partners. We want to be loving, understanding and generous, we want to share the good and the bad. No woman enters a relationship thinking “I can’t wait for him to come back home to give him a look full of silent reproach and, boy, will I revenge if this look is not decoded and made up for in 10 seconds”. (At least, most women don’t. I want to be fair to everyone here.)
So we all want things to work. That’s obvious. (We also think that stuff I talked about in the beginning will never happen to us, because we are different.) But then life gets in the way. We start living together, we have kids, someone is making more money, someone is having more time. We want to make it right for the kids as well and who can do a better job than a mom. Especially of two or three or four of five. Especially if an alternative child care equals to (or exceeds) that mom’s salary. It is easy to fall into this thinking, and it is no surprise that many people do. It is a good intent kind of thinking (plus, what’s wrong with centuries’ old traditions, look at Donald).
What’s not obvious is that when doing that many often forget to stay that great partner they intended to be. That real 50% of the joint venture. By many I mean both men and women here, to be fair. But we all know what men do wrong, so I am mostly intrigued by the other side of the story. The women who keep the house clean, the family well fed and the homework done. And, in the middle of all that, run into a risk of forgetting about a big part of their lives, of themselves, which defined them before they had this family, before they met this man. The part which, by the way, made him fell in love with them in the first place.
Some women don’t. A lot, I would like to think. I have a friend who spent her pregnancy plotting a change from the world of academics to the world of business. First six months of her baby’s life were marked by going with her for long walks in the park, studying company options and setting up job interviews. By the end of her maternity leave, she landed the job she was aiming for. And now, with her baby girl turning two, my friend is the head of her department (and she is rocking it). My other friend – several friends, actually – went to to INSEAD with small children. All of them had ok jobs before. But they wanted better jobs, they wanted to be passionate about what they do at work as much as they are passionate about their home lives and about their kids. And they are now. Not without ups and downs, but always inspired to do something more.
It is difficult, I get it. I get it when I myself fly back home after a week of travelling for work (or two). I get in a cab and the only wish I have at this moment is to get to the carpet of my living room, to lie down there like a starfish and to watch the ceiling, in silence (I am an extreme case of an extrovert person, and it is Friday). Louveteau comes back home after an equally relaxing week. And he is probably hungry, because that’s what men usually are. Moments like that, I think about those of girlfriends of mine who don’t work. About all these gorgeous girls with glowing skin, in gorgeous semi-transparent home clothes (which they have plenty), who start their days from hot yoga and carry it on to other dzen and goodness with some herbal tea in between, these girls who meet their husbands with warm several-course meal and a look of divine serenity. I fix my eyes on an empty fridge, look at Louveteau and say: “I am a terrible housewife. Want to order in and watch Orange is the New Black?” So see, it is difficult. Even without kids. I get it.
And I still think you should do all you can to be an interesting person. Working or not when you have kids is not the question I have been pondering upon here. It is a decision families make based on many things, together, and that’s what families are about. And it is not what makes it or breaks it for happy couples. You can still be at home mom and wow your partner. So please, be an interesting person. Above all, do it for yourself. Have something you are passionate about – something only yours, personal. Something else than your relationships, your kids and your family. You already have them, and it is only human to love them. Just don’t dissolve in that.
This passion does not have to be work. I often write about it, because I have been working myself for such a long time that if I recall it, my European readers would think I am at least 42. And all my girlfriends work, too. (Two of them have their own businesses, savvy and smart). However, I know some great moms out there who don’t go to the office and don’t run their own money-making engines but have some fly-high hobbies. Like writing terrific blogs about living abroad or coding new ways of information sharing.
As long as you are passionate about something, -anything, really! – that keeps you alive. Life is full of pressure and routine, people place demands on your time, more and more so the older you get. We all need that little bit of magic, that little sparkle that lights up our eyes. It does not help you cast a spell on a man and does not give any guarantees – but then nothing gives you any guarantees, including a marriage contract and a 50-years joint house loan (hello). We just need it for ourselves. To live. (It also provides an alternative source of happiness from your partner, which helps you hedge, in case he is too busy to throw in some to your life.)
Passions can be shared, too. And they lead to common projects. It does not need to be anything big. Of course, buying a house is a project. Renovating a house is a project. But you don’t do it every day, right? I don’t. Instead, I collect Starbucks mugs. It is not the most intellectual (or healthiest, or otherwise most useful) of all hobbies, I agree. But it makes me happy. (I also get plenty of intellectual challenges throughout the day.) I get a mug (from one collection only, Icon City) from everywhere I go, and that’s the way of keeping my travel memories on display. We have quite some mugs now. Now, this collection is being discontinued. That makes it a thrill to get a new mug. I started chasing those mugs a long time ago and now Louveteau gets a thrill, too, and we collect them together. It is a project that we have, even though it’s a modest one.
So be an interesting person. Ultimately, that’s the best investment you can make. Don’t limit your world. Always thrive for something. If you want to make someone better, be that person. Try new things, dare, learn. Read real books. Never stop asking questions about how the world works. Make mistakes, fail, grow. Share things you are passionate about with people you love. This way you will always bring something to their world. You might also inspire them to do great things with their lives, who knows.
And that will make you the most desirable investment option – ever.