I went on my first date at age 15. We went to see “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” at the mall. Thus, the dating world had opened to me, and I had a lot of questions. Even at age 15, I was concerned about how I would assert my female independence while in a relationship.
On that first date, I told him never to open my car door for me again. He paid for the movie tickets despite my protests (which were genuine, not just an expected nicety). I paid for my meal in the mall food court.
Almost six years later, I’ve learned a lot about relationships and a lot about feminism. The boy from that first date is my current boyfriend, Allen. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about being a feminist in a relationship:
Lesson #1: Gender roles are meant to be broken, but they don’t have to be.
This is a lesson I’ve been learning all of my life, mostly by watching my parents. In my household, my mom always mowed the lawn, while my father did most of the cleaning and cooking. My mom deals with the bills and my dad goes grocery shopping. These tasks are divided this way because of their own particular preferences and have nothing to do with their genders.
My mother hates grocery shopping and enjoys mowing the lawn. But she also does the laundry, and her job as a teacher allowed her to chauffeur my brother and me around after school.
Another thing I picked up from my family is my love for sports. The women in my family, especially on my mom’s side, are huge sports fans. On Thanksgiving Day, we watch the Macy’s parade and football with equal enthusiasm.
I fall into my fair share of traditional gender roles: I’m a passionate cook, and my favorite movies are usually romantic comedies. But in my relationship, there’s no expectation that my interests are going to necessarily be within these societal norms, and that means the most to me. My boyfriend Allen and I have spent summers at Busch Stadium watching the St. Louis Cardinals play, and we’ve also seen the musical Wicked twice.
When it comes to gender roles, it’s about choosing what feels right to you. I asked my date to my senior prom myself because the prospect of a prom-posal made me want to throw up. And Allen still doesn’t open my car door for me. These are the things that feel right to me.
Lesson #2: Everything doesn’t have to be 50-50.
Thinking back to my 15-year-old self, I was really adamant that everything in my relationship was evenly split, particularly money. I didn’t like it when Allen would pay for things, with the exception of special occasions.
But I’ve since learned I won’t have to turn in my feminist card just because my boyfriend buys my lunch (which he did this past Saturday). I’m confident enough in my relationship that I know accepting a meal or a gift doesn’t mean I’m in debt to my partner. And you know what else I’ve learned? It’s nice to not have to pay for a meal every now and then.
The same goes for splitting up tasks. Although my mother may despise it, grocery shopping is one of my favorite things. I often drag Allen along with me, and I almost always insist that he push the cart. He sometimes teases me that an independent woman doesn’t need a man to push her grocery cart, but I’m firm in my resolve: I hate pushing the cart.
Lesson #3: You are allowed to enjoy being taken care of.
This is a valuable lesson: Enjoying being taken of by your partner and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive. I believe this is a universal truth of relationships. Being taken care of by someone who loves you is a great feeling, and even feminists like it.
I like it when Allen offers to drive. It’s something that shows me he cares. I am perfectly capable of driving to our destination, and I sometimes do, but I also enjoy being driven. And that’s OK. Your identity as a feminist has nothing to do with how you act in your relationship. If you like doors to be held open for you, by all means, do that.
As for me, I’m going to keep teaching Allen about feminism, perhaps while watching my favorite television channel, Food Network.