I only realised how much of a part men too must play when The Boyfriend stopped playing it
When the boyfriend and I walk into a room, he gets the door. Whether he’s firing orders at his team on the phone or kissing me as we tumble into the house, he always gets the door. Without thinking. When it rains and the thunder sounds like it’s going to swallow the city whole, he drives. He has to circle a few lanes to bring the car to the front gate, but he does it so I can jump in without worrying about a raincoat. When we’re out, he offers to drive us back so I can drink. When we go out for movies, he gives me the aisle seat and sometimes misses the start of the film because he’s getting me my popcorn. When we go out for dinner, he pays. Whether we’re digging into burgers and comparing toys, ordering in, or at a restaurant where women wear makeup and men wear jackets to pick at bite-sized portions of dubious-sounding food, he refuses to let me pay.
Last week, after our fight, when he told me I’m going to find out what not having a man around meant, I thought he was going to pull a disappearing act. I wasn’t too perturbed. After my last trainwreck relationship, I’d wisened up.
The first time I had to deal with a blown fuse, I curled up on the sofa and cried. It was 1 am and I’d never felt more alone in my life. My first thought was to call the ex, because even though he was the biggest asshole I knew, he was a known asshole and I still hadn’t quite gotten used to life without him. My second was to go back to the parental abode. I couldn’t do this. Being independent is so much easier with a functional geyser, hot water just a flick of a switch away. The next morning I made a list of emergency numbers—an electrician, a plumber, and the grouchy fellow at Bharat Gas without whom there literally wouldn’t be food on my table.
Somewhere between deciding on my domestic help budget and measuring my new bed to go mattress shopping, I became comfortable with my singledom. I could do this.
But The Boyfriend didn’t disappear. Instead, he started subtracting from the person I knew him to be. We were going to a café when it first happened. It took me a second to realise the door wasn’t going to open itself. I hammered the push bar and we entered; a first for us. After our coffee, there was no customary wrestle for the bill. I paid, he smiled his thanks and we left. Another first. The changes were inconsequential, but they felt weird. Not unpleasant, but unnatural. I hold doors open for people all the time; I just never expected to do it for him.
This continued for the rest of the week. I waited in line for my popcorn while he sat in the theatre watching the trailers he is so loathe to miss. At a bar, a friend looked pointedly at him and commented on how unappealing she found stingy men. I was mortified. Not for having to pay, but for the easy assumption that since I was with a man, he should have.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated the social expectations that come attached with a vagina. Walk, don’t strut. Don’t sweat, glisten daintily. Never burp or fart. Fold yourself into smaller spaces. Pluck, tweeze, epilate, depilate, bleach, wax or laser. I care so much about how sexism hurts women—from economic inequality, to gross under-representation in politics, to actual physical and mental abuse—but I rarely ever think about how rigid gender roles affect men.
Sexism screwed us over big time. But it undeniably screwed the Penis Club as well. He belongs to a generation entrusted with the unique responsibility of looking great while not caring about how they look at all. Real Men are gentle, sensitive and non-violent, but they should be equipped and willing to punch the living daylights out of another Real Man if need be. Tough job, that.
In a way, The Boyfriend’s intended punishment backfired. Once it stopped feeling unnatural, I started enjoying it. As a type-A personality, I like being in-charge. I love making money, and I love spending it on my partner even more. It made me think of my financial future, independent of the Y-chromosomes in my life. I think the experience was interesting for him too. He’s been raised to protect, provide for and pamper the women in his life; not doing it is like rewiring his hardware.
The next morning, it rained so hard, we thought we’d lose windows. He brought the car around and I made a mad dash for it. Inside, we both laughed.