I Want to be Your Partner, Not Your Caretaker

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

My ex-husband texted me today to ask if I’d seen his healthcare card. We’ve been separated over a year but it was so easy to fall back into old habits. Where was the last place you had it? What do you need it for? He had eaten at a restaurant with a Hepatitis A risk and couldn’t remember if he had his vaccinations.

“You’ve got your Twinrix. You got it before we went to Mexico and had to go to the doctor for vaccinations with stitches in your thumb.”

“Was that the same time?”

“Yep. 2012”

“Also couldn’t remember the year when she asked. Thanks”

I have the health records of my ex memorized better than he does. There is no longer any reason to have that information but it’s still ingrained into my brain as if it were written in indelible ink. More disturbing is how quickly I reverted to the person that I used to be. Booking his doctor’s appointments, folding the laundry, making supper, giving him a chore list and begging for help. The weight of ensuring that ours was a functional household was one that fell squarely on my shoulders but it was one that I grew to resent.

I am the wrong personality to be a housewife. I’m sitting at my computer alternating between this article and catching up on the flood of work emails that I ran out of time to answer during the normal workday. Standard household maintenance tasks get done when the app on my phone reminds me to clean the oven or when I get frustrated and pay someone else to do it. My plans are for world domination, not a white-picket fence.

Caring for dogs? No problem. I clean up after them, feed them, book their appointments and buy their clothes (trying to find an escape-proof harness) and I don’t resent them for any of it. I’ve gotten up at midnight repeatedly to tuck in my Boston Terrier because one of the other dogs stole his blankie and he can’t sleep. I have no issues taking care of the beings that require my assistance. I draw the line at becoming a caretaker for another fully functional adult human being.

The term “emotional labour” is one popularized by an article, and now a book, by Gemma Hartley. The widespread conversation that it sparked highlights a strong desire by women for other people to just take care of themselves for a bit. “You could have asked” becomes a phrase that is tossed around like Captain America’s shield, deflecting all the complaints about a lack of participation in daily chores. I could have asked. But why is it my responsibility to notice that his laundry is piled up by the side of the bed and ask him to wash it, swap the laundry into the dryer and then fold it and put it away?

This is a trap that I unwittingly created for myself. When we first lived together, I would do the laundry while I was studying because it was easy. It wasn’t until I began to work long hours that it became a problem. My evenings were spent in the kitchen and at least one day every weekend was relegated to housework. And I hated it. I wanted the freedom to read a book or watch TV without the overwhelming anxiety that came from the mountain of unwashed dishes. Unfortunately, his solution was to just ignore the housework and I could do it later. He told me that he didn’t care if the house was messy, I could relax. It never occurred to him to simply wash the dishes that were the source of my discomfort.

If nothing else, I have learned the importance of setting boundaries and expectations early on in the relationship. I cook, you do the dishes. We both know how to operate the vacuum cleaner and take turns folding laundry. It was a difficult and costly lesson but I hope I have learned it well.

By the way, his health care card was exactly where I said it might be.

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