Women won’t have it any other way
The idea that a man needs to provide for a woman would seem, at first, to be a dinosaur of an idea. “Giving stuff” to women would appear to be superfluous—she can do it herself, women make up the bulk of consumers in today’s economy and she has her own money to do what she wants.
When I hear a woman say that men don’t need to provide for women any more, I sense she is talking about normal, everyday life, outside of a romantic relationship: at work, at school, at university. Sure, yeah, I can agree with that.
However, this behavior is a social construct. So as society changes, expectations among women will change, hence the reason why some women like men opening doors for them and others don’t. THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEAN BY A “NEED TO PROVIDE.”
In a relationship, things are different. A man needs to provide for a woman in the context of a romantic relationship. When I say “need,” I do NOT mean the woman needs him to do this. Rather, the MAN needs to do this to maintain the relationship. It’s about him, not her. It’s about maintaining an identity.
And I need to add: this is my experience and these are my feelings, my observations.
As a married man, I have observed that my wife is happier when I can do stuff and give things—not necessarily giving stuff to her but to at least having a hand in making the decisions to do or not do.
In other words, to have skills.
I am more or less hopeless at home improvement. If my wife wants anything done, she asks her brother to do it. I watch my brother-in-law doing up our house, fixing things and going out to hardware stores to buy stuff. I just stand by feeling useless and rather unmasculine. How on earth did he learn this? Like, when I was a teenager, I just went to school, came home, ate dinner, did my homework, watched TV and went to bed—a typical, average, teenage life. I don’t remember ever having time to waste hanging around street corners looking at random dudes changing car wheels or having conveniently smashed-up old TVs to play with on the kitchen floor to figure out how they work or seeing lead piping rolling around the backyard so I could learn plumbing and stuff. I wasn’t too bad at woodwork at school and I can change a light bulb but that’s about it.
Learning skills takes practice and home improvement offers none. Let’s take the example of putting up shelves. If I had 10 shelves to put up, then the first one would look pretty rough. It would be stuck to the wall all wonky and kind of rough around the edges, with bits of wood hacked off where I messed up the saw blade and too many drill holes in the wall and bits of paint and plaster on the floor. The second one would be a bit better; still not great, but with perhaps a few less drill holes and a more smoothed-off finish. The third would be better still…it would be straighter on the wall and perpendicular to the curtains and all that. So, each one would be better than the one before and by the time I got to the tenth shelf, it would be looking like a professional job. However, this never happens. Usually only one shelf needs to be put up, so it would look the worst and I would get comments like, “Oh, my goodness, what have you done? Look at the state of that wall!”, etc. I don’t like volunteering for criticism, so I never learned.
Who’s responsible for teaching me this? Should dads do this? Some dads have a strange way of teaching.
I remember my mum’s third husband offering to teach me how to put a new window in the bathroom wall. I was excited and enthusiastic to learn – finally, someone who was willing to stop and teach me how to do something practical! I stomped upstairs to the bathroom, where he was waiting with a new window frame. The old one was still in the wall. So, I sat down on a chair and waited for him to tell me.
He began, “So, how do we put a new window in?”
I thought this was a rhetorical question, like my teachers at school sometimes spoke, starting off the lesson of the day by asking a question that introduced the topic. Then there would be a presentation of the new material, followed by supervised practice with the teacher watching, then some freer practice at the end where we could try it out with our friends. I waited for his presentation to begin.
However, seconds ticked by amid an uncomfortable silence.
“Well?” he asked.
I looked at him and he looked at me. Well, what? I thought. Get on with it, then!
Nothing happened. Maybe a whole minute of silence went by. I continued waiting and he continued looking at me. I began to feel awkward.
“So, how do we put it in?” he continued.
I felt put on the spot. I fumbled around, “Umm, well, er…” but I wasn’t willing to proffer a suggestion because I wasn’t convinced it was the right answer. I needed some background information at least to make a decent stab at an answer that wouldn’t sound stupid but there wasn’t any.
The awkward silence and difficult atmosphere went on for a further three minutes or so. I felt disheartened. He saw how I felt and he looked disappointed. Finally, he told me verbally exactly how to put the window in.
I felt much better now that the lesson had started. “Ah, yes! Let’s do it!” I said, enthusiastically.
However, he didn’t look happy. “I’ll do it myself,” he remarked.
“Huh?” I said. He told me to go downstairs. I went, feeling worried.
Later, he came down and said to my mum, “Oliver had no idea what to do.”
“Oh, well, love, he’s never been very practical with his hands, has he?” she replied.
What! That’s because he didn’t teach me! If he had taught me, I would have known! So, I felt bad about that.
That was when I was a teenager and things haven’t improved since then. Now I’m married to my wife and I don’t like the look in her eyes when she realizes I don’t know how to do things. She’s Vietnamese and we live in Saigon and I feel awkward when I see the disappointment in her eyes. She treats me as though I am less of a man than her brother. I would like to learn but I don’t know how and I don’t know when, since my brother-in-law can’t speak English and I still don’t know when I will return to the UK or whether I’ll even have time to learn when I do.
She wouldn’t feel like that if my need to provide was just a social construct. She doesn’t NEED me to provide this—her brother can do it or she can get a handyman. Her disappointment, then, must be due to the fact that a need to provide is inherently masculine, since its absence causes problems. It’s non-negotiable for my success and my marriage. In short: the more I provide, the better!
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