Consent Beyond the Bedroom
January 26, 2011 4 Comments
While navigating the new world of enthusiastic consent, I’m finding a lot of places outside of the bedroom where the same patterns exist. A quick list:
- If Mr. CF and I are in the car, he always drives
- If Mr. CF and I are in the grocery store, he pushes the cart
- Mr. CF handles the majority of our bill paying
- Mr. CF also purchases and prepares the majority of our food, therefore making the majority of our food decisions
- I go to bed when Mr. CF is tired
- When choosing restaurants or meeting places with friends, I usually say “what sounds good to you?” Most of us do, creating widespread exasperation.
- When a female friend is aggressively particular about what she wants us to do, I am taken aback. When a male friend makes specific plans, I am relieved.
- I rarely invite friends out, but will often respond to their invitations
- If somebody requests something, I usually do it, then only later process it and either agree or grumble about it
The first 5 with Mr. CF have evolved partly from the same long term relationship pattern of assumptive consent that got me thinking about all of this in the first place. Sometimes assumptive consent exists because it is practical. I have worse night-vision, so he always drives at night, and that slowly shifted to him driving whenever we are both in the car. Since he plans most of the food, he drives the grocery cart because he knows what we need to buy. He’s a grand cook who enjoys making food, and I enjoy eating his cooking more than my own. He is more meticulous about accounting and cares about it in a way that I don’t, so his taking care of the bills is a win win. We both know that I can drive the car, that I can drive the cart, that I can take care of the bills. But we both also know that I assumptively defer to his choices he assumptively makes (yes, assumptively). These household chores bring up the territory of consent in a long-term relationship that is the opposite of pronouncing desire, kinda. It’s about pronouncing responsibility, and pronouncing that very hard thing that consent protects: balance.
I really love that I don’t have to do these chores. I don’t want to verbally ask to participate in them. Besides Mr. CF, who really enjoys paying bills? However, the answer here is the hard one. I wish it could just be a case of enthusiastic consent, with the answer being a hearty “no! I don’t want to cook! Please a go ahead!” but, of course it’s not that simple. When I look at all the items of the above list, I get a little frightened. They add up to a big pile of passive. A person who can’t cook for herself, who doesn’t have a clear sense of when her bills are due, who has luxuriously let go of the some of the reins, is not doing herself (let alone her relationship) a solid.
The detriments of our arrangements are minor, but telling. I don’t know the city as well as Mr. CF because he does more of the driving (as a passenger, I never absorb orientation). My cooking skills have atrophied. When he travels and I am home alone, I am always astounded that I used to feed myself three meals a day on a regular basis when I lived alone, and it was more than turkey sandwiches and Trader Joe salads. We have even got to the point where he, like a 1950s housewife, prepares meals ahead and leaves them in the fridge or freezer with notes on how to reheat. I have a very fuzzy general sense of what we have in the bank, and often guess if it’s okay to use the debit card or not. If I make a big purchase, I will call him first to make sure it’s okay (something he doesn’t like, because we both feel the ridiculous daddy structure of it). In short, I have kind of infantilized myself. That is, I am half baby, half Don Draper.
Since consent has recently climbed into the spotlight of our marital relations, we’ve talked about all of the above. It’s hard to tackle, because we have made all of these choices for a reason, I take on other chores, and the pattern does work well. I’m noticing I’m resistant because, just like with enthusiastic consent in sex, it means more work for me. I have to do more, and I love lazy. There’s also a lot of effort that doesn’t exactly give rewards: if I cook dinner, it doesn’t taste as good as if he did it and I forget about bills until the day they are due.
So, I have taken on making breakfast. It turns out that oatmeal is basically foolproof, something we both like, and feels like real cooking because I have to boil water first. I also offer to make dinner on days where I have more time, or if there is a recipe I specifically want. I haven’t even looked at recipes in years, but it’s good now because it forces me out to grocery shop, and to re-learn the kitchen. These are both minor things, but they force me to pronounce that I am part of the kitchen, that I can easily cook something I want when I am hungry, and that I want specific things.
Driving has been the most interesting because it hasn’t really changed. When we both get in the car to go somewhere, Mr. CF now asks “do you want to drive?” which is new, but my answer isn’t. I say no–I really love looking out the window. The change is he doesn’t ask out of routine, but instead out of genuine inquiry. I could say yes and it wouldn’t be a surprise. While our actions are the same, they’ve shifted from assumptive decision making to conscious consent.
I’m still working on navigating the bills and on resisting going to bed because he is tired. A lot of it is about not going on auto-pilot, and again realizing that my auto-pilot captain is quieter and more passive than I ever dreamed. Redefining consent in the bedroom, getting all baboon, announcing the freedom of no assumption or expectation in what comes next (except of course, love and respect) has been about work and liberation. I imagine it works the same way in the kitchen and checkbook as well.
Am very much still learning, still confused.
I’m interested in how consent works in friendships, too. What passive approaches continue because we don’t want to offend? When nobody says where they want to go to lunch, does anybody end up eating what they want? Are dudes more likely to make the call with female friends? Where there is less intimacy, are we assumptively bound to less consent for the sake of polite interaction?
I’ve been reading the collected works of Miss Manners, who deserves a post of her own. As a great defender of personal boundaries, she often advises against the immense acrobatics of polite society. Overall, she suggests that saying exactly what you mean is one of the most elegant existences. Pronunciation is key.