“And this is my wife, Ashleigh,” Jeremiah explained as I approached, hard cider in one hand, the other arm aimed for his middle. Until a minute before, I had been engaged in some slightly fun, slightly awkward chit chat—the sort that pervades informal gatherings bringing together many only semi-acquainted people. Back in college I could talk to a stranger for the length of a party, but at this point in my life, I appreciate the option of using my husband as a security blanket. Perhaps it’s his introversion rubbing off on me. Regardless, I was grateful to have an easy access point into a conversation that I wouldn’t have to carry alone.
I extended my hand to our new friend. “Congratulations!” he said cheerily. I scrunched my face in confusion, thinking he must have assumed, wrongly, that I was graduating this quarter. Well, I almost was, since I was done with sit-in-class classes and only had eight hours of directed study and thesis work left. I had also graduated last year with a different degree. But obviously, he was slightly confused.
Or so I thought. When he read the uncertainty on my face and further explained himself, I realized that it was I who was mistaken. You see, he wasn’t really congratulating me. He was congratulating me for my husband’s accomplishments. Ironically, my husband (unlike me) wasn’t even graduating with a degree this year. This congratulations was for acceptance into Duke’s ThM. “Because, I mean, that’s really an accomplishment for you, too,” he explained. My husband corrected him and bragged about my own one-but-almost-two master’s degrees. The conversation moved on after this brief hiccup, and we both decided we liked the fellow a good deal.
Of course, at the time I didn’t know what this person said when I slipped away to the bathroom. Waxing not-so-eloquent on the beauty and joy of married life—and he really did genuinely wish to express his enthusiasm for being married—our new buddy decided it was time for some male-bonding humor. “Yeah, I mean, you definitely don’t get as much sex as you expected, but marriage is still pretty wonderful.”
“He said what?!?” I practically yelled at Jeremiah when he told me the story at home. Jeremiah’s response—since he wasn’t certain I would approve of his sharing the details of our sex life, even for such a grand purpose as combating this loser’s loser thoughts—was simply, “Umm, yeah. If you say that around my wife, she will not like you. At all.” And he was right.
The man had seemed like an otherwise cool, intelligent, fun, and down-to-earth person. More importantly, he was on “my side.” “Our side.” He had very moderate theological views and was firmly in the egalitarian camp. As the conversation made this fact clear, I felt bad that I had so harshly judged him for his initial comment—Even though I still found it offensive that he would make the assumption that I was the cute little wifey supporting my husband’s career, I also knew I had been sensitive. After all, I’ve spent the last several months wondering what it would be like for only Jeremiah to be in school next year—if the men would include me in their theological conversations, if my own degrees would mean anything to anybody, if I’d be able to make any female friends who didn’t plan to be stay-at-home moms, and if I’d be able to succeed as a breadwinner.
With all of these questions plaguing me, I knew I had probably been extra tough on this seemingly nice egalitarian guy at the party. And so I had tried to move on. I really did, I promise. But after this new revelation—which in my mind meant that he was either (1) an extraordinarily demanding and immature husband OR (2) not considerate enough to give his wife a reason to want any—I just really didn’t know how to process the whole experience. How could someone that was supposedly an egalitarian be such a jerk and make me feel so unimportant, objectified, subordinate, stereotyped and otherwise shitty? It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for the last several weeks, and in some ways, it’s something I’ve been wrestling with since I came to Fuller.