Relationship Commitment and Division of Labor

Recently Michelle Obama confessed that she spent 10 years hating Barack. We don’t understand “marital hatred”, but it got us talking about commitment, the division of labor in relationships, and societal expectations that place a disproportional burden on women.


Courtney: Beep boop. Good morning, welcome to The Ace Couple podcast. [laughs] My name is Courtney and I’m here with my spouse, Royce, and I am in a very silly mood because right before we turned the microphone on, Royce was making fun of me. But despite this I don’t hate you, Royce. [laughs] Which brings us to the topic of today’s conversation. We’ve spoken a bit about this in a couple of different contexts, but I think the theme of today is going to be commitment and what that means, and when it is a good thing and when it is maybe, maybe not so good. Wow! If that isn’t the best possible opening to a podcast that I’ve ever done…

Royce: Good start. We’re gonna be here for the next hour.

Courtney: We’ll see, we’ll see. Well you know, Royce, we have been officially named the 14th best couple podcast in the world.

Royce: How officially are you talking?

Courtney: We were on a listicle…

Royce: …made by?

Courtney: I don’t remember. This was, I don’t know, a month or two ago that I found this thing at this point, but they had a whole process. They were like, this is like the– the top 50 couple podcast based on followers, subscribers, all sorts of different metrics they were pulling in, social media followership– which, I feel like if we made 14 based on those metrics, that’s pretty darn good because we literally only have our Twitter account and it is not that big. But given that we are the 14th best couple podcasts in the world, I think that officially gives us authority to talk on such couple matters as this. So, I want to start by mentioning a video that was going around on social media and made its way onto our radar where Michelle Obama was talking about how difficult marriage can be. More specifically, she was talking about how there were a full ten years where she hated Barack. That’s the word she used, “I hated my husband,” she said. Now, they’ve been married 30 years. They were very much in the public eye for a– for a while. I believe just following these ten years, because she said it started when their kids were born.

Courtney: Now we may be the 14th best couple podcast in the entire world, mind you, but we do not have kids, so I’m sure there are going to be some people out there who are like, “Well, you don’t have kids! You don’t know! You don’t understand!” And I’m sure there are absolutely some things that we just are not going to understand, when it comes to being married parents. But I do want to talk about this “I hate my spouse” thing, or “I hated my spouse” thing because I still don’t get it. I still don’t get it. We talked about this a bit during– There was an article that was like, “Normal marital hatred,” and we broke that down a bit. And that article kind of opened by saying, “Everybody who has ever been married knows exactly what we’re talking about.” And we were like, “Uh… we don’t…?”

Royce: We both also mentioned that when someone says a line like “I hate this person” we aren’t completely sure what that even feels like.

Courtney: I genuinely do not know what that feels like. But also how much hatred is too much hatred? Because ten years– saying, “I was miserable, I hated my husband for ten years while we were raising kids,” that sounds like a lot of time. That’s a third of their entire marriage, so far.

Royce: That’s a considerable fraction of a person’s entire lifetime.

Courtney: Yes! And that just sounds like way too much time to be hating the person you’re living with.

Royce: What makes me wonder– During that period of time, what conversations and accommodations were being made? Or were there any? Like if there’s a problem and someone is unhappy, are you trying to fix it?

Courtney: Yeah, or are you just gritting your teeth and saying, “Well, they said marriage would be hard!” Because that’s kind of what we’re all told, right? Like, “Marriage is the hardest thing in the world, but it’s so, so worth it.” They kind of say the same thing about kids, which I think both are kind of just societal red flags. Like everybody says it, but nobody really stops to think critically about it. Because are there going to be some challenges? Sure. Some relationships are going to be harder than others, that’s true even if you’re taking it to, you know, a platonic level, a friendship level. Even just with your acquaintances, some acquaintances are easier to get along with than others. Like every relationship is going to be different, between couples and between you and your own life.

Courtney: But I can’t help but think that the “marriage is so hard, it’s so hard but it’s so worth it” and “kids, that’s– they’re a lot of work but it’s so worth it.” The only time we really hear things simultaneously brought up and torn down in exactly the same sentence is when it fits very neatly into this amatonormative, heteronormative, sort of religious nuclear family ideal that we’ve talked a lot about. And even if you yourself are not religious, even if you yourself are not Christian, many of us in the United States and in other countries are still in a Christian Society. So even if you remove the, you know, alleged Biblical context from these things, there’s still sort of a societal pressure to conform to those things.

Royce: And by normalizing it by saying that this is something everyone experiences and something that everyone just deals with, you sort of remove dissent from the equation, you remove, like, an avenue to really complain or to try to test it, to try to change things. Because that’s– that’s just the way it is. That’s what you were told to expect going into it.

Courtney: Right, yes! And I got to thinking when you also said, like, what accommodations or what changes, or what changes were happening. I also feel like society has just done everybody a great disservice by making us very uncreative as to how to solve certain problems. Because you might love someone, you might be committed to someone, but perhaps the nature of your relationship at this point is just not what is right for that two-person situation, or plus! But I feel like once we get into polyamory we’re already into a level of queerness where people are thinking outside of the box a little more already. But in the monogamous nuclear family sense– Which actually kind of reminds me, I did actually see an article recently about married couples who are living apart together. Which – according to the US Census Bureau – nearly four million married Americans live away from their spouses, which I’ve been able to see and observe just in my own daily life that that is happening more often, and I do know a couple of couples like this. But that number seemed high. That kind of surprised me.

Royce: Yeah. I wonder what all of the living situations were that were contributing to that. Are they counting people who are maybe working abroad, or were in the military and were stationed elsewhere, or things like that?

Courtney: For the sake of the census, probably. But the– the focus of this article was on married couples who have made the conscious choice to stay married but have their own separate living arrangements. And I find this really fascinating because even ten years ago, especially twenty/thirty years ago, so completely unusual and unheard of. If you met a married couple and they said, “Yeah, we live in two separate houses by choice because this is what works for us,” that would have been very, very unusual. And this article went on to sort of say that they think that the pandemic may have played a role in this, which I believe. I think the pandemic really opened a lot of people’s eyes to things that just weren’t necessarily working in their life or weren’t going to work under this new set of circumstances. But here’s the line that I found really interesting, because I think this also can tie back to this Michelle Obama video. The New York Times claimed the trend was primarily driven by women seeking independence and personal space to have time for their own interest and self-fulfillment.

Royce: Okay so that lines up with the disproportionate distribution of household tasks.

Courtney: I’m sure that’s a big part of it, yes. And going back to the Michelle Obama video– I’m not trying to just, like, pick on the Obama’s, but they’re a very high profile couple, like one of the highest profile couples, and everyone had a lot to say on this particular video. But she kind of said that their marital issues became exacerbated when they had kids because– Well, first of all she called little kids ‘terrorists’, which I think is a little much… Can they be difficult? Oh yeah, absolutely they can be difficult, but terrorists?! You were– your husband was the President of the United States of America… odd wording from– from that particular woman, I think. But she said that at that point in time she was like, you know, running herself ragged in taking care of the kids and the household work, and then like Barack would be out the at the gym and out at the golf course. And she was like, “What are you doing at the golf course?” So it sounded– and she said, you know, nothing’s ever going to be completely 50/50, there are going to be some times where you’re doing more, sometimes where your spouse is doing more, and I think there’s a lot of merit to that, I think that is true. But if you do get to a point where you feel like such a heavy disproportionate amount of the work– especially when it comes to something like raising kids, that has so historically fallen on the shoulders of women to do, to be the caretakers.

Courtney: But society has also kind of told women that’s your job and that is how it is supposed to be. So that kind of also goes back to the whole, like, ‘just grit your teeth and bear it because this is what you’re supposed to do,’ and everyone says it’s gonna be hard, it’s going to be so hard but it’ll be worth it, to the point where now you’re ten years into having kids and you’ve realized you’ve hated your spouse this whole time… That’s awful. And I think that is sad and tragic, but so many people were watching this video and their takeaway was, “Yes, absolutely. She’s speaking truth. You have to stand by your man even in hard times.” And it’s like, that was your takeaway? Why wasn’t your takeaway, “Hmm, women have a lot of additional caretaking responsibilities that they’re just grinning and bearing and they have to shoulder all this additional responsibility while the men are out at the gym and playing golf.” And the takeaway is maybe men step up and do better?

Courtney: Because really, at the end of the day if more and more married couples, married straight couples for the most part, we're talking about a wife and a husband, although this article does actually also include a queer couple. One of these names I recognize, Ev’Yan Whitney, is actually an ace – I believe they were cited in Sharronda J. Brown’s book – and is also just a asexuality educator, also has a podcast, so definitely check that out. But when the– the biggest chunk of this conversation is saying like straight couples, a man and a woman, and the women want to live alone… On a large, mass scale, the women are the ones saying, “Hey, let’s have separate places to live,” because they feel like they need that for their own self fulfillment and their own personal interests…? Guys, we have a problem. The problem is society! But at the end of the day I do really think that this is a good thing, and a good very, very viable option for some couples. And I’m glad to see things like this starting to get notice and press because I want more people to know that this is an option.

Courtney: If you really love and care for this person, and you are committed to one another, and you want this to be a long-lasting healthy relationship, but there is just something in your relationship that just, like, you can’t really live together, like things get worse if you live together…? Then I think this needs to be an option that people can consider. And that sort of– the failure of imagination that I was referring to before, where, you know, especially ten, twenty years ago people weren’t thinking this, like, “Well, this is an option. We could just not live together,” because living together is what married couples do, right? That’s what they say.

Royce: And I think part of that goes into individual people’s connotations for the word ‘commitment’ because I think the word commitment, or to commit to something, is used in a variety of different circumstances and I think in cases like these, in cases like relationships, it’s seen both as, “Well, if you’re committed this is a– 1. This is a romantic thing. Even though you can have a committed friendship – I mean, I would just say any relationship that is strong enough is a commitment. You wouldn’t really call your friendship with your best friend a committed friendship, but there is a commitment there that is a part of it.

Courtney: Oh, I commit to all of my friendships.

Royce: Yeah, that’s kind of the point. That’s what I was saying, it’s– it’s implicit. But the only time we tend to explicitly hear commitment is in the context of like a marriage but–

Courtney: Right.

Royce: There’s something about that word commitment that seems to also imply a non-negotiable obligation.

Courtney: Hmm yes. Where sacrifices are not only inevitable, but almost praised to a certain extent.

Royce: Yeah. It seems like there’s a bit of martyrdom sneaking in there.

Courtney: There really is! Like even– even with this Michelle Obama– Like, obviously, like, we know how that story ends. Like, yeah they had their kids, but also he got elected President. She was First Lady. They were the whole First Family living in the White House, and like, first Black President, that’s huge. So we all know that as, like, the big happy ending to this after these ten years of misery. But I– I don’t think the takeaway from that is like good for her for sticking through it, sticking through it for ten whole years, good good for her. I’d uh– I don’t like that! I don’t like it! But now, here’s the really weird, like– When I– When I was reading this article about the ‘living apart together’ – which is a thing I’ve been fascinated with ever since I met the first married couple I knew who had this arrangement – I was like, that’s, that’s really interesting. I’m glad to see that that is an option. Now, of course there’s like a financial component to that as well. There are some people that are not going to be able to financially live on their own, and sometimes marriage can kind of help if you are pooling resources to have a place.

Courtney: But there was sort of a, like, commentary whiplash that I was seeing reading this article, because it was actually on Fox News, and it started pretty, pretty even, pretty favorable about, you know, this is a good viable option. And then I see a quote by Ev’Yan Whitney, which is a name that I recognized as a Black ace educator doing a lot of very progressive sex education work. They even in this Fox article used Mx Whitney, M-X as the – what is that – honorific. So, I was like, “Alright, good for this article on Fox News using a gender non-conforming honorific like that.” But then, like a paragraph and a half later, there are quotes by, like, ’Focus On The Family’s Vice President on marriage issues. And I was like, “Oh no!” ’Cause we know Focus On The Family. They were an organization that came up during our deep dive into the religious-political discrimination against asexuality that we did back in August. So that was just a little like, commentary whiplash. Like those are two names I recognized for very, very different reasons.

Courtney: Which I do really want this to be a more widespread accepted option, but I also want us to acknowledge when there is a trend that this is becoming more popular because a lot of the burden of household work and child-rearing is falling disproportionately on women. In the case of Mx Whitney here, we had a quote saying, “It made caring for myself, and really putting my own pleasure and my needs first, so much easier.” And I like that. And I think as far as just not hating each other and being able to live together, we kind of just lucked out. Because we committed to each other very, very quickly. Very, very quickly. So quickly that most people would be like, “What are you doing? This is pretty fast, don’t you think?” But that’s kind of just how I’ve kind of always been. Because when I care so deeply for someone I do want to commit, all-in 100%. So I’m not– I’m not particularly guarded in that sense. And even though you had not had, like, a long-term relationship before me, you had no qualms with that.

Royce: Yeah. I’ve also never had any sort of like internal scripted timelines. Like things like that, it never made sense to me.

Courtney: That’s true. But some people take that to such an extreme, like, “Make sure you wait two hours to text them back.” Like when people get into that nitpicking I’m like, “Okay, now you’re being weird.” And not weird in the good way! Like if you want to text them, just text them. If you want to move in together, move in together. If you don’t want to move in together, definitely don’t do that no matter how long it’s been. But some people I think you can really love and support and commit to someone without needing to live together. And in fact I think some people really do just clash living-styles-wise, and that doesn’t mean you have to break off the entire relationship if you don’t want that. For me, I very rarely lived with someone who wasn’t a romantic partner, but the couple of instances where I did it was just, like, sheer and utter misery for me, to the point where I was like I am not ever going to live with someone again that I’m not in a romantic relationship with. I would rather be completely alone. I do not want a roommate, I do not want to live with friends.

Courtney: Although there was one moment just before we met, Royce, where it did cross my mind. I mentioned on the podcast before that I did have a queerplatonic partner that we didn’t have that particular word at the time, but in hindsight it’s like, yep, that’s– that’s what that situation was. There was just a brief moment where I was like, you know what, if she asked me to move in with her I totally would. And I had my own place at that time, so maybe that should have been, like, the clue that, like, this isn’t just an ordinary– Well, I say ordinary, quote “ordinary friendship.” Although in even more hindsight, I can’t. I can’t live with her. That’s– that is a very harsh lesson that we learned. But I still love them to death and they are still a very incredibly, incredibly important part of my life. So I kind have been able to see a couple of situations where it’s like, “Okay, I can live with you. I cannot live with you.” I can still love you both very much. And to me, commitment is just: I want this to be a long-term, sustainable, happy, mutually beneficial relationship, in whatever form that will take. And sometimes that needs experimentation to see what works, and sometimes that takes negotiating and compromise.

Courtney: But I’m still failing to find any reason why you should ever be saying, like, “I hate this person” for a prolonged period of time. And I guess when it comes to things like division of labor in a household, we’re also not very typical there. So I don’t necessarily feel like that’s something that I can just comment on, and have it be something that might be helpful to the average person or the average couple. I don’t know, maybe– maybe we should talk about that from just an inter-abled relationship standpoint. Because there definitely is sort of a stigma within the Disability community. If someone who has a disability that can prevent you from accomplishing certain daily tasks, either always or incrementally, and having an abled partner, who is able to step up and do those things, the stigmas sort of like, “Well, now your partner’s just your caregiver, your caretaker, and that’s not a real partnership. That’s not a real relationship.” Which is not the case, but that’s what people say. But I know sometimes it’s still pretty difficult for me to not feel guilty that I can’t, like, do dishes, and that that’s like always on you.

Royce: Well, part of it– Trying to wrap this back into what we were talking about earlier with household things being disproportionate amongst most couples. When you think about everything that goes into living together, to having shared finances, to being married, – if you have kids – to raising kids, to all of that. Like owning a home is a lot of work, dealing with job stuff is a lot of work, finances is a lot. There’s groceries, and cooking, and cleaning, and all of that stuff. And to a certain extent there’s just a division of labor that you’ve talked about, or I assume most couples don’t really talk about and then they just get frustrated when it isn’t right. But– but in our case, for me to load the dishwasher, or put things in the laundry, or whatever physical task there is to do, mow the lawn… doing so has a significantly lower effect on the rest of my day than it does yours. I can usually do that faster, and like, time isn’t even the point. It’s more the–

Courtney: I’d be laid up for the rest of my day.

Royce: That’s what I was trying to articulate. It’s the extra impact that goes beyond the time it takes to actually do the task. And so if you were to, say, spend all of your day’s energy doing, you know, a couple of chores for two hours, that has a very disproportionate impact on our day-to-day life, than if I did that.

Courtney: And I think what’s really, really important about that, which can be the takeaway, I would say even to certain extent in an abled relationship – because some people just don’t like doing certain tasks more than others – but certainly in the context where there might be disability involved, is: you tend to approach it less as, “Well, this is what I’m doing versus what you’re doing,” and more as we are a team and between the two of us here are all of our abilities, and our resources, and our time, and our energy, and just sort of seeing us as a unit, like a household unit, and allocating based on that.

Royce: Yeah. And that’s also why you do customer service stuff.

Courtney: [laughs] I talk to customer service.

Royce: Because I hate doing that. And that’s not a physically exhausting thing, it can be a mentally exhausting thing, it can be very frustrating, but–

Courtney: You struggle with phone calls a lot more–

Royce: Yeah, True.

Courtney: –than I do. Yeah, it is– Because when I think of the sort of arrangements we have, the things you do versus the things I do, sometimes – like I said – it is hard for me to not feel guilty. Like, well, you’re doing a majority of the actual household chores, but I do some very significant, I guess, admin tasks at various points when needed. When we bought our house, for example, we didn’t hire a realtor. I negotiated all of the contracts, and wrote them up, and went to the house viewings, and found the house. You didn’t even– you didn’t even want to look at the houses all that much. And, yeah, I did those contract negotiations, scheduled the closing, made sure finances were in order, and talked to banks and lots and lots of customer service, applying for the loans and whatnot. And that was a lot of work, and it takes time to learn how to do those things, let alone to do them, but I do know that that is something that I am better equipped to do. So it is sort of also skillswise, you know, who’s better at this task, who will this task be the least burden on. Gosh that was a terrible sentence, but I think you know what I meant.

Royce: There’s one thing I thought of that kind of ties into this a little bit, and part of it goes back to– I mentioned that living together is understanding what needs to be done and negotiating a division of labor essentially, but I came across an article recently that I didn’t read into very far, but it’s something that I looked at and said, “Yeah, this totally happens.” It was a study that was looking at couples and were saying that, at a like cognitive level, different people will view things completely differently. [Courtney agrees] Like– And one of the comparisons they made that was outside of the home was if you took a few people out into a forest and one of them is an avid climber, they might immediately be looking at trees saying, “Oh, well that tree would be fun to climb, that would be easy to climb, that one would be really difficult.” The other people in the group, if you ask them, “Do you think this tree is easier to climb than that one?” they might be able to figure it out but they’re not thinking about that unless prompted. And so going about the house, there are different people who have different ideas about the way that things should be, and if those expectations aren’t set, or understood, one person may have no idea that something isn’t correct. Or it may not be in their nature to think to try to fix something because they literally don’t see the problem.

Courtney: Yeah, that’s something that needs to be expressed and articulated for sure. I think too many people fall into the trap of just assuming the other person knows exactly how they feel.

Royce: Yeah, and that they feel the same way about something being a particular way. And part of this can be articulated, part of it could also be, well, if you want something to be a very particular way you just need to take that task, that needs to be your task. Because there are some times where I’ve been in situations where I felt like I could try to do this thing, but I’m almost sure I’m not going to do it right. It’s like– it’s like someone’s brought me to the table to play a game and we started playing and no one explained the rules.

Courtney: Mmm… Is that why I am solely in charge of decorating the house? [laughs]

Royce: I mean that’s more of a I just don’t care… I– It’s not that I don’t care, I don’t have an inclination to that. I guess I’ve never felt like that’s something that needed to be done when I was living on my own. I’ve rearranged things sometimes, but–

Courtney: Oh, I know. I saw your apartment, not a single thing on a single wall. But yeah, I think something that could also just help to conceptualize your place within this division of labor is to not just group things as “This is what I’m doing, and this is what you’re doing,” but this is us as a unit, and how we’re dividing things up. And when you do that, then you’re not just looking at chores, “Well, I did dishes yesterday you’re doing dishes today,” but to also just look at all the things that go into running a household that get even more complicated with children. Because there’s a lot to it and you almost have to think of it as like units of energy, but you almost need to reconceptualize the way you think about energy. Because you have like actual time, what is the number of hours you have in a waking day, how much physical energy do you have to complete tasks, especially if you are a spoonie, if you have some sort of disability, or anybody has a finite energy source, period. What does your body feel like, past ‘do I feel like I have energy’, but is there any sort of pain involved, what is the physical toll of doing each individual thing?

Courtney: But then money is also sort of a unit of energy, because people talk about, like, “Oh well, I’m making more money than they are, or this person’s the breadwinner, or this person’s a stay-at-home spouse.” All of those arrangements can be fine but I’ve also seen people really struggle with that and think, “Well, I’m doing a disproportionate amount because I make more money, or I pay for more things.” Finding ways to even creatively save money could also be an extension of that. You might not be making the money, or the majority of the money, but are you finding ways to save and finding ways to invest or financially plan for your future, for retirement.

Courtney: Because I know that, like, in buying our house I spent way more time than I needed to because we could have just gotten a realtor and that would have saved me a lot of time, but I saved us all a lot of money and I negotiated down a lot of money on the house when we bought it. So that was good, that’s– that’s an only once in a while example though it’s not as if we’re buying houses every year. Gosh, could you imagine? That’d be miserable. I’m so glad we don’t move around very often. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place in my life. And it is very nice to not have to move around and to have a home. Stable living situation. So I know, I got off track. That might have been the end of my list. What was I talking about? Types of energy and ways to conceptualize division of labor, did I miss anything?

Royce: I think that covers it.

Courtney: But yeah, as we also stated earlier, commitment is so much more than just a marriage or a long-term couple, romantic couple. Because friendship is a commitment. There are queerplatonic relationships that take commitment. In fact there was recently a tweet that got a lot of attention, like over 30,000 likes, lots of retweets, lots of quote retweets. Where– It was actually Jay Versace tweeted and said, “What’s it called when you, like, flirt and do couple shit but as friends, but you also committed to each other, but on some homie shit. What is that and where do they sell that at?” And to me, reading this, and to a lot of other aces reading this, we’re like, “Yeah, that’s a queerplatonic relationship and it’s great. 10/10 do recommend.” And he’s clearly here saying, like, I want that, saying where do they sell it at, like give me some of that. But the responses to this…? Aside from the handful of aces I saw that did find this and start chiming in, awful, awful, awful responses. First of all, I don’t speak your language, I am sorry. No matter how many times I have had lesbians ask me in the club what my sign is, I still don’t know what that means. No matter how many times people tell me what their sign is, I don’t know what it means. But some of these responses – maybe this will be funny to you listeners who know what this is supposed to mean, but I don’t – “The land of Aquarius.” “Living like a Libra.” Someone just said, “In Hell.” [laughs] Hell?!

Courtney: But then they got like really– There were some comments that got kind of ableist and, “That’s called avoidant attachment.” There were a lot of people saying that’s called a situatioship, that’s called ‘you have commitment issues.’ Oh it’s terrible. I hate it so much! “It’s called playing yourself and you can find it at do better dot com.” And then of course, people chiming in saying, like, “Well, I have to know, are we smashing in this hypothetical scenario?” Always has to bring it back to sex! “We have to know! Because if sex is involved that’s going to change my answer to this question.” But yeah. Then we had really just ableist comments. Like, “That’s called deranged. That means you’re crazy.” And I was just so baffled. Why are people so opposed to this concept? It can be a really beautiful thing. And sometimes that’s all people want or need to have a happy, satisfied life.

Royce: Well, I think a lot of commenters reading this saw this as like marriage lite. Like, you want to– you want to do all of the things that come with a romantic monogamous relationship without the ring, essentially. It was kind of the vibe I got from some of it. But I don’t know what the original poster meant when they meant ‘couple shit’ like, that can mean so many different things.

Courtney: It can mean a lot of different things! Like, some people think couple shit does mean sex. So someone may– The one commenter who’s like, “I need to know, sex is involved in this?” Like, I know the concept of like, friends with benefits is a thing, but– I mean the thing he specifically said was like you flirt. And so like, to me I’m thinking like maybe some light hand holding, some teasing, going out to dinner. Maybe even like going out on what would traditionally be seen as, like, romantic dates. Like, that’s at least what I have in my head when I read that. And that’s also where my demiromantic brain goes into, like, well what actually is a romantic setting, what’s a romantic activity. Because I’ve always been like, “Brunch date with my friends? Absolutely.”

Royce: Yeah. I guess I just don’t really think that an activity is romantic, it’s– Like, a setting isn’t, it’s the person. It’s like, it’s your– your attachment to the person you’re with. But I was thinking the reason why there was such a split in the comments, or a lot of comments that were going in one direction or another, were because we have a series of words, or concepts, or ideas that can have very different meanings to different people.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. But it’s all under the lens of: here’s what a committed relationship – quote – “is supposed to look like.” And it’s supposed to be built around an ideal of romance, and sex, and a very specific type of commitment that is sort of on this escalator, this hierarchy of relationships where you’re supposed to progress in a societally accepted way. You meet, you date, you court, you become engaged, you get married, you have kids, so on and so forth. But yeah, to go to your ‘You want a marriage without the ring’ thing, I think this comment that I found sort of encapsulates that idea. “It’s called wanting the benefits of a relationship without any of the accountability/responsibility.”

Royce: Could this random internet person elaborate a little bit? What type of responsibility or accountability is being skirted here? Because you’re accountable to your friends. You’re responsible for maintaining friendships. If you don’t show up when your friends need you, you’re going to lose those friendships.

Courtney: Which is true. I feel like in this really warped, like, relationship hierarchy, hierarchical society that we live in, there are some people who do think that there is something just inherently more, inherently more commitment, if this is a romantic relationship, if this is a sexual relationship. And when you are thinking in terms of like, “Is this a relationship that is heading towards marriage?” Or is expected to head towards marriage, a lot of the times I hear responsibility in that context and think about, you know, for most people – unless you do like full prenuptial agreements and everything – like, it is harder to just separate from someone after getting married. Because there is paperwork involved. There is finances involved. Sometimes there might be children involved, and custody involved. And so, I don’t like that so many people still think of it in this sense, but there’s definitely– like, you want to be able to have an easy out, if you see one.

Courtney: Although the– the more I scrolled, the more– the more signs I start seeing. Like, we got Aquarius, we got Sagittarius. I see Libra. [laughs] Oh now I see Gemini. I don’t know what any of that means and now I’m even more confused, because it’s not just one sign. Oh Taurus! Now I think we’re literally at half the signs at this point. Yeah, no hate to anybody who does, you know, like and use astrology, but I– back in pre-pandemic life when I would be out, most often it would be at the gay bars – if I was in a predominantly straight place, like, signs did not come up – but if I was in gay bars, the number of people who would just throw out like, “Oh, I’m uh this sign,” as a means of, like, justifying the way that they are, the way they are– it’s like, “Am I supposed to know what that means? I’m sorry, I don’t.” It’s just the assumption that other people know what that means, so that’s very, very weird. And I mean talk about different things meaning different things to different people.

Courtney: If I was at one of the gay bars in town, without a doubt, I would be asked where I’m from, where my family is from, and what sign I am. In that order almost every time. But if I was at a straight place I would be asked if my husband is Black, almost every time. And I don’t think this is a thing. If this is a thing, someone please tell me where this comes from because I have never heard this until I started going into straight places wearing a wedding ring with a black– like, lab-grown black diamond, is what my ring is. Inevitably people would see my ring, ask me why it’s black, and if that means that my husband is Black. And then without fail, I would say, “Who says I’m married to a man?” And then that person would just, like, crack up and leave. It’s amazing how often I have had this exact experience, and I don’t understand it, so. [laughs]

Courtney: Maybe if I really want to mash these worlds together– For post pandemic life because we’re still in a pandemic. I’m still locked in the house, I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m going crazy! But those of you who know signs, signs and astrology and whatnot, give me a good, like, astrology answer to ask that, like, “Oh, is your ring that way because your husband is Black?” I want to be able to say, like, no my ring is this way because my spouse is an air sign, Taurus rising, something, something. [laughs] I don’t know what any of this means! Don’t come for me. But give me a good answer to that so I can just– I can mash these two worlds together.

Royce: I know nothing about astrology either, but I’m just going to assume that Taurus is an Earth sign.

Courtney: Well, some people have more than one, don’t they? Like the– It’s– Astrology has gotten more complicated since I was a kid. Like, I used to just be a Leo, now I’m… all sorts of shit. [laughs]

Royce: I want to say there are at least three…?

Courtney: Yeah, and I don’t know what any of them mean. Which, I mean, really just at the end of the day, now that I think of it more, I find it fascinating how almost nobody ever comments on my ring at the gay bars, but almost everybody does at the straight bars. So maybe that’s really telling of something in culture. Because I do get hit on at both places, but in the straight context it’s like if I’m hitting on you I’m going to mention and acknowledge your ring so, I see– I see that you are married or engaged or something, I’m gonna comment on it and approach– approach those waters. But in the gay bars it’s just nothing. Nothing. And it’s– I don’t know if that’s a situation of folks in these queer spaces just aren’t looking for those traditionally heteronormative signs of being in a committed relationship, or if they’re like, well you’re– you’re queer so maybe you’re also polyamorous, and I’m just going to assume that if this isn’t okay, you’ll tell me, kind of a thing. But either way, very, very stark difference between the two scenes. But yeah, really, end of the day we just gotta dismantle the entire system.

Royce: Oh? Just that.

Courtney: Just that! And nothing more, nothing less. Because I just– I also don’t understand how people can take friendships casually, I really don’t know. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Golden Girls. But like, committed friendships are so important and everybody kind of has their own, like, number of committed friendships that they’re comfortable with. Like, maybe you just need one close friend and you’re good. Maybe you want a whole lot of friends. Like that– that’s subject to change, absolutely. But I think people who just approach friendships so callously and casually can do a lot of harm. Because I think it’s important. And especially people who are aroace, people who do not want to have any sort of romantic or sexual relationship, they do not want a monogamous partnership, those folks can really be left by the wayside in a world that sees friendships as being a casual thing, to put on or take off or to throw away as it suits you. And that’s just not what a community is made out of.

Courtney: Like, for me I know I do not go into a friendship assuming it’s just going to be a short or casual affair, because I care very deeply for each and every one of my friends. So that’s certainly an element of it, just the amatonormative structure of our current society needs to be torn down, but also there still is a patriarchal element, there is a sexist element here because– Boy, I do really tell you, for as much as we were talking about division of labor here, I don’t think I know a single straight married woman right now who isn’t just, like, at her wits end. Well, I take it back I know one or two actually healthy straight marriages. But the number of women I know who have been in a relationship with men, who just – not even necessarily if they’re living together, or doing household chores, or dividing labor that way – but just the emotional labor and the needing to, like, manage her own emotions as well as his anytime there is some sort of conflict is something that I have seen time and time again.

Courtney: And I know in our very patriarchal society we really, really do let down men and young boys in the way they are raised, and in the way society tells them they need to be, and how society will treat them. And I don’t totally know what the answer is to that, but I can tell you that this ain’t it. I do feel like, at the time I was growing up, young girls definitely were kind of taught how to be – quote – “a good wife” and “a good mother” and “a good caretaker.” And good in this context did mean that you are shouldering a lot of the emotional responsibility. But I don’t think young boys are taught how to be a good spouse, or a good partner.

Royce: No, the rhetoric is mostly just make sure you can hold a job. [Courtney laughs] Like what you’re supposed to provide is finances.

Courtney: And that is just not going to work for every couple. And truly in that sense I believe that straight people and straight couples have a lot to learn from the queer community. And I think especially the ace and aro communities. Because we often take the whole concept of romance and marriage a step further in our critique. We aren’t just saying teardown heteronormativity, we’re taking it to amatonormativity. We’re taking it to compulsory sexuality. And we’re critiquing these things about society in a way that not all branches of the queer community currently are. But I do think that there are even a lot of successful, you know, allo gay couples who also have a lot to teach straight couples. Because if you have a same sex relationship, the binary sex/gender expectations that they were grown up with, that were taught, “This is how relationships work, and this is what you’re going to need to expect going into,” is inherently not going to work. So there’s already an added layer of needing to negotiate what your relationship looks like for your unique needs, because you already don’t look like the couples that everyone’s saying this is what’s to be aspired to.

Courtney: So here’s actually something interesting. I just pulled up this article, I didn’t read it but I saw the headline, and I thought that’ll be interesting. It’s called, “Advice for straight couples from a long term gay couple.” They have been married for thirty years and, with just a quick skim, they said some of the same things that we’re saying here. One of these sections is ‘What about chores?’ and the answer is, “I said before, I think gay couples are lucky because we’re outside of traditional sex roles, but the clothes still need to be washed. Michael and I divide chores based on a) who’s better at it, and b) who cares more that it’s done well. Without the gendered cultural baggage. This kind of just makes sense, right?” So, that’s kind of funny. That’s– that’s pretty close and in line with what we were saying. But I saw– This will just be the final note, and I hope I can find this to put it in the show notes for you all, but sometimes it’s hard for me to find tiktoks again when I find them somewhere.

Courtney: But there was a brilliant TikTok of an older gay couple and one was on the background on the phone and– and this guy holding the phone up was just like, “We’ve been together so long and now the spark is no longer there. He’s always on the phone when we’re together.” And the guy in the background drops the phone and is like, “I am on the phone setting up a dentist appointment for you because you have anxiety and you can’t call to make your own appointment!” [laughs] And I just thought that was hilarious. [laughs] So all I can say is we understand. So on that note, thank you to everyone who has been with us for a fabulous year in 2022. Our first full year of podcasting. It’s been a wild ride. And now that we are officially, need I remind you, the 14th best couple podcast in the entire world! Please send us your couple questions, or other couple topics you’d like us to address in the future, because we have had authority bequeathed upon us. And with great power comes great responsibility. I hope we will be able to serve you well, as the reigning 14th best couple podcast. [wheezing] Oh, I can’t say that with a straight face! So I guess, we’ll end all this just to say cheers to 2023! And we look forward to spending yet another year with you all, goodbye!