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September 26, 2008


Personally, the Editorial Staff see nothing unusual about this:

Stop the presses! A Pew Research Center survey reveals that in nearly two out of three cases when one person in a married couple makes the decisions, that person is -- now brace yourself! -- the wife.

Shocking, I know.

Forty-three percent of wives call the shots, according to the poll, compared with 26 percent of the men.

Golly! That would seem to go against the grain of our unisex bathroom, gender-neutral, anybody-can -grow-up-to-become-an-unqualified-vice-presidential-candidate society. But then again, the practical considerations that keep marriages chugging along are not as open to shifts in fashion as we might think.

The survey did identify a third group -- 31 percent of couples claim they "equally divide decisions" -- an obvious lie. I'm not sure if equally dividing decisions is even possible, and figure the 31 percent must represent couples who say what they think they're supposed to say.

With that in mind, I phoned my wife. If I'm going to write about this, I thought it would be best, from a domestic tranquility perspective, to seek her input.

"So honey . . ." I stammered. "There's this survey . . . "

"We equally divide decisions," she replied.

"Do we really?" I squeaked.

"Yes, we do," she said, with a firm and-that's-the-end-of-that tone. I automatically backed off, mumbling apologies.

Well there you are. That settles it. We divide decisions equally. Though ... and I'm going out on a limb here ... I suppose it all depends on what you mean by "equally." When it comes to major life choices, we do divide them, in the sense that my wife sets the course and I'm allowed to fill in the details. She decided, for instance, that it was high time for us to get married, and I got to pick both the location for the wedding and the type of soup served at the reception -- cream of carrot.

It was she who announced that we were moving to the suburbs, and I found the house we live in.

That is a division, of sorts, though whether it is an equal division, I will leave to you.

I'm not complaining, mind you. The line I always use, when convincing myself to go along with her next scheduled stage of domesticity, is that if I didn't follow her lead, I'd still be a single guy living in a one-bedroom rental in Oak Park. (Mmmmm . . . No wait, that would be bad!!!)

And yet. There is an aspect to our joint decision-making worth mentioning. There are moments where I suspect it might not be quite as equitable as advertised.

For instance.

Now is the time when on-the-ball families plan their summer vacations. A few days back we were strolling along the Prairie Trail in Northbrook.

"Where should we go this summer?" she said. "I thought we'd go to Yellowstone."

"Or maybe the Grand Canyon," I countered.

"There's good hiking in Yellowstone," she continued.

"I've never been to the Grand Canyon," I said.

"Cate stayed in a lodge in Yellowstone she really liked," she said. "Ask her the name of the place so we can stay there when we go to Yellowstone."

So I guess, from my wife's point of view, we discussed several vacation options and came to a decision together, the way equal helpmates who love and respect each other do.

I might view it differently, but then I'm surely mistaken, for reasons which no doubt are being explained to me even as you read this.

Posted by Cassandra at September 26, 2008 07:51 AM

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My husband and I avoid this issue by simply never making any decisions at all.

Posted by: Elise at September 26, 2008 12:04 PM

KtLW talked me into the Italy trip so she could research her ancestry in the wine country between Milan and Rome.

Both sides of her family come from the Adriatic coast east of *Naples*...

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2008 12:21 PM

Very often, one partner starts by allowing the other to make most decisions because he/she is very busy at work and the other partner either doesn't work outside the home. Over time, though, the partner to whom the decision-making has been delegated starts to consider it as a right, and violently objects to the other partner attempting to recapture any authority over his/her own life.

Posted by: jeff at September 26, 2008 12:36 PM

meant to say "either doesn't work outside the home or has a less time-demanding job"

Posted by: jeff at September 26, 2008 12:37 PM

I think there is a lot of truth to that, jeff. Although I'm not so sure it's a question of thinking of it as a 'right' as it is of having well understood spheres of influence, as in "I'm in charge of our home and everything in it, you're in charge of the TV remote and ... and....ummm...." :p.


Posted by: Cass at September 26, 2008 03:56 PM

My husband and I avoid this issue by simply never making any decisions at all.

Elise, have you been spying on us on Saturday mornings? Because that is just creepy.


Posted by: Cass at September 26, 2008 03:57 PM

ah... but unless its 100% they are oppressed...

thanks for a great post... :)

[forgive the short comment, i am still trying to get over the news that the uk equivalent to sanger and her organiztion, just plinked an article advising young girls to sterlize themselves]

Posted by: artfldgr at September 26, 2008 04:56 PM

I think this post just goes back to that feminist meme that patriarchal men make all the decisions for those poor oppressed women. There are all sorts of power around and if you really think a women who stays at home and raises the kids doesn't have power and influence. . .

Meanwhile, my husband can get pretty high-handed at times about how he prefers the house to be and look, although I will say he also requires the kids to participate in its upkeep not just me. However, I'm floored at times at the "sphere of influence" he casually gives me such as picking all the school curriculum for my kids and financial decisions regarding mortgages and insurance. Okay, well I did tell him that if he wanted my tires inflated to the right pressure, that was his sphere!

Thanks for the great combination of political and relational posts!

Posted by: baberuth at September 26, 2008 10:13 PM

You know, I've always thought that most men actually like a strong woman, as long as she doesn't forget to appreciate them too. It's a question of balance.

What they seem to want is the challenge of winning over a woman who isn't a pushover. If she's too easy, there's no pride in winning her, and if she's too aggressive, once you've got her she makes your life a living Hell...

I think it just goes back to finding someone with whom you are evenly matched.

Posted by: Cass at September 26, 2008 11:31 PM

FWIW, my husband does that too every few years :p

Once he got on this kick about the bills, so instead of arguing with him, I said, "Since you seem to be so minutely interested in the process, why don't you just take over paying the bills, honey?"


That was 12 years ago. It didn't last long.

Posted by: Cass at September 26, 2008 11:35 PM

Uhhh…the crickets are chirping in Villainousville tonight. Kudos to McCain for coming out for the debate, but the ole maverick probably should have stayed home and curled up with some Zane Grey, because he just got seriously spanked by Obama.


Who is Obama? Why, he’s the next President of the United States!

Posted by: J. Cougar Melancholy at September 27, 2008 12:34 AM

No crickets are chirping here that I'm aware of. I'm really stretching to figure out what the debate has to do with what was supposed to be a relief from the nearly non-stop political posts I've been doing lately, but I'll bite :p

I thought it was fairly even, but that McCain won decisively. So did my husband, and neither of us have even been huge McCain fans. Neither of us were particularly excited about his candidacy.

But that's not surprising. People see these things through the lens of both their political preferences and their values. During the 2000 and 2004 elections I kept reading the Gore and Kerry had 'spanked' the Shrub. The folks over at the National Review were wearing sackcloth and ashes, weeping and wailing like it was the End of Days. Meanwhile my husband and I usually found Bush more convincing on the issues.

We all remember how that worked out on election day :p

People will continue to try to skip right past election day, but it seems to me that none of us will know until we get to that point and all this pre-judging just serves to nurse a sense of grievance when the inevitable happens and one candidate loses. Because, you know, that's the nature of elections: one loses, one wins.

Why don't we just let it play out?

FWIW, what I saw was that Obama did fairly well. He did manage to look presidential, but that is really a low bar and it says a lot about his candidacy that the anchors all were saying before the debate that "all he had to do was look presidential", as though the issues don't matter!

The sad, sad thing is that may well be true :p

But on the issues he did not do so well. His answers were nearly always less detailed and his general demeanor was reactive rather than confident and assertive. He spent most of the debate reacting to McCain, who quietly steered both the tone and the direction of the questions. It was remarkable to me how well he managed to dominate the debate, and he clearly got under Obama's skin many, many times (what the heck was up with the childish faces Obama was making? He looked like a small child squirming in a church pew).

What he did not do, IMO, was erase the perception that he doesn't have a set of core principles he's willing to defend and he never managed to look like a leader instead of a follower. That's a gut perception that I think is very important.

Posted by: Cass at September 27, 2008 07:10 AM

Elise, have you been spying on us on Saturday mornings? Because that is just creepy.

Heavens no. That would require deciding to do so.

I actually had a psychotherapist tell me once that couples getting stuck in "What do you want to do?", "I don't know, how 'bout you?" hell was so common that she actually assigned a lot of her clients an exercise that required first one, then the other spouse to make decisions. They alternated monthly or weekly and no second-guessing by the non-deciding spouse was allowed.

Posted by: Elise at September 27, 2008 06:54 PM