[Image Credit: Still from Motherlover by The Lonely Island – Video link NSFW]
Last summer I was inside a Winner’s department store with my boyfriend, grabbing a few essentials missing during our trip to Toronto. Boyfriend decided that, due to the sweltering Ontario heat, he would buy himself a few short-sleeved shirts. We were in the men’s clothing section when he turned to me and said, “Pick me three shirts.”
I was startled by his request, which was really more like a demand. I do not like making decisions for other people unless I am in a work setting and need to flex my bossy skills. I am Lucy, I like cooperation, I believe that people live their lives in the ways best fit for them, and I would never tell anyone what kind of shirt to wear .
That is not to say that I do not like fashion nor appreciate good design. In fact, I am a fashion and design snob — to myself. I have a fine arts degree, I have British Vogue bookmarked on all my devices and I eagerly await each season’s runway shows. I even had a tendency as a toddler to refuse wearing tops with collars, buttons or polka dots. My parents had to explain to other people that I was “allergic” to these embellishments, and to this very day I still squirm in collared button-downs and squint my eyes at polka dot patterns.
However, I do not mind at all if other people, even my significant other, wears collars, buttons or polka dots. (Well, maybe not the polka dots.) In fact, I do not like making any of his decisions. We definitely discuss joint decisions and bring equal perspectives to any matter. But when it comes decisions that do not affect me or are relatively insignificant to my well-being, I relinquish any responsibility that my boyfriend may try to bring my way. This is truly an example of my life philosophy of “Live and let be.”
However, that summer day, my boyfriend insisted that I pick out his shirts. I sifted through the racks nervously and kept muttering, “Hmm, I don’t know, I don’t know.” Boyfriend grew impatient. “Just pick what you would like to see on me. Pick what you like. I trust you.” I reluctantly came out with a casual navy blue top, a light blue collared button down with a strip of yellow interior lining, and a utilitarian black button down. He took the items to the change room and then had me give him my opinion, which mainly came down to the fit of the tops. We ended up buying two of the shirts.
I was telling a married friend of mine about that particular day last week when she stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Lucy, I buy all of my husband’s clothes. ALL OF THEM.” It is perfectly fine for my friend to buy her husband’s clothes, but I still feel weird about the thought of doing the same for my boyfriend. However, I know that my friend is not an anomaly; I have another friend who nonchalantly buys complete work outfits for her boyfriend from Banana Republic as if she was grabbing a carton of eggs from the grocery store. I would watch her match the merino wool sweaters to charcoal trousers and wonder if, when she came back home with her shopping items, her boyfriend would clap his hands excitedly and exclaim, “You’re the best mom ever!”
Well, no, not really. But I honestly do wonder about the reaction the boyfriends and husbands when receiving their new outfits for the season. Picking out my significant other’s clothing make me feel motherly, a role I do not want to have. I am a girlfriend, a significant other, a partner, but not a parent and definitely not a mother. In fact, I have another friend who once dated a guy, even after reaching his 20’s, has his mother buy all his clothes. All of them. I shuddered in horror when she explained to me her realization of the origin of his outfits.
However, I admit that, in my relationship with my boyfriend, I definitely do take on other motherly roles especially in terms of domestic activities. Out of the two of us, I love cooking, and though I never cook for just myself I will make pretty elaborate meals for both of us when we eat together and pack his lunches for work. When he is away for work and sleeping very little, I will insist on keeping our phone conversations short because I would rather that he gets his much needed rest and knowing that we can always talk another time. I also plan our social and familial duties, buying Christmas cards for us to sign together, and add events in our calendar regarding family visits and outings with friends. My boyfriend also insists on carrying everything for me despite my protests, and has bought me pepper spray for my late commute home from the library. After I finish my studies, I will also be moving to where he will be posted for his work, though it will not be a huge sacrifice in my part in terms of my career as my work skills are relatively transferable across Canada.
This is despite the fact that both my boyfriend and I proudly identify ourselves as feminists. And, in case readers are misunderstood about what feminism means, Dictionary.com defines feminism as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and other rights of women equal to those of men.” Accordingly, my boyfriend and I consider ourselves as equal partners in the relationship, but clearly we still carry some traditional masculine or feminine roles in our lifestyle. And that is OK with both of us because we are reasonable and realistic enough to understand that the way we each embrace selective traditional gender roles has nothing to do with dominance and submission as a male and a female. At the end of the day we consider each other as autonomous individuals who prefer to work together, and collectively we reap relatively proportionate benefits and control.
But that balance becomes endangered if one of us was to take on the role of a parent. Which is why I find it creepy when people call their lovers, “Daddy”, especially if the man is much older than his partner. Accordingly, I do not want to be my boyfriend’s mother, especially in light of our age difference where I am the older one in the relationship. My boyfriend has a friend whose wife is several years older than he is, and this friend likes to lovingly call his wife “Momma.” When my boyfriend told me about this and saw my dismayed reaction, he tried to jokingly call me “Mommy” which did not go over too well. As my boyfriend’s mother also likes to cook him his favourite meals and insist that he replace worn out clothing, I definitely do not wish to identify myself as a surrogate parent.
Instead I am my boyfriend’s partner and I recognize that, because I enjoy caring and have concern for his well-being, I may come off as being relatively motherly. That is OK. I am not going to stop doing what I like to do for my boyfriend just because I am scared of the Oedipal Complex. But let me be clear: I am not his mother. Even if I pick out his shirts.