Batting For the Other Team

The website’s name had already tipped me off – howtoraiseyourboyfriend.com – but the hot pink homepage confirmed it: I’d officially entered Hetero Hell.

“Boyfriends need to be raised,” the welcome banner proclaims, “Let us show you how.” And then, the fine print: “From making introductions, to offering compliments, to saying you’re sorry, boyfriends need to be raised with the same lessons we use on our kids. As Rebecca writes, ‘If I can raise a child – a smart, kind, polite one – surely I can raise a boyfriend too.’”

The Rebecca in question is author and mommy blogger Rebecca Eckler, the site a promo tool for her latest book, How to Raise a Boyfriend: The Definitive Manual for Educating Your Man (Doubleday Canada), which was launched this winter to mixed reviews, many of them less than flattering.“Taming Like A Shrew: How Rebecca Eckler’s misguided relationship advice hurts as all,” reads the headline on The Walrus Blog. “You can get away with acting like a bitchy, shallow, needy, immature princess and relationship expert who goes through boyfriends faster than bikini waxes if you know you are one,” Anne Fenn writes in The Globe and Mail. “What’s missing here is a shrewd wink to the audience.”

On her website, Eckler includes “scary boyfriend stories” posted by fellow bloggers, which range from bitchy rants on topics such as said-boyfriend’s poor hygiene and bad driving habits, to glowing raves on everything from young marriage to “the best first date ever!” Many sum up with a question, prompting the reader to share their own rants and raves on the topic at hand:

“Have you ever been so in love and afterwards wonder what you saw in the guy?”

“What about you readers? How do you deal with someone who is entirely useless at the simplest of chores?”

The moms in my writing group (all intelligent, insightful women, and some of my best friends) have dared each other to submit a story to the site. Is this some kind of twisted April Fools’ joke? Very funny, ladies. I mean, really, where would I begin?

Back in my college days, after one too many insensitive remarks about PMS, I decided to ditch the boyfriend altogether and switch to women. Why put myself through the grief of raising a boyfriend when I could have a partner who comes already housetrained? A fellow woman who isn’t afraid of emotional intimacy, clothes shopping and cleaning the toilet. Someone with enough stamina to give me multiple orgasms, plus help with groceries and dinner after a long day at work. A partner who doesn’t knock PMS, because she too gets wicked mood swings around her period. A mate who comes pre-programmed with maternal instincts, who can handle kissing boo-boos, changing diapers, and rocking colicky babies in the middle of the night.

The downside? For the longest time it looked like I would never get hitched. Thankfully, same-sex marriage was legalized mere months before I hooked up with Ms. Right. Getting pregnant was a hassle, too. What with competing wombs and ticking bio clocks, how would we ever decide who was going to carry the baby? And where to find sperm, now that the college-era boyfriend was but a dim and distant memory? My wife, housetrained that she is, graciously agreed to let me get pregnant first. With the help of a sperm bank and the wonders of modern reproductive technology, I was soon knocked up, just like any straight girl. Within months, we found ourselves proud mamas to our son, the most beautiful baby boy in the entire world. Without a father in the picture, we’re confident we’ll be able to raise him “right” from the start, so that he too comes housetrained – smart, sensitive, and polite. His future girlfriend (or boyfriend) will have us to thank.

Have you ever considered batting for the other team?

Cue the Katy Perry chorus:  “I kissed a girl and I liked it…”

If only it were that easy. Eckler’s shallow “women know best” mentality falls apart as soon as you throw lesbians into the equation. To put it in John Gray terms, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then how come there’s so much dyke drama? When I first came out in my early twenties, a much older, wiser dyke dryly warned me, “Sappho may have written beautiful poetry, but an island of women is no paradise.”

Indeed, Amanda and I have the same kinds of petty arguments, pet peeves and disagreements as any straight couple, over everything from hair in the sink and towels on the floor to whose turn it is to have a night out with friends (and shouldn’t we be getting a sitter and going out on a long overdue date night, anyway?)  The only difference is, we can’t blame our marital discord on stereotypical gender differences.

Back when our son was two months old, I participated in a facilitated mom and baby group. The week we discussed the impact of new motherhood on our relationships and sex life, all eyes turned on me. Every woman in the room imagined that it would be easier to have female partner right about now, that Amanda and I must have the perfect relationship. At least you can hand off your baby to your partner knowing that she has a clue about what to do, they pointed out. This much was true. But Amanda and I were still struggling with the same kinds of issues as all the other couples: feeling estranged from one other emotionally and sexually as my every waking hour was consumed with feeding and caring for our newborn, while bleary-eyed Amanda dragged herself out of the house and attempted to function at work and school day after day. Our collective sleep deprivation and my surging hormones were a deadly mix, triggering fights to end all fights, and our sex life had been effectively on hold since late pregnancy. New parenthood had effectively fast-tracked the onset of lesbian bed-death, or so it seemed at the time.

As dyke parents, we also faced our very own, special set of challenges. Sure, I could confidently leave our son in Amanda’s arms any old time, but this also triggered a deep-seated insecurity that she was somehow a better mom than me. She’s a social worker who deals daily with kids and infants at risk, after all. She’d taken “safe baby” training on the job and had a whole toolkit of specialized parenting skills upon which to draw. Whenever I’d reached the end of my rope, she had this annoying way of stepping in and taking over, always knowing just what to do to get our son to stop crying. Instead of being grateful for the help, I just felt completely inept. I later discovered that Amanda felt equally incompetent – that she saw me, the birth mother, as having the inside edge, a special connection with our son that she longed for herself. In her eyes, I was the one who always knew what to do while she, the non-bio mom, was completely at sea. Whenever I stepped in to support her parenting, she felt completely undermined. It was only after things finally boiled over and we had a massive fight about our respective roles that we got our insecurities out in the open. At which point, we were able to step back, laugh, and reframe our experience: as two moms, each with our own strengths, we make an incredible tag team.

As for Eckler’s book and website, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for frank, public discourse about intimacy and relationships, and a healthy dose of humour never hurts when examining this touchy, personal subject. But what irks me about How to Raise A Boyfriend is not only its heterosexism, but its blatant sexism, period. The way it glibly dismisses commonplace relationship woes as a battle of the sexes, where universal couple dynamics are reduced to sexist gender stereotypes. Where the boyfriend is always at fault ‘cause, well, he’s just a hapless guy – and if only the woman could get him to change and see the world as she does, then everything would be perfect. (For the record, my college boyfriend was actually a charming, decent man. The real issue? He was straight and I wasn’t.)

The painful truth is that relationships, queer or straight, are hard work. It takes two. Opposites attract, regardless of gender. The very things that make us fall head over heels for our mates are the same things that drive us crazy a few years in. We unrealistically expect our partners to make up for a lifetime of hurt and unmet needs – no wonder they perpetually let us down. And once the euphoria of the honeymoon phase wears off, we’re into the power struggle and yeah, it can be a real slog sometimes, especially when you throw kids into the picture.

Rather than entertaining bitchy fantasies about how I might “raise” my significant other, I turn instead to Harville Hendrix, American couples’ counsellor and author of Getting the Love You Want. Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt co-created IMAGO relationship therapy and developed the concept of “conscious partnership.” As Hendrix bluntly puts it, “You can be right, or you can be in a relationship. You decide.”

In my better moments, I remember to choose the relationship.

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This entry was posted in heterosexism, misconceptions, relationships, stereotypes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Batting For the Other Team

  1. Sarah Tsiang says:

    Well written and true, as always.

  2. Amanda says:

    Well this is all very insightful and everything but surely if you only did things the way I told you to we’d get along fine-right?
    Oh, if only relationships were that simple. Then again, how boring things would be if we were to make universal our own peculiarities. Thanks Sara for sticking up for the “hapless guys” and for the rest of us less than fully evolved people who know we don’t know best and who prefer to see the uniqueness in ourselves and others as something to be celebrated rather than ridiculed or changed. Keep the blog writing coming-a loving fan x

  3. Elise says:

    One of the things that’s being dealt with here is I think called “essentialism” — are women and men “essentially” different in identifiable ways? Thank you very much, Sara, for wittily suggesting that believing all women share particular characteristics and all men share others can be another trap that prevents us from seeing the complex reality of individual human beings.

  4. Lesley (Cee-Lee) says:

    Another great post! Somehow I missed reading when it was brand new.
    Ironically, prior to my son’s birth, I had been alone once with a baby for 20 minutes and was pretty much terrified the entire time. My ex on the other hand had lots of alone time with his nieces and nephews and so HE was the partner with a clue!

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