Earning Less In A Relationship, Does It Make You Less Of A Man?

One is told about equal rights and partnerships yet the patriarchal roles of men “bringing home the bacon” still persist.

Being a man is tough enough on its own without the issues of also needing to worry about making more money than your partner, who in these times of women finally getting recognized and almost paid their worth is another challenge to face. It becomes even more difficult when one is not making any money at all.

I have heard from a few friends, of how one gets left once all the money starts running out, I should at least value the fact that I have a supportive partner. At times I thank God that He gave me a partner that can put up with my mess now and then. She has withstood the temper tantrums when I could not find a sock, she plays nurse when I am sick, and worse brings home the bacon. Blow after blow to a male ego.

Imagine how one feels in this age of blessers, where a man is measured by how much he does for the opposite sex, granted that it is mostly old men doing it for the younglings, lest we also forget that this is an age old practice as observed in the wedding singing of“Ubuhle bendodha yizinkomo zayo” (meaning the beauty of a man is essentially in his wealth).

When you as a man wake up, do the laundry, need to worry about dinner, and do all the necessary home related responsibilities, which are traditionally considered to be female roles, it tends to eat away at your soul. You may at times assist where you can or want to (because you were raised to), but when it suddenly becomes a semi-permanent role reversal it makes one feel less than the supposed men one is supposed to be.

In my household it was accepted that I, being the man, would “help out” now and then. I would do some laundry because when I was available, cook because it is a special occasion or because you are being romantic and you do some house chores because you are an insomniac. That is the basis by which others would explain it, or mosadi ogoloile (she has put you under a spell).

My life and that of my wifess, have seen a gender role reversal, I do the laundry, clean the house so that she could have enough energy coming back from a demanding job to shag me. Self-serving, relatively romantic, but practical.

For me, what used to be special is the norm. She needs to get up early to get ready for work while, and I make the bed. Fortunately we still prepare the children together. You then get a half-hearted kiss goodbye as everyone is in a rush as they are usually late. You then start thinking about what needs to be done for the day and as the morning continues you remember that the meat should be defrosting so dinner can be prepared and you wonder where your manhood went.

I can honestly say that in these tough times of role blurring, one wakes up some days, puts on a relative smile and helps get everyone up and ready for school and work. Then you do the school run while listening to your partner’s plans and list of things that need to be achieved (secretly thinking that used to be you). When you drop your partner off you jump out of the car, open her door, hand over her laptop, lunch and kiss her like you will never see her again. You come home to the daily grind, you then prepare dinner like it is the last meal you will ever share together.
All the while all her female colleagues think you are such a romantic guy for dropping her off and picking her up, whilst you secretly know that it gives you a very welcome break from the daily grind and stress.

In the evening, you repeat the journey, fetch your partner, picking up the kids and then back home. You listen to how the day was as somewhere in there are clues on how relaxed she was when she arrived at work because you drove her there. All of it considered romantic and loving from a female perspective, making you look like a better man, not because of your wallet, car or flashy suit, but because you make them want to be made to feel as special.

At times it feels like romance was killed by the role reversals, as much as it may have died due to the intolerance, instant gratification and lack of patience that we all crave. Essentially, this is making the best of a lousy situation; until you have your income earning ability back. Then instead of worrying about what you will be cooking for dinner, you can start thinking about where you will be taking her for dinner.

Do not however stop making her feel special, because what you won’t do another person will gladly do and it will still not be about the size of their wallet, but how special she feels when the door is opened for her and the daily kisses you give her. Those are the lingering moments in her memory, not the car you drive, how much you paid at that expensive restaurant that matter the most. Although the roles may be reversed, she still wants to feel valued, appreciated.

This time has taught me much about my own resilience, my own ego and that although things can get tough, my spirit is resilient. For many couples this can be an extremely difficult time, especially when there is a lack of support and understanding.  It is not the laundry, cleaning or lack of income that takes away being a man, it is the respect you earn and have from her by making her the only one that matters in the world.

Writer: Tsholanang Mabalane    Photography: Gugulethu Mlambo