Screwing in the kitchen: A modern romance

Not long ago, my sister was staying at a relative’s house. Noticing a loose handle on a kitchen drawer, she borrowed a screwdriver and tightened the screw, thinking nothing of it. Her host, a man from the generation before, noticed the repair and pulled her aside. “My dear,” he said, ” I worry that you are becoming too independent from your husband.”

Now, to be fair, the guy is a product of his generation and culture, and he’s actually more progressive than some men I’ve known who are much younger. But every now and again we like to joke, my siblings and I, about the irresponsibility of a woman learning to turn a screwdriver, or fill a gas tank, or make a left-hand turn in traffic. Clearly, some people have the belief that an independent woman is, at least, unlucky.

Photographed in a kitchen, no doubt. You know, natural habitation and all.


It’s a puzzling ideal to have a woman so dependent upon her husband that she shouldn’t know how to operate a screwdriver. It’s a complicated tool, I suppose, when compared to a wedge, but I don’t know many men who would be interested in a woman so easily vexed. “Go ahead and get a degree,” I imagine the older man saying. “Something feminine, like elementary education, preferably by mail in between pregnancies. But for heaven’s sake, woman, unhand that toolbox! Also, bring me a sandwich.”

So the modern marriage has evolved. Men changing diapers and making meals, women screwing things in the kitchen. We married thirty-somethings may still need our spouses, but we certainly don’t rely on each other the way our parents once did. And that’s a good thing, right? A little independence makes for a healthy marriage. But what about the idea of a lot of independence? What if we shouldn’t even need our spouse at all?

Some people say we shouldn’t. If you take Stephen Covey’s Maturity Continuum at its word (printed word; it can’t actually speak), you could make an argument that being completely independent of your spouse–not actually needing them at all–is better than being dependent on each other for anything.

Our idea of relationships has been heavily influenced by fairy tales and romantic comedies. Some teenage girls have given themselves completely to the idea that they aren’t whole until they have a boyfriend, and they want a partner who would do anything in the world for them, Brian Adams style, and write poems swearing they would sooner die than live apart. It’s sweet, and juvenile, and unfortunately persistent. We outgrow our acne and letterman’s jackets, but a lot of us never outgrow this excessively romantic view of relationships.

In reality, it’s better to be married to someone who doesn’t need you at all — they choose you. They explored all their other options, and like you best of all. There’s no need for jealousy or possessive controlling or gushing about being unable to live without each other. You really don’t want to live without each other, sure, but you both understand how to function in the world without the other.  You might do the cleaning, she might handle the finances, and you rely on each other’s contributions because it makes sense to do so, but not because you need to be needed, and certainly not because you want to create a relationship in which one person depends completely on the other for anything. It’s not healthy.

Notice that the diagram doesn’t stop at independence. If a relationship matures further you will eventually reach interdependence, which is where life keeps the the adventure and excitement. Only two independent people can choose to become interdependent; you can’t skip from dependence to interdependence any more than I could sit down at a piano tomorrow and play a Regina Spektor song. That’s the point of the world continuum–it implies progression from one stage to the next. Most relationships, whether by conscious choice (deciding that a woman shouldn’t use a screwdriver) or immature reflex (building jealousies and manipulation to feel safer), stall before they even begin to develop. And you know what? It works roughly 50% of the time.

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