Living with the Caveman: The Not So Good

“Thanks God for books, for validating your feelings, and letting you know you’re not alone.” (Paula Gruben, Umbilicus)

RECAP: Ever found yourself among a group of friends, relatives or close co-workers discussing life, kids, marriage, relationships, etc.? There’s always a good chance that at some point, the conversation will turn to our partners and what drives us crazy at home—starting with unequal division of labor in marriage! It has happened to me many times, and interestingly, it always plays out the same way: As we share our stories, laughing, we realize that we all have the same gripes! And far from making us feel worse, it actually puts us in a better mood—instantly! Not because there’s always someone who has it worse than we do, but because we realize (or we’re reminded) that we’re not alone in our boat, and that our feelings are valid—or at least, shared.

Just like those “I’m-right-there-with-you-girlfriend” talks, this blog is here to remind you that you’re not alone, and validate your feelings. And speaking of which, you have many—some positive, and some not so positive! Being the Caveman’s partner will do that to you.

Note to readers: The following list—based on my experience—is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to share your experiences and feelings in the comment section below.

Now that we’ve covered THE GOOD, let’s continue with THE NOT SO GOOD, in descending order of “unpleasantness”. You’ve been warned!

When your partner is a Caveman, chances are that:

1) YOU FEEL POOPED ALL THE TIME

Nothing like being solely in charge of everything, day in and day out, to make you feel like you’re about to get hit with the flu. Take my normal, “low-key” days… From school drop off, to heading to work, to running errands at lunchtime, to school pick up, to making dinner, and more, it’s all about RUN-RUN-RUN! Imagine my hectic days, i.e. the ones when I have to manage cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, taxiing the kids around and doing my Caveman’s business accounting on top of it all! And forget about the months I have to squeeze in home improvements and repairs!!! I mean, honestly, how the heck do Caveman’s partners with twins survive this!?

The Caveman's partner" The Ultimate Multitasker. Funny drawing showing the Caveman's partner with multiple arms handling vacuuming, cooking, cleaning, home repairs, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc. with a baby grabbing her leg.
The Caveman’s Partner: The Ultimate Multitasker

Note to readers: In case you’re wondering when I have time for a blog, consider that what you’re reading has been years in the making!

2) YOU FEEL MENTALLY STRESSED

Despite the Caveman’s claims to the contrary, the MENTAL LOAD (i.e. the burden that many partners carry besides their share of parenting and household duties, i.e. organizing, reminding and planning everything else) is a REAL THING. While your Caveman drifts through life indolently (without worrying about Junior’s growing body, vaccines, school or summer camp registrations, what would happen if your electric bill wasn’t paid, or where toilet paper comes from), your brain keeps indexing to-do list in descending order of priority—day and night!

The mental load at 1 a.m.: The Caveman's partner is wide awake thinking of the endless list of things she has to do (cooking, school appointments, vaccines, etc.). The Caveman is peacefully asleep. In his dream, he's on a beach lying in a hammock. A sign planted in the sand reads: "What mental load?"
The Mental Load at 1 a.m.

And as if that weren’t enough, there’s the mental weariness of knowing that if you don’t do “it”, then “it” won’t get done. Personally, that’s what gets me down: The little things… Knowing that if I don’t pick up that towel, clean up that spill, replace that broken cup, refill that soap dispenser, return that milk bottle to the fridge, tighten that loose handle, etc., then it simply won’t happen. Trust me; I’ve tried the alternative approaches… Things just pile up to the point of no return. Between chaos and order, the choice is easily made. If that makes me OCD, then so be it!

3) YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE RUNNING A BOARDING HOUSE

Jancee Dunn, in her book “How Not to Hate your Husband After Kids”, says (of her husband): “I feel like he’s a guest at the hotel I’m running.” That illustrates perfectly the feeling of living with a Caveman—especially after bringing children into the relationship! You take on the extra work and responsibilities while the Caveman keeps living his life as if nothing has changed, insanely self-convinced that benevolent, selfless fairies are doing all the work around the house. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think that running a boarding house would actually be easier than having a Caveman as a partner! But then, I’ve never run a boarding house…

Outside view of my house. A mat reads "Welcome to Elle's Boarding House" while signs in the yard read "Don't lid a finger", "Take it easy", "Don't sweat it", "Don't worry about a thing", "Relax", "All under control" and "We do it all for you".
My House – Outside View
Inside view of my house: Tiny fairies are flying over the kitchen, cooking and cleaning with the help of their magic wands.
My House – Inside View

4) YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE AN EXTRA CHILD

I often hear (from fellow Caveman’s partners) things like “Honestly, there are days I’m surprised he can chew his own food! It’s like having another child!” Believe it or not, those grumbles are not isolated cases. The Web is filled with articles (like this one, for example) claiming that having a “caveman-y” husband is like having an extra child—all complete with the research to back it up!

My very own Caveman slacks like a teenager, lies like a four year old (“What cup!? Not mine!”), acts like a tween when it comes to taking responsibility for anything, must be reminded of everything, and couldn’t initiate a task for the life of him.  If that doesn’t feel like an extra child, I don’t know what does!

Drawing of two children and the Caveman. An arrow reading "child #3" points at the Caveman. The Caveman says: "Why do I have to clean it? The kids did it!"

5) YOU FEEL LIKE A MARRIED SINGLE PARENT

Not to be overly dramatic, but being married to a Caveman makes me feel like I’m only married on paper. I have most of the responsibilities of a single parent, and [since my husband opened his business] none of the companionship of a spouse. I’m not sure all Caveman’s partners feel that way, but I just Googled “married single parent” and it returned almost 40,000 hits, so I would say the feeling is as common as it gets. I just wish we could all file our taxes as “Head of Household”!

Photograph of person walking in the desert
It’s a long, lonely road

6) YOU FEEL YOU FANTASIZE ABOUT THE “PERFECT STRANGER” MORE THAN IT’S HEALTHY

The “Perfect Stranger” is a person—real or imagined—whom you endow (in your head, and I cannot stress that enough) with the qualities you wish for in a perfect partner. In my case, the “Perfect Stranger” is a cross between Michael Greyeyes (my Caveman’s lost twin, according to my BFF, which might explain how I ended up where I am in the first place), and Charles Ingalls from Little House in the Prairie.

He’s noble, honest, kind and hardworking, likes children, animals and nature, treats me like a partner, does his share without being coerced into it*, and in all likelihood, HE DOESN’T EXIST! Yet, lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve been thinking about him more than I should. I blame an overactive imagination—and life with the Caveman!

My perfect stranger: Michael Greyeyes + Charles Ingalls = Perfect (but sadly not real)

*Note to readers: Interestingly, I don’t imagine my perfect mate with an apron, a spatula in one hand and a duster in the other, but he definitely does things of his own accord—and definitely more than my Caveman! Honestly, I’d be happy with anyone who doesn’t look at me like I’m asking for one of his kidneys each time I ask him to reach up for a salad bowl!

Funny drawing of the perfect stranger, holding flowers and welcoming me home saying: "Hi honey! I cooked but let me give you a back rub before dinner. Before I forget, I asked my folks to stay with the kids next week so you and I can take this romantic trip to Bali you always dreamed of. By the way... Did I mention how much I love you and I DON'T take you for granted?"
My Perfect Stranger

7) YOU FEEL GUILTY

Sometimes, living with a Caveman will bring unexpected side effects and paradoxical feelings. GUILT is such a feeling. You handle most of the housework. You’re responsible for most parenting duties. You carry 100% of the mental load. You live with someone who avoids household chores like the plague and reenacts the mother of all conflicts each time he’s asked to lift a finger.

Yet, at times, you still manage to feel guilty about asking your Caveman to contribute to household duties, and you wonder whether YOU are creating conflict by striving for a fairer housework distribution. If you ask me, that’s seriously messed up!

8) YOU FEEL PEOPLE DON’T SEE THE REAL YOU

From your Caveman who sees you as a nagger or a slave driver (don’t laugh; I’m serious. I’ve been accused of it more than once!), to your friends, relatives and co-workers who may see you as someone with a savior complex or a martyr syndrome (yes; it’s a thing), you feel that few people see the real you—or, at any rate, the person you think you are. In my case: a “Saint Bernard” who tends to concentrate of the good, has trouble giving up on lost causes, and remembers/keeps hoping for better times. Or a masochist. It’s a fine line…

Image of blurry woman behind frosty glass

9) YOU FEEL YOU’VE LOST YOUR ABILITY TO RELAX

It’s paradoxical, but THE MORE YOU DO, THE LESS YOU’RE ABLE TO DO LESS (read that as many times as you need). I once came across an article that claimed that most women are hyperactive, which explains why they “need” to keep busy, always jumping from one project to the next. I have an inkling it’s the other way around: Caveman’s partners (sadly, mostly women) have been busy for so long that they’re no longer able to rest. “Rest” as become synonym for “lost time”.

Sad but true, and that’s one of the many things we’ll have to work on as we’re working on reforming our Caveman and our relationship! If we choose to go that way, that is…

Funny caffeine-high emoji saying "Who needs to relax?"

Note to readers: Most of the MEN I know who have a Caveman (man or woman) as a partner seem to have the same problem, so I think I’m onto something here…

10) YOU FEEL YOU HARBOR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS (YOU DON’T SAY!)

Even if you’re one of those saintlike people who finds purpose in self-sacrifice, years of slaving around someone who acts likes a guest in a 5-star tropical resort is bound to take its toll. Personally, it has made me angry, resentful, and what my Caveman would call “nagging” (although whether my behavior matches the definition remains to be seen).

I once read: “Behind every nagging woman is a man who’s not doing what he’s supposed to.” I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but I feel it certainly is true for me. And I think I speak for everyone when I say: No one wants to be seen (or see oneself) as an unpleasant, angry, resentful, “nagging” person!

11) YOU FEEL ENVIOUS OF OTHER PEOPLE’S SEEMINGLY HAPPY RELATIONSHIPS

There was a brief time, between year ten and seventeen (give or take) of my relationship with my Caveman, when I thought we had it good. When things came crashing down on me like an overcooked chocolate soufflé, I started eyeing the seemingly happy relationships around me with envy.

I blame Facebook! I don’t spend much time on it, but each time I log in, there’s always that “I-have-the-best-partner-Our-relationship-is-so-perfect-Thank-you-for-being-so-perfect-my-lovingly-loving-love-Smiley-face-rainbow-flower-little-hearts” post that makes me feel like I’m the only one who picked the wrong horse.

Now, I know that I shouldn’t be comparing what I have to what others have, seem to have, pretend to have, or delude themselves into thinking they have… But sometimes, I do wish that I would have it in my heart to write smiley-face-rainbow-and-little-hearts posts about my partner too!

The Facebook Effect: Side-by-side drawing comparing other people's life (sunny, happy landscape with flying smileys) with my life (sad, rainy landscape with flying sad faces)
The Facebook Effect

12) YOU’RE AFRAID OF OPENING YOUR MOUTH

Not to lapse into self-pity, but there are times when I would rather do the work and shut my mouth than risk opening it. There are only so many “I just sat down to watch TV! Can’t you leave me alone for one minute!?” that one can take without losing it. Sometimes, peace of mind takes precedence over everything else. As my friend G. (also a Caveman’s partner) commented to me not long ago: “I can ask for help, argue, then do the work, or just do the work. Either way, he won’t do it, so I might as well save myself the stress.”

The Caveman is sitting in an armchair holding a TV remote and a beer bottle. His partner has just asked his help with the laundry and he answers "What do you want now? Can't you see I'm resting!?"

13) YOU FEEL USED

This one is a tough one… Is “feeling used” a legitimate feeling when you do what you do of your own accord? After all, would you feel used if you were a widow(er), a single parent, or even a divorcee? But then again, let’s be fair: “Feeling used” implies being taken advantage of, and if your partner is a Caveman, chances are that it’s not far from the truth.

Personally, I don’t feel used if say… my Caveman is working, and I’m staying home with the kids, doing housework. However, if we’re both home, I expect both of us to contribute equally so we can have some free time later on. If he doesn’t (and, for example, watches TV with a beer while I’m toiling like a galley slave), but still expects me to be “in the mood” at the end of the day, then I definitely feel used! But then, I guess you could also call me an enabler. As I said: It’s a tough one…

Lyrics of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics: Sweet dreams are made of this. Who am I to disagree? I travel the world and the seven seas... Everybody's looking for something. Some of them want to use you... Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you... Some of them want to be abused.

13) YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE LOST YOURSELF

It sounds extreme but at some point, after spending years with someone who consistently puts himself first (“making” you put yourself last), you’re bound to feel like you’ve lost yourself—and maybe you have. Perhaps I have it particularly bad because having no relatives around, I never get a free break (emphasis on “free”), but nowhere since my first born was born have I managed to squeeze in any “personal” time to do the things I want/love to do—unless I do them with my children, that is.

Note to readers: Try to get a fifteen year old to take a peaceful, cell phone-free walk in the woods, or a five year old to do drum meditation, and see how that goes!

Black and white photograph of woman seen from back, looking down

14) YOU FEEL LIKE A BAD ROLE MODEL TO YOUR CHILDREN

Parenting is not easy. As a parent, you’re constantly wondering whether you’re doing the right thing, what consequences your words and actions will have on your children’s psyche and future, and whether you’re doing any better than your parents when it comes to raising balanced human beings.

“Co-parenting” with a Caveman multiplies exponentially the level of doubt, injecting new questions into the mix: “What am I teaching my children about relationships, respect, self-respect, etc.?” “Am I teaching my daughter that it’s OK to do it all?” “Am I teaching my son that it’s OK to be lazy?” “Is living in a conflict-ridden environment better than having divorced parents?Those are not questions we want to ask ourselves, but we’re bound to when our partner is a Caveman. And finding answers to them is as important as making a choice about our relationship. But that’s a subject for another day…

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Note to readers: I warned you that the list would get unpleasant toward the end. Thankfully, it is the end of it! But not to close on such a bummer note, allow me to add a few words about the “not so good”…

As human beings with complex brains and hearts, we’re entitled to our emotions. Our feelings—good and not so good—are real, valid and important to be aware of. Without awareness and acknowledgement, there can be no change. Too Deepak Chopra-ish? Let me rephrase: Without awareness, acknowledgement and a
crapload of work, there can be no change.

And CHANGE is what we need, or we wouldn’t have those not-so-good feelings in the first place, would we? There are people in our exact same situation who feel useful (not used), find purpose in “service” (instead losing themselves it it), are content doing it all (vs. dream of equal division of labor), and don’t think of “change” as an option, let alone a necessity. Trust me; I know plenty!

But we’re not those people (would you be reading this blog if you were?), nor do we have to be! It’s okay to identify issues (in our relationship, our Caveman, ourselves), ask questions and look for answers, solutions, and ultimately, “a way out”.

So if you’re “there”, let me welcome you to “AWARENESS” and tell you in no uncertain terms: Not until you analyze your feelings (good and not so good) and your actions (good and not so good) will you find a way out of your current situation, whether it is through REFORM (i.e. fix it) or through FLIGHT (i.e. leave it).

On this enigmatic note, I invite you to share your experiences and feelings in the comment section below.

Until next time!

Elle

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