His question was one of the most direct. But plenty ask. Over several years of living alone, I’ve had (too) many home maintenance and repair issues. When men come round to quote for or fix things, they sometimes want to speak to ‘the man’.
I’m not sure how to respond.
Women alone in a space with a man generally don’t like to confirm that there is no other man on the premises. We know there is protection in conformity. It makes us safer. There is also a mocking undertone of can’t you get a man that makes me defensive (um yes, thanks for asking). Like it is a prize. Like there must be something wrong with you if not. As if not cohabiting can’t be a choice. As if different sexualities don’t exist.
Recently, a plumber was convinced he’d spoken to ‘your man or landlord’. No, I said, it’s my place. I am my landlord. He looked confused. So I said, with forced cheerfulness: There is no man! Maybe I am the man for the purposes of this interaction? (I’m reminded of the Cher quote, mom I am a rich man!) It turns out he was speaking to his own plumbing colleague. A man. I paid the bills and we moved on.
Companies who won’t update my name from Mrs to Ms on their system annoy me. When they explain that they need me to submit official documents to their head office for verification of a title change, my heart sinks. I am so tired of being reminded that my choosing a title and status isn’t enough to be granted it. A part of me wants to point out the insanity to whoever stands in front of me. How can anyone else decide this for me? What difference does it make? Aren’t there people in our society who get called The Right Honourable Gentleman? But I can’t be Ms or just be called by my name. Without the approval of head office.
A new pension letter arrived to tell me what my retirement might look like. This most fictional of documents stated that the pension pot is for me and ‘your husband (assumed to be 3 years older)’. I looked around the room. Presumably this is some kind of average woman projection based on my age? It felt exceptionally judgemental. What if in retirement I want to support a friend? Am I automatically disadvantaged if I’m not married? And god forbid, a husband might be younger than a wife.
All this to say that society constantly reinforces the way life should look. Julie Owen Moylan talks about the ‘shitty committee’, the voices of judgement women carry in their heads based on societal expectations. I have this too. My committee tells me that I’m a failure for not having the things I’m supposed to have by my age. But I take heart from Julie saying she fired this committee eventually and decided to do what she wanted. My committee is on its last written warning before eviction.
I know that a lot of divorced women fear getting stuff fixed around the house. It has become one of my greatest worries and I face it often. It can feel like an ongoing punishment for your (heavy sarcasm) alternative lifestyle choice. I work extra hard to learn about household problems, to research and ask the right questions. I get so anxious about the cost and the bad news when it turns out it’s never a simple fix. Sometimes I do get my Dad or my boyfriend round for moral support. Yes, I sometimes bring a man in so there is one on the premises!
I tell myself I guess this would be easier if I was living with a man. But it’s just a reaction. Rationally I know that when I have done so, ‘the man’ didn’t know how to fix things either. Most likely these days he would work in front of a computer like I do. Perhaps he would feel the pressure of being expected to know about and fix stuff. We’re not the generation whose rules we seem to be living by. I’m not sure any of us is actually the man.