A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our eighth year of marriage. Cheers to us! He booked us a relaxing couple’s massage at a local spa and I picked out a lunch spot we had never tried before. It has been a low key anniversary week: Bean has her kindergarten open houses and Button isn’t sleeping well. Still, husbae and I are happy to be standing here with all we have, a place we really couldn’t foresee 11 years ago when we met. The time we share alone together recently has felt comforting and sweet.
Recently we’ve been watching the OWN scripted drama Greenleaf about the pastor of a megachurch and his affluent, ambitious family. One of the couples in the show decided to go to therapy but struggled through it. The scene prompted a good conversation with my husband about communication in marriage and how some people must grow in learning how to share themselves, even with their spouse. The stereotypical (but salient) advice for new married couples stresses lack of communication as a breaking point in the union. For the most part that rings true for me.
However, I think people frequently overlook one necessary aspect of communication in marriage–how to tell your spouse that what’s yours…belongs to you. Marriage is all about sharing until it isn’t. The refusal to share doesn’t fit into the lovey dovey image of two people joined at the hip. I got a story for you. Like to hear it? Here it goes.
Apparently, a man’s barber is sacred.
I got an itch to cut my hair last December that resulted in me having the sides and back of my head shaved to nothing. My half high-on-top, half bald-head-scallywag-ain’t-got-no-hair-in-the-back haircut has been so much fun over this past year. But one thing this traditionally low-maintenance Black woman has discovered is that short hairstyles are deceptive. The Pinterest chicks lied to me. Cut off your hair, they say. It’ll take so much less time to fuss with! For the first two weeks, that may be true. But then you have to deal with the new growth fuzzying up your clean taper. Before you know it, it’s time to go back to the barbershop. I found myself in need of some clipper love pretty quickly.
I had never been to a barber before, but I live with a man who goes to one all the time. Great, I thought, I can just ask him for his barber’s contact info. My husband told me he’d pass on the barber’s digits and then promptly forgot about it. Like any good wife, I hate to be a nag. So I waited about five minutes before reminding him that my edges were napping up and I needed them shaved back down. A couple more days passed by with no number.
Then, my husband came up to me one afternoon and suggested offhand I could find my own barber on the innanetz. Wait, what? Was there something wrong with his? No. He just didn’t want to share.
Now, I have to admit that this whole scenario was a bit of an experiment, so I mostly cackled. Two years ago or so, I listened to an episode of Negroes with a Podcast where they discussed the taboo that is a man sharing a barber with his girl. I was fascinated. How ludicrous! This man has seen me naked inside and out but we can’t get our hair cut by the same person? I ran the idea by my husband and he agreed it was silly. But in 2015, we both had long hair and no need for barbers. I was so eager to prove NWAP wrong but the fellas hit it on the head.
In the end, I found a dope lady barber a few minutes away. (I think she’s better than his barber anyway :::files nails:::).
The parts of yourself you can’t share.
My barbershop story is lighthearted, but it tells an underlying truth of my marriage: in order for me to be in a relationship without erasure, I have to keep some things for myself. It’s easy to designate this boundary for items of toiletry. My husband asked that I not use his stiff, boar bristle boy-brush on my boy haircut. I bristled, but I got it. A man deserves his own brush. I recently staked territory over my almond and honey body butter, pointing my husband back to the watery Suave lotion sitting on the counter. It’s not that I wanted him to be ashy using substandard moisturizer, I insisted. I just wanted him to get his own and not use mine up.
Still, boundaries in marriage are important in other areas. I’ve already written about my need to talk to other people besides him. That includes spiritually. When we first married, my husband felt miffed that I kept a moment of prayer to myself before we prayed together. I highkey already hate praying aloud. It feels performative, where I envision prayer as the one moment I can stop performing (be it Christianity, motherhood, or wifedom). It wasn’t that I wanted us to not pray together as well. I just still needed space to talk to God without an audience.
I think couples should retain a reasonable expectation of privacy even when they become “one.” What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine…to a point. Unity should not erode autonomy. My husband and I don’t peruse the other’s phone without asking because we trust one another. I occasionally journal and he knows I’d probably let him read if he asked. But he should still ask. My thoughts belong to me.
Women have written tomes about “mommy guilt.” However, I’ve come to identify my own reluctance to express ambition outside my role as a spouse. We both decided to move hundreds of miles away from Atlanta so my husband could pursue his career. As his wife and support, I share the happiness in his success–but not his satisfaction. It is not “enough” for me that he enjoys his job, that he feels valued as a scientist on his team. I applaud him even while I long for similar recognition in my own field.
The other day, my husband asked me what I want in a career, because he wants it for me, too. I took a deep breath and I told him that I wanted to be the mf greatest. He nodded. The gesture was affirmation, solidarity, encouragement. Even if I cannot share every single piece of myself with my husband, even if he cannot shoot with me in the gym, we both know we’re still on the same team. I can have my own lotion and he can have his own brush and barber. Our marriage thrives not on the consolidation of ownership, but in partnership.
I love that my husband does not need to possess the parts I reserve for myself that make me feel whole with him. In this way, I can be wholly his wife and wholly a woman who always strives to be her own best thing.