When do we get old enough to stop the need for a man to be “the man” in a relationship and a woman to stop trying to figure out what a woman should do in response?

There are a growing number of young people who are giving these obsessions up. That’s often why their dating habits confuse our older generation.

We were raised with those standard, rigid masculine and feminine expectations fully in place in our families and among our friends. They were also just assumed and constantly on display all over the media that taught us how things should just be.

Few questioned whether these expectations were good for our humanity or would even ultimately help us have real joy. So, we spent a lot of time and effort making sure we lived them.

I’ve noticed in my university teaching of these younger generations that they aren’t out of the woods of restrictive gender roles. It’s a transition period for those in their twenties and thirties.

They’re caught between getting permission from some quarters to stop trying to fit a gendered pattern and a larger society that’s still unsure about really giving them such permission. Their response seems to be a back and forth between gender expectations and freedom to be who they’d be without them.

But have we Boomers come to the place where our experience has taught us that after trying to act out these roles for years, especially in our relationships, we realize they’re too confining? That they just don’t let us live in touch with all that we are and want to be?

Have we come to the conclusion that, as a retired, recently divorced businessman told me: “I feel as if I have been playing a game. And its rules are not the ones I would have made up.”

If we have, we’ve also been able to admit to ourselves what everyone knows – we don’t live them that well, but are afraid that that fact is showing. And still we spend time caring about them and checking ourselves against their stifling standards.

If we choose to move on and get over it, we’re going to have to spend more time talking to our partners. We can’t take anything for granted if we give up the automatic expectations that the woman does the dishes and the man mows the lawn.

Gay men and lesbian partners have to do this all the time. And that confuses people who want to keep them in “man” and “woman” patterns.

It’s surprisingly hard, even annoying, to many to have to take time talking about who does what. When you’re immersed in a culture where there’s little time for anything but work and more work in order to keep up with everyone else, you can’t savor the time it takes to talk about all those “little” things that make up life.

It takes real re-training of our internal life to be present with another and to believe that discussing such seemingly small details of life is valuable for human relationships. “It’s all small stuff” that needs our attention, keeping the big stuff from ever happening.

Those gender roles keep communication from happening. For a fast-paced society assuming who should do what and act how seems to be more efficient.

But efficient isn’t what makes living relationships. It produces cheaper computers and displaces people from their work places.

It doesn’t help us grow as an individual or improve our relationships. And when you get older you have the perspective to know which have more lasting valuable.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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