Help me Identify Homo Sapiens Sapiens in the Field from a Distance
January 21, 2014 3:54 PM   Subscribe

My dad, god love him, was a knuckle dragging Neanderthal who would tell you straight up that he did not do "women's work." I was one of the top three students of my graduating high school class with visions of having a fulfilling life as part of a two career couple. I got married at age 19 in part to try to escape the caves I grew up in and enter the modern world. By the time I figured out that my husband was also a troglodyte and, in spite of knowing more about food prep than how to toast bread, was very much a believer in keeping the women "barefoot and pregnant," I was already pregnant. I am looking for assistance in figuring how to spot Homo Sapiens Sapiens -- you know, Modern Man -- from a distance so I don't wind up trapped for the next two decades with yet another cave dweller whom I mistook for a Modern Man due to his amazing spiffy business suit fooling me handily. So, I am looking for feedback from anyone (of any gender or sexual orientation) who ever did the two career couple thing. I am especially interested in things like how you met and what were the earliest indicators that this person would fit into your life and not torpedo your career plans.

I know the bazillion and one ways that this can go wrong. I am abundantly familiar with media stories about famous two career couples who split because they could just not juggle two careers, kids, and whatever whatever. I am looking for some feedback and examples on what DOES work, not what does not, and especially how you know it when you see it at the earliest stages.

I have been alone a long time and I am expecting to re-enter the relationship game in the near future. I cannot for the life of me wrap my brain around how to make this work. I feel I am finally on track with my career plans (at the age of 48!) and when I try to imagine adding a man back into the mix, I get the Blue Screen of Death. I am terrified that I have one and only one shot at picking the right guy, that the first time I get laid I will wind up pregnant and that will be that, I will be stuck and there will never again be the chance for another do-over because I will be like 70 by the time that kid is grown. My panties are so in a wad over this that I have had bad dreams every night for the last several nights, something I almost never have anymore, and I am not even back in the relationship game yet. I am just expecting it to happen soonish yet I am already just losing my shit over this.
I am hoping the moderators will give people some latitude to tell their story because I don't know what I need to know, so I don't know exactly what to ask for. If I knew how to spot it, I wouldn't be asking. Knowing that I am blind is, unfortunately, not a cure for my blindness.

So, talk to me, Mefites.
This question is framed somewhat tongue in cheek. Most likely, the main reason I did not previously have a career was due to my undiagnosed medical condition. I currently have that under control and I think I will probably be fine when I get back in the relationship game, but, oh, gawd, this is messing up my mind at the moment so I am trying to get past these nightmarish visions of my life crashing and burning unless I embrace lifelong celibacy as my new religion. So I realize I am probably just nervous as hell from being alone for nearly a decade but feeling like I know what I am doing is the best antidote to the jitters, in my experience.

posted by Michele in California to Human Relations (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
...May I gently suggest that if you are experiencing insomnia at the thought of potentially getting pregnant, that you perhaps consult a therapist to help you work through that fear? I'm not certain whether that bit is also tongue-in-cheek, but even if it's a bit true....that may need to be something you want to address.

As for how to spot the guy - that's actually the kind of thing you learn over time. You watch how he speaks with other women, listens to what he thinks about various issues, and have a lot of conversations with him about this. It's not the kind of thing you can identify by looking at a guy, it's the kind of thing you find out by listening to them. Over time and through several conversations.

Mind you, if you're just looking to get your rocks off with a zipless fuck...contraception is your friend.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am looking for assistance in figuring how to spot Homo Sapiens Sapiens -- you know, Modern Man -- from a distance

If you know how to do something he is trying to do, and when you tell him, he believes you. Quick, easy, and very telling.
posted by cairdeas at 4:04 PM on January 21, 2014 [36 favorites]

I would gently argue that the vast majority of men who date 48 year old women are going into it with their eyes open to the fact that those women do not have pregnancy in their future, so unless you explicitly lie and state otherwise, you do not need to worry about accidentally getting involved with a man who wants to impregnate you.

Beyond that -- again, because of your age, a lot of the men who you're going to meet are going to be men who have already been in a serious relationship or marriage in the past, just like you. You can learn a lot about their current mindset by the way they talk about their previous relationship(s).
posted by telegraph at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think she means she literally fears she's going to get pregnant. More like, "I worry I'll be repeating the past and the same things will happen to me again. How can I tell a guy is more into an equal partnership? How can I make sure he's not harboring old-fashioned notions of Provider Masculine Male and his docile wife?"

I think there are two things at work here.

1) Danger of repeating your past. The thing is, you're a new person, who has learned new things since then, with a new sense of what you want. It's not guaranteed you will go down that same path!

2) How to identify a guy who wants to be in an equally supportive and dynamic partnership? Ask him. How do you imagine your future successful relationship? Ask him about his past relationships. Pay attention to how he asks about your work, aspirations, plans, failures, hopes, dreams. Pay attention if he DOESN'T ask those things. And it's not just words: does he make concrete actions visible that show you he cares about your hopes and dreams? Does he help you make them reality?

Step by step. Keep your eyes open, heart open and remember that it's not a test. If it doesn't work out, move on. It's not a test of your resiliency to see what you can survive.
posted by barnone at 4:14 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do not plan on threadsitting but since two of the first three replies have touched on the pregnancy thing:

I intentionally left out my long back story and tried to go very light on details as to why I am losing my shit over this because I felt that would a) be excessively long and b) derail the conversation. I may yet write a personal blog post today or later this week with the gory details as to why I am so wrapped around the axle over this. If I do so, I will notify people that it is available if they want the details (or a good laugh at my expense, whatever).

In the mean time, pretty please, try to stick to telling me what worked for you (or what works generally) and avoid speculating about why I seem to be neurotic. I am interested in examples of what works. I am clear that I have legitimate concerns which will not be addressed by therapy but I also realize I am kind of magnifying those concerns.

posted by Michele in California at 4:15 PM on January 21, 2014

I am in a somewhat strange situation, but I'll relate my experience anyway.

I am a 32-year-old man, a father of a 2-year-old daughter. I was married for about 5 years, and my wife died last year. Up until my wife got pregnant, she worked full time at a regular job, sort of an early stage in something that could have become more of a career. Once she went on maternity leave, she never really wanted to go back to work, and I supported that decision.

Well, since she died, I have become involved with another woman, who is 25 years old, and developing what looks like it will be a very successful career in sort of retail corporate management. She acts like a step-mother to my daughter, and we have discussed possibly having a child together in the future (we live together now). In the meantime, I work full-time, and she works full-time and my daughter goes to preschool/daycare during the day, and we all act like a family at home at night.

I met my girlfriend sailing on a racing sailboat. I think she realized that if she got involved with me, it'd either succeed or fail quickly, as I had a young daughter. I realized she was on the same page as me when I knew she fully grasped the gravity of what it meant to date a single parent. I don't think either of us ever has had any intentions of sabotaging the other's career, as that seems ridiculous to me. Why wouldn't we both want to earn good money?

The two-career thing is currently working for us, and that's with a kid. It should not be hard for you to not have another kid if you like (the details of that I won't go into), but that would make it even easier.

How would you spot a man like me who doesn't force his partners to quit their jobs (which seems to be what you're asking)? Well, talk about work. My girlfriend talks about her work a lot and I support the rate at which she's moving forward at the company. I tell her I'm proud of her. I talk about how in a few years she might be in X position or making Y salary. I never say things like "when we have another kid you can quit". I don't tell her she should focus on children. I do more than half the parenting (but then, like I said, my situation is unusual).

At 48, you're unlikely to be meeting a lot of men who haven't been in long-term relationships before. Ask them if their previous partners worked. Ask how they felt about that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am a career woman. When single, I specifically looked for men who were interested in my input, specifically for tech/engineer projects (my field). I tell potential dates that I'm okay being the higher income earner, that I'm not going to stay home if we have kids, and that I would not move to somewhere that's not advantageous to my career, etc. I also made sure that my partner is okay with me being busy with work and therefore not being able to cater to him.

Also, are you specifically interested in a two-career couplehood, or would you be okay if the guy didn't have a career (either doesn't work at all, volunteers, or makes enough to support himself but doesn't have a career)? If you're okay being the main breadwinner, I think you'll also find that there are more men out there to date, and especially so if you're looking for men who can be supportive of your career goals.
posted by ethidda at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2014

What works is being mindfully observant. Or, as the saying goes, pay attention when people tell you who they are. Men who hold strongly sexist views about women will make this known pretty clearly, pretty quickly, as long as you're paying attention.

How does he talk about women in general? (Does he even use the word "women," or is his world full of girls, broads, and old biddies?) This includes his exes, his mother/sisters/daughters, his coworkers/supervisors, and women he doesn't know personally. Are his exes all gold-diggers and/or crazy and/or sluts? Does his world seem to be populated with incompetent women (at work, at the store, at a restaurant, in the state house)? Do you hear a lot about women's appearances (did his ex-wife let herself go? Is his daughter too fat/too thin? Should a particular actress get breast implants? Is a particular female politician too ugly to fuck?) These are all red flags. The way I've written it out here makes it all very obvious; sometimes it is, but sometimes it's a little more subtle.

Secondly, how does he talk with and about you? When you talk about your professional or intellectual or creative accomplishments or aspirations, is he engaged in the discussion? Does he ask you questions that indicate genuine interest? Or does he denigrate your interests, and/or change the subject? More generally, does he listen to you? Does he respect your preferences and opinions (even when they differ from his)?

If you keep these things in mind, a man who doesn't generally respect women and see them as human beings capable of equal partnership will give himself away pretty quickly.
posted by scody at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2014 [23 favorites]

Look for the guy who listens to you, respects you, and considers you opinion as seriously as his own

There are actually many men who deeply respect women, but due to that attitude they are unlikely to aim to sweep you off your feet, which is not in the least respectful.
posted by bearwife at 4:40 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Well, first of all, learn to take responsibility for your own culpability in what happened to you the last time.

It takes two to make a pregnancy, and you were every bit as responsible for your actions as your husband when it comes to getting pregnant. Recognize that for whatever reason, the two of you did not think your actions through and question what the future would look like together. If you had discussed things like, for example, "What happens if I get pregnant" BEFORE it happened, you would have known that he expected you to stop working and stay home once a child was born, and you might have rethought settling down with this man.

Yes, you were young. You can forgive yourself for not knowing better. Just, you know, recognize that not discussing what you want with your partner before you are committed to that partner is a mistake you do NOT have to repeat.

So make a habit of talking to the men you meet now about how you envision your future, in or out of a relationship. If you have goals, bring them up! Ask them what their goals are! Talk about money and gender roles and all those other things that you, as a young girl, maybe thought weren't "romantic", but know understand are very important to you!
posted by misha at 4:41 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My A #1 feminist man finding tactic is to ask men out yourself.

I've been told more than a few times that by taking the initiative myself (it has been an explicit policy most of my adult life), I'd be turning off men who are more socially conservative. Which isn't my reason for having that policy, but was a super-great bonus.

Also, keep an eye out for men who treat you with the respect you deserve as an independent adult. When you make a choice, no matter how small, does he argue with you? Try to talk you out of it? Offer a bunch of unsolicited input? Well, boo to that guy, then.

That's really what it's all about, ultimately. Understanding that women are adult human beings with agency, and respecting that, as others have said.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:42 PM on January 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

I think you need to ask, and pay attention, and be willing to leave if he's not what you're looking for. You absolutely can't treat your next relationship (or any relationship) like it's your one and only chance for love - that's the kind of thinking that makes you overlook red flags. When we (i.e. humans) are all worried about making a mistake, we become so invested in believing we made the right decision that we convince ourselves we did when really we didn't. Be OK with making a mistake. Be OK with going on a third (or fourth or fifth) date with a guy who turns out to be an asshole.

Talking about your work is probably good, but on the other hand I know two-career couples who know *nothing* about each others' work. Like, they could say "he's a software developer" and "she's a biochemist" but beyond that... nothing. I'm also just one of those who's mostly not interested in other people's jobs. So if you're going to talk about work, focus on how your work's important to you, not on the work itself (unless he's actually interested!).
posted by mskyle at 4:43 PM on January 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

Michele, I met my current boyfriend when I was 48, through socializing (i.e., in a bar, but not just any bar -- people say it's like "Cheers" and truly, my best friends are all there). I never had any luck using an on line service. And I had to kiss a lot of toads. But even more than his lovely response when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, he showed his true colors when I put down my cat. I was immediately consumed with regret and I cried about it at the mention of his name for at least 6 months. My boyfriend, who is very sweet to my current pair of cats as well as to the now-dead cat, was nevertheless not brought up with pets and has none of the desire for furry friends that I do. But he treated my grief with great love and respect, and he was not afraid to mention the cat, even though he knew it would result in tears, because he also knew that part of the process for me was to talk it through.

So this is really a situation of meeting someone in a low-key random social situation, not a set up and neither of us really expected to be involved with anyone again, and it just clicked. We're very different in many respects, but it's surprising how complementary those differences are.

We also made a pact when we first met. I talked endlessly about the truth of impermanence and how, since everything changes, and every relationship ends (through death if not for other reasons), it is important to me to maintain respect and care. I said, "I love sex and I hate drama" and he said, "bet" and that's how we've approached it.

Oddly, he is of Latin American heritage so you would expect him to be a little more traditional. My ex-husband was half Brazilian and so he picked and chose among the "traditional" female roles -- like it was fine with him that I went to law school and was our primary breadwinner, but it was also my job to do all the food shopping and prep. Oh, and cleaning, of course.

I guess I've told you a one-off story that isn't likely to help you in your search. But at the very least I'd like you to know that there are really good men out there who are supportive and caring and loving and who respect women who have interesting things to discuss.

Oh, on preview, based on ernielundquist's remarks, maybe it matters that I was the one who hit on him. Pretty sure he was interested whether or not I did so, but whether he would have made the first move? Not sure. Not sure whether he would have asked for my number. Who knows?
posted by janey47 at 4:47 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

To answer ethidda:

I would be willing to be the main breadwinner, but that is currently out of my reach. Every single couple I have personally known who tried that wound up with a guy who basically mooched off the wife. She worked a full time job and came home and cooked dinner and did housework while he played video games, envisioned himself an author while publishing nothing, etc. The one guy I discussed that possibility with framed his side of it as "early retirement." For that and other reasons, I concluded he was not going to work out. As a former military wife who supported my husband's career, no, supporting someone's career is not a permanent vacation. It is another form of work.

So I would be happy to hear stories of people who actually make that role reversal thing work but I chose to leave it out of my question because my personal firsthand observation and everything I have read indicates that men just seem to not really know what it means to play the supporting role and men who claim they are up for that are usually not really going to do the housework and cooking. I bribed my two adult sons into taking over the housework and cooking and grocery shopping when I had a corporate job and they still live with me. So I know it can be done, but my brain cannot figure out how that works if they are your lover instead of your son and I am trying to just make forward progress on my mental models here, one step at a time. I think the easier thing for me to try to work out is the two career couple thing as a mental model.

So, in short, I am open to feedback on that option, I just don't yet see that as really viable for me personally in the near future. I would be fine with that changing.

Anyway, no more comments from me for today. Mum's the word.

Thank you!
posted by Michele in California at 4:48 PM on January 21, 2014

I'm not sure how you're going to be "trapped" in a relationship.

You have income and you can take care of yourself. You're not dependent on anyone, and there's no reason to ever sacrifice that to a relationship. So, I think I'm seconding mskyle. If this hypothetical relationship isn't working for you in some way, you leave.

This power to leave a relationship relieves you of the necessity of figuring out from a distance if a man you don't even know is a troglodyte, which is fortunate as hell, cuz there's no way to know that.
posted by chrchr at 4:57 PM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Any dude who thinks it's a great idea to marry a 19 year old girl and have kids right away is not an Enlightened Dude.

But, of course, being no longer 19, you don't have that handy litmus test at your fingertips anymore.

But you do have all sorts of handy litmus tests, even now.

When you meet someone you like, drop one of these bombs into conversation very early on:

"I love my career and can't imagine ever being a stay at home parent again."

"I think it's really important when men take on their fair share of domestic tasks."

"Don't you hate it when guys say they have to 'babysit' their kids?!"

"I just want you know that I don't ever want to have any more children." (OK you can maybe save that one for like the second date.)

Another brilliant litmus test:

Any man who thinks it's OK not to use birth control is a troglodyte. You are in control of your own fertility. You get to decide whether you get pregnant. A man wants to skip condoms or encourages you to stop taking the pill because, like, "I'll pull out", or whatever? Run.
posted by Sara C. at 4:58 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

The men in the successful hetero two-career couples I know of are mostly actively supportive of their wives' careers: they do things, without being asked, that make their wives' lives easier (taking initiative on cooking, housework, childcare), and they move to follow their wives' careers without fuss. My examples are all academic women, so the moving issue is perhaps more prominent than in other careers. But there's a recognition on all of the husbands' parts in all my examples that their wives face additional career obstacles from sexism (and ageism in some cases), and the husbands are willing to make sacrifices that might feel like meeting their wives a little bit more than halfway on decisions like where to live, to help counter-balance societal pressures.

I don't know how all of these relationships began, aside from hearing the sort of stories that long-time couples tell about how they met. I do know that I haven't had success yet directly asking guys about their suportiveness of female partners' careers - there seems to be a slight disconnect in some cases between what generally progressive men say based on what they know they should do, and what they actually do when push comes to shove.

It may be worth noting that it seems a little more common in these cases that the husband had a blue collar job: more fixed hours, easily transferrable from location to location. But my sample size is only three or four couples, so that could be enturely a fluke. On the other hand, the happy academic couples I know where the woman's career is of secondary importance but still a career are mostly editors - also an easily location-transferrable job, so perhaps it's just easier all 'round when one person has a career with major location or similar restrictions if the other person has a career that is more free than usual in that respect.
posted by eviemath at 5:31 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I have been together for roughly 3 1/2 years (monogamous, M/M couple) and share careers which are vaguely related (ie: computers) but in entirely different industries (him: Coding/Engineering, me: E-Comm Merch. Management). We have lived together for a good portion of those years, but have also spent several months living apart when it made more sense to do so (ie: new job further away).

We met via a mutual friend, though we'd seen each other briefly at other local parties. We hung out a little with friends before he (drunkenly) asked me out at a friends' bbq one summer. I was the first guy he'd ever asked out (he identified as straight otherwise) so I was -really- apprehensive about it as a result, having just come out of a bad 5 year relationship (my first). We took things fairly slow - simply enjoying hanging out and getting to know one another - lots of little dates. Things progressed quickly to FWBs and after a few months we both confessed that we wanted to make the relationship monogamous - as it's been since.

How did I know he was a 'good' guy? I paid attention to what he said. Just by talking about random things (cartoons, nature, books, ect.) I could conclude that he was open-minded, introverted (like me), wise (certainly beyond his years; I am 4 years his senior), yet not afraid to be silly (yes, he makes me laugh). He asked questions -- wanted to get to know me, my thoughts, my passions-- the how's and the why's too. It then became more obvious that we were both looking for a partner in crime. Nothing he said made me think he wanted to control me in any way - rather, he was/is supportive of our individuality.

If I had to guess why things just work, it's because we're extremely comfortable communicating to one another about anything (including gross stuff). So if I'm having a bad day and go into hermit mode, he knows it's not his fault but to give me that little bit of space.

More importantly though, I think a 'good' guy can be narrowed down by asking yourself: "What does he want for me." Does he want you to be happy? Successful? Yourself? Or does he think your happiness should come entirely from him or the things he offers (ie: he's the center of your Universe)? If it's the former, he's a good one... If he's the latter, well, in my experience, he's not one you want to be dating if you want to be a careerwoman.
posted by stubbehtail at 6:06 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every single couple I have personally known who tried that wound up with a guy who basically mooched off the wife.

I have no idea why anyone would put up with that. ??? I'm 31, from CA, living in an urban area and in almost every couple I know the woman earns more - sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. The guys all pull their own weight or more around the house and none of them are gamers. I think we know a lot of strong well-educated women who are clear about their expectations early on, and make it clear that they have no trouble dumping someone's sorry ass for that kind of poor behavior. If you're independent (financially) and comfortable with yourself and being single... you have nothing to lose! I feel kinda bad recommending this, but dating - and dumping - a few guys and knowing you can do and survive that works wonders.

Also, he is not an "alpha" male. I was attracted to his soft-spokenness, thoughtfulness, humor etc... not his power suit. He's a social worker. Neither of us are competitive alpha career types - we aren't paycheck-to-paycheck, but we live simply and within our means, our jobs have reasonable and regular hours, good benefits, etc.

I bribed my two adult sons into taking over the housework and cooking and grocery shopping when I had a corporate job and they still live with me. So I know it can be done, but my brain cannot figure out how that works if they are your lover instead of your son...

There was never any 'claiming' to be up for anything, and 6+ years or marriage later there is no bribing. We re-negotiate chores as needed. You don't want someone who talks - you want someone who DOES. We are both adults, both work, and both enjoy a cleanish home and decent food. When we were dating his apartment was clean and he made me homecooked meals. We always, from day 1, split things, took turns etc... like roommates in a co-op. We pick up after ourselves, split the chores (which honestly, he probably does slightly more of), and take turns grocery shopping. I've had people balk when I describe dealing with practicalities like roommates, but we've been very happily married for some years now and it works for us. I'm pregnant with our first, and was tired yesterday.... so when I got home I took a nap while he: did breakfast dishes, fed cats, cleaned litter tray, did two loads of laundry, made dinner, and then did those dishes. I skipped my grocery shop, so he's doing a longer shop today. I didn't ask. I did say thank you.

We've both gone through periods of unemployment, telecommuting, school etc. and we're both extremely self-conscious about fairness and pulling our weight. Chores get temporarily re-negotiated, and the situation is always been very temporary.

Your sons are adults, and should be doing all these things anyway, because they are adult human beings and not animals.

We met at work. I never expected or put up with anything less.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:26 PM on January 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Been with my SO about 7 years. She makes more money, I make her laugh. We met on the dancefloor at an underground party in Brooklyn. Go do things you like to do, meet guys there. At least you'll know there is a front porch of common interest. Protect yourself at all times but remember you have to take chances, that is why dating kind of sucks. It can also be fun. Good luck. Somewhere there is a guy hoping to meet a woman like you.
posted by vrakatar at 7:31 PM on January 21, 2014

I think the kernel of your issue is this: you're not 19 with no options anymore.

You can afford any (and/or all! load 'em up!) forms of contraception, or an abortion. You have a job. (You don't need to be punished for having sex.) You don't need a man to get you out, you just want a man to enjoy sharing your life and time with, including supporting each other to grow and do more and be better.

It's true that lots of people (regardless of how many incomes they have) split up over domestic stuff. Most of them have kids at home. When you are two grown people, it's not that hard and it's not that high-stakes. It's certainly nowhere as incredibly hard as it must have been for you with kids and no help. And without small kids at home, with two middle-aged career people, most domestic inequalities can have money thrown at them. You do absolutely want to find someone who wants to do their part, but if it turns out they're not very good at or too busy for some of it, it can be outsourced.

You do have to talk about this stuff, but that is absolutely a luxury that you can now indulge in. You can't get trapped, because you're not going to be dependent. And you now don't have to do anything you don't like. If you meet a guy with bullshit ideas about contraception (or safe sex, or who can and can't be on top, or how many orgasms is sufficient), you can roll your eyes and move on. If you have him over for dinner and he doesn't offer to do the dishes, invite him over to the sink with you. If he doesn't like it, that's the last date. You have power and you have control and you get to set your boundaries wherever the hell you want them to be.

You're not 19 with no options anymore. To a certain extent, you're going to have to get out there before that's really going to sink in, and you'll have to trust yourself.

But as much as there are shithead people out there who might try to take advantage, people are actually good about showing - if not telling - you who they are if you are willing to believe them. There are also people who are just good old-fashioned crap at being partners, and if that's not okay then the hard part is binning a nice but not-for-you guy.

Me? I'm married to a guy you probably wouldn't or shouldn't date - I mean, he's super nice and got a vasectomy (yeah, took me years to trust it wouldn't auto-reverse), but needs me to prepare a spreadsheet so he can clean his bathroom and is intermittently employed and would starve to death if I didn't make all his meals, but he takes instruction really well and makes me laugh and never complains (and picks up take-out or microwaves leftovers) when I have to work late. When I have a massive anxiety freakout, he says nooooothing and just focuses on parking or whatever. I do a lot of the heavy lifting, including paying the rent. He does a lot of the trivial shit. We make the trade-offs happen. But we don't have kids and that might be why it's so easy.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 PM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Things to look out for: does he do his own chores and cooking? Without whining? Can he cook at all, and will he do so voluntarily if you are around, or does all of the cooking somehow end up falling to you anyway? Is he insistent that no wife of his will keep her last name? Does he hold up his end in life and stay regularly employed at whatever he does, or is his work career/ethic spotty at best? (Because yeah, I hear you on the dude parasites and unfortunately that's been what I've seen a lot of too.)

While I concur with others that you probably don't have to worry that much about an accidental pregnancy, and it sounds like your kids are at least out of the teen years, you may need to keep an eye out for his kids and how old they are and how much parenting and care they will need from you. The more stereotypically gendered crap like child care that is going on, the more likely you are to end up falling into the mommy hole, especially since you've already been there and done that before. I do think that the older you get, the odds are better that you can find a guy who is fine with you being independent/not being a wifey-poo. But it helps when you are less likely to fall into that situation in the first place. Stick to dating men without kids (if you can find any, hah) or at least ones with adult kids, that would help a lot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:13 PM on January 21, 2014

I grew up in a two-parents-working household because my parents couldn't have made ends meet otherwise and, I think, because my mom wanted to work.

And, my husband and I both work. I would loooove to not have to work and be able to stay home. But so would he.

Currently, he's doing most of the heavy lifting on household chores. Not sure why I'm not doing more, but for now, I'm getting away with it. We go through different cycles. But right now, he's doing most of the laundry and dishes. I empty the dishwasher most mornings (he sets them to wash after I go to bed.) he washes the odd dishes that don't fit in the dishwasher, but I wash the colander because he hates washing the colander. If one of us gets up to leave the tv room, we check to see if there are any glasses or dishes to take to the kitchen -- doesn't matter whose it is.

I do most of the driving (including driving my stepdaughter to and from school - my job gives me the flexibility to leave, take her home, and come back. If I have a meeting, he arranges his schedule to do it.)
I arrange all the family doctors appointments -- mainly because I carry everyone on my health insurance and keep track of the HSA. He doesn't really understand how insurance, deductibles, and copays work. It's overwhelming to him.

We tend to grocery shop together -- but he's definitely in charge of it because I find the grocery store totally overwhelming. He often just does it by himself - because I slow him down and get cranky. We both unload the car. I take groceries out of the bags and put away the shelf/cupboard and bathroom stuff while he puts things away in the fridge - because I put them away willy-nilly and he cares where things go on the shelves. Meanwhile, I fold and put away the grocery bags, because he leaves them willy-nilly and that drives me crazy.

Although he's doing the laundry lately, I sometimes take the clothes out of the dryer and hang them up. I do reliably bring the laundry baskets upstairs, put my things away, and sort his for him to put away.

We each pump our own gas, but sometimes he pumps mine, because he hates driving and we usually take my car, with me driving.

I vacuum, because I'm the one who cares about clean rugs and floors. I also do the dusting for the same reason. And I clean the bathtub for the same reason - I'm the only one who cares. I take care of the dog - feeding him, taking him outside to do his business, to vet visits. Mostly so I don't have to hear him bellyaching about what a pain it is to have a dog.

We pretty much make a game of doing things for each other -- we refer to it as "getting the moral high ground" or ask "will that shut your pie hole?" That's how we joke about it. It's said with love, in jest.

I usually take out the garbage and recycling-- but we have a system for sharing that work. He brings the reycling to the front door. I start at the back of the house, bring the trash bin to the front, then grab the recycling from him at the door, so he doesn't have to come outside. He puts the empty bins in their proper places the next day, when they're empty. I break down the boxes for recycling because he hates doing it and pretty much refuses to do it. That's a bone of contention with me. I hate doing it too!!

Our money is all mixed together in the same account, but when we're out together, I let him do all the work of paying -- because I love that he'll do it -- I told him out loud that I love to have him handle it, and so he does.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:35 PM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding vitabellosi, the household stuff is the easiest tell. Does he take responsibility for cleaning his home, cooking for himself, buying his clothes, doing household chores, etc. as a matter of course, because it's something a grownup does for himself? As a couple, is his attitude toward sharing the chores based on common sense and actual ability/preference, or does he claim to "not know how" to do housework according to gendered assumptions? (Seriously, if you can operate a lawnmower you can operate a vacuum cleaner. Seriously, if you "don't notice" the pee-gunked edge of the toilet, you need to look at it periodically.)

I'm not saying that any man who fails to score 100% on the comprehensive exam of proficiency in every category of so-called womens-work is a sexist pig, mind you.

For example, someone who hates to cook and decides "I suck at cooking but don't want to eat crap so fuck it, I budget to have the friendly neighborhood Whole Foods prepared-food counter keep me nicely fed?" Eh, not necessarily a red flag in and of itself. Heck, who am I to throw stones, I am capable of changing the oil in my car but fuck it, I'll gladly pay someone to handle it for me efficiently, and not because I'm a woman and scared of stinky car things.

The thing to look for is responsibility versus entitlement, and how attached he is to the "normalcy" of assumptions along gender stereotypes.
posted by desuetude at 10:22 PM on January 21, 2014

I think the only absolute way is to be willing to leave if the relationship's not good for you. Sure, it might hurt, but that's how it works.

Make yourself a list. Things that it's important to you not to do in another relationship, and things that you do want. Things can sneak up on you and you can forget or forgive a lot without really noticing. So write down what matters.
One or two months into a relationship, go through that list. If you find the relationship is problematic in terms of what mattered to you when you wrote it, either reevaluate the relationship or seriously reevaluate the list. If you stay in the relationship, look at the list again periodically to make sure things haven't deteriorated without you noticing.

As for pregnancy, go to a doctor or Planned Parenthood and get advice on using multiple layers of protection. Come to think of it, a guy who refuses to use a condom is probably the opposite of what you're looking for anyway.
posted by egg drop at 12:37 AM on January 22, 2014

I have a cynic's perspective as well -

The kinds of guys who are looking for a woman to just pop out babies for them probably wouldn't be interested in you anyway, if you're in your 40's. So you may not encounter this problem as much as you fear you may.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:30 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would watch their casual conversation. Words mean things, and the language a guy uses, even when he's "just joking", is very telling. Someone up thread mentioned listening for whether his world is populated by gals and broads. I would also listen to see if women with whom he has a disagreement are "bitches", etc.

Now, some guys are just used to using these terms due to the culture, so you don't need to chuck out a man just for using an offending word. The way to do it right is this: one time, my boyfriend was joking around and used a word that I do not like AT ALL. I told him so, and he apologized. Weeks later, we were discussing something else, and in the middle of a story, he stopped and said, "I'm sorry, but I don't know any other name for this thing other than [name containing offending term]. Sorry, I know you don't like that word."

A man who makes you feel like you're overreacting because you object to terms like "bitch" and describing women as "crazy" is a troglodyte.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:53 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

For example, someone who hates to cook and decides "I suck at cooking but don't want to eat crap so fuck it, I budget to have the friendly neighborhood Whole Foods prepared-food counter keep me nicely fed?" Eh, not necessarily a red flag in and of itself.

Good point. I know a guy who will not so much as use his phone to order a pizza--by god, his wife has to provide him with food because he won't feed himself for anything. (SHEESH.) It is about the attitude--and the entitlement.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:59 AM on January 22, 2014

You're getting lots of good answers here. Particularly the ones about housework. But, I've found men often talk a good game about equitable chore distribution without actually living up to it, and by the time you figure that out it's too late. I think you want a litmus test you can use early.

I think the easiest fastest way to tell if a guy's sexist is just to talk about whatever gender-related thing is in the news. If the guy reflexively biases towards taking the side of people accused of rape or whatever, it'll be obvious. That'll screen out half the sexist jerks right there.

Secondary screen I use is the way the person talks about their mother. Everybody's mother faced some sexism at some point, and if he's completely unaware of it that's a flag.
posted by Susan PG at 10:28 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am still trying to get through all the answers but, in brief(ish):

I think my lack of career in my marriage was due to a perfect storm of issues, not any one thing in particular. Also, some of the things that were the biggest obstacles for me personally were not due to sexism per se. For example, my ex just did not get the memo that parents were obligated to feed small kids in their care, so I just could not leave the kids with him for very long. He just did not feed them, not because he viewed it as women's work but because his parents sucked so bad his relationship to food was similar to a concentration camp survivor. It was baaad.

My dad grew up in the Great Depression and my mom grew up in Germany during WWII and it's aftermath, so I lived with people who grew up with serious privation and food insecurity and, hands down, they had a much healthier relationship to food than my ex. He hid food, ate in secret, and viewed his loved ones as competitors for his food. It just never dawned on him to feed even a newborn left in his care, not due to sexism but due to, ugh, a terrible childhood from which he never fully recovered. I realized he was just damaged goods in that regard and mostly did not bother to give him hell about it but I was not going to let my kids go hungry either. So I made sure I was there for them and that significantly curtailed my own activities. Over time, my ex became less neurotic. Living with someone who made sure people got fed helped him get less crazy in that regard. He had a vasectomy while we were married (to accommodate my issues with birth control), so there will not be any other children subjected to his inability to feed a small child, for which I am glad.

For a long list of medical reasons I will not go into here, birth control and risk of pregnancy are a genuine concern for me in spite of my age (which I thought was a solved problem -- as noted above, my ex had a vasectomy, then we divorced). This is not simply "men are jerks," this is more "Oh, god, I have limited options and reason to believe I am more fertile now than in my twenties when I turned up unexpectedly pregnant with one child and only skipped birth control two or three times to get the other child."

I have decided I will not be writing a blog post with the back story. I have spent the last three years blogging about the various pieces that add up to this situation. There are nearly 600 posts on a personal blog that I am currently dismantling. Somewhere in there I think I have probably covered every single one of the pieces of this complex puzzle. I have no need at this time to dig around in it further. It has been analyzed to death and, besides, my past is not the issue here. My concern is with finding a way to create the future I desire and find some way to avoid ending up with another perfect storm, in spite of my medical issues and other valid challenges. The feedback I have gotten here will help me sort the wheat from the chafe. Thank you for your input.

Last, I will note that my ex and I graduated high school together and he is 17 days younger than I am. He did not intentionally get me pregnant at age 21. We were just trying to have a good time and, whoops, I turned up pregnant. It was my choice of birth control that failed and he never gave me hell about that. We wanted kids together, just not quite so soon, so we never considered aborting a child that was desired but showed up much earlier than we had envisioned. I will further note that my father was old enough to be my grandfather and a product of his time. He died a few months ago. He was just shy of his 89th birthday and one year younger than my ex's paternal grandmother. I am not comfortable with the implied assumptions above that either of these people were bad men who did me wrong. They were human and imperfect but mostly better men than most others I have met.
posted by Michele in California at 2:01 PM on January 22, 2014

Oh, duh, I had meant to say that just posting the question seems to have ended my bad dreams, so my immediate concern is already resolved. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 2:03 PM on January 22, 2014

Thank you everyone who participated, including via memail. This has been tremendous food for thought. It has already inspired one blog post on my personal blog, which is one of the ways I process such things (my own form of ongoing therapy, I guess).

I have finally read through it all and marked best answers. My apologies for the delay. I am just much busier these days than I have been in the past.

I am going to go ahead and mark this resolved (but would happy to hear more feedback, of course).

((hugs to anyone who wants them)) Y'all rock. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 2:19 PM on February 4, 2014

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