Not long after I turned 25, I took a bold yet scary move to quit a well-paying job in Indonesia, become voluntarily unemployed, and to go to Europe to be lwith my husband. Although the decision was absolutely terrifying for me, most people I encountered with seems to find the idea of a wife quitting her job to be with her husband rather norma, expected, even.
“Finally! What else are you looking for here anyway? You’re married now and should be with your husband – that’s what’s important,” said one former colleague.
My former manager also expressed the same sentiment when I handed in my resignation letter. He wished me well and shared some marriage advice saying something along the lines of: “Marriage life is tough. Since you are a wife now, I understand that family comes first, even if work is important to you.”
I truly understood their well-intended remarks and I appreciated their support for my resignation. But the truth is I am slightly bothered by it and I constantly wonder if they would be as supportive if I were a man who quit his job to be with my wife.
Nobody really asked me to quit my job, not even my husband. It was a very conflicted choice that I made with so much hesitation. We had been in a long-distance marriage and my husband is finishing an education he can’t leave behind, so some sacrifices must be met.
For months I was extremely frustrated in facing a dilemma to either continue my job but sacrificing not seeing my husband, or to live with my husband but sacrificing not working for several months. I was so scared that once I live in a foreign country with my husband as an unemployed woman, it would turn me into a washed-out housewife.
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My naïve-self get the best of me by equating a housewife role into a failure. I respect housewives and I am not saying this to degrade their choices in life and their struggle, but I just knew I didn’t want to be a housewife.
So I tried to take a closer look at myself to understand why this bothered me so much, even if I realized there was nothing wrong in being a housewife. After a little digging into myself, I finally realized that this mindset comes from a lesson I learned throughout my childhood, one based on my observation that that bad things happened to almost all housewives in my family and the environment where I grew up in.
Most of the women in my big family relied on their husbands for financial and social security, but, sadly, most of their husbands did not fulfill their traditional roles in bringing security into the households, forcing the wives to pick up the slack.
Throughout my childhood, I saw how these women – while doing their domestic chores – were also cheated on, forced to borrow money from loan sharks, conditioned to eat very little so their children could eat, suffering from stress-induced health problems, all while not being able to work because of their minimum experience.
I wasn’t directly affected by them, but it really impacted the whole family dynamic and it’s safe to say that I do not have a big happy family. I don’t put the blames these housewives who happened to be my relatives, rather, I feel sorry for them, while angry at the men who took them for granted.
That is why I had subconsciously promised myself to not follow in their footsteps and to put self-development, career, and financial freedom as my priorities. Unlike what my colleague said to me, those things – not merely being with my husband – are what’s important to me.
I thought deep and hard about this, and it led me to the conclusion that gender-based expectations in a marriage or a household are foolish. My childhood experience show how men could fail at being breadwinners and how women could actually excel at supporting the household’s economy.
When people were supportive of me quitting my job or when I was dreading the role of a housewife, maybe I was just being scared to be put in a box of gender-based expectations within a marriage, and these expectations unconsciously relived the childhood trauma within me.
I am genuinely afraid to end up living the lives of the housewives I saw when I was growing up. Although I know that the person I married sees me as an equal partner outside of those gender-based expectations, my fear of becoming like one of those women still persists.
Step by step, I am trying to heal my childhood trauma now. I am trying to be kinder with my own expectations of myself and my own of married women (whether housewives or working women), to be able to build a healthy and equal husband-wife relationship.
I have always known that structural changes are needed to improve women’s bargaining power in the household. Now, being a wife myself, I understand that I have to make peace with my own expectations of myself and of other married women out there. Because at the end of the day, change can only start from within us.