ANNE AND HER HUSBAND of three years, Matt, live in Montgomery County. She laughs when she describes the start of their relationship as a “senior fling” in college: “We had a class together, but I didn’t realize that. He came up to me in a bar and said, ‘Hello, Anne.’ And I said, ‘Hey … you.’ But he gave me a seat at the bar, so I figured I’d give him a chance.”
After graduating, they headed in different directions—Matt to join his family’s business in Philadelphia, Anne to live in Hoboken. The two dated long-distance for two years before Anne moved to Montco. “I lived by myself for a year, and then he moved in,” she says. “It was a test run to see whether or not we would be good together.” Two years later, they got married, at 28. They’re 31 now, and Anne is expecting their first child this summer.
Anne brings home a bigger paycheck than Matt and says, “He made a change for less salary, but he’s a happier person. We’re supportive of each other and don’t want either of us to be stuck in a career that we don’t like.” The plan is that they’ll both continue to work; Matt will stay home one day a week with the baby.
Generally, today’s 20- and 30-somethings had one of two child-rearing experiences: They had stay-at-home moms (not all women laced up their Reeboks in the ’80s), or moms who aimed to have it all and got stretched thin and worn out along the way. Neither model is perfectly applicable in today’s gender-equality-driven world. The first mass of working women definitely laid the groundwork, but younger generations are now left to give it shape and rules. They’re the ones trying to puzzle out how to act once we’ve all accepted that hunting and gathering is a relic and all that’s left is to fight over is what color to paint the kitchen.
“We definitely share household chores,” Matt says. “If the dishes are sitting there, I’ll do them and surprise her. We share a lot of the stuff. I’m definitely not a male chauvinist asshole.”
He’s not alone. Steve is 40 and lives with his wife and two children in Springfield Township. Though he and his wife didn’t live together first, he says their seven-year-old marriage is different from that of his parents. “They have very clear boundaries as to who does what,” he says. “My wife and I, we’re like a two-man volleyball team. If one is down, the other one picks up. My dad will never cook dinner. Both of us pull our weight. We’re not the Cleavers.”
Yes, the 21st-century post-Iron John man watches Lidia Bastianich, pours the Cascade into the dishwasher, and has traded in his briefcase for sports-themed analogies about marriage, but he and his wife still grapple mightily with how to apply widespread equality to day-to-day life. Best to bury traditional sensibilities that dare to surface and mock male chauvinism and the Cleavers (mind you, all while fetishizing a show like Mad Men that depicts gender inequality as de rigueur).