Writing for The Atlantic last summer, Sandra Tsing Loh explored Radical Homemakers, and honed in on one paragraph in the book’s acknowledgments, calling it “one of the most startling paragraphs in modern feminist writing:”
Thanks, most especially, are owed to [my husband,] Bob. He keeps the girls quiet every morning while I work. He brings breakfast to my desk and keeps my coffee cup full so that I don’t have to be interrupted. He sits with me for hours, reviewing ideas, challenging concepts, helping me to interpret research. He listens to the radio, tracks news stories and reads magazines, finding bits of information that contribute to my research. He sells books at every lecture, does all my PowerPoints for me, chooses and irons my clothes, packs my suitcase, washes my dishes, does the laundry, edits every one of my books and articles and claims to love my cooking. He cherishes me, makes me laugh, and fills my life with friendship, joy, humor, and unconditional love.
Seeing this, Loh concluded,“That’s what the new radical feminism depends on—a guy named Bob (who can presumably also do leatherwork and butcher hogs)!”
I laughed until my sides hurt, then put the article aside.
But the subject kept coming up. What about that guy named Bob? Are there any more like him available? And what about all the Radical Homemakers profiled in the book—how can people like them be found? The subject comes up in private conversations following lectures and workshops; it's broached in private emails requesting that I post a “personals” section on radicalhomemakers.com; it's even in letters asking me to help someone effectively word their online singles information to screen for fellow radical homemakers. One man, wearing his heart on his sleeve, bravely posted a personal ad under the “connect” section at radicalhomemakers.com.
I feel clueless trying to respond to this need. Bob and I met and courted in the last century, for goodness sake ... heck, in the last millennium.
Before that, though, in my college days, I went through a lot of men. I had a couple of steady boyfriends, and then a very long line of men whom I dated without making any commitments.
Perhaps this sounds strange, but my family and community encouraged this. When I was a teenager, my aunt talked to me about dating: making eye contact, engaging in conversation. My mother talked to me about my safety, how to make my expectations clear, how to detect and escape unsafe situations. Ruth, the elderly farm matron up the road, told me to make sure whoever I got involved with knew how to work—not in an office, but real work, like splitting firewood, shoveling snow, tossing hay bales. And then everyone encouraged me to get out there and meet as many men as possible, shaking their heads in frustration if I lingered on any one of them too long. As a result, I amassed a string of “suitors.” They wrote me poems, sent flowers and hand-written letters, helped me turn over the garden, and shoveled snow for Ruth. I didn’t fall in love with any of them.
My father joked that he’d never have grandchildren. To set him at ease I quipped, “Don’t worry. When I’m ready I’ll just go order one from L.L.Bean. Then if I don’t like him, I can take him back.” Little did I know that I would take a trip to Maine a few years later, walk into L.L.Bean, see a guy selling binoculars and talking about birds, and fall madly in love right there in the retail store.
There was no online dating. At first, there wasn’t even email. I scored my first date with Bob by sending a letter about birding, through the U.S. Postal Service, to the store. I hoped that someone would find him and give it to him. He picked up the cue and wrote back, asking me out if ever I was in town again. I made sure I was, and the rest is history.
How To Keep Love Going Strong
Poster: 7 principles on the road to happily ever after.
That was 15 years ago. Looking it all over, it seems so … antiquated. I don’t think stories like that happen anymore. It would be easy for me to adopt some high ground on this—to accuse today’s single Americans of being lazy about making personal connections without the aid of a computer; to argue that, in a few short years, we’ve allowed online dating services to kill the art of flirting and courtship in our culture.
But it would be so unfair. I’m no longer playing the field, and I get to live in this little nirvana with my perfect husband (though no, Sandra, he doesn’t work leather), blissfully unaware of how the game is played these days. Finding and meeting people, even with the aid of computer dating, seems increasingly technical and frustrating, particularly for the single radical homemakers in our country, who, while they may visit a few topical websites on areas that interest them, tend to sign off promptly and live most of their days in fresh air and sunshine, away from the computer. In general, they don’t text. They don’t tweet. They talk.
I scoffed at the idea of a radical homemakers dating site when it was first suggested, but I guess I can see the point. Maybe there is already something like this out there—some site that screens for people who want to live in harmony with the earth, who honor family, community and social justice as governing principles in their daily choices. If anyone knows about it, please post it here so that others can find it. Maybe, until something better pops up, more people should post their “personal ad” on the radical homemakers site. I would imagine it would be a relief to have some sort of screening based on radical homemakers’ ideals. There could be an understanding that a person isn’t going to be judged by their earning potential, clothing labels, how perky their breasts are, what they drive, or whether they have six-pack abs; that there would be nothing strange about meeting for the first time in the café of a local food coop, rather than Starbucks; that a date isn’t going to run screaming if they find out you keep worms under your kitchen sink, have vegetables rotting in jars on your counter, or use glad rags or diva cups.
I need to acknowledge that, just because flirting and letters in the mail worked for garnering dates 15 years ago, things are different. Maybe the dating culture I knew has gone the way of the courtship candle. But I don’t think that the role of family and community assisting in creating partnerships need be forgotten. And while I never thought I’d say this, I suppose that includes the online community, too.
Happy Valentines’ day, everyone. I wish you love and companionship, in whatever way it suits you best.
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- : Live radically, and you’ll inevitably face the judgment of others. For Shannon Hayes, loving unconditionally is the antidote.