Love + Marriage

On his shoulders


My father used to leave to go out—shopping, work, anywhere—and would tell me before grabbing his keys that I had to hold down the fort while he was gone. He would say I was the man of the house. I loved it. Of course, I knew there was no real responsibility that went with the title; I was a puppet dictator. My mother was still in charge and I would still be cared for and watched over no matter what.

When I turned 21 and moved out with my girlfriend though, my father’s words suddenly rang in my ears. It was just she and I now in a city hundreds of miles away. We had never known such strange freedom; we couldn’t believe someone had consented to give us jobs and rent us a property, and sometimes wondered if it was all a practical joke. As time passed we grew more comfortable, but still felt like children.  Any sense of responsibility on my part still smacked of kids playing dress-ups. It was as if I was still wearing my dad’s size-10 boots around.

Now my relationship has never been the showroom floor variety—it’s a custom job. There have never been very traditional gender roles; she has almost always earned more than me and we go Dutch on every purchase.  But one day she called in tears to tell me her great-grandmother had passed away out of the blue. In an instant, I had to be that guy—the guy who knows just what to do, what to say, how to make her feel better and like she made the right choice by hitching her wagon to me.

And I choked. Utterly and completely.

To be honest, the entire situation seemed like a bad dream. She had always been so strong and together that to see her in such a state of ruin had thrown me for a loop. I did what the child version of me would have done—I deferred responsibility to the appropriate adult (in this case, her mother) and respectfully distanced myself from the situation until it blew over.

I think I’ll always regret my actions, but in my defense I never saw the TAFE course advertised for:

  • How to be an emotional rock for your sweetheart, or
  • How to offer the perfect advice in any situation, or for that matter…
  • How to tell your partner that her bum looks big in that without saying the words “your bum looks big in that!”


These are things men in relationships need to know.  Although in this instance I was lucky enough to be forgiven, not having your stuff together when the muck hits the fan is more often than not cause for being given the flick.

As time passed though, my girlfriend and I found that we weren’t just living with each other, we were starting a life together. We grew to completely understand each other’s personalities and the reasons behind them. We began rubbing off on each other in great big smudges. She taught me to empathise and to put the needs of others above my own. I taught her that it was okay for me to buy her dinner or hold open a door for her.

As a result,  there have been many occasions where one of us has dropped our bundle and the other has been there to help them pick it up. I’ve heard people with kids talk about how when they had their first child, they were on tenterhooks, but by their second or third they had a thousand-yard stare and were totally unflappable. I think the same applies to relationships. It helps to be in one for a while and stumble around, maybe break a few things before you get the lay of the land.

By the time this article is published, my girlfriend will have become my wife. We will have been together for almost 12 years. Very soon we will be at the stage where we will have been together for the majority of our lives.

For years I worried I would never feel like the man of the house. I hope on the day we are married I remember that it doesn’t matter how I see myself, but how she sees me. And because of this, I know I will always be her man.


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