I WAS A HUSBAND FOR NEARLY 19 YEARS. Then suddenly two Septembers ago I became a wife.
No, it wasn't a sex-change operation; I'm perfectly happy with my penis and have no need for breasts. The change was that my wife and I finally split up after years of talking about it. And then I went to live with Yariv, the man I have been in love with for more than a decade.
Now, when you love a man for so many years, and spend as much time as your weirdly intersecting lives allow--midday trysts, reserve duty in the Israeli army, even the occasional trip to the Italian lake district or Sydney for a fantastic millennium party-you think you know him pretty well. You've seen him change a tire, rant about taxes and politicians, argue with his wife, console his children. You know his foibles and his weaknesses. You know what upsets his stomach and what makes him purr.
But living with him is something entirely different.
It was clear from the start that because of our personalities and our jobs, I--a work-from-home writer, translator, and teacher--would be the principal home manager while he would spend most of his day outside the house, running his plant nursery. This suited me just fine, and indeed, at first it was all bliss. I loved washing our laundry and pulling his clothes and mine from the line just a few hours later, sweet-smelling and stiff in the dry Israeli heat. I loved the clean, open spaces of our rented house; the paintings I chose for the walls; the linens for our bed. I loved having a nice dinner on the table when he rolled in after dark, his fingernails caked with earth, twigs and leaves hidden in the most impossible places: behind his ears, in the hair on his chest, in his trouser cuffs. It seemed to be the life I'd always wanted to live.
But after only a few weeks of conjugal life I was craving solitude, dreaming of a tiny spartan flat with no man in residence but me. After all those years of pining to be together, after all we had put our families through, were we destined to fail, and so quickly? What had gone so very wrong in so short a time?
I call it the wife's conundrum, and as a lifelong man I had not seen it coming. It was like entering the lives of a whole population you knew existed but had never had access to before. How was it possible to maintain a full-time job; run a household; find time for children, parents, friends; manage the finances; and keep track of at least 20 other crises of major and minor proportions every day, while remaining slim, attractive, and unharried, a smile on your face and a wholesome meal on the table each evening?
An example: One evening in those early days, after a meal he'd failed, like most others, to compliment me on, I did all the dishes-after all, he'd had a long, hard day once again-while he stripped to his underpants and plopped himself down on the couch in front of the television. This scenario-underpants, television-was new to me, having been a different kind of husband myself. I brought him the garbage, neatly bundled, to be dumped into the bin quite near the back door of our ground-floor home.
He glared at me and said nothing. A few minutes later, the bag of garbage still next to the couch, he disappeared into the bedroom.
"What about the garbage?" I called from the kitchen. There was a smile on my face, but my eyes were narrowed like those on a pouncing cat.
"I'm tired, I'm already in bed, and anyway, I don't even know where the garbage bin is," he said. I had a thousand snappy answers to this one, but I let them all go.
Suddenly the "miraculously fragmenting woman" in Jane Smiley's novella Ordinary Love made sense to me, a person who was "pulled apart every day only to be knitted together every night so that she could be pulled apart again in the morning."
However, the "rules" of my own knitting and unknitting were never set down-there were no lists of duties recorded anywhere. …