About two weeks ago, my car broke down. I managed to get the car to a repair shop. I spoke to the mechanic. I called for a follow-up. I took care of every step of the process as I always do. As I have no choice but to do because there is no one to delegate a step to. I’m a young widow raising two kids on my own.
When the mechanic called and quoted me for a repair, I was caught off guard. The problem with my car was greater than I’d realized and the price higher. I told the mechanic I’d call him back after I considered my options. He said, “Great, check with your husband and let me know.”
I hung up, made a decision about the car, and returned his call.
The thing is—I don’t have a husband. Or, more accurately, I don’t have a living husband I can “check with.” My husband died three years ago. For three years, I’ve been a solo parent, a solo homeowner, a solo car owner. In those three years, I’ve lost count of the number of times men have assumed I have a husband at home who will make the decisions or take care of the metaphorical heavy lifting.
In three years, I have not once spoken up.
I didn’t correct the man who sold me a trampoline. As we talked through safety concerns I had about my lawn being slightly inclined, he waved away my concern. He said my husband should have no trouble leveling the lawn if needed. I smiled and said nothing to correct him.
I didn’t correct the man at the flooring store who told me I should wait for my husband to help me load the heavy boxes of bathroom tile into my car. I smiled and loaded them myself when he wasn’t looking.
I didn’t correct any of those men, but I wish I had.
Early in widowhood, I didn’t correct folks who told me to check with my husband. Then, I had a reason largely tied to grief. For the moment of that assumption, I was married. My husband wasn’t dead. I could just go run off and check with him. For the moment of that assumption, my world hadn’t crumbled.
I leaned into their assumptions because it gave me some peace. But that was then. Now my grief has evolved. Those assumptions don’t feel like lifelines to a life I lost. Instead, they feel like insults at my ability to make decisions or lift heavy things alone. And yet, I haven’t corrected anyone. I haven’t spoken up.
After I hung up with the mechanic, I realized why I didn’t speak up. I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable about his assumption.
And that’s a terrible reason not to speak up.
I should have spoken up because keeping quiet for someone else’s comfort is a betrayal to my own heart. Keeping quiet and allowing them their assumption requires me to minimize all the things I’ve done as a solo parent and young widow—to subvert my own triumphs. Effectively for someone else’s comfort, I’m allowing myself to be invisible. I don’t want to be invisible.
I should have spoken up because my children hear these assumptions lobbed toward me. After we walked away from the trampoline salesman, my daughter looked up at me and made a comment about the salesman’s “husband” line. She asked me who would level the lawn. I said of course I would or I’d figure it out like always. She accepted that line, but I missed a crucial moment to teach her something about her capabilities in this world. She should have heard me correct the salesman. She shouldn’t have spent even a moment doubting whether I—a woman—would be as capable to do a thing as someone else.
Also, I should have spoken up because it’s 2021 and it’s long past time to stop assuming everyone is in a gender-normative, heterosexual relationship that fits a particular mold. It’s long past time to stop trying to squeeze women into a box where they only do the “women’s” work and need someone else to do the rest.
It’s important to note there is another side to speaking up—a reason to stay quiet. The unfortunate reality about life as a single woman navigating the world alone is that there are times when I don’t speak up—and it’s a choice. There are times when a stranger makes an assumption about my husband stepping up to do the heavy lifting, and I melt into that assumption because it’s a safety net. Because some gut instinct is blaring, and I know it’s safer to pretend “the man of the house” will be by any minute. It’s not a guaranteed shield, but it’s a shield, nonetheless. That’s a sad truth.
Safety concerns aside, however, I wish I had spoken up all those other times. I should have. I should have corrected the men (and often women, too) who assumed there was no way I was doing “the hard” work alone. The assumptions will only change once I start chipping away at them—one comment at a time. Because hopefully, if I speak up this time, then the next time a solo mom comes along, she won’t have to feel as though her capabilities are being questioned. She’ll exist in her space and her role without anyone trying to minimize her.
If I speak up, hopefully my daughter will never question, even once, whether she’s capable without a husband by her side.
I wish I had spoken up, but I certainly won’t be quiet anymore.