Ironing Maiden

On domestic appliances and the state of marriage

The ironing board had been left behind by my college roommate. She was a business major and was confident of forthcoming prosperity, so she could leave behind a humble household implement. There were no wrinkles where she was going.

I, on the other hand, was a communications major with a below-average GPA. I could not afford such confidence. Like many of the furnishings in my new adult life, I assumed possession of the ironing board when the roommate graduated and moved out.

I have always owned very few things. One reason is that I could never afford a lot. But mostly, I always wanted to live so I could pack up everything on a moment’s notice. Who knows when I might suddenly join the Peace Corps (preferred assignment: Paris), or when I might be called out on a long-term lovemaking emergency involving George Clooney? And yet, that ironing board came with me everywhere, like a dutiful Army wife, through some 15 moves. Never mind that I rarely actually ironed. Never mind that there were times when I didn’t even own an iron. An ironing board just always seemed like a good item to have on hand, like matches or water-purification tablets or a Swiss Army knife.

Until I moved in with the man I would marry. At first, there was just something about starting fresh—all the possibilities of reinventing oneself—that made me feel like the ironing board just didn’t fit.

But the desire to do away with it was really about something else, too. I had not wanted to arrive on the doorstep of my new life with an ironing board, I realized, because of everything I thought it represented. Surely if my husband saw me with one, he would make sweeping assumptions about traditional gender roles within our home. I was not going to submit to patriarchal oppression by, say, ironing, or inadvertently washing one of his socks, or by dialing the phone myself to order pizza for dinner. No way, no how, no sir. Would it not undo hundreds of years of struggle if I didn’t carefully separate my toast residue from his cracker crumbs on the countertop so that I could wipe away only mine, and thus leave a clear crumb message about his chauvinism?

And so I got rid of the thing, placing it next to a dumpster behind my emptied apartment, in just the right place and just the right time to be acquired by someone who needed it. My husband and I settled into life together ironing-boardless.

Then a couple of weird things happened. First, much to my surprise, the lack of an ironing board did not entirely do away with the need for household tasks. Dust still gathered, dishes dirtied, and laundry seemed to metastasize. Second, and more bizarre: My husband made the bed and vacuumed the living room and scrubbed the tub. In fact, the dear man seemed completely oblivious to the fact that I had deliberately and, in cold blood, married him without an ironing board. My dreams of being a freedom fighter by sitting on the couch watching television were being foiled. I was sure he was still trying to subjugate me, I just couldn’t figure out what devious means he was using.

What I did come to see was that the husband had come into “us” with a much clearer idea of partnership than I had. My internal ironing imbroglio was not about reinventing myself. It was about defining myself with someone else. I was now part of a permanent thing. For the first time. Ever. There was no doubt I wanted to start life with this man—but I was scared boardless. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea who, or what, I was going to be in this new context.

Almost two years later, my home does not need a backhoe or HAZMAT workers to maintain it. Sometimes my husband does what needs to be done; sometimes I do. And I have come to see just who I am in the relationship: I’m the adaptable and resourceful one—MacGyver of the mundane—the sort of person who can, in a pinch, skillfully wield a hot curling iron or a panini press on a wrinkled blouse.

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