On International Men's Day, author and Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage reflects on the lessons that marriage has taught him about what it truly means to be a man
‘In truth, I’ve only just started to feel like a man. This is shameful given that I’m 35. When my dad was my age, he’d been married for 14 years, fathered three children and built my bedroom brick by brick himself. He was a real man, not like me with my soft hands and stupid job in journalism.
But things have changed. I have a wife and two kids now, and that sort of thing forces a boy to grow up. A lot of newfound manliness is embarrassingly rooted in gender stereotypes – there’s still lawn mowing and furniture assembly and a constant crushing sense of financial responsibility that keeps me awake at night – but, thankfully, much of it isn’t. Being a man means dealing with problems, and there’s no doubt my wife has helped me with that. I’ve always reacted to stuff in an annoyingly male way, by bottling it up and waiting for the inevitable stress-related aortic aneurysm to take me out. But by witnessing how my wife deals with similar issues – by confronting them head-on and talking them through – and seeing how much better off she is for doing it, I’ve started to copy her. And it works. It helps to be emotionally open. Who knew?
I’ve become less selfish thanks to her, too. The old me – the dumb boy version – wanted to do everything by himself, refusing all help, even if it drove him into the ground. But you can’t do that in a marriage. There’s nowhere to hide, and there’s always a teetering pile of big priorities that can’t be ignored. The only way you can get through it is by sharing everything – the highs as well as the lows. You split the work and share the burden, and the knowledge that someone has your back helps you through it all. My wife makes me feel like part of a team. As someone who works at home alone all day, this is a new sensation. An okay one, too.
We live together. We run a household together. We do the same job, so we’re each other’s closest sounding boards. Hand on heart, in every aspect of my life, I can honestly call my wife my partner. And you know who else calls people partner? That’s right: cowboys. My wife has turned me into a cowboy. What could possibly be more manly than that?’