She works till 10; I sunbathe...

Confessions of a low-flying husband, by Nicholas Robson
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I TELL everyone that we met through Dateline, but the sad truth is Juliette and I fell in love and married while working in identical jobs for the same employer. We had matching careers, equal incomes and our own hectic London social lives.

Then, one day, the phone rang and Juliette was offered an incredible job in Brussels. She wanted to take it, if I agreed. What did I think? I thought: "She'll be unbearable if I make her miss this chance. And I can retire at 34." So, we moved to Brussels.

Apart from a sneaking fear that I would go to pieces spectacularly, crazed on Belgian beer and loneliness, I probably didn't agonise enough about all the challenges we would face. A strange country, a foreign language, and a sudden change from equality to being a high-flying professional and her waiting spouse. At least, my enthusiasm provided the perfect excuse not to attend any golf-course, club-house meetings of STUDS, the Brussels support group for male Spouses Trailing Under Duress.

In the event, I found myself perversely complaining that there weren't greater obstacles put in my path. That would have justified the liberty I had while Juliette worked all day. After all, only a sadist could enjoy the sunshine knowing his sun-worshipping spouse was shut in an office till 10 at night, working as a top lawyer.

For six months, we've been living a complete reversal of traditional gender roles. Every morning, I kiss Juliette on the cheek as she leaves for work, and, every evening, I make sure supper is on the table when she returns, exhilarated or exhausted and needing to be talked back into full membership of the human race.

A sophisticated friend has suggested that, paradoxically, it is easier for a man to do domestic duties than it would be for a woman, as this is a subversive act which escapes the criticisms that would be heaped on a woman who interrupted a career to become a housewife. Certainly, being a man seems to be an advantage when carrying heavy shopping bags.

I've also had time, at last, to indulge (and outgrow) some of my unfulfilled adolescent ambitions. After a few weeks tootling on your flute, the idea that you were born to be a full-time flautist may not seem so compelling. This may have made me more pleasant to live with, but the main reason why our new arrangements have worked must be because Juliette has never shown any sign of wanting to abuse her dominant position.

I became absorbed in nesting and homemaking activities, which I found not in the least demeaning, and Juliette was delighted to have her every whim pandered to by a devoted housekeeper. Ironically, I would withdraw what she referred to as "our wages" from the bank and dole out spending money, because she was too busy working to make the trip herself. But, I must admit to the odd twinge of guilt about being dependent. Although these have disappeared now that, almost by chance, I have found myself a job and become respectable again.

The greatest change to our lives has been isolation. It takes time to make friends in a new city and for the first time since we met we've been really alone together. It's good to have an opportunity to find out whether you've married someone you like being with. Perhaps mutual social dependence has cancelled out any awkwardness that might otherwise have arisen from my financial dependence.

In the end, however, the only firm moral that can be drawn from our experience is that it is important to marry the right person. And I did.

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