I am a bad wife

Back when I was in school in Ukraine one of the forms of entertainment was to organize beauty pageants. Since my self-esteem was never higher than my school desk I didn’t really participate. The competitions were always for the ‘pretty girls’. I was that odd one who is not really fat but not skinny either so she can’t hang with us. Long story short I was peeling potatoes this morning and remembered how I lost the only beauty pageant I ever participated in because I didn’t know how to tie a tie. Brutal small-town Ukrainian pageants. 
I believe I was in 8th grade or so when someone decided it would be a good idea to have a pageant in my class (quick update on the Ukrainian system of education: we all go to the same class since grade 1 up until grade 11). Anyway, someone somewhere wanted to do it and since I was a girl and I was in my class I kinda had to participate. Not going to lie: I was excited. When your entertainment options are limited you kinda have to roll with the punches. I prepped, I even wrote a poem for the ‘talent’ segment and I don’t remember the poem itself but it was super sassy and I felt stellar about myself. Oh the cocky 14 year old me.

Two of the ‘rounds’ of this bizarre pageant were a) you have to show the judges how well you can tie a man’s tie (boys had to participate at this point) and b) how fast can you peel a potato. Hardcore post-soviet teenage entertainment, I tell you. As you might have guessed: I couldn’t give a crap about tying a dude’s tie and I was pretty spoiled with the love from my family which resulted in me rarely doing the cooking (or peeling for that matter).

I was pronounced ‘Miss Cuteness’ (most likely because of my sassy poem) but I took it and ran with it. To my surprise, the lack of my tie tying skills did not escape the eyes of my classmates and thus started one of the many spans of bullying I had to go through while in school. The girls started calling me белоручка which roughly translates as a softie, someone who doesn’t like to get their hands dirty, usually a royal.

I couldn’t care less. I was bullied for so many things but this one? I just shrugged it off. I don’t think I knew the word ‘feminist’ at that time but I definitely had something boiling inside of me.

So this morning when I was peeling a potato (like a boss, I might add) I thought back to that time. I thought about the things people said to me throughout my life. ‘No one will ever want to marry you’, ‘You will be a horrible wife’, ‘No men will ever love you ‘cause you can’t even get your hands dirty/you can’t even cook’, etc. You might not believe me but I am laughing right now. As much as I wanted to find true love and someone to spend the rest of my life with, I knew that there were more important things relevant to my journey.

I am a ‘bad wife’ because I don’t ‘please’ my husband with constant cooking (Andrew is way better at it than I am anyway). I am a ‘bad wife’ because I care about a passionate talk if my partner needs one right now over finishing doing dishes. I am a ‘bad wife’ because I treat my husband as a partner, as an equal, because I believe that both of us have to contribute to our success as a couple and as individuals.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn’t do in your relationship. It is yours and no one else’s. There are couples who eat out all the time and have someone come in and clean their place. There are couples where one of the partners chooses not to work. There are couples who are hoarders and it is none of our business what is happening behind the closed doors.

I still don’t know how to tie a tie, I admit. But I also know that I have a partner who will show me how if I ask. Isn’t it fantastic?

Yuliya Lipina for The Hello Series

Alisa's note: 

I am so excited to bring you another wonderful story! Yuliya is one of those people who are a friend of a friend, we have never met yet her thoughts and opinions resonate with me. You know how precious that is? I am so thrilled you will have a chance to read her story - a story of another wonderful Ukrainian girl living her expat life here, in the US of A. In light of recent events I thought you can all use a good story with a happy ending...

My name is Yuliya and I moved to the USA over 2 years ago to be with my loved one. In Ukraine I used to work as an English teacher and was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to teach in the States. I could not even imagine that I would be capable of doing anything else at all. My parents said little to encourage me think otherwise. My mom and dad were sure I would be “cleaning bathrooms in McDonald’s”. It’s funny to think about it now as I have just started my second job in the US (the first one was not in McDonald’s either) as an insurance analyst at an IT-company. The United States became a place where I could actually redefine myself. I know it might sound trite, but it was eye-opening for me to find out that I could actually learn a whole new profession.

Some people may argue that moving to a new place doesn’t really matter since you bring your old self with you. The new surroundings are just a background and nothing more. It is true but only to a certain extent. Moving to a new country came with a lot of changes for me though. The most important of them happened within me. There are a lot of things that I came to realize after I moved to the US. I will share some of them with you.

Being an immigrant means to live in two worlds at the same time. Ukrainian culture will always be a part of me, but at the same time I feel that certain ideas that I encountered in American culture have become a part of me in these past two years as well. For example, I never thought much about feminism and what it means until I moved to the US or the issues of racial equality. I celebrate the changes that come with learning more about the culture and the ideas I am surrounded with now and look at them as a part of ongoing personal development. However, my strong sense of belonging to a specific culture has vanished because of it as well: I am not an American in the US, but I am not really considered a 100% Ukrainian by my friends in Ukraine any more either. I am an Americanized Ukrainian in their eyes if you will. It doesn’t upset me at all though. I consider it to be a great premise for open-mindedness.

Starting anew as an adult. Looking back at my two and a half years of employment history in the US makes me feel satisfied. I think I did quite well for myself. That’s now though. Back when I just moved to Illinois I was full of frustration that I had to start over. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. I was completely unfamiliar with how hiring process worked in the US. I sent over a hundred emails with resumes and cover letters to all sort of places and have never heard back. I am lucky my husband was there for me to support me through this time and to advise me. It was the first time in my life that I had to go about finding a job without having any network of people who could give me a good recommendation. Looking for a job in the US taught me a lot about myself. First that I am much tougher than I thought I was. Second, that I actually can achieve a lot on my own without much valued “connections”. Third, it is simply awesome to acquire skills in a new field and learn a new profession. The latter is possible at any given point in your life and you should never be afraid of it. Once I even happened to be interviewing for a pyramid scheme company (as I found out later). The icing on the cake? I was supposed to go through a “gong ceremony” to be fully initiated into the team of new hires. I ran away before that.

Wanderlust lives on! I always loved traveling and exploring, but in the US this passion of mine got to a whole new level. Even though I had way more vacation time in Ukraine than I do now I somehow travel more living in the US. I have been to many wonderful places across the US: New Orleans, San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, Milwaukee and Madison. However, what completely changed for me is that I am more down to exploring the local spots. I was never much of a “local” explorer back home. Probably, that’s because I grew up in Krivoy Rog and my attempt at exploring the local quarry did not end very well. My husband and I spend a lot of time exploring Illinois and Wisconsin nature preserves, state parks and bike trails such as Matthiessen State Park, Starved Rock State Park, The Garden of the Gods, Devil’s Lake, and many more. No matter where you live you can always find fascinating places to visit. I used to disregard local exploring and I was wrong. 

*The Hello Series features stories in their original form written by Ukrainian expats living in the USA*

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