(54) It Took Divorce to Make My Marriage Equal with Lyz

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Author, Lyz Lenz, talks about what happened when she realized she was the only one supporting her dream, and how she finally got that equality she was seeking. Lyz also shares the dangers of marrying someone with political differences, how to negotiate the contract of marriage, and why it’s important to show our kids that there is no invisible lunch-making fairy. There are lots of laughs and divorce real talk here as well as a ha moments about our own mothers, and Lyz shows us why when life gives us lemons, we need to throw them at people’s heads. 

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Brandy:            Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. I wish this episode weren’t so relatable, but it is, especially during the pandemic when deep fault lines in our relationships seem to be eliminated. So, join me as author, Lyz Lenz, talks about what happened when she realized she was the only one supporting her dream, and how she finally got the equality she was seeking. Lyz also shares the dangers of marrying someone with political differences, how to negotiate the contract of marriage, and why it’s important to show our kids that there is no invisible lunch-making fairy. There are lots of laughs here as well as ah-ha’s, some about our own mothers, and Lyz shows us why when life gives us lemons, we need to throw those lemons at heads rather than turn them into bitter lemonade. On to the show —

Brandy:            Today on the podcast, I’m talking with Lyz Lenz who is a journalist and author advocating for women by way of her writing. Lyz landed on my radar when a friend sent me her recent article for Glamour, titled, “It Took Divorce to Make My Marriage Equal.” Holy shit. Wow. It discusses so much of what we talk about on the podcast with unequal gender roles and parenting. I immediately messaged her asking if she would come here and unpack it with me, and she said, “Yes.” So, welcome, Lyz.

Lyz:                  Thank you so much for having me.

Brandy:            Yeah, of course. The subtitle to your article is “I spent 12 years fighting for an equal partnership when what I needed was a divorce.”

Lyz:                  {laughter} That’s my evil laugh.

Brandy:            {laughter} It’s definitely relatable, and the pandemic hasn’t helped any of that. The intention of this episode is not that everyone goes out and gets divorces because of it, but I want to pick your brain about the lead up to your divorce, how it felt, how you knew it was right for you, what you’ve learned, if you have any regrets, and also what advice you would give to moms who want to stay married to their husbands but also want equality. Is that even possible in your eyes?

Lyz:                  {gasps}

Brandy:            Oh, I heard the breath. Do you have a tidy answer already? Or is that like a long thing?

Lyz:                  The idea that it might be possible is such a loaded question. I’m excited to unpack it, but no, I do not have a tidy answer. But I have a fun answer. {laughter}

Brandy:            {laughter} Okay, that works. Before we get to that, what do you think the listeners need to know about you?

Lyz:                  I think an important thing to keep in mind about me, especially in the context of this conversation, is I grew up evangelical and one of eight kids. We were homeschooled. I come from a deeply religious, conservative background. I think that adds maybe a little bit more credibility to the idea that I would get divorced because it meant going against everything that I had been raised to believe about life.

Brandy:            Yes, and it’s interesting. I’ve had quite a few guests recently who have talked about having sort of a midlife awakening or really realizing some of the things that they don’t want in their life, like agreements that they’ve had that don’t fit anymore, and so many of them have come from a similar background with religion. I can’t tell you how many times that comes up on here with guests. There must be something going on like a mass awakening from that kind of a group.

Lyz:                  Well, my first book was about religion in America and politics. Maybe, it’s because they all read my first book. {laughter}

Brandy:            {laughter} Maybe so. What is the title of that book if anybody wanted to look for it?

Lyz:                  God Land is the name of the first book. It’s a story of faith, loss, and renewal in middle America, and Belabored is my second book.

Brandy:            Yeah, what’s the subtitle for Belabored? I love it.

Lyz:                  A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women.

Brandy:            Yes. When I was doing research on you and I saw that book, I was like, “Oh, I have to email her. I have to make this happen.” {laughter}

Lyz:                  {laughter}

Brandy:            I wanted to read a quote from your article that I think people will deeply relate to. It says:
I was 33, a mother of two, and bone tired. I didn’t want the laundry and chores to be the rest of my life. I didn’t want to always be drowning in work and childcare and house cleaning and dinner bearing the brunt of the labor. I’d spent the past two years begging for help with the kids and housework only to be told that I could just quit my job if it was all too much. “It’s not too much,” I’d said over and over. “It’s just not all my job.” Standing in the dining room, overwhelmed with the weight of my life, I broke.
{sighs} Will you walk us through what your motherhood experience was like that led you to break?

Lyz:                  Well, there were so many things, but like so many women, I got married. I got married at 22 which was a big radical, feminist statement for my family. I believed that my marriage was an equal partnership. After marriage, we slowly slid into gender roles, I justified it. We both justified it as, “Well, he likes to mow the lawn.” Actually, I did mow the lawn in the beginning, but I didn’t mow it correctly, so I was cut off of lawn mowing duties.

Brandy:            Oh, no.

Lyz:                  I know. We justified it as — well, I justified it as, I can only speak for myself, “I’m not being stereotypical. I’m just better at cooking. I’m just better at cleaning. I’m just better at this.” I think a lot of us fall into that justification. By the time we had children — we had children five years after we got married. The moment that our first baby was born, it immediately was all me. I remember saying, “Can’t you save up vacation and take a lot of time off?” “Well, I don’t really want to.” His boss had given him a few days, but as we all know, that’s not enough time. It just kind of spiraled from there. I think what, in hindsight, was something I didn’t realize was that there was never gonna be equality and that this expectation I had gone in with was not a mutual agreement. I had been saying things like, “Okay. Well, we’ll move here for your job, but then eventually, we’ll move for my job so I can get a job,” because I’m a writer, and we were moving to the middle of Iowa. If you know anything about Iowa, you know that we have a lot of writers who come here, and then leave for an MFA.

Brandy:            Oh.

Lyz:                  It’s a great program, but it was a program that was not interested in accepting me. {laughter}

Brandy:            Oh, shoot.

Lyz:                  No knock on them, but there’s not like a wealth of writing opportunities. I was like, “Well, eventually, we’ll move.” The answer was always, “We’ll see.” When you’re young and you’re in love, you’re like, “Okay, great.” I do think a bigger picture issue is that women are always used to getting the scraps. If your scrap feels a little bigger than what you used to get, then you’re like, “Hell yeah! I made it out alive.” It was a struggle. With any struggle, I think any woman has felt this, it’s like, “Okay. Well, my partner’s clearly failing here, but I still care for them deeply. So, what else can I do? What else can I jerry-rig here?” It became like a Rube Goldberg contraption of asking parents to help out, hiring babysitters, hiring a house cleaner when we could afford it, extensively planning meals, and it was just this really complicated issue. After our second child was born and I achieved my dream of selling not one but two books within seven months of each other, I was elated.

Brandy:            Wow.

Lyz:                  Yeah. It was cool. It was great. I remember that day, signing my first book contract and coming home, because I had been out meeting people and I was also trying to play a literary event at the time, and being asked, “What’s for dinner?”

Brandy:            {laughter} Right.

Lyz:                  I had texted and said, “I signed my first book contract today!” We kind of knew it was coming, and I was like, “It’s here! I’m sending in the paperwork!” It was also my birthday, and I came home to, “What’s for dinner?” Of course, we’ve all fallen down as partners, but it ended up being emblematic in my future career. I had been in therapy for a while because I feel like any good healthy person should get some therapy. It’s great and wonderful. I highly recommend it, but at that point, I was I was like, “Okay. We need to start opening this up.” If people read my first book, you know that we had also as a couple — and this is a little crazy, but go with me — we had tried to start a church. {laughter}

Brandy:            Oh, wow.

Lyz:                  That had just failed miserably right after my youngest’s first birthday. We had some issues coming out of that that we needed to discuss. Issues where I had been told I was too loud, and as a woman, I didn’t have a voice. I felt unsupported in that. A lot of that’s in the first book. There were all of those things going into this moment where I was trying so hard to make my dream work, and I realized that I’m the only one trying to make it work. Flash forward to the point of the breaking, we had been in therapy for two years. I had been doing everything to keep the frayed ends of my life together. I remembered, a friend had told me, “Your life is not a game of chicken. You don’t have to wait for the other person to blink first.” The truth of that statement just washed over me in that moment where I was like, “This is the rest of my life. I’m fighting so hard to change it, but it’s never going to change. I need to either accept that this is my reality, or I need to blow it up.” So, I chose to blow it up. {laughter}

Brandy:            Totally.  I mean, I can see why. I mean, mowing the lawn, number one, but then all the things you’re talking about. So, in hindsight, are you so happy that that church didn’t work out?

Lyz:                  Well, it was never gonna work out. There’s no parallel universe where that church works out for so many, many reasons. But yes. I mean, I think it really brought to light some of our fundamental differences. I’ve written about this in other places too. Please keep in mind, we’re talking about one small article, and my life is longer and bigger, but we were politically divided household. Since I had grown up in places where I was usually the token liberal, that felt fine to me. I think this is particularly relevant to our current moment because I had always been the one making do and making concessions because I was always the odd voice out that when we got married, to me, it was like, “Well, it’s just political differences. We can overcome this.” Obviously, I’m an upper middle-class white lady — well, middle class. I’m not that rich. {laughter}

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  I’ve seen what constitutes middle and upper middle class. Trust me. We’re getting by, but it’s not pretty. I had done that thing where I was like, “Well, can’t we all just get along? Can’t we all just agree on some core issue? We’ll be okay.” What I learned, I think, from the failure of the church is that the politics isn’t just some sort of rhetorical game. It’s people’s lives on the line.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  I’m sad to say it took my life and my voice being on the line for me to see that. That’s the thing that I think I’m the most ashamed about.

Brandy:            Yeah, wow. What you’re talking about with being a politically divided household and thinking, “Oh, it’s just political. That’s all it is,” you’re exactly right that, especially it seems like these days, we’re not just talking about the deficit.

Lyz:                  Right!

Brandy:            We’re talking about actual life changing issues for ourselves and for other people and for people who don’t have as much and for women and for people of color and so many different people. I think there are a lot of marriages that are on the brink, and I think part of it can be this political divide and exactly what you’re talking about which is you’re waking up to the fact that this isn’t just like a sports team like, “I like the Broncos, and you like the Raiders.” It’s something so much deeper. In fact, it’s partially, too, the way that you are treated by your spouse. Those politics come through the way that you’re treated, and that’s a big deal. That’s like politics seep into our homes.

Lyz:                  It’s also important to note that my breakup is coming in the wake of the 2016 election, and I, myself, am a survivor of sexual assault. One of my younger sisters is a survivor of sexual assault. I’m not speaking for myself, but for so many people in America, that election was personal. To look at the person who said that they loved me, who had gone into that voting booth, and voted the other way and voted in a way that undermined my value as a human being was not something I could just get over. You said something about like, “Also, this is how the person treats you.” I would also push against that a little bit because I’ve heard from so many women who are or were in similar situations. I say, “Just because he treats you right doesn’t mean he’s treating other people right too,” because that is an act of violence to go into a voting booth and vote to strip other people of their rights. I think we’re actually having this conversation right now, and I’m sorry to do this to you.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  But with the Supreme Court nomination where everybody says, “Oh, Amy Coney Barrett. She’s so kind. She’s so wonderful.” You can be a kind, wonderful human being who’s easy to talk to who works to structurally dismantle the rights of other people.

Brandy:            Exactly.

Lyz:                  You can benefit from patriarchy and still support it. I think that’s also another issue at play here. I will be real. I benefited from patriarchy in so many ways, but because, like I said at the beginning, I was coming out of a really restrictive background that, to me, it had felt like liberation for a little bit until it felt like a jail.

Brandy:            Wow. Something that you said, I want to go back to about how you realize that it wasn’t a mutual agreement when you got married and that you were not actually on the same page. I think that that’s an interesting piece of it, too, because I think sometimes people can go back and go, “You know what? It was never going to be equal.” Then, I think that there are other couples who go, “No, we started this thing equal.” Like, “He’s a feminist,” or, “We were both working, and we were both supporting each other and each other’s dreams, and then kids derail that.”

Lyz:                  Yes.

Brandy:            I think there are a lot of different ways that it can look.

Lyz:                  I don’t think our society sets it up for equality, too.

Brandy:            No. God, no.

Lyz:                  You don’t hear me saying this much, but in defense of men, schools don’t expect fathers to pitch in as much as they expect mothers. They often don’t send fathers a lot of the emails that they would send mothers.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Lyz:                  If a man goes out with his child, it’s, “Oh, my gosh. Look at you. You’re such a great dad.” The woman goes out without her child, it’s, “Where’s your baby?” We have these cultural constructs that expect more of women than we do of men, and if a man kind of achieves it, we’re all like, “Look at that! He’s such a hot dad.” It’s like, “Please.”

Brandy:            Yeah.

Lyz:                  I also think women undermine ourselves, too, because we’re given so much responsibility and because we have so much societal expectation. We cannot let it go. We can’t be like, “Oh, he dressed the baby in a onesie but put it on backwards.” We can’t just laugh that off. So many of us are like, “Fine, I’ll do it myself, and then you’ll never dress the baby ever again.”

Brandy:            Right.

Lyz:                  There are multiple factors here. I do think systemic change needs to enable those cultural changes.

Brandy:            Oh, gosh. Yes.

Lyz:                  We need paid parental leave for both parents, so they’re in the thick of it in the beginning. I know so many dads who would love that. So many marriages start off with the expectation of equality, and then they kind of devolve, for whatever reason, into an unequal partnership. I’ve heard lots of dads talk, and I actually almost punched a dad recently.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  I went to visit my brother and his wife, and they have this lovely neighborhood. It’s wonderful, and people talk to each other. Everything is great. Like, all the parents work, the children have very modern names, and the houses all look like they were decorated by Joanna Gaines.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  It’s so beautiful, but the one of the dads, who kind of follows my work which is very flattering, was saying things like, “Talk to me much. Talk to me much.” {??} I’m like, “I’m so tired. I don’t really to talk about my book right here on this lawn while I’m drinking a LaCroix.”

Brandy:            {laughter} Right.

Lyz:                  He was like, “Well, I want to be equal, but she just does it better.” Oh, I wanted to slap him in the face. He didn’t deserve it, but maybe a little bit.

Brandy:            Like, “I want to talk about your book, but what I want to do is mansplain your book to you.”

Lyz:                  Right. “She does it better.” You hear men say that as if it’s some sort of badge of honor for a woman to do it better. It’s like, “Sir, we don’t want to do it better.” There’s this expectation of women, and we do this in society all the time. We’re like, “Moms. They’re martyrs. They’re literally bleeding on the floor, but they still manage to get it done. Look at those mothers!”

Brandy:            Yes!

Lyz:                  The mothers are bleeding on the floor screaming, “Help us! Help us!” Then, people are like, “Here’s your Mother’s Day card.” It’s like, “You know what? Fuck Mother’s Day cards! Give us some paid parental leave and some fucking childcare. You can cancel Mother’s Day for the rest of our lives.” I feel like if I ran on that political platform, I’d get 100% of the female vote. Well, maybe 98%.

Brandy:            Yeah, no, it’s true. That and if you also ran on doing away with daylight savings time so that kids’ naps and nighttime schedules don’t do that switch, I feel like you’d have a winning platform right there. {laughter}

Lyz:                  Why does that still exist? {laughter}

Brandy:            I feel like the pandemic is a great time to change that, but of course, they won’t.

Lyz:                  Right because all time is the same right now. I literally don’t know what time it is. I’m sitting here in a bathrobe drinking tea. I don’t know what time it is.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  {laughter}

Brandy:            There’s another piece that you said, too, that really hit me when you were talking about this idea of a partnership. Marriage is a partnership, and it’s also love. Those are almost like a right brain and left brain, masculine/feminine, Yin/Yang — how many metaphors and symbols can I give? It’s like this idea of the more logical thing and the left brain thing, which is like the partnership and how it works, and then this love thing which you kind of can’t put your finger on it, and it’s flowy. I think that that’s part of why women stay in marriages that are awful partnerships because you can love somebody, but if you had to work with them, you would fire them immediately. That’s where I think there’s like this gray area. Let’s say, for example, the husband and wife and how they take care of the kids and the home and all of that managerial stuff and caretaking, if they’re both supposed to do an equal job and one of them is carrying 80% of the weight, the other one is carrying the other 20%, then that person, if we’re looking at this as a job, should be fired.

Lyz:                  Right.

Brandy:            But then, there are these feelings that come up. Then, of course, you have women conditioned to sort of look past that and feel those feelings more and to not hold other people accountable and to put their needs second — or last, really. It’s that sussing out of, “How can you deal with both of those things?” Your love for the person may not have changed, but they may be the world’s worst “employee,” and then what do you do with that? I’m not expecting you to have the answer. I just think that that’s a place where a lot of women find themselves. You may love somebody, and you may even be on the same page with them politically. They may be trying their best, but at the end of the day, if you’re living with somebody who’s pulling 20% of the weight, and you constantly are like, “I want to fire you from this job,” and you can’t. How do you rectify that?

Lyz:                  I have a friend whose husband is a feminist professor, and they love each other so much. He does not do 50% of the work. {laughter}

Brandy:            Right.

Lyz:                  It’s so funny to hear her. It’s not funny. It’s funny as in we laugh because if we cry, we’d never stop crying. He knows the language. He wants to do the work, but he just doesn’t do it. He doesn’t see it. He’s not conditioned to do it. He’s not conditioned to see it.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Lyz:                  She’ll also say, “There were times where I just got shit down instead of having the fight with him.” I do think a couple things are at play. This is a systemic issue. There was this great study that the New York Times reported on in their parenting section which talked about how 90 something percent of men in partnerships believed they were doing equal work.

Brandy:            Oh, yeah. I read that.

Lyz:                  Only 3% of the women agreed. {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, they think they’re doing more.

Lyz:                  Right. It’s because, I think, they’re doing more than their dads. Hopefully, then their sons will do better and so on and so forth. We’re in a pandemic. Women are struggling right now. I think a couple issues are at play. It’s systemic. Employers don’t expect that a father will be doing work. We don’t give men parental leave right up top. Well, we don’t really give anybody parental leave, so there’s that.

Brandy:            Right.

Lyz:                  Childcare is an unequal load. When you have a system balanced against you, any individual choices that you make to try to make it work are always going to be frustrated by the system which is why I always try to focus more on, “Let’s enact some actual change in America rather than telling women to lean in so far. They’re gonna fall off the cliff.”

Brandy:            Oh, yeah. That’s part of my hatred of self-care, too. Self-care just feels like the most ridiculous, like, “Oh, we’ll take care of everybody else, but then don’t forget yourself because we’re not going to pass legislation that helps you. So, you’ll do it, and then, actually, you’ll tell other women to self-care. When, we’ll be absolved of any responsibility for treating you humanely.” It’s like, “Jesus!”

Lyz:                  Yeah! Self-care is also just this really white lady concept because what does self-care look like to a black woman? It looks like society not shooting her son in the street.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Lyz:                  It’s like, “A bubble bath isn’t fucking going to solve these problems.” But I will say, I think marriage therapy is really key if you can find a good therapist to find a way to say, “We have to talk about these things.” I wouldn’t say marriage therapy didn’t work for us. Obviously, we ended it. I don’t consider that end of failure. I consider it a success because I consider any time you can look at something and say, “This is not working, and I am not happy,” and walk away from it knowing you did everything to make it work and to be happy, I consider that a success. I consider a life well lived a success. One of the reasons I do write so openly about my divorce is because I want to change that conversation around that choice. I want women to stop talking about it in secret. I want to stop having these secret divorce moms clubs which immediately in the moment, they happen. Literally, anyone will tell you when you get divorced, all these women slip into your text messages and DM’s and go, “I’m thinking about it. What’s it like?” Or, “Oh, I had one.” People you didn’t even know were divorced were like, “I had one when I was 22. Don’t tell anybody.” You’re like, “What the hell? What’s going on? Let’s just talk about it.”

Brandy:            {laughter} Yes.

Lyz:                  I do want to change that conversation because I do think it is an option. I remember one of the most radical things somebody told me. I had been in marriage therapy for about two years. We were going all the time. We were doing all the things. I remember looking at a friend and saying, “He’s not cheating on me. Nobody’s being hit,” which is how I was raised in that that was the only acceptable way to have a divorce. I said, “But I’m miserable. I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life. This is gonna be like a Shirley Jackson situation.” I don’t know if you know much about her marriage or life.

Brandy:            No.

Lyz:                  Google it. It’s not, perhaps, the model that anybody wants to live their life by.

Brandy:            Okay.

Lyz:                  Although she’s a genius and wonderful, and life is complicated. I’m not here to judge anybody. I remember saying to my friend, “What if I’m just miserable? Is being happy enough of a reason to blow up your life?” He was like, “Yes, it is.” That’s another thing we do. We tell women, “You don’t deserve to be happy. Life is a struggle. Only good things come from struggle and pain,” and, “Oh, this bad thing happened to you? You were sexually assaulted? Well, find the silver lining.”

Brandy:            Exactly.

Lyz:                  We have this narrative, this myth in America, that somehow your life is just kind of supposed to be miserable and bad, and you’re just supposed to kind of constantly turning lemons into lemonade. I’m like, “What if you just took the lemon and tossed it at the head of the person who gave it to you, and said, ‘I don’t fucking want your fucking lemons!’ so how about that for a change?” {laughter}

Brandy:            I love that. That’s like the burning it down theory that you’re talking about. I think you’re right. The happiness, that’s not nothing. That’s not little. It might even be one of the biggest things, but we’re made to feel, like you said, that we can only do it if he’s hitting us, if he’s having an affair on us, and if it’s all of these awful things. I know on Facebook and other social media there are moms groups, and this is happening right now. The mass evacuation of marriage seems to be happening. I mean, every day, there’s a post where a woman is saying, “I finally ended it today. I’m so scared. This feels awful. I’m second guessing.” Then, there are 100 comments from other women going, “The beginning is so hard, and I’ve never been happier in my life.” These women are reclaiming these parts of themselves and finding this equality which is actually something I want to ask you about. One of the things that stopped me when I was reading your article was this part where you were talking about what it was like after you were divorced, and you were living on your own. It said, “I also didn’t have to convince someone else to let me outsource household cleaning. In the end, I didn’t need to hire anyone at all because my house was cleaner. In renegotiating my life, I had negotiated a better deal for myself, and it was court ordered. I no longer begged to shift even some of the burden or childcare or housekeeping onto my husband. Our custody agreement mandated that he and I bear an equal share.” The part about your house being cleaner and not needing a house cleaner, I think all of us moms secretly think like, “If I lived alone, I would use one plate and one cup, and my trashcan wouldn’t need to be emptied for weeks.” You’re basically telling us that, “Yes! We are right about this.” The things that we need and the overwhelm of all the people’s stuff, when we’re by ourselves, goes away. Or even just us and our kids, there’s a certain amount that, for you, just went away that you didn’t even need the thing that you couldn’t even get in the first place.

Lyz:                  I grew up, like I said, one of eight kids, and then I went to college and lived with a roommate. Then, I got married. Except for one year in college, I had never lived on my own.

Brandy:            Okay.

Lyz:                  I had always believed, “Oh, I’m the messy one.” Although, that one year that I had was always actually pretty ridiculously tidy. I drive a lot of joy in having things organized. Right now, I have this cupboard where I have these perfect little plastic containers where my flour and sugar are, and it’s like the most beautiful thing to me. Sometimes, I just open it and look at it for a moment of Zen.

Brandy:            Oh, yes.

Lyz:                  Is that too much for your listeners? {laughter}

Brandy:            No, no.

Lyz:                  I was able to buy those tubs without somebody yelling at me about the cost. Anyway, I actually didn’t anticipate that my life would be cleaner. I was the one who moved out, and I set up this space. I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was actually, in the back of my mind, thinking, “Okay, I’ll have to eventually call the cleaning lady again because I’m still gonna need some help.” A week went by, and my floors were still kind of clean. I got one of those robot vacuums to clean it up.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  {laughter} Actually, I say I haven’t written, but I did kind of pitch it to the same editor. I was like, “Can I write an essay about how my only functioning relationship right now is with my robot vacuum?” {laughter}

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  She was like, “That’s a great one, but let’s do this one first.” So, robot vacuum love letters still forthcoming.

Brandy:            Oh, please. Yes, that sounds amazing. I think we can all relate to that.

Lyz:                  {laughter} That thing one time sucked up dog poop, and I still love it more than most people. It couldn’t help it

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  I was just like, “Oh, my counters are still clean. There’s no sticky residue. My bed is made.” It was this slow realization because I’ve been raised a woman and raised in a very conservative home where being clean and making food was part of our curriculum. I was like, “Oh, no. I’ve actually been primed to do this unconsciously. The problem wasn’t me. The problem was I was constantly following behind another person, cleaning up behind that person, and that person had been culturally primed not to see it.”

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  My ex brought his laundry home from college for his mom to do. He never noticed when the counter was sticky. I say this not to throw him under the bus in any sort of way. I’m just saying the truth.

Brandy:            No, I hear you. It’s about the conditioning.

Lyz:                  It is about the conditioning. There are so many good, wonderful men who do this as well. It sucks. The thing I hate the most is when somebody says, “I’m gonna leave a dish soaking in the sink.” I’m like, “You better fucking not. Not on my watch because I know what that means. I know it means you’re gonna leave it there for me to clean up later.”

Brandy:            Exactly.

Lyz:                  I think the one time I left a dish to soak in the sink post-divorce, I was worried about myself. I was like, “You’re doing the thing that you said not to! But it’s actually like a really dirty crock pot, and it does need to soak for a little while.” Then, I cleaned it the next morning.

Brandy:            {laughter} Oh, my God. I love the shame. The shame of the dirty dish.

Lyz:                  {laughter} Yeah.

Brandy:            I mean, it’s kind of triggering.

Lyz:                  Right. “Am I leaving this work for someone else? Oh, no. I’m the only one who has the work to do.”

Brandy:            Yes. Well, there was another important quote that you had that was about before you had divorced, and you were kind of looking at your life. You said, “We’d moved to Cedar Rapids for my husband’s dream job in 2005. The plan was always that eventually we’d move for me, but each year passed, and we never did. Once we had kids, even though his job was flexible and his boss was accommodating, I realized it would never be my turn.” I think this is a point that often goes overlooked or not talked about which is where you decide to live as a couple. My husband and I recently revisited this conversation. It’s interesting how you can make a choice at a certain era of your life, but then never return to reassess it. I know, for us, we’ve gone back and forth. We’ve moved and lived where I wanted to which he didn’t love. Then, we moved again to where he wanted to. I remember thinking to myself, and I think maybe telling a friend, “I’d rather live somewhere that makes my husband happy than live with an unhappy husband.” But it’s not so simple because then it feels like a trading back and forth of unhappiness unless you can both decide on a certain place that you both like. But how common is that that both people equally want to be in a certain place? There’s like a power dynamic there that when you’re living somewhere that someone wants to be and the other person doesn’t necessarily want to be, again, how do you rectify that? I was thinking about this as I was thinking about interviewing you, and I was wondering about reading that section. I was just thinking about my own life and my mom. I know that my mom moved from her friends and family who lived in Missouri, and then she moved out to Colorado because it was always my dad’s dream to live in Colorado. She was so close to her family, and I think she just accepted that it would be her dream too. But I often wonder what she would have chosen if she’d really had the choice. I think that this is one of those points that can kind of become like a little bit of an earthquake in a couple that you don’t even really notice is there. If you’re living somewhere for one person and the other person never gets their chance to maybe live where they want to live — and  you set down roots and kids in school, and sometimes it’s hard to then pull out of it. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t talk about.

Lyz:                  It is so hard to talk about because what’s a choice? I think, to go back to systemic issues, women are primed to think they’re making a choice when they’re really not.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  I think if you would have asked me in the beginning, and I’ve thought about this a lot, I would have said, “Of course, I’m making this choice of my own freewill,” but I didn’t have a choice. I mean, I felt like I was making a choice, but I didn’t. I wanted to stay in Minneapolis. That’s where my friends and my brother were. I have a big family. We all move around a lot, but my brother is 16 months younger than me. He’s one of my best friends. My two best friends from college lived there. It’s a bigger city. There were more opportunities. My ex’s family still lives there. I was like, “It’s just like the perfect place, and we can stay there.” Then, he was like, “Well, this is my dream job. Maybe, one day we’ll move back.” I was like, “Okay. Well, I love you, so this feels like a choice to me.” But did I have a choice? I mean, the choices were do it or don’t get married.

Brandy:            Right. That’s exactly right. You’re so right about that. We think we have a choice, but really, we sort of don’t because it’s all or nothing. It’s like an ultimatum. “Either you do this, or you don’t get married.”

Lyz:                  The thing with so many women “choosing to leave the workplace” and so many of them will go, “No, it was a choice.” I’m like, “Really? What was your other option? Your child, who needed extra help or had special needs, failing? That’s not a choice.” It’s a system that stacked up against you and then repackaged as a choice when literally you don’t have another choice. So, that’s my rant on choices.

Brandy:            It’s so right, though. We need to be we need to be reminded of that because I think that we forget. That’s kind of where I think my mom was. Maybe, she was game for like, “Let’s go see what Colorado has to offer us,” but thinking about these questions and thinking about that today, for the first time I was like, “What would my mom have wanted?” How wild is that? In my years as her daughter, I’ve never thought about what my mom really wanted there because I think she really would have loved to live near her family. I think we do that thing, and especially her generation did that thing, where it’s like, “Well, you go where your spouse goes.” My mom sometimes will open up and be really honest about her motherhood experience. Although, most of the time she kind of has these rose colored glasses about the whole thing, every once in a while, she’ll say something like, “When I had kids, I realized my life was no longer my own.” She has this very grave sound in her voice.

Lyz:                  Yeah.

Brandy:            I wonder about that. Also, what do you do if each of you wants to be in a different place? My husband and I have had this conversation. If you want to stay married, somebody’s going to have to give.

Lyz:                  Yeah. Women are so primed to be the givers. You’re talking about your mom, and my mom homeschooled eight children.

Brandy:            Oh, my gosh.

Lyz:                  She’s only once, in the time I’ve known her as a mother, had a job where she substitute taught. She’s trained as a teacher. She’s a very intelligent woman. I remember being 16 and fighting really hard to go on this trip with a friend through her school. We were gonna go to London and Paris. I was like, “I will do anything.” I ended up actually nannying for triplets the whole summer from like 5:00 am to like 5:00 pm. It was like, “That that poor mom,” but also like, “Poor me.” {laughter} But they were wonderful, and she was wonderful and gave me a lot of money that enabled me to afford this trip. I remember fighting with my mom about it and being like, “No. This is a thing. I can do this, and I want to do it. I want to go.” I love my mom. I’m not trying to throw her under the bus here, but I remember her snapping at me and being like, “What do you think I would have loved to have done?”

Brandy:            Oh, no.

Lyz:                  That was the first time in my life I had seen my mom as a human being. In my defense, like you said, mothers of that generation do not show themselves as human beings.

Brandy:            No, they do not.

Lyz:                  Because there’s too much at stake. If you sit there and you say, “Oh, maybe, I would have made things different,” in some ways, it’s like wishing away the lives of your children. I don’t think they want to do that. I sometimes tease my mom. I’m like, “If you want to stop that to perfect daughters (me and my sister), you never would have had to put up with this garbage.” {laughter} She’s always like, “Elizabeth! No, I would never! I love my children!” It’s like, “Sure, you do, but that Kathy, she causes a problem sometimes.”

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  Of course, I love all my siblings, and I would never wish away their lives.

Brandy:            Of course.

Lyz:                  But that’s the thing. If you open that, it never ends. It’s best not to open it. I remember that moment so often, and I think that’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind with my own life is to say, “What would I have done?” I want to live the kind of life where I look at my children, and I say, “No regrets. I don’t regret you. I don’t regret anything. I fought hard to make the world a place where you will also have no regrets.” Again, I’m not shaming my mom here, but I am saying that women deserve actual choices. We deserve to be the ones who are not making the sacrifices. Anytime anybody says that, there’s always like the one woman who will pop in and be like, “Well, my husband moved from my job.” You’re like, “Great. Look at the statistics. Statistically, that’s not the case, so while I’m very, very happy for you and I hope you have many, many boy children to populate the earth with those types of men, don’t ignore that this is a systemic issue.”

Brandy:            Exactly. Yes. That part about seeing our own mothers as human, that was something that I knew that I wanted to do differently. Again, not any shade on my own mom, but I felt almost like, “Oh, Mom. You should have for your own good.” I mean, I don’t know that she did damage to me by it, but for her own good it’s like, “Show us that you deserve a break. Show us that you deserve for us not to just expect that you’re going to make a meal when we can make it ourselves.” There are all these things, and I felt like that was really important for me to do for my own kids so they saw me as a human being. The, the question is like, “Well, what’s too human?” Always on the podcast, I’m like, “There’s this fine line, and I’m always trying to get right in the middle, and I don’t know that it exists.” I think that that’s important because then it allows them to be human when they go forward. I don’t think that there’s any downside to people showing their humanity. I think, again, probably to a certain extent, but I think that that only serves everybody. Then, maybe our kids will fight for our rights and fight for other people who deserve to have rights. I just think it’s a more humane way to live rather than sort of skirting the issue and not talking about it because then maybe it’ll go away or it’s too painful. We have to talk about these things.

Lyz:                  Well, we save no one’s life when we nail mothers on a cross.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Lyz:                  All we do is just nail mothers on our cross, and that’s what we continually do. We need to stop, and we need to take your own selves off of our murder cross and say, “This isn’t getting us anywhere.” Again, we need to advocate for systemic change because these are systemic issues. One of the things that I’ve also loved about divorce is my kids see up close and personal not just their dad doing work for them. They see him making their lunches, they see him making them dinner, but they also see me doing work that they wouldn’t have seen before. They’re nine and seven, and very recently, I was asking them to clean the kitchen. I was like, “Tonight’s the night where we’re gonna instruct on cleaning the kitchen. Here’s the right way to wipe the counter. Here’s all the things, and here’s how we do it.” My daughter was like, “This is taking so long. When this is all done, all we have to do is make our lunches. It’s gonna take all night.” I looked at her, and I go, “Yeah. Who do you think does it?” She’s like, “Oh. Okay.”

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  It’s like, “There is no invisible lunch fairy in this home. It is me, and it is you. There’s no invisible laundry fairy. It is all of us.” I really appreciate that I no longer have the ability to hide that from them because when Dad would come home and be the fun dad and then read books while I cleaned the kitchen and started laundry and started lunches, that labor was invisible.

Brandy:            Right.

Lyz:                  But now, the labor can no longer be invisible, and they see it and understand it. That changes our conversations. It changes my fundamental approach to parenting. I make them make their lunches. They fold clothes.

Brandy:            Right. Yes.

Lyz:                  It’s mostly for my survival. It’s not because I’m like, “Oh, I’m such a good mom.” It’s mostly like, “Oh, my God. Somebody, empty this dishwasher because the dog just puked.” {laughter} “The cat brought a chipmunk into the house. Help!” That’s a thing that happened recently.

Brandy:            {laughter} Oh, gosh. You’re so right. These are important things. I think it’s so valuable for our kids. That moment that you had where you said, “Who do you think does this,” that interrupts the script of conditioning that’s like, “This magic fairy that happens to be a female does all of these things.” Like, for your son and your daughter, they both had this moment of like, “Wait a minute.” It’s like The Matrix. All of a sudden, they saw like, “Oh, wait a minute. What’s really happening behind here is this.” I feel like that is so, so valuable. I think our kids need it, and I think it’s one of the only ways that they’re going to grow up and not continue some of the problematic conditioning and gender norms that we have.

Lyz:                  The other side to that is they see me as a working person. I realize this isn’t with all jobs, but I love that there have been times when I’ve had to sit my kids down and be like, “Be quiet. Be on your iPads. I have to interview somebody,” and they hear me do it. They hear me asking questions. I’ll be like, “Time for bad. We got to go to bed on time because I have to finish a chapter tonight.” I try to talk to them about my work. One, I really just enjoy talking to my children. Hopefully, this isn’t annoying. I enjoy their company, but I enjoy their company because I’m not burnt out on it because there’s an equal parenting mode.

Brandy:            Ah, yes! That’s everything!

Lyz:                  That said, I mean, I think that’s a little bit of the privilege there with that. They get to see a woman being a mom, also working, and also handling the other things that I handle. I mean, they don’t know the amount of hate mail that I get.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  Although, I did take them to a vigil for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was going to speak at it. Of course, we’re all outside, socially distanced, and I gave my kids like a big, giant blanket. I was like, “Sit on this blanket and don’t move. If somebody talks to you, keep your masks on.”

Brandy:            {laughter}

Lyz:                  When I got up to speak, somebody in the back booed me very loudly.

Brandy:            Oh.

Lyz:                  As is their right, but it caused a lot of interesting questions on the way home. My daughter was like, “Why would somebody treat another person like that? Why would they do that to you?”

Brandy:            Aww.

Lyz:                  Again, it was easy to contextualize in the context of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life. We had a bigger conversation about women and opinions and everything, but I only brought them to that because I had no other choices. I didn’t have childcare. There wasn’t anybody at home. I’m so glad I did.

Brandy:            Yeah. Wow.

Lyz:                  My town was hit by a derecho which is kind of like an inland hurricane, and in the aftermath of that, my life always gets crazier the more crazy the world is because I also work as a newspaper columnist. At some point, I had to throw them in the car with me, so I could drive out to interview somebody. Then, my friend came to pick them up and take them out for lunch, but they saw that. Again, it’s tough, but I don’t regret any of that because they see someone making it work. God, if I can model anything to my kids, it’s that you can have a life that is complex and beautiful and interesting and is not defined by how sticky your counters are.

Brandy:            I love that because then you’re like, “And also tonight, we’re going to learn the right way to clean a sticky counter.” {laughter}

Lyz:                  Look, there is a right way and a wrong way to wipe a counter. I swear to God, if you do not know how to scoop the crap into the palm of your hands, if you’re just dumping it on the floor, then you have no business talking to me or being inside of my home. {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, I fully support that stance. Oh, my gosh. When they just brush it off the table, and you’re like, “Oh, my God! Why would you think that was okay?!” {laughter}

Lyz:                  Why did you give so much work for our Beatbo, our robot vacuum, because he has a name. My son’s hands are so small, because he’s kind of a little guy, that he’s like, “Well, I was trying, but it just fell out of my hands.” {laughter}

Brandy:            Aww, that’s adorable.

Lyz:                  I know. What a sucker I am to fall for that hand too small excuse.

Brandy:            {laughter} But it’s also real. I want to make sure that we talk about what I mentioned at the beginning. Do you think that it is possible for marriages to be equal?

Lyz:                  I wouldn’t do the work I do if I didn’t think we could make the world better. I say that to like vaguely answer your question. {laughter}

Brandy:            I know. I’m like, “That’s like the not answer.”

Lyz:                  That’s the politician answer. {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, I feel like what you want to say is, “Hell no,” but then you’re like, “But I think for some people, the world is a great place.” {laughter}

Lyz:                  I think, one day, it will be more possible if instead of looking at our individual lives, we start looking at the system as a whole. That is a problem with motherhood books. I love a lot of motherhood books, but a problem with them is they focus only on the individual and not the system. So, I say, “Okay. Yes. I hope one day it is possible for us to have truly equal marriages without the benefit of a court mandate.” But until that happens, do what you have to do to survive, first of all, because we’re living in a time when we need you to survive, but also make your conversations about the system. Vote for the people who are gonna change the system. Don’t vote for the people who are going to give you a better tax break if you hire a nanny. That’s just for you. Try to change the system because you don’t know what’s gonna happen to your kids.

Brandy:            Exactly.

Lyz:                  It’s not even about your kids. Care about other people.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  Just do it. Just try. Care about other people. My thing is that I hope it’s possible. I’m living my life as if one day it’s possible. I have some real questions about whether what I believe is true or not, but that doesn’t matter. I’m gonna keep fighting for it anyway, and I hope other people do. I hope that our fights look like, especially in this moment, especially in pandemic, especially — I mean, from my town and so many other places in America have dealt with natural disasters. Now, we’re struggling with school. Now, women are being forced out of the workplace. Please stay in the workforce. Please, if you can. Please. Also, we have a chance right now to rebuild, and we have a chance to make even better argument for the fact that motherhood in America is too big to fail. We need a systemic investment in it for all people, and then you can go to your marriage therapist and learn how to lean in. But until then, let’s make this fight about more than just our individual misery, and I think we have a real shot at it. I think we do.

Brandy:            Right. I hear you on that. I think, because there’s the macrocosm and the microcosm, on the macro level, yes. I’m with you about the systemic. Then, on the individual, I know that my husband and I sometimes say like, “God, I wish I didn’t like you so much,” because then we could get a divorce. We both would get a break, and we both have these cool apartments. I know that this is like a romanticizing of privilege, and there’s so much that goes with divorce that is not great and does not feel good and is stressful. So, I don’t mean to downplay any of that, but it’s this interesting idea of like, “How broken are things that couples who love each other and enjoy each other, are like ‘God, if we could only get divorced so that we had some breathing room.’” I actually think it’s an interesting idea. I mean, you’d have to have money, and we wouldn’t have the money to do it. I almost think you could rent them out. This should be something in the future where you can like rent out these rooms. My friends and I have all joked, like, “We should get an apartment, and then we split it.” I mean, of course, we could never afford to do it, but each of us could get a certain day. Then, you have this tidy space where you can go and think your thoughts. What I do want to say, and I wrote an article about it for Filter Free Parents, is about why it’s so important to get this break and this space away. One of the things that I think is so helpful is finding these ways. Of course, if you have a spouse who isn’t supportive, it’s exponentially harder, but finding a way to get these little spaces that you can without having to get divorced and if you love and respect the person that you’re with who is doing a mostly great job at the partnership, who you don’t want to fire on a daily basis, it’s so important, and it’s so hard. That’s why it always kills me with self-care because it’s like, “Well, wait a minute. To get self-care, I have to beg somebody to take my kids, and then I have to make up for the time that I’m gone.” That’s not actually self-care. Anyway, I could go on about self-care forever.

Lyz:                  Well, I think you’re hitting on an interesting issue because at its core, marriage is simply a contract. I was raised by a corporate lawyer. The contract should be up for renegotiation. What have you just looked at this person and said, “Okay. At this point next year, we’re gonna sit down, and we’re gonna look at our contract. We’re gonna see if it’s working for us, and if it’s not working for us, we’re gonna suggest some changes. Maybe, I get Tuesday, Thursday, or whatever from five to nine where I’m gone.” Obviously, privilege plays into this and jobs and also there’s a pandemic.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  But what if you approached your marriage as a contract and said, “I love you. That is not the issue. The issue is that I’m breaking from all of this.” Of course, they probably are breaking too.

Brandy:            Right.

Lyz:                  “So, what can we renegotiate here to where we are both getting our needs met?” I think it’s worth it because for centuries, marriage was simply a money contract where women were basically just exchanged for money.

Brandy:            Yeah, right.

Lyz:                  It’s only recently that marriage has become about love. I think marriage should be about love, by the way. I also think, at its core, it is a contract. Nowhere in the contract does it say, “You have to do all the work. Sit down, make a list of the chores, talk about who does what, and be practical about it in the same way that you’d be practical about a budget.”

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  I think that that’s a conversation worth having if your marriage is a marriage worth saving. That’s also something you have to decide for yourself all on your own. Nobody can decide it for you. That’s also worth keeping in mind. Yeah, marriage is just a contract. Try to get a better deal. Negotiate.

Brandy:            Right. It’s like, “Do a refi. Let’s do a refi on this.”

Lyz:                  Yes!

Brandy:            Also, if you can’t have the conversation with your spouse, I think that’s also something that you might need to know. You might need to know, “If I can’t even come to them with this and if I already feel like I’m walking on eggshells or they’ll laugh me out of the room,” that’s a piece of information you might want to know.

Lyz:                  Well, that’s a big thing because if you feel like, “Well, I don’t even feel safe having this conversation,” I think that that’s something you should sit down with a therapist and talk about. Whatever else happens in a marriage, no matter what you think about it, no matter your religious background, you should be able to have those conversations with that person without feeling afraid and without feeling like you’re going to lose everything.

Brandy:            Absolutely.

Lyz:                  If that’s a reality, by the way, I recommend the book The Gift of Fear. It just kind of talks about trusting your gut and your instinct and not to gaslight yourself about situations that don’t feel good. I would encourage every woman to read that, regardless of who they are, who they’re married to, or whatever situation they’re in. If you feel a certain way, it’s not for nothing. Don’t gaslight yourself. Listen to yourself. Sit with your feelings. Talk to a therapist. If you can afford a therapist, talk to a friend. Tell your friend, “Okay, I’m trying to work out these issues.” Do what you have to do to live in a space where, if anything else, you can at least have the honest conversations that lead to a better life.

Brandy:            Absolutely and put yourself around other people who are having honest conversations. I mean, obviously, that’s I think the MO of my entire work and podcast and book. All of that is to be real about it so that we don’t keep gaslighting ourselves so that we can really see what we’re dealing with so that we can be happy and so we can make informed decisions. Lyz, where can people find you and your books?

Lyz:                  You can find me online at http://www.lyzlenz.com. I’ve got a little website that links to my books and some of my writing. I’m also pretty active on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @lyz. You can find my books wherever books are sold. I highly recommend a local independent bookstore, but no shame. We all gotta get books however we gotta get books.

Brandy:            Yes.

Lyz:                  You can find them on all your major retailers. If your audience doesn’t know, http://www.bookshop.org is a great online space where you can get books, but it supports independent booksellers. So, win, win, win for everyone.

Brandy:            Yes. Lyz, thank you so much for talking with me today, and thank you for being so outspoken and open about the realities of motherhood and marriage and divorce. This kind of transparency is exactly what we were talking about. This is what we need and what other women need to break that gaslighting that many of us grew up with this plus there’s some conditioning there and all of that. So, you are part of the solution, and thank you so much.

Lyz:                  Thank you so much for having me. This was so fun.

Brandy:            I know. I feel like we could talk for days. {laughter}

Lyz:                  For 50 million days.

Brandy:            Coincidentally enough, as I was editing this episode, my social media feed was going nuts with women at the end of their ropes with the partnership of their marriage. I kept seeing the themes Lyz and I talked about here showing up in post after post. Maybe it’s just the groups I’m on, you know, honest women and all {laughter}, but this seems to be the norm these days. I feel like the anomaly because my husband shows up for me, and not just for our kids, but for me. It takes a lot of conversation — uncomfortable conversation — to get to a mutually beneficial partnership. It’s not always easy or good or, of course, perfect. It also takes a partner who is committing to respecting you, who listens, and who tries their best and is wired to do that. Like, you aren’t having to rewire them completely because I don’t think that’s a thing. Also, I was having a conversation with someone else about the work of marriage. It’s this idea we hear about, but I think we all have different versions of what that work actually is. I think that the work is collaborating with your partner so that both people’s needs are met — their actual deep down needs that each person can say what’s true for them and be heard, even if it’s embarrassing and even if it seems needy, that both people are working toward that together supporting each other. I think there are people who consider the work of marriage to be trying not to be irritated with their partner. So, basically, trying to lie to themselves. I’m not sold that that is the work of marriage. To me, yes, marriage is work, but it’s not few tilework. I’m not an expert, but I do have a super communicative marriage, for better or for worse.

Brandy:            If you enjoy this podcast, you will like my book, Adult Conversation: A Novel. It’s a darkly comedic story about a frazzled modern mother and her therapist who go on a Thelma and Louise style road trip to Vegas looking for pieces of themselves that motherhood and marriage swallowed up while they are also tested and tempted to make life altering choices. Yes, there are strippers. There’s weed. One Amazon reviewer said, “From the very first page, I was howling and had to turn and read it to my husband. It was my life. The author’s ability to evoke the real, raw experience of motherhood from the euphoric highs and the oh-so-lows is beyond anything I’ve read before. The grounding reality makes the engaging storyline exciting and cathartic as you feel yourself going along for the ride. Get this book, and share it with your mom friends now.” As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.