I attend a congregation where both the men and the women are invited to light the Shabbos candles, even though traditionally, it is women who do candle lighting. I never join, and don’t like being asked. I am curious about your thoughts about the matter. Allow me to explain.
The candle lighting on Shabbos is traditionally done by women. Only women can bring in sufficient light and warmth into a home. I accept that I am missing that in my life, and am trying to make changes that will better enable marriage at some point. Changes I should have made earlier in my life. But I’m trying to make them now. Still, I’m not going to pretend that I am not lacking that warmth and light, or that I can create that myself. I know it doesn't really work like that.
You do not need to light the Shabbat candles. There are congregations, of course, where you would not be asked to light candles, but I am assuming there is a good reason - or many reasons - why you choose to be where you are, so my question for you is how to engage in your community in a way that feels authentic and meaningful. You could subtly recuse yourself during this one ritual act, but I wonder if there is room in the congregation for you to honestly and openly discuss the issue.
I think that your reasons for opting out, for deferring to the women in the community, are worthy of discourse among the people with whom you are gathering to pray. Are women the only ones capable of bringing in light and warmth? Well, I know there are some women who would not bring in that light, and there are men who are capable of providing that warmth.
Though, in my home, we do follow a more traditional paradigm: I am the one who lights the candles and I embrace this act and many of the traditional roles (which some might call “retro”) of being a wife and a mother. I believe that these responsibilities hold great power. I carried two pregnancies, birthed two healthy children, and dealt with the hormonal aftermath, twice. It feels less political - and more personal and spiritual - when I acknowledge that, in my marital partnership, there are differences between me and my husband. Ones that feel so undeniable that the acceptance of distinguished rituals feel like an organic extension of that; this is what feels true and authentic in my home.
Of course, there is more to your question than the discomfort that you express surrounding candle lighting. You are seeking a partnership with a woman, one whom you hope will illuminate your life. And you are trying to change and grow in a way to make space for this to happen. That is beautiful. Part of this growth might be pushing yourself to express openly, and with candor, the questions that you have about egalitarian rituals.
You are trying to cultivate more light in your life, Unlit. And this involves being honest with yourself and those who you are inviting into the most sacred acts in your life. Even if you arrive at a respectful difference of opinion, you may feel more comfortable once you do this.
I believe that true egalitarianism leaves room for these differences. Own your commitment to tradition amidst a setting that explores change.
Let it blaze.