He's a Husband, Not a Child or a Houseplant

By the time I met John, my co-worker Paula’s husband, I was aware of every single one of his faults. I knew the last five stupid things he’d done (forgotten to do the dishes as he’d promised, failed to mail a birthday card to her sister, purchased the wrong kind of soup at the grocery store, left the car unlocked with his cell phone in it, and didn’t pick up his wet towel on the bathroom floor). From the way she’d described the guy to me, I was shocked he wasn’t openly drooling.

We were at a mutual friend’s wedding, sitting around at a banquet table, and I was next to the (as Paula often called him) “total moron.” He was talking to me about football, one arm wrapped around the back of his wife’s chair, and though he didn’t flash a Nobel Prize in physics at me, he knew quarterback stats, he was polite, and he couldn’t say enough good things about his wife.

And about halfway through our conversation she turned around and snapped her fingers at him.

“Go get me a drink,” she said, then turned back to the talk she was having with a girl on the other side of her.

Jesus Christ in a prom dress!

Ladies: A man, once and for all, is not a pet.

He may act like one from time to time, lolling around in the bed, cute as a button all curled up on the couch, looking at you sheepishly after he’s knocked something over. But if you ask him to fetch and he has any self-respect at all, he’ll tell you to fetch it your own damn self.

There’s a whole cottage industry built around the caricature of the married or shacked-up male as lovable oaf, helpless in the face of the dishwasher, needing our feminine intervention to make straight the domestic way. America’s most odious sitcom, “According to Jim,” features each week a way the dim-bulb husband gets himself into trouble with some household appliance or commonplace chore and has to be extricated from his predicament by his calm, cool, collected wife.

Greeting cards depict men as farting, clueless, tool-obsessed creatures who are just as likely to burn down the house as they are to cook an omelet. Every third e-mail forward from my mother is some variation on how men just can’t put the toilet seat down, har dee har har.

Girls, why do we do this to them?

Men may laugh at such characterizations, but they’re not universally amusing. Marty Friedman, author of “Men in Marriage,” finds the whole thing insulting.

“You can’t do an advertisement where women are batty or ditzy or look stupid and the man swoops in and fixes everything,” he points out. “You hardly ever see a woman made fun of in that way by a man.”

It doesn’t exactly reflect well on women, either, this stereotype. If he’s a doofus, you’re the one who married a doofus. If you want security and protection, get a bigger dog. If you want a man, you need to do more than feed him and give him commands and then bitch to your book-club friends that he doesn’t analyze Jane Austen with you.

“It promotes a lot of hostility and disrespect,” Friedman says. “Complaining about your husband is not a form of recreation; it’s unhealthy behavior, and it’s destructive.”

But what else are you supposed to talk to your girlfriends about, right? After all, intimacy—true, relevant conversation about the things that matter to us women—that we reserve for each other. All of our joys and discontentments, we save for our circle of friends, at least if the culture of female superiority is to be believed.

“Sex and the City,” the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, “Steel Magnolias” – those women weren’t in relationships with men. They were passionately in love with each other. Men were sex toys and excuses to wear shoes, that’s all. Anything important, they talked over with each other, because the boys couldn’t possibly be expected to understand.

How is that any less sexist than Victorian men shuffling women off to embroider in the parlor while they talk politics over brandy and cigars?

Maybe it’s my own biases that make it impossible for me to understand why anybody would be with someone they don’t respect or want to talk to. My first date with my husband lasted five hours; we met for lunch and started chatting; next thing we knew, it was dinner, and we hadn’t even discussed religion or politics yet.

Sure, there are things I’m more comfortable talking about with my girlfriends. Tampons, for example, is a topic I wouldn’t bore him with. The indignity of the O.B. brand is not something I’d expect him to care about.

But when there’s family drama brewing, he’s the one I talk to. If I’ve had a fight with my boss, he’s the one who hears about it. “Project Runway”? We could be here for hours. He’s my friend, first and foremost. While I’ll gladly tell a silly story about something he did, there’s nothing I say about him to my girlfriends that I wouldn’t tell him to his face.

I have the same expectations of him, by the way. Nothing irritates me more than when one of his acquaintances starts bitching on about “the wife” or “the boss.” (That being his life partner and not his work supervisor. Again: How is it okay for you to be his boss? You’d slap him silly if he said he was yours.) If he has a problem with me, I expect to be the first one to hear about it. Otherwise we’re out to dinner, and I’m looking around the table, wondering what those people heard about me when I wasn’t there.

That’s no way to have a healthy life. You wouldn’t put up with a girlfriend who talked shit about you while you were at the bar or buying cigarettes, and you (hopefully) wouldn’t talk shit about your friends. So don’t talk shit about your guy, plain and simple.

My 36-year-old friend Karen puts it very simply when asked about her relationship with her longtime boyfriend: “It sounds corny as hell, but it really is the golden rule. I wouldn’t like it if he talked to me like a 5-year-old, so I don’t talk to him that way.” Because, after all, there’s nothing about fetching in those standard wedding vows—and let’s keep it that way.

– Allison Hantschel


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