September 5, 2010
I am faced with the self-inflicted task of reviewing a new “gender” relationship guide for a sister site. Oy! Haven’t we seen this kind of thing many, many times before? Uh huh! (Read: Valspeak.)
The problem – aside from the misuse of the word “gender” in place of “sex” – is that, much like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, that classic from the vault of self-improvement literature, this new guide makes use of rigid stereotypes. Hey, stereotypes come from somewhere! Far be it from me to contradict that notion. But as I began reading some of the scenarios in the text – “Couple 1: After the Party,” for instance, when a hetero couple has an argument about how the woman is upset about something and has been “pouty” without explaining the reason behind her mood, I realized that my husband and I are guilty of that exact conversation…in reverse.
How is that possible? I mean, the author of the text has a post graduate degree and decades of professional couples’ counseling experience under her belt. There must be something wrong with my gender. It doesn’t correspond to my sex. I am not behaving like other women, it appears; nor is my husband behaving like other men. We are therefore not feminine and masculine respectively, but have switched roles. (For clarification, the book is about relations between the sexes and not the genders because the author is claiming that men and women act with certain reliable patterns rather than claiming that feminine/masculine people do. Ergo, she is basing her advice on the assumption of gender on both sexes: women are feminine [passive-aggressive, nagging, oversensitive] and men are masculine [insensitive, daft, acquiescing] by default and consistently. She’s really talking about how one personality type relates to another, but claims to be talking about how one sex relates to the other.)
What is wrong with me? What is wrong with my husband? I’m the one who’s always asking him to explain his moods. I’m the one who usually says “whatever you want” when it comes to picking restaurants and movies. He’s the one who pouts and doesn’t explain himself. And, while I would describe myself as “oversensitive” – one who has feelers out in preemptive self-defense to pick up on signals that often aren’t even there to be read, he’s the one who often fails to alert me to the little insensitive things I’ve said along the marriage path: like when I tell him that his pants are too big and sloppy looking, or when I correct his attempts at yoga on the Wii Fit. He bottles them up and then gets cranky many days later. And I, like a puppy who just wet her bed, tilt my head to one side and genuinely think I understand what he’s upset about when really I’ve been listening to another language: the language spoken by a person who is frustrated with me for things I said many months ago.
Of course, I hold onto to some things too: I’ve never been able to let it slide completely that he has a longtime friend who invited my husband to his wedding but did not include me. (The couple was trying to save money, so they asked friends to come alone. But when it came time for dancing, there were tables of singles sitting around who didn’t feel comfortable dancing with people who weren’t their significant others.) So my husband flew across the country to a wedding without me. Tacky? Uh huh! Anyway…
The difference between my resentment and his is that mine rears its ugly head right away and relentlessly for several hours/days/weeks/months/years until it’s out of my system. But my husband will go the same period of time without telling me what’s bothering him and then explode one day with a laundry list of small insults, which usually culminate in one precise character flaw belonging to me: my expectations are too high.
What expectations are those?
- I’d like it if he’d organize his shoes. He has a half-dozen pairs. They can usually be found strewn all across the vestibule waiting to trip somebody.
- I have asked him repeatedly to use the word “well” as an adverb instead of the word “good.” (I mean, he is a literate person with a great career…he might run into somebody who’s a grammar nerd like me and offend them too.)
- He leaves drawers and cabinets open or ajar. This is a daily occurrence.
- His socks never match each other and many of his undershirts are ripped and stained, which he doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind.
- He says one thing but means another. He says: “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.” Translation: “You’ll do it in three weeks when you get tired of reminding me.” He says: “I’ll be down in 10 minutes.” Translation: “I’ll be down in 45 to 50 minutes, or whenever I can tear myself away from work.” He says: “I’ll make dinner tonight.” Translation: “Would you like ketchup on your fish sticks?” or ” Do mashed potatoes count as a vegetable?” or “What toppings do you want on the pizza I’m ordering?”
I would never make the assumption that all men, married or single, leave their shoes around; or don’t talk good; or fail to close things; or don’t take care of their clothes; or don’t say what they mean. Not every kitchen has a row of condiments against the back-splash that are easy to reach yet out of the way. So not every husband fails to put the PAM back when he’s done spraying a pan. Most of the time, that scenario plays out like this: I sigh and put the can back inline. Once, I mentioned it to him – I expect you to put things back where they belong, I said; and he told me he doesn’t even see the can left out. It’s not in his realm of consciousness.
Certainly, not every wife is a neat freak and every husband a slob. I know a couple that are engineered in the exact opposite way: she’s the terribly messy one. And opposites don’t always attract: there could be a pair of perfectly marvelous and affectionate slobs married and living just next door (probably the same people who have a very powerful sub-woofer, God love ‘em!). Even though biology does dictate certain traits for each sex – male testosterone makes for physical strength in many cases and female estrogen can make for moodiness, being one or the other sex does not imply adherence to the socially accepted gender binary. Not every man is a well-intentioned simpleton and not every woman a lunatic shrew.
The title of this essay is “My wonderful/lazy/thoughtful/crazy husband.” Let me explain that despite his shortcomings, my husband is primarily wonderful. He doesn’t beat or rape me, which should be a given, but is not – so I mention it, even though it doesn’t earn him extra points. He often tells me how wonderful/loving/beautiful/smart/strong I am. He sometimes brings me flowers, which he thinks to pick up on his way home from a grueling day at the office. He remembers to say “I love you” every day, even if I’ve already removed my makeup. And, when at the supermarket, he always returns the grocery carriage to its nearest stall so that it doesn’t block traffic in the parking lot. In short: he is a lovely person!
At the end of the day, shouldn’t every relationship guide be about helping two different people get along rather than reducing people to the expectations of their respective sexes? Shouldn’t the book tell of scenarios between “Person One” and “Person Two” rather than “Man” and “Woman?” Because aren’t we all special…if not in the grand scheme of things, at least to the person(s) who love(s) us?