If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon
Living with and Loving the TV-Addicted, Sex-Obsessed, Not-So-Handy Man You Married
"Hilarious, smart, and utterly addicting. Watch out, Nora Ephron." -Valerie Frankel
Jenna McCarthy presents an uproarious but insightful peek behind the curtains at the unholy state of matrimony. With ballsy wit and bawdy humor, she explores everything from male domestic idiocy and the frustrating misfires in spousal communication to how to stay true to the peskiest of vows: forsaking all others. Part in-your-face guide, part brutal confession, this book is a must-read manifesto on surviving marriage in an age when everyone seems to live forever and getting a divorce is as easy as ordering a latte.
If love means never having to say you're sorry, marriage means always having to say everything twice.
Just last week, a newsletter I read regularly arrived in my inbox with a headline heralding this terrifying bit of news: Communication Key to Good Marriage. Heart racing, I clicked through to the story, vastly relieved to discover that it was referring to a recent study conducted by the National Association of Advertisers looking at the "marriage" between client and agency. I mean, can you imagine if they'd been talking about men and women and the actual holy sacrament of matrimony? (The study also pointed out the beneﬁts of having an objective third party in the room, which would certainly come in handy in the domestic arena. "Why don't you ask her if that's what I said, asshole.")
Maybe it's just me. Maybe my relationship is truly unique in its never-ending struggle over the basic exchange of ideas and information. Remember that old Far Side cartoon, the one with the guy talking to his dog? Under the ﬁrst picture is the caption WHAT YOU SAY TO YOUR DOG, and the speech bubble coming out of the guy's mouth reads something like this: "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage or else!" Under the next picture, which is identical to the ﬁrst, there's the caption WHAT YOUR DOG HEARS; that bubble has this inside it: "Blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…"
Now I'm not calling my husband a dog exactly, but seriously, we do seem to have a hell of a time relaying ideas to one another. For many, many years, I operated on the assumption that Joe simply has a smaller capacity for both using and processing words than I do. If you want indisputable proof that my theory was wrong, ask him for details about the collapse of the S&L industry or the history of the Raiders or the plight of the beautiful but endangered red-shouldered hawk or anything else he's passionate and knowledgeable about, and he'll chew your ear until it's bloody. But if you want to know how he feels when we get denied the bank loan we desperately want, or what sort of legacy he hopes to leave behind when he's gone, or how he thinks his parents' divorce ultimately aﬀected his ability to foster and maintain lasting, meaningful relationships, good luck getting a single intelligible nugget out of him. If someone came out with Conversational CliﬀsNotes for Relationships, I'm sure my husband would happily buy the entire series.
In addition to his aversion to verbalizing matters of the heart, Joe tends to be extremely stingy (he'd probably say "economical," but the divide over semantics is another episode of Dr. Phil) with his syllables when it comes to basic, everyday chitchat. Whereas I am not merely fond of but one might say driven to lengthy discourse, my husband holds on to his words as if they were hundred-dollar bills and he's hovering on the brink of bankruptcy. This verbal imbalance frequently results in exchanges in our home that sound a lot like this:
JOE: "Did you order the Oﬃce Max stuﬀ?"
In my multitasking mind, this is not a yes/no question. Sure, maybe the bottom line is that I haven't ordered the god-damned supplies as of this particular moment in time, but there are mitigating circumstances! Explanatory details! Titillating shades of expository gray! The shortest answer I could possibly give is that I haven't (and I'd be happy to explain why) but I will (and allow me to tell you when). Alas, my listening-impaired husband doesn't want a story; he wants an answer. A simple, clear-cut, one-word, yes-or-no answer. And while I understand this on a fundamental level, that tiny detail kicks my ass every single time.
"At Least You're Not Married to Him"
My husband starts all of his sentences with the word no. Even when he is agreeing with me, he will say "No…" It's like a transition word for him between thoughts or sentences. It's totally annoying.
It's taken me many frustrating years to accept the fact that my husband believes "Yes" is an acceptable answer to questions such as "Should we stay at your dad's or in a hotel next month?" or "Do you want pork loin or chicken cacciatore tonight?" For the longest time I accused him of being passive- aggressive, but the reality is there's nothing aggressive about his typical sort of reply at all. It's 100 percent passive—and for the most part absent of malice—because he truly doesn't give a shit where we stay or what we eat. And the thing is, for reasons unknown to me and probably most women who aren't scientists studying the social-anthropological motivations behind universal female drives, I want him to give a shit. If he loved me, he'd understand I'm tired of making every mundane domestic decision and at least pretend to care, I silently seethe. The thought bubble over his head, of course, would probably read, What's love got to do with it?
If he didn't love me, would he have built me that kick-ass walk-in closet without even demanding a single square foot of real estate inside it where he might stash a handful of socks? Would he patrol our darkened street every other night making enthusiastic kissing noises in an eﬀort to lure home the cat he doesn't really care for because he knows I can't sleep if she's not in the house? Would he agree to spend Christmas Eve sleeping on scratchy, ill-ﬁtting sheets draped over a saggy air mattress just so that I can spend the holiday with one or another of my wacky relatives? Of course not. He loves me, but the truth is he couldn't care less where we stay or what we eat. C'est la vie. Or at least, c'est ma vie.
"At Least You're Not Married to Him"
My husband is a major pessimist! No matter how positive things are going, he can find the negative in it. Instead of saying that something is going to go well, he talks about everything that could possibly go wrong.
Sadly, the mere fact of Joe's devotion does not make conversations like this any less maddening:
ME: "How was basketball tonight?"
Because I write about relationships a lot, I get a ton of press releases on the subject. The headline on a recent one, sent out to announce the results of a series of studies, boldly proclaimed, "Women write emotional e-mails while men prefer short, straightforward ones." This is news? Did the "researchers" spend actual money to come to this shocking conclusion? Or did one of them merely extrapolate when she noticed that her own inbox was ﬁlled with spousal responses that contained nothing but the letter K (Think, "Want to go out for dinner tonight?" "K"), as if the sender might be suggesting he is far too busy and important to go to the laborious lengths of typing out the entire word Okay?
Communication experts point out that conversationally, in addition to their desire to share excruciatingly minute details, women tend to key in on similarities ("My kid/mom/dog/housekeeper/ass fat does that, too!"), while men pretty much take everything they hear as a challenge ("Your kid/mom/dog/housekeeper/ass fat does that? Big deal—listen to what mine does!"). These same professionals insist that the way to motivate and persuade people of either sex is to talk about things they care about in ways that matter to them. Far as I can tell, that would mean the preceding conversation would have worked out swimmingly for Joe had I just put it this way:
"Want to tell me all about basketball while I give you a blowjob?"
Here's the irony of this ubiquitous situation: Advice on bridging the titanic communication gap between men and women has become its own billion-dollar industry. The category pioneer, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, is no longer just a book, it's an empire, complete with online magazine, dating service, wellness retreats, seminars, CDs, DVDs, personal coaching, franchise opportunities, even a supplement line—because perhaps the sexes would ﬁnally get along if men would just get a little more choline bitartrate in their diets while women simultaneously upped their intake of ginger root and boron.
Call me cynical, but I'm thinking that if his-and-hers vitamins were the answer, we'd have read about it in Shape or seen an investigative Consumer Alert segment on Dateline. The gals at The View would be all over that, don't you think? Your favorite bloggers would be blabbing about it, your hairdresser would already be hawking it right at her station, and Oprah would resurrect her beloved show for one glorious encore where she would interview happily supplementing couples and then bequeath cases of the stuﬀ to her audiences, packaged generously in the trunks of their new Mercedes-Benz sport coupes, not that I'm bitter. Picture the news teasers: "Groundbreaking new supplement fosters satisfying communication between men and women!" Who among you wouldn't tune in at six?
Alas, we don't need fancy vitamins, because I think I have the answer. I have actually ﬁgured out how women—the doers in most relationships—can turn the conversational tide without their partner's consent or cooperation. I know, we all want the guys to step up and "own" their part in our collective relational dysfunction. But life is short, and really, isn't the ﬁnal result more important than how you get there? Because I believe it is, I present to you my radically simple, three- step process for successful marital communication:
Albert Einstein, the original genius, is reported to have deﬁned insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting diﬀerent results. Which explains why trying to have a simple chat with your spouse can make you feel like a lunatic. (You: "Want to go to Doug and Karan's for dinner on Friday?" Him: "Sure." You: "Great, I'll let Karan know." Him: "Let Karan know what?") In countless laboratory experiments, scientists have proven that rats that are rewarded for pressing a lever with a pellet of food will continue to press the lever. Why? Because their actions produce a positive response. It's a simple reward system. But if pressing the lever ceases to result in the desired pellet drop, even a lowly, ﬁlthy, sewer-dwelling rat will eventually abort what has obviously become a futile mission.
Women, not so much. "Honey, what's wrong? Do you want to talk about it? Come on, just tell me. Please. You know you can talk to me, don't you? Is it something at work? Did I do something? You know it's not healthy to bottle up all of your feelings. There obviously is something wrong, so just tell me what it is. You really will feel better. Come on, I tell you everything. Honestly, you are the most emotionally constipated person I have ever met. I might as well be talking to a wall. I will stop bugging you as soon as you tell me what's wrong!"
We see our husbands slouched down on the couch, staring oﬀ into space, ﬁngertips comfortably poised inside the waistband of their boxer-briefs, and we are powerless to resist.
"Whatcha thinking about?" we ask, hoping the question sounds more indiﬀerent than intrusive—and praying the answer is "Oh, just how wonderful you are" or some variation thereof.
"Nothing," he mumbles back, and we instantly become irate. What a liar! He has to be thinking about something! How can you think about nothing? It's not humanly possible. If he's truly pondering nothing, it has to be in some sort of context, right? Like, "There's nothing good on TV anymore," or "Nothing is better than a quickie after lunch," or "There's nothing in the refrigerator except some sour milk and a few squishy grapes." I mean, who can think about nothing? Go ahead. Try to think about nothing, just to see if it can be done. I'm betting that in less than two seconds you'll remember that you forgot to check to see if you turned oﬀ the light inside the car after you brought in the groceries, and it's your stepmom's birthday next week and you didn't get her a card yet, and where the hell could that damned checkbook be, because now the phone bill is exactly six days overdue, and what if there really isn't a God?
We just can't stop at nothing.
As inexplicable as it seems to anyone with ovaries, guys the world over insist they really can achieve an instant alpha- wave brain state whereby all their erstwhile thoughts become suspended like fake ﬂies in a cube of plastic novelty ice. They can do this day or night, alone or in a crowd, practically on command. Like the ability to pee standing up or go topless without getting arrested, it's simply a skill they have that most women don't. (Look on the bright side: We get multiple orgasms and the privilege of sipping fruity umbrella drinks without being mocked. A pretty fair trade-oﬀ, if you ask me.)
"At Least You're Not Married to Him"
When we go to a zoo or any public event where animals are involved, he puts his zoology degree to use (no, this isn't sarcasm; he really does have a zoology degree), and he loudly "talks" to the animals. We wander away, hoping no one will know he's with us.
There's a saying: Women marry men hoping that they will change; men marry women hoping that they won't. When my husband and I were in the thick of those delicious, giddy, lust- driven early months of our courtship, do you think I was constantly pleading with him to share his every innermost thought or badgering him to "talk about the relationship"? Hell, no. We were too busy having sex! Plus, I didn't want to pressure him or seem needy or insecure. In fact, the ﬁrst (dozen or so) ﬁghts I can recall having with him were those ﬁrst (dozen or so) times I tried to convince him that we needed to… all together now… talk about the relationship.
When one half of a couple has a burning itch that the other doesn't have and therefore doesn't have the vaguest idea how or where to scratch, eventually the itchy one will ﬁnd someone else who can do their soothing. My sister Laurie is like human hydrocortisone cream to my chronically chafed soul. Despite the three thousand miles and three time zones separating us, somehow we manage to talk nearly every day. Of course we both go to great lengths to downplay the frequency and duration of our chats to our husbands, whom we have jointly dubbed the Phone Police. We'll be enjoying our daily heart-to-heart when one of the "oﬃcers" will enter the room. "Phone Police," we whisper before trying to slip the receiver soundlessly into the cradle. "Who were you talking to?" Joe always wants to know. "My sister," I half mumble. "Didn't you just talk to her yesterday?" he demands. "Yeah, so?" I ask belligerently. A man who successfully maintains most of his long- distance relationships through an annual phone call couldn't possibly understand.
I know that it is pointless to rely on my husband to satisfy my urge to analyze and dissect the mad and mystifying world, but every once in a while—like when my sister is asleep or oﬀ at a conference or her cell phone battery dies—I nevertheless give it a shot. And it never fails. Once I start to delve into the meat of a deliciously juicy story—one I've waited hours to share, so that the kids would be in bed and I'd have my husband's undivided attention—I am swiftly and systematically cut oﬀ before I even get to the good part.
ME: "Did you hear that Bob cheated on Shelly and he got the other gal pregnant?"
Interestingly, and despite all of this, it has never been proven that women talk more than men. In fact, the frequently cited "women speak twenty thousand words a day while men utter only seven thousand" statistic turned out to have been completely unfounded—practically pulled out of thin air—although it's possible that is simply because no one's bothered to undertake the tedious task of actually counting how many words are spoken by a randomly selected mixed- gender sample of the population. And even if they did, someone else would get all pissed off and throw up her near-mute aunt Martha or annoyingly loquacious brother Larry as proof to the contrary, because of course there is an exception to every rule. I actually tried to find some legitimate statistics, but most of the research is liberally sprinkled with phrases like "collated meta- analysis" and "gender similarity hypothesis" that make my eyes glaze over and my brain turn to oatmeal. And that's ﬁne, because I don't need a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to tell me what I already know: My husband and I are very, very different. Whether it's nature, nurture, programming, or perception matters not. It's not that he "doesn't talk" or "can't communicate," it's just that he doesn't want to talk about the same things that I do. He isn't interested in dissecting, emotionally and in agonizing depth, the many and varied reasons our friends Sam and Cindy have decided not to have children. He couldn't care less what the vet said about the cat's chronic eye-goop problem. (Allergies. Who knew cats got allergies?) He just wants to know (a) what we—and by we he means me—are supposed to do about it, and (b) how much it's going to cost. He will never, ever want to discuss a single title in the towering stack of books constantly threatening to topple my nightstand or debate the ethical implications of ﬁctionalizing a memoir. (The only novel he's ever read is Moby-Dick, and trust me, we long ago tapped out the reading-group discussion potential there.) Ask him what he thinks happens when you die, and his go-to answer is, "Who cares? You're dead." And get this: The guy honestly doesn't give a rat's ass which celebrities have overdosed, or recently checked into rehab, or are rumored to be covered in cellulite. I know! And he doesn't even lord his moral superiority over me. It's enough to drive a wife insane.
Even though it's proven over and over to be a futile move, because Joe and I both work from home I frequently toss out brief status updates such as, "I'm going to the grocery store after I get the girls." To me, this is a simple information-providing statement, one intended to prevent him from worrying when I haven't returned from school pickup in an hour. Nevertheless, as I am trying to wrangle the unwieldy, NASCAR-replica shopping cart our daughters insist we use while thwarting their persistent efforts to ﬁll it with high-fructose, trans fat–ﬁlled goodies and not knock over any canned-goods displays or stooped-over little old ladies, almost without fail my cell phone rings, forcing me to dig frantically through the ridiculous quagmire of junk that has somehow found its way into my purse.
"Where are you guys?" Joe wants to know, sounding mildly alarmed.
"At the grocery store! I told you we were going after pickup," I say with all the patience I can muster.
"Okay, have fun," he chirps absentmindedly.
Fun? Oh yeah, buddy, this is a ﬂipping spa vacation right here. One I'm sure you'll want to hear all about when I get home… right after you ask me where we've been.
"At Least You're Not Married to Him"
Imagine me at my desk and my husband, Brian, at home when the following argument ensues—verbatim—via instant messenger:
To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication
Please alert me via email when: