If it takes a Herculean effort to talk to your wife for five goddamn seconds, why the hell are you married?
Maybe its heartbreak–something causes us to treat male-female relationships as inherent contradictions, impossible, necessary evils, insufferable and fraught with disappointment and latent hatred.
But there’s nothing to this. In fact, I have to believe the contrary is the case. There’s no relationship more obviously necessary than sexual and intimate relationships between men and women. Certainly, people make bad choices about whom they choose to couple up with. But where there are failures, frustrations, or insufferable assholes like the guy in the Klondike commercial who can’t stand to talk to his wife for five goddamn seconds, the problem is almost always with one’s self, not with the other person.
Choosing to be with someone you can’t really stand is because of some defect one sees in oneself–a sense of insecurity that creates a terror of being alone, a feeling of unworthiness, suspicion that somebody else’s love or attention is unwarranted and so counterfeit–or really, what we could call a Groucho Pathology, that you wouldn’t want to join any relationship that would have you as a member.
It’s hard not to be scared of trusting that someone wholly independent of you really does have your best interests at heart; that they truly love you and want to see you happy. It takes bravery to accept that condition and to just sink into the warmth of it. So we invent narratives that justify our fear and cowardice.
This manifests in men in the asinine impulse that there is more pleasure in “the hunt” than the catch; and in women with equally asinine impulse that only men for whom they have to compete are worth their time. Whatever evolutionary sources there are for these impulses are not determinative–they can’t be, because the impulse to devote one’s self to, and even sacrifice one’s self for, a mate responsible for child rearing could be equally so attributable–and is indeed found in all types of species. Besides, there’s little in our evolutionary hard-wiring that can’t be tempered or even over-ridden by the capacity for social conditioning that is just as much a result of human evolution.
Perhaps this is a view enriched by rose colored glasses. My parents are still married after thirty four years and are very evidently best friends. This has created in me, and I assume my sister, too, an intense desire to make sure that whoever we decide to settle down with forever be our best friend. And I don’t doubt that if I moved in with my best friend, shared finances with my best friend, and had to make important life decisions with my best friend, we’d often get annoyed with one another, and have a need for privacy now and then.
But these superficial “problems” pale in comparison to the happiness and comfort that would attend getting to share my joy and my most troubling fears with somebody who understands me better than anybody else, and who has sworn to stick with me no matter what.
Not that friendship is enough. It helps if you look at the person you’re with and want to eat them like a meal–and vice versa. You need both, I think. Sometimes having one allows the other to bloom. Sometimes both arise simultaneously. But if there one’s thing pop culture has taught us, it is that women will settle for a slob who can’t stand them if he’ll just stick around, and men are happy to have a suspiciously hot wife even if listening to her talk for five seconds is akin to getting a urinary catheter inserted.
Perhaps a sign of the growing equality of women is that “take my wife, please” is no longer the sole joke construction that all marriage-based “comedy” is built on. There’s also, “my husband is a mildly retarded ape.” See, for example, every family sitcom this century.
There’s a lot of comedy to be had in relationships, and there are few things that are as funny as the misunderstandings and frustrations that arise in close quarters, particularly when there are genitals involved. But if your marriage or relationship feels like a prison, the likelihood is you’re your own goddamn warden, and you take some time with that before you treat talking to a person whose supposed to be your best friend like sitting through weekend traffic school on mushrooms.
The “take my wife, please” theme is more frustrating because it reinforces the idea, seemingly immovable from pop culture, that women exist as appendages to men. Wives are inconvenient accessories men have to carry around, like wearing a sweater to the beach. Girlfriends are like those orchids that trick bees into mating with them only to cover them with unshakable pollen.
Men, on the other hand, are treated like the central concern of a woman’s existence. Can an ambitious woman find love? How should she “balance” her dreams with the iron-clad necessity of landing that wiliest of creatures? What does she have to do to keep him interested? Men are dogs, amirightladies? Even in romantic comedies supposedly “about” a woman, really, she’s like the bird in the Dr. Seuss book Are You My Mother?, wandering around incomplete until she’s made whole by another person.
(I talked about this “gamete problem” at length in this piece.)
To be fair, there is a male species of this trope in movies and TV shows, typically about men who think being successful in business will make them happy, only to find out that, all along, they just needed to settle down with that annoying free spirit.
Note that even in these cases, those women are rarely fully actualized–something that was probably best parodied in Arrested Development, where the Free Spirit turned out to be a Mentally Retarded Female*, and the driven guy was just blind to it because he could really only think about himself. The free spirits are like the Great Gazoo, popping in at opportune moments to guide the guy to a valuable realization about himself.
I’ve never been married, so I’m far from an expert. But having best friends who are women, and having had a best friend who I also couldn’t take my eyes off of whenever she was in the room, I’m certain that I won’t ever need the promise of a Klondike Bar to listen to the love of my life tell me about her goddamn day.
*Comically, the MRF was played by Charlize Theron, who played a free spirit savior in a cloying abomination called Sweet November.