Jackie Summers responds to “Are Men Really Assholes or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?”
“What did you do?”
Singularly, this is the question I am asked most frequently when I tell people I am divorced, as if possession of the Y chromosome automatically means the dissolution of my marriage was intrinsically and entirely my fault.
I respond with what is—in my mind—the primary reason I’m no longer married to that particular individual. “My wife was abusive, physically and emotionally. In four years of marriage, I was kicked, punched in the face, she’d fly into a rage and destroy my things.”
This is usually the part where the initial question is repeated: “Why, what did YOU do?”
Implication: her unconscionable behavior must have been predicated by some even more loathsome act, perpetrated by me. In other words: clearly you deserved to be punished, it’s your fault, what provoked her to such uncontrollable anger?
I am trying to imagine the scenario where a wife describes her husband kicking her and punching her in the face, which is not immediately followed by righteous indignation, and a call to 911. None exist.
I go deeper. I explain that my ex-wife was massively insecure and venomously jealous. Once again, instead of assigning ownership of behavior to the individual responsible, my character is brought into question. “Well, what did you do to make her so insecure?”
Insecurity is a toxin of the soul, a condition that issues forth from the inside out, not the reverse. While you can do many things to—well, attempt to—reassure an insecure individual, ultimately these are doomed to failure, and may even backfire.
Example: About two years into my marriage, my best friend of 20 years moved to Atlanta. After moving beyond the initial despair, I decided that no matter where he was in the world, he was going to be my friend. I decided to visit twice a year.
I waited six months before I went to visit him the first time, and I wanted my wife to feel special before I left for a ten-day trip. The day before I was scheduled to leave, I got up, got dressed like I was going to work, drove her to the bus stop, and kissed her goodbye, like any other day. Then I turned around and drove home.
I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I went to the grocery store and got everything I needed to fix her favorite meal. And then I went to the florist and bought a pound of rose petals.
When she got home from work that day I greeted her at the door with her favorite robe and slippers. I undressed her at the door, as her favorite CD played, the scent of vanilla candles wafting through the room. Rose petals adorned the floor from the front door to the bathtub, where I had a bubble bath run. I helped her into the bathtub, bathed her from head to toe, shampooed and conditioned her hair, and then fork-fed her her favorite meal as she relaxed in the tub. I pre-warmed the towels, dried her off from head to toe, and allowed the path of rose-petals to guide her to the bedroom. After a full-body massage and several hours of love-making, I fell asleep.
When I awoke it must have been almost midnight. I got out of bed; I had a seven A.M. flight the next morning, and I hadn’t packed. Apparently I woke her as I arose, because the comment she made upon waking was:
“Well, I see we got ‘fucking the wife’ crossed off the list.”
The idea that simply being the male in the relationship meant that I bore the brunt of the blame for the deterioration of my marriage was—(un)surprisingly—also implied by our marriage counselor. During one counseling session, the therapist asked us each to state one thing about the other that bothered us.
“He’s sarcastic,” she said.
“That’s true,” I responded, “but she hits.”
Before I could continue, the therapist turned to me and said, “You know, sometimes words can hit like a fist.”
Dumbfounded, I looked at her. “That’s true,” I said, “but sometimes fists can hit like a fist, and she hits.”
I left that session promising not to be sarcastic for an entire week. By the third day, my wife asked me why I was giving her the silent treatment.
“I’m not NOT talking to you,” I replied. “I am trying to live up to my promise not to be sarcastic, and I can’t even answer this question without breaking my promise.”
My ex-wife grew up believing that any and all problems in a marriage ultimately stemmed from a husbands inability to be trustworthy. In her defense, she was reenacting behavior she’d observed as a child. Her dad had cheated on her mom—repeatedly—and when he did, she beat on him. In her mind, the second you truly trusted a man, he was going to betray you. I wasn’t an asshole per se; I was an asshole waiting to happen.
For what it’s worth, her parents are still married; they just hate each other.
Are some husbands assholes? Sure. Husbands are people; people are assholes. It’s not gender specific. Either sex is capable of lying, cheating, poor communication, and any number of anathemas to a happy marriage. Ultimately it takes two to make it work; it only takes one to fuck it up beyond all recognition. In the case of my marriage, the absolute inability to own responsibility for her poisonous thoughts—and the resultant heinous acts—proved too corrosive to overcome.
The idea that owning a penis makes you wrong by default is sexist—as outdated a social meme as any still plaguing modern woman. The sooner we dispense with the idea that simply being male means you are wrong in any scenario, the sooner we can address real problems in a meaningful way. Contrary to what fairy tales and rom-coms want us to believe, love is not enough to sustain a relationship. It’s just a good place to start—and a great reason to try.
—Photo via The Accordance