September 14, 2022
Masculinity is a truly fragile thing. In our youth, we are hit over the head with the message pushing male bonding. No girls allowed in the treehouse. There are plenty of negatives associated associated with that, including that it devalues all things female and blocks girls and women out of the avenues of power (“Bros before hos!”), but there is an unintended benefit to all the bro-time.
Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings and that’s what gets us into trouble. “When boys cry, they cry bullets,” I remember a child psychologist saying on The Oprah Winfrey Show after the 1999 Columbine shooting. But when we do manage to share a bit of vulnerability, it tends to be with our bros, maybe after a few beers or a lost match. We learn that we can lean on our male friends without being called a “cry baby” because they are looking for the same thing. Then after opening up, we have to “cowboy up” and revert to the same stoic bullshit.
So what happens when we get married?
The story goes that marriage means leaving our male friends behind on the playground, soccer pitch, or tavern. Male friends celebrate the interest of a single man and now he must trade his dudes in for a woman. John Lennon had to leave the Beatles for Yoko and her screaming. And now the wife is the “best friend.” On one feminist level, that makes a lot of sense if the man is leaving the toxic grab-ass world of Bro Culture to finally see at least one woman as an equal partner, but on another feminist level what does this really do for the wife?
This is exactly what happened in my marriage.
And soon as Andi and I connected and certainly after we got married and became parents, I shed my wonderful posse of friends, most of them men. No more going out to shows together, planning weekends at festivals, or just hanging out after work. She became “my world.” That can seem very romantic and much of it seems like a wonderful dream, but I never once saw the burden I was laying on her by making her “my person.”
She suddenly was cast into numerous roles, from my therapist to my financial (and fashion) advisor, all of which were unpaid. I relied on her opinion and no-one else. In co-dependent relationship, we often give people power they don’t actually want. You can put me in charge of the criminal investigation of Donald Trump, and while that might sound awesome, I don’t actually want that power. And it is a power thing because it’s not equally shared. If I played the exact same roles for her, it wouldn’t be an issue. I didn’t expect her to do the laundry but I did expect her to “fix” me.
I would often be confused by her response to me saying things like, “You saved me.” I considered it a compliment. But it wasn’t her job to save me. And who was supposed to save her if she was spending her time on the project that was her husband? She couldn’t save herself because she was supposed to be saving me. All this saving. It didn’t occur to me to just save my goddamn self. After all, I had her to do that.
It’s not surprising that my wife began to quietly resent me. My broad social circle shrunk down to just her and it must have been suffocating. She was my “rock,” which meant I relied on her for everything, without really returning the favor. Where, previously, I might complain about work with my friends over a beer, it was now on her shoulders. The encouragement to make it through the matrix of life now only came from her (and phone calls with my other female/therapist, my mother). Where was the reciprocity?
One of the wonderful things this separation has given us is the space to save ourselves. Watching her evolution this past year, free of my emotional burdening (and constant need of her approval) has been wondrous. I now have an amazing therapist who I pay to do the emotional servicing I expected from Andi. And I’m rebuilding my friendships with peers. I live in a city with countless coffeeshops and bars. There are plenty of places to share some bonhomie with my dudes.
The division of labor makes sense. Brothers, don’t expect your wife or girlfriend to be your “everything.” It’s not fair to them. You are not their project. Learn from my mistakes, save yourself. And get a good therapist.