APRIL 21, 2009
– Diary entry – Poor me. Let me set the scene: Campbell and Insley and I are all down in Soho, having dinner at Tableau. Lots of goat-cheese tarts, lamb meatballs and rocket greens, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. But we are working backward: dinner first, then drinks in one of the little nooks Campbell has reserved, a mini-closet where you can lounge expensively in a place that's not too different from, say, your living room. But fine, it's fun to do the silly, trendy things sometimes. We are all overdressed in our little flashy frocks, our slasher heels, and we all eat small plates of food bites that are as decorative and unsubstantial as we are.
We've discussed having our husbands drop by to join us for the drinks portion. So there we are, post-dinner, tucked into our nook, mojitos and martinis and my bourbon delivered to us by a waitress who could be auditioning for the small role of Fresh-faced Girl Just Off the Bus.
We are running out of things to say; it is a Tuesday, and no one is feeling like it is anything but. The drinks are being carefully drunk: Insley and Campbell both have vague appointments the next morning, and I have work, so we aren't gearing up for a big night, we are winding down, and we are getting dull-witted, bored. We would leave if we weren't waiting for the possible appearance of the men. Campbell keeps peeking at her BlackBerry, Insley studies her flexed calves from different angles. John arrives first – huge apologies to Campbell, big smiles and kisses for us all, a man just thrilled to be here, just delighted to arrive at the tail-end of a cocktail hour across town so he can guzzle a drink and head home with his wife. George shows up about twenty minutes later – sheepish, tense, a terse excuse about work, Insley snapping at him, "You're forty minutes late," him nipping back, "Yeah, sorry about making us money." The two barely talking to each other as they make conversation with everyone else.
Nick never shows; no call. We wait another forty-five minutes, Campbell solicitous ("Probably got hit with some last-minute deadline," she says, and smiles toward good old John, who never lets last-minute deadlines interfere with his wife's plans); Insley's anger thawing toward her husband as she realizes he is only the second-biggest jackass of the group ("You sure he hasn'd even texted, sweetie?").
Me, I just smile: "Who knows where he is – I'll catch him at home." And then it is the men of the group who look stricken: You mean that was an option? Take a pass on the night with no nasty consequences? No guilt or anger or sulking?
Well, maybe not for you guys.
Nick and I, we sometimes laugh, laugh out loud, at the horrible things women make their husbands do to prove their love. The pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders. We call these men the dancing monkeys.
Nick will come home, sweaty and salty and beer-loose from a day at the ballpark, and I'll curl up in his lap, ask him about the game, ask him if his friend Jack had a good time, and he'll say, "Oh, he came down with a case of the dancing monkeys – poor Jennifer was having a “real stressful week” and really needed him at home."
Or his buddy at work, who can'd go out for drinks because his girlfriend really needs him to stop by some bistro where she is having dinner with a friend from out of town. So they can finally meet. And so she can show how obedient her monkey is: He comes when I call, and look how well groomed!
Wear this, don'd wear that. Do this chore now and do this chore when you get a chance and by that I mean now. And definitely, definitely, give up the things you love for me, so I will have proof that you love me best. It's the female pissing contest – as we swan around our book clubs and our cocktail hours, there are few things women love more than being able to detail the sacrifices our men make for us. A call-and-response, the response being: "Ohhh, that's so sweet."
I am happy not to be in that club. I don't partake, I don't get off on emotional coercion, on forcing Nick to play some happy-hubby role – the shrugging, cheerful, dutiful taking out the trash, honey! role. Every wife's dream man, the counterpoint to every man's fantasy of the sweet, hot, laid-back woman who loves sex and a stiff drink.
I like to think I am confident and secure and mature enough enough to know Nick loves me without him constantly proving it. I don't need pathetic dancing-monkey scenarios to repeat to my friends, I am content with letting him be himself.
I don't know why women find that so hard.
When I get home from dinner, my cab pulls up just as Nick is getting out of his own taxi, and he stands in the street with his arms out to me and a huge grin on his face – "Baby!" – and I run and I jump up into his arms and he presses a stubbly cheek against mine.
"What did you do tonight?" I ask.
"Some guys were playing poker after work, so I hung around for a bit. Hope that was okay."
"Of course," I say. "More fun than my night."
"Who all showed up?"
"Oh, Campbell and Insley and their dancing monkeys. Boring. You dodged a bullet. A really lame bullet."
He squeezes me into him – those strong arms – and hauls me up the stairs. "God, I love you," he says.
Then comes sex and a stiff drink and a night of sleep in a sweet, exhausted rats" tangle in our big, soft bed. Poor me.
Imagine how different her night would have been if she were upset with him for not showing up. How different both of their nights would have been.
My husband and I just celebrated our first year of marriage last month. Newly pregnant (read: hormones) and grieving the loss of my Mom, I recently fell into a bout of self-pity that lasted a few hours, after my husband received a phone call and rushed off to complete a task. He left abruptly and (I do hope you're sitting down) didn't kiss me goodbye or (gasp) ask me if I needed anything while he was out or before he left. And yes, the task he had to complete was Christmas shopping for me, but still!
Sulking, I picked up this book and happened to read this chapter. It took me awhile, but I realized that I could have reacted very differently. Instead of being upset with him, I became upset with myself for almost asking him to be my dancing monkey. It kind of scared me, because I have seen wives make their husbands do things the husbands obviously did not want to do, even (or, especially) in front of others. I have always sworn that I would not be that way when I finally landed a husband. Yet, there I was.
Before you start to think I'm being sexist, imagine the reverse scenario: a husband telling his wife to dress a certain way for his friends, fix her hair or make-up a certain way before they go out, or complete tasks for him in front of others, just so they could see how much she cares. Imagine him telling her that no, she cannot go spend time with her friends after work, or skip something they had planned because something else came up. Women-libers would be all over that, and he would be viewed as a controlling husband. So why is it okay when women ask their husbands to do the same?
Before we were engaged, my husband and I were going out to dinner with a few people. Right before we left, he came over and asked me if what he was wearing was alright. The question was so foreign to me, and my response was that he looked fine, and could wear whatever he wanted to wear. I seriously cannot imagine asking him to dress a certain way based on our company or the setting.
When I think of how my Mom would have handled the rushing-off scenario, I realize I have a lot of work to do. Mom would not have batted an eye, and would have been warm and welcoming when my Dad returned home. Just as in other areas of my life, I am still learning and improving, and still figuring out what type of wife I will be. Certainly not the demanding, emotional coercion kind that invents tasks for him to do as a test of his love. Instead, I want him to do things for me because he wants to, and because I do things like that for him. How much more meaningful is it when our partner - guy or girl - does something for us because they feel like it, instead of because they are afraid of our reaction or don't want to upset us?