In "If It Was Easy, They'd Call The Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon," author Jenna McCarthy takes a long, honest look at the inherent flaws in the institution of marriage in regards to the lovably fallible behaviour of the average male. Here's an excerpt.
Til Death Do Us Part Is a Really Long Time
This book was born of something from which few good things (besides hot, furious makeup sex) ever come: a nasty, name-calling, knock-down, drag-out brawl with my husband. After we exchanged some particularly ugly insults and I lobbed a large cup of ice at his head, we did what the pros tell you never, ever to do (besides lob large cups of ice at your partner’s head): We went to bed angry at each other. Pissed oﬀ, if we’re being totally honest here. When we woke up in the morning, I looked at the man I’ve spent thirteen years assuming I will purchase adjacent cemetery plots with and I thought:
I hate you.
No, that’s a lie. That’s not what I really thought. What I really thought was:
I f__king hate you.
Now, as husbands go, I have to admit I did all right. Joe is unquestionably handsome, doesn’t leave ragged toenail clippings scattered about the house, and has never once, in nearly ﬁve thousand days of togetherness, left the toilet seat up. He also knows his way around a grill, occasionally makes the bed (if you can call straightening the duvet and tossing some pillows in the general vicinity of the headboard “making the bed”), and is not addicted to porn, painkillers, or crystal meth. He’s seen me naked on numerous occasions and still wants to have sex with me. All in all, he’s a catch by pretty much anyone’s standards.
And yet he still can make me madder than a bag of rabid badgers. From the ill-timed get-to- the-point-already hand gesture in the middle of a riveting play-by-play of my chat with the UPS guy to his incessant references to, fantasies about, and demands for sex, the guy seems hell-bent on personally driving me to the nuthouse. Sometimes, these things merely bug me; other times they are nearly enough to make me want to pack up and leave him. But I haven’t and I won’t, and there are three particularly compelling reasons for this:
1. He’s a guy, and all guys are basically the same, and since I really don’t want to die alone, if I got rid of him I’d just be trading in his sometimes-infuriating tics for someone else’s, and I’m too old and tired to even consider that.
2. He puts up with all of my sh_t. (This really should not be underestimated.)
3. I love him.
Like I said, my husband is a decent guy. No, he’s a great guy. But living with the same person day in and day out, for years on end, is no confetti-dusted cakewalk. I once saw a comedienne slay an entire audience with this line: “When I said ’til death do us part, I had no idea it was going to take this long.” Clearly she was joking. Mostly.
This book originally was going to be a blog post, maybe a magazine article. After the ice-to-the-temple incident blew over and I returned to my formerly happily married state, I posted a few queries—in newsletters, on my Facebook wall, around Twitter, on my blog—with a simple question: “What does your husband—whom you still love—do that drives you nuts?” The idea was to tease out precisely the sort of irritating behaviors that women who consider themselves “happily married” are indeed willing to live with. The replies were astonishing not only in their content and volume, but most of all for the utterly venomous tone these smart, funny, remarkably sane women used to describe their signiﬁcant others’ reasonably benign traits. “He eats ice cream every single night with the tiniest spoon in the house,” lamented one. “Over and over and over and over—a kazillion f__king times a night—I have to listen to that spoon hitting the side of the bowl. He says he’s been eating ice cream that way for forty-ﬁve years and isn’t going to change. And yes, I love him.”
These gals weren’t talking about their lying, cheating exes or the buﬀoons that beat them; they were talking about the men they live with and continue to love. Their gripes ranged from merely amusing (“He only ever half-ﬁnishes a bar of soap!”) to downright asinine (nipple ﬂicking? Really?), and every last one made me feel inﬁnitely better about my own enchanting Neanderthal. Nothing like peering over the neighbors’ fences and catching a glimpse of their withered, pathetic excuse for a lawn to remind us all that the grass isn’t always greener.
Here’s the funny part, though: The women who contacted me weren’t exactly tripping over themselves to confess their own annoying habits or less-than-desirable qualities. (Granted, I didn’t ask. And to the helpful husbands who e-mailed oﬀering to do it for them? Thanks for sharing! Now go write your own goddamned book.) Because we’re perfect, right? Okay, not perfect exactly, but pretty damned close. I mean, relative to the men we married at least, and certainly according to our friends and a majority of the literature available on the subject. Wise and witty author Charles Orlando wrote a wonderful book with one of the best titles in all of literary history: “The Problem with Women . . . Is Men.” (What’s not to love, right? Blame the guys! Obviously it’s all their fault!) It really is a moving manifesto, ﬁlled with fun facts and packed with appalling confessions from the boorish oafs we can’t help but love, as well as some not-very-gentle reminders—and these are coming from a guy, mind you—that it would behoove the male population on the whole to try to be a tiny bit less boorish from time to time. With all due respect to Charles, who may very well be on to something, the author of this book would like to add that the other problem with women . . . is women.
Honestly, we’re never happy, are we? We tell our husbands we want them to surprise us with hidden love notes, ﬂowers for no special reason, romantic dinner reservations, big honking diamonds. We want them to pick up after themselves without having to nag them to do it. We want them to turn oﬀ the goddamned TV and pay attention to us as we regale them with details of our day. (“And then the cashier said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re out of the low-fat maple-nut scones,’ so I wound up having to get a lemon poppy, even though those have like eight billion calories, and on top of feeling guilty about that I’ve been worried all day that I’ve got a poppy seed stuck in my teeth. Hey, do I? What do you mean, ‘Do I what?’ Have a poppy seed stuck in my teeth!!!”) We want them to not roll their eyes when we are on the phone and to promise us in writing that they would cook veggies for the kids every single day if we died tomorrow. We want them to lay oﬀ the gas pedal, roll up the windows, turn down the air-conditioning, ﬁx the leaky faucet, notice our new highlights but not ask how much they cost, spend more, save more, spot the bag of moldy, festering lettuce in the crisper drawer and then throw it away, and once— just one bloody time—ask for f__king directions.
These things would indeed make us happy, wouldn’t they? Not even all of them, maybe two or three. Or one. If he did just one, we’d be content. Right? Well actually, probably not. Because fundamentally—and bear with me as I’m going to tiptoe right out on a limb here—the marital minutiae we ﬁght about has nothing whatsoever to do with money or messed-up hair or all of the rotting produce on the planet. We’re not really that bothered by the stinky socks on top of the hamper lid or the sound of back-to-back episodes of "Throwdown Fishing" constantly droning in the background of our lives. If these insults were perpetrated by, say, the best friend we hadn’t seen in a year or a beloved, dying relative, we’d either not notice them in the ﬁrst place or at least ﬁnd a way to overlook them. The problem isn’t him, and it’s not you. The problem is attempting to live in excruciating proximity with another full-size person who can’t read your mind and also isn’t a carbon copy of you.
Think about it: When you were dating—and going home at night to your respective living spaces—there wasn’t all that much to argue about. When you did have the rare disagreement, you’d go all Hollywood and sigh happily and think “He completes me,” and clearly it was all that damned Renée Zellweger’s fault. But when couples try to share one electric bill, they turn into a pair of Japanese ﬁghting ﬁsh, those colorful, carnival-prize favorites that come one to a bowl for a simple reason: If you put two in there, they will immediately try to rip each other’s gills oﬀ.
If you ever had a roommate, you’re familiar with the basic cohabitation timeline. It starts out all hopeful promise, the two of you deciding amicably who will park where and who will pay what and shopping for a new shower curtain together at Target. She insists you take the bigger bedroom since you found the place; you accept since you were gracious enough to grant her boyfriend’s pit bull regular visitation rights. You’re neater and more courteous than you have ever been in your life, because you know how hard it is to ﬁnd a good roommate. You wait patiently as her laundry festers in the washing machine for three days because, really, it’s not worth arguing about or anything. She drinks your last beer, but you ate her last bagel so it all seems fair enough. You spend weeks trying to come up with a way to broach the subject of her luxurious twice-daily hour-long showers, which obviously aren’t fair seeing as you have to pay half of the water bill. After a while you notice—or is it a new thing?—that she has this irritating habit of not closing the bathroom door when she brushes her teeth. The sound rather reminds you of a room full of wailing babies who are also scraping their tiny ﬁngernails across a giant blackboard while they vomit, so you gently close the door for her, hoping she’ll take the hint. She doesn’t. One day she discovers P90X, and from that point forward she insists on doing her workouts every bloody night when you’d very much like to be watching “Glee.” You smile as you seethe and start socking away dough to buy your own goddamned TV, which you will keep in your bedroom, the bedroom you may never leave again. Then one day she comes home drunk and accidentally pees in your hamper, or uses the rent money you gave her to buy a pair of designer boots, or invites a bunch of her obnoxious friends over on the very night you told her you were planning to wax your mustache, and it occurs to you that you don’t have to live like this. From this point, you wage many a minor battle before the ﬁnal war, the one that will determine which one of you is going to borrow the van and hock your futon.
But marriage isn’t that easy. You didn’t just sign a month-to-month lease here; now you’ve gone and entered into an inexhaustible, legally binding contract to live with this one person (forsaking all others, for crying out loud! What were you thinking?) for all of eternity or at least until one of you is ﬁnally able to rest in peace. (Yes, my husband snores, and yes, there really is always at least a kernel of truth in jest.) When you said “I do,” you weren’t promising to honor and cherish him for the next ﬁve minutes or ﬁve years, but forever. That’s a hard concept to really grasp when your hormones have taken you hostage and you’re consumed with thoughts of honeymoon souvenirs and the jaw-dropping oﬀspring you could produce together.
Let me give you an analogy. Imagine that the next time you go shopping for a handbag you discover there is a new law in eﬀect: The very next purse you buy is going to be the last purse you are ever going to be allowed to own. (There could even be a tiny loophole where you might be able to return it, but it will be complicated and expensive and besides, by then you will probably be comfortably used to the stupid purse, even if it has deﬁnitely seen better days and no longer goes with anything else you own.) Obviously you are going to put great thought and eﬀort into ﬁnding the best bag on the market. You claw your way through dozens of diﬀerent models until you ﬁnd the Goldilocks of purses: not too big, not too small, handsome, versatile, and priced just right. As you lift your eyes to heaven celebrating your good fortune in landing this dream bag, ask yourself how you think you might feel about it forty or ﬁfty years from now. Then envision the bald, bitter, broke bastard who—if you’re among the fortunate, slight majority—will still be sharing your bed.
So basically, you’re stuck. The man you married is yours to have and to hold for the rest of ever, even if he starts chewing tobacco or decides to pierce his hairy nipple and buy a Corvette, because you very plainly said—or at least implied— you were in it for better or for worse. Sure, you could always get a divorce, but that’s generally messy and costly and in many ways, redundant. (How, you ask? Consider that roughly 75 percent of women who divorce will eventually remarry and that, sadly, that second union is even more likely to fail than the ﬁrst one—at an exponentially increased rate to boot. See? Redundant.)
I don’t care how handsome or fabulous or funny the groom is, or how sweet and accommodating the bride, or vice versa. Marriage is hard. Mating for life? Totally unnatural. In fact, only about 4 percent of all of the ﬁve thousand species of mammals on the planet even attempt it. The rest of them shack up for anywhere from a single sexual encounter up until the kids leave the nest or the den, and then it’s back to the freewheeling polyamorous life. In the very small eternally committed camp you’ve got your beavers, some (but not all) bats, and Kevin Kline. Oh, and geese. Talk about faithful. If half of a goose couple dies, the surviving partner never mates again. That kind of loyalty just isn’t in our genetic makeup.
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And yet, no matter how diﬃcult or deviant it is, we go for it anyway—out of loneliness or fear or sometimes even honest-to-God, soul-stirring love—and then we proceed to spend the rest of our lives driving another human being crazy.
In my worst marital moments, everything is my husband’s fault. You know, for being a slovenly, sex-obsessed, single-tasking, remote-control-monopolizing, wannabe race car driver who half- ﬁnishes projects, can’t remember a date, and doesn’t listen to a word I say. He, in turn, accuses me of never shutting up, being impossible to please, focusing on the negative, and insisting on detailing—daily—the many ways in which he makes me miserable, as if a running gripe list were something I swore under oath to maintain when I said “I do.” (I didn’t?) When I manage to acknowledge something considerate or helpful he’s done, he points out that I usually can’t resist employing the ever-popular “Thanks, but” construction. (“Thanks for doing the dishes, but next time could you use Super Sparkle Clean to wipe the table and not Regular Sparkle Clean?”) Fine, he’s right, I’m a total bitch. But—and here’s where the playing ﬁeld gets leveled—he married me for better or for worse. So there.
Now, I’m not saying I think we’re all doomed to coexist in eternal misery because we were never meant to mate in the ﬁrst place. I’m also not suggesting that women should learn to settle, or work hard to cultivate their inner bitches just to annoy their annoying husbands back, or stop asking their partners for the things that would make them happy. And I wouldn’t dream of telling a friend who’s in a helplessly miserable marriage: “You made your bed, sister.” I’m simply acknowledging that marriage isn’t always easy and advising that we might want to start seeing it for what it really is: a wholly unnatural state that’s diﬃcult at times but frequently has several bright spots and is occasionally better than the alternative.
I’ve been with my husband for thirteen years, married for ten. Am I happy? Mostly. Back in my optimistic twenties, before I had experienced the joy of nuzzling up to another person’s unbrushed teeth every single morning for ﬁfty-two consecutive seasons, I would have thought that was just about the most depressing thing I’d ever heard, the emotional equivalent of being told your new $200 jeans make your ass look “ﬁne.” (And not the sort of “ﬁne” followed by a long, low whistle and a request to see them in a puddle on the ﬂoor; I’m talking about the painfully curt, totally dismissive, good-enough sort of “ﬁne” that leads you to purchase a gently used elliptical machine on eBay.) But after a while, reality sets in and you decide that mostly happy is good. In fact, relatively speaking, it’s great. No, it’s a Blessed-Virgin-in-your- grilled-cheese-sandwich sort of miracle.
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Here’s a two-part exercise you can use to conﬁrm your own Mostly Happy Wife (MHW) status: Let’s suppose, just for argument’s sake, that your husband has this super-insane, god- awful-stupid, totally annoying thing that he does. (Okay ﬁne, he’s got eleventy billion. But we’re talking about that one that he does repeatedly, the one that makes you want to chop oﬀ his head and stick a rusty dagger down the neck hole.) Mentally write his name and his infuriating habit/quality on a scrap of imaginary paper. In a minute, you are going to toss it into an invisible bowl roughly the size of Texas. But before you toss in your scrap, peer inside the bowl. Here’s a glimpse of what you might see in there:
“Todd: Picks his nose and wipes it on his jeans.”
“Carlos: Calls me by my mother’s name when he is pissed oﬀ at me.”
“Ruben: Eats peanut butter from the jar every single day with his ﬁnger.”
“Freddy: Carries toothpicks everywhere and thinks it is acceptable to gnaw on them in public.”
Now you have two choices: You can throw your scrap of paper in the bowl and pick another one at random, or you can keep your own. (No, you can’t throw your scrap in and bolt for the state line; that’s cheating, not to mention weak.)
I’m going to guess that you’ve decided—perhaps grudgingly, but still—to keep your own lovable little scrap. Congratulations! You are indeed an MHW! (If you considered, even for a nanosecond, opting for the trade-in, you need counseling or an attorney, pronto.)
Part II of the Texas Bowl exercise is especially fun because you get to picture your fantasy guy. (Wait! Not yet; we’re still talking about your husband.) Now, despite the ﬂaw(s) you are still ﬁxating on from Part I, chances are the man you chose to marry has some other quality that is lovely and sweet and endearing. Maybe he ﬁxes your coﬀee exactly the way you like it, even though the entire barista community secretly mocks you and your maddening fourteen-point order. Perhaps he takes out the trash without having to be asked, or makes a mean pot of chili. Maybe he simply doesn’t routinely spray you with spit when he chews. Whatever. Find something. Got it? Good. Now picture your dream mate, the one from your recurring fantasies of domestic bliss and happily-ever-after. Could be Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, the dude at the car wash, your sister’s hunky husband, Marilyn-freakshow-Manson if he ﬂoats your boat. Who am I to judge? Now, ask yourself: Exactly what do you think are the odds that Bradzelyn doesn’t do the annoying thing and actually does do the charming thing? My hunch is that they’re slim to none. Remember: No matter how sexy he is or how perfect he seems, there’s at least one gal out there who loathes him deeply and wouldn’t dream of putting up with his sh_t if you paid her. Your husband is no diﬀerent (and conversely, there are women out there who will ﬁnd him relentlessly alluring, as impossible as this may be to fathom at times), and you married him “for better or for worse.” Unless he hurts you, has sex with someone other than you without your blessing, or smells really, really bad, chances are it’s not worth trading him in.
This book was written to remind you of that, over and over, in glorious, honest, sidesplitting detail. I’ve sought input from women around the virtual world to detail the many maddening ways of the men we’d miss terribly should they be abducted by aliens.
You know how good it feels when you tell your best friend about a ghastly spat with your husband and she not only says just the right soothing, comforting thing but ﬁres back with her own battle tale that’s thirteen times more fabulous than yours in its horror? This book is her—but you can curl up with it night after night and laugh until you cry and your husband won’t give you grief about yet another two-hour phone marathon with your best friend.
Joe always wonders why I frequently come home from my too-infrequent Girls’ Nights Out feeling particularly frisky.
He probably assumes it’s the booze, but here’s the real reason: It takes only a few hours with some married friends, listening to them bitch about their dreadful husbands, to make me realize I dodged some nasty bullets when I landed mine.
So when my otherwise lovely life partner is relentlessly gnawing on my last frazzled nerve, I am going to conjure the best stories I’ve heard and try to be grateful anyway. To love him even if I’d much rather be folding laundry or enjoying a nice Pap smear. To cherish him like I eﬃng promised I would. And when he leaves the empty lemonade pitcher in the refrigerator after he polishes oﬀ the last refreshing drop, or thoughtfully deposits his stinky basketball shorts directly next to the hamper, I am going to beg myself to remember that it could be much, much worse. To wit: Peppered throughout this book—plus in a ﬁnal glorious roundup chapter at the end— are true tales from the marital trenches, here to remind us all just how good we have it. (Relatively, at least.) Just look for the handy “At Least You’re Not Married to Him” icon. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll count your connubial blessings like you haven’t since your honeymoon. You’ll come to appreciate tiny gestures— your husband’s putting on deodorant or actually replacing the toilet tissue roll after he’s used the last square—that you may never have even noticed before.
On that note, a little heads-up to the dude who never, ever brushes his teeth and his wife loves him anyway: You might want to step it up in every other marital area possible. That gal’s a keeper.
Reprinted from "If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon" by Jenna McCarthy by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2011 by Jenna McCarthy.
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