Q: My wife of eight years is a really good person but always needs reassurance that she’s attractive. I’m finding that difficult because, on a typical night, she takes a dump in our master bathroom with the door open, saunters over to our bed with a few open sores on her face from picking her zits, rips a fart, and comes at me for a kiss. I give her a peck and dive under the covers so she won’t think I’m interested in sex. She then feels rejected and unloved. When I point out specific things that turn me off, she’s offended. She apparently expects me to be supernaturally attracted to her despite her actions (always wearing nasty sweatpants, hair in shambles, etc.). I don’t expect her to dress up, just to try to look a little cute. If only she’d see herself as a beautiful, seductive, confident woman, and act like it — instead of acting like her girlfriends, who brag that they’ve “trained” their husbands to accept their burping, farting, etc. Am I completely ignorant about true love?
—Troubled But Committed
A: When somebody asks, “So, what first attracted you to your wife?” I’m guessing you don’t answer, “I’d have to say it’s pretty much a toss up between the toxic farts and oozing open sores.”
It’s no accident that toilets are installed in little locking closets in the corners of homes and not in a big glass box in the middle of the living room. (“Poop du Soleil” is not a spectacle people are looking to see.) There are those couples who brag, “Nothing comes between us, not even the bathroom door!” That may work for them, but you’ve made it clear to your wife that watching her pick her acne scabs while straining on the pot isn’t your idea of foreplay.
Your wife probably buys into the notion that love involves embracing absolutely everything about a person, including everything that comes out of their intestines. (Well, love might be blind, but lust sure isn’t, nor has it had its nostrils cemented shut.) Your wife, like her burping, farting girlfriends, seems to see the marriage license as a voucher entitling her to retire from making an effort. Of course, it doesn’t help that academic feminism elevated refusing to please a man into a sociopolitical virtue: “Dismantle patriarchy!” ”Rewrite herstory!” “March around in nasty old sweatpants and see how long you can go without washing your hair!” With so much support for your wife’s behavior from her friends and society, your best bet for getting her to change is coming at this from the love angle: You’ve failed to master the secret language of farts (one long burst and two short ones mean “I love you, your happiness means everything to me”?), and frankly, your feelings are hurt. You don’t care how these other women treat their husbands. You want to be treated like you’re special, like it means something to her to meet your needs. To minimize her defensiveness, separate the woman from the behavior: I love YOU and think YOU are a beautiful, sexy, sensual woman, but I find these BEHAVIORS off-putting. They block the beautiful view — kind of like a billboard in front of Yosemite. (Actually, it’s more like a New York City garbage truck, but that’s not helpful.) The bottom line is, you love her so, so much, and you’re just asking that she join you in a few small steps to keep the heat in your marriage — and no, lighting her farts isn’t one of them.
Q: My girlfriend’s wonderful, but her house is one big clutterfest, with books, papers, old bills, and Post-its everywhere. I find myself unable to relax there, so we spend all our time at my place. She knows she’s messy and jokes about it, so there’s no awkwardness there, but can it work in the long run between two people with such varying standards of neatness?
A: There are people who march out into the world looking completely puttogether, and then you open their front door and see that the only clutter-busting tip you could possibly give them is “Strike a match and run.” If you don’t look down on Sloppy Susan or maintain illusions that she’ll change, this could work — providing Good Housekeeping rules remain in effect: You keep your house and she keeps hers and visits yours. One major consideration is whether you’ll eventually want kids. In sharing a home, you can do your best to bridge the tidiness gap — hire a housekeeper and give your love a room of her own that she’s free to decorate fengshovel-style. Ultimately, you may need to be prepared for that day when you can’t be sure whether your children have been kidnapped or are just lost in the debris pile in the den.
© 2010 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.