My husband of 18 years woke me up one morning to inform me that he told this woman in the class he’s taking that he’s happily married and isn’t looking to cross any lines. Feeling uneasy, I peeked at his text messaging and call history. They’d been texting for hours before his declaration to me, and text all day, every day. (He texts her upon reaching his office, and before he goes to bed at night.) Meanwhile, he had me stop calling him during work because it didn’t leave us enough to talk about at dinner. He claims they’re just friends but refused to cut back on their texting, despite how it’s upsetting me. He keeps saying he can’t have friends because of me, and thinks there’s nothing wrong with texting her all day.
When you aren’t guilty, you don’t wake your wife to confess your guiltlessness — complete with the details of what you aren’t guilty of: “I just want to let you know, Honey, I didn’t murder five people, three of them women, and bury their bodies five yards from the chestnut tree.”
Marriage used to play out on the Wal-Mart model: the idea that one person would meet your every need from altar to gravestone. Couples these days seem to understand that this is ridiculous, and have friendships outside the relationship. But, there are friendships and then … well, let’s just say there are two kinds of people who text as much as your husband and this woman: 14-year-old girls and people with the hots for each other. He might swear it’s platonic, but can you see him goodnight texting some hairy buddy of his? “Yo, Frank, tuck me in?”
Marital tenure has been in the news thanks to the Gores rounding out their 40th anniversary by announcing their divorce. People are calling this sad/tragic/horrible. But, is it? Okay, they promised to be together forever, but the reality is, things end. People use each other up and grow apart. It takes guts to admit it’s over, especially in light of all the “stay together no matter what” propaganda, like calling an ended marriage a “failed relationship.” (Why is it a failure if you had a bunch of good years together?) As I’ve written before, for couples who don’t have kids, or whose kids are grown, a marriage license should be more like a driver’s license: up for renewal every five years. Spouses would be less likely to slob up, get mean, and cut off sex, and they’d have to ask themselves the question you two should: “Do we want what we have, or do we just have what we have?”
Marriage is supposed to be a partnership, not a partnership with an option on a harem. Still, you don’t get to tell another adult what to do, just what you refuse to stick around for. But, unless you make it clear that you’re willing to walk, you may as well tack a rider on your marriage contract allowing unlimited extramarital texts. If you believe you two have more to share than collective boredom, try firing up his empathy. Ask how he’d feel if some guy called you on your home phone every five minutes during dinner, and one last time at bedtime: “Hey, man, mind putting your wife on the line so I can sing her to sleep?” At the very least, it’ll make for some compelling dinner conversation to break up all the chewing, and it’s probably your best shot at getting him to consider changing his calling plan to one that leads to fewer dropped wives.
Searching for that special yum one
A nice-enough guy who’s part of a group of friends I hang with sent me some “You looked delicious today” and “What a great butt you have”-type e-mails. I felt flattered, then got a case of the ickies. Should I ask a trusted male friend (also in our group) to lie and say I have a boyfriend?
Chances are, the guy’s just a doofus — one who doesn’t get that “You look beautiful” is a compliment and that what he wrote is basically “Hey, sex parts!” The moment a guy shows interest in you, decide whether you have any interest in him, and shut him down right away if you don’t. Whatever you do, don’t create boyfriend fiction you’ll have to maintain. Assess this guy and the group dynamic, and either ignore his e-mails or respond with something like “I’m telling myself you were drinking when you wrote that, and we’re both going to forget you ever sent it.” That might sound mean, but it’s actually the benevolent response: letting him know that he can’t just haul off with “You looked delicious today” unless he’s already getting it on with a girl or he bumped into her when she was dressed as a giant chocolate croissant.
Amy Alkon’s just-published book: I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).