Till Death Do Us Part

Nearly everything I see these days confirms what the man-o-sphere has taught me about men and women.

A few weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday, my next door neighbour knocked on my door. I don’t know him very well, but relations between us have always been amicable. He politely asked if it would be all right if he pruned some of the branches that were hanging over into his back yard from my tree. I told him, of course this would be all right.

I forgot about our brief conversation, and a few hours later, I went to sit out in the yard to read and enjoy the sun. A clipping sound on my right reminded me that my neighbour was there, up on his ladder, busy cutting down branches. I could just see him over the fence, but I did not interrupt him. He did his thing, and I did mine, and for a short while that was how it was. Two men, both going about his own business, with only the fence and the unspoken but clear contract of mutual non-disturbance between us.

This tranquillity did not last forever. The peace was interrupted by a shrill voice from next door. A high-pitched, high-aggression, shrewish squeaking that he was doing it all wrong, that this isn’t how she wanted it, and God, why doesn’t he use his brain for once?

My neighbour, from up on the ladder, saw what his wife could not from the ground: that I was sitting not twelve feet away, well within hearing range. Now, I have known this couple for ten years or so – not very well, though. For all that time, I was familiar only with what they allowed the world to see: the superficial veneer, the public presentation through which they signalled their normality, their marital harmony, their success, their happiness.

My neighbour, cognizant of the threat that his shrewish wife was now posing to their spotless, suburban family image, began to laugh gently, as if her complaining was all part of a great joke. He was trying to suggest, in the only way he possibly could, that what I was hearing was not actually indicative of their relationship. I could feel his eyes on me, seeking that validating glance that men typically share when wives or girlfriends are acting up – you know, that look that says “women, eh? But what can you do?”

A few years ago, I would have met his gaze and given the appropriate raised eyebrow and half-smile. But knowing what I know, I could not meet his eyes. I saw in an instant that this was not an exceptional occurrence. And common as this verbal assault surely is, this was not an exceptional marriage. To shrug and pretend that this power dynamic is not now inherent to marriage in the West would be to allow him to momentarily reclaim some sense of his manhood; compensation for emasculation by consigning the incident to irrelevance. I couldn’t do it; not given what I know. We could pretend, but the next day, his wife would still be there, yapping at him like a menopausal chihuahua.

Unfortunately, his forced chuckling only frustrated her. Her voice rose in pitch and volume, and what followed was a pink-noise barrage of non-sequitured put-downs that made it impossible for me to continue with the book. Finding laughter an ineffective disarming tool, knowing that their facade of marital bliss was now forever shattered in my mind, he began shushing at her. Eventually she got the picture, but by that point I was already on my way indoors.

Is there a single marriage today that does not contain this power dynamic to some extent? I wondered how much of this he has to put up with. Is this his terrible secret, hidden from the world: that he is continually disrespected behind closed doors, by the very woman who said to him “I do”? It was clear that he was only up on that ladder for her benefit. Has she broken him, over the years, to the point where he follows her instructions like a mindless robot? Did she send him around to ask my permission, a good little errand boy? In their house, acoustically insulated from the world, did she call him a fucking pussy for not telling me to deal with my own goddamn tree?

The PUA sector of the man-o-sphere refers to tantrums like hers as ‘shit-tests’. The idea being that, if only he stood up for himself, and did not back down or become emotional, he would ‘pass’ and she would become a more demure wife as a result. Some PUA bloggers approach shit-testing positively, seeing it as a challenge to be overcome. I am not comfortable viewing it this way. ‘Shit-testing’ – i.e. affronts to the person’s worth and self-esteem – is probably responsible for the premature deaths of a great number of men. One needlessly stressful incident after another is sure to raise the blood pressure. But actually living with a person who does this, combined with the stress of full-time work five days a week? The origin of the life expectancy gap becomes clear. It’s probably always been this way. My neighbour’s wife doesn’t work, so her only opportunity for a little entertainment on his behalf comes with the weekend. And so he spends his Saturdays up on ladders, being berated for doing the additional work that she is perfectly capable of doing herself. In his early thirties, he is already going grey.

When you look at it in this way, you realise – perhaps, once again – that marriage has no benefit at all for men. It is not even a stretch to say that, in this day and age, marriage is systematically abusive for men. While women can up and leave at any time they like, with minimal resistance from the law, family courts, or society as a whole (we continue to suffer from Eat, Prey, Love syndrome) – men cannot leave women without paying the price. The mentality seems to run like this: how dare he want to leave a woman? Make him PAY. Debtor’s prison is the ultimate destination. Of course, when the shoe is on the other foot, you go girl!

Married men are literally trapped, stuck supporting the poisonous predators that will eventually kill them. Plenty of women know this; perhaps this is why they are so keen on the idea. A little legal tweaking was all it took for feminists to remake marriage in their own image: men are now the dehumanised tools for women’s personal use. Sex roles have not simply been reversed, because men continue to do most of the work. What has changed is that the paycheque is now handed directly over to the wife, and his time at home will be spent completing endless ‘honey-do’ lists.

Every time you see a happily married couple, keep this in mind. That happiness is a guise. They want you to believe that they are just as normal as all the other couples who are pretending to be happy. Underneath the surface lurks trouble, discord, and a man who knows that freedom comes with a hefty price tag.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drop to my knees and thank the Lord that I am not married.

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