It's not about the mayonnaise: stop using tired tropes when complaining about your partner

By: jules
Last week I read an essay by author Rick Bragg about mayonnaise, which posits there are two kinds of people in this world: mustard people, and mayonnaise people. The author then goes on to extol the magic of mayonnaise … and bitch about his Meany McMeanermeier wife and how she ruins his life by not letting him eat it.

The essay is meant to be a funny bit of fluff about the awesomeness of mayonnaise (and to be clear: I am totally on Team Mayo), but the narrative device used to make the point is the author bitching about his wife. Over and over and over again. How she never lets him use mayonnaise. How she asks him to use low-fat mayonnaise. How he can't wait for her to go out of town because then he can finally have his mayonnaise. That's literally how the article ends: "What I can do, is wait for her to go out of town."

Look, I realize the dude probably loves his wife a great deal and they probably laughed together over the article before publication. But this tired storytelling trope, these exhausted cliches about "the old ball 'n' chain" aren't helping anyone's marriage or relationship. And it's not just men bitching about their mean, controlling wives. It's wives complaining about their simpleton husbands who can barely function without them, and who certainly can't be trusted to take care of the children.

Yep, these are the two biggest cliches: "My wife is controlling and mean" vs. "My husband is helpless and stupid." Behold:

Sarah Haskins isn't the only one who's sick of it. I'm DONE with these tired-ass narratives! YES, your partner is going to be irritating. YES, they're flawed. YES, they'll bother you and make the same mistakes over and over again.

But you know what? Telling these tired stories about each other doesn't give each other any room to grow. It denies your partner the opportunity to be something else. It firmly places them in a box where they are the one who keeps you from eating mayonnaise, and poor powerless you — you have NO CHOICE but to sigh and do as they say. You certainly couldn't talk to them about it. Because if you did that, the situation might change, and change is scary and plus … what would you tell your stories about? What would you roll your eyes at knowingly? What would you wave your hand over and say "Oh jeez, you know how they are," with THEY = all spouses ever.

Again, I totally get the longtime partnerships are full of irritations. Andreas and I are coming up on 13 years of being together, and we can both tell you all about the other's nuanced flaws. But here's the thing: these flaws have shifted over the years. In his early 20s, he was spacey and sometimes incompetent. I, meanwhile, was a huge drama queen. In our mid-30s, our flaws have shifted. I gripe about him being overly dogmatic; he gripes about me being dismissive. We are not still telling the same stories about his spaciness or my high drama ways … because we've given each other the opportunities to change. When his spaciness started fucking with our day-to-day ability to live together, we talked about it. Every time I got high drama, he'd check me. And we'd talk about it some more. And 13 years later, we're still talking … now about his dogmaticness and my dismissiveness.

When you cling to tired cliches about your partners' flaws, you're denying them the chance to change.

So I'm not saying partners aren't frustrating or that good communication is going to make the irritations magically go away. It's just that when you cling to tired cliches about your partners' flaws, you're denying them the chance to change. Next time you want to roll your eyes at them, try finding celebrating something in them that's changed recently. Did they FINALLY start hanging up their towel after a shower? Did they FINALLY start turning off the kitchen light when they're done in there? Did they FINALLY realize that maybe using less mayonnaise would be better for their health?

It's time we give our partners some credit: they're not stupid. They're not controlling. They're just people like us trying to get their shit together and make sense of their lives. Stop the cliches. (At least be creative in your complaints!) Stop waiting for them to go out of town to enjoy yourself. Start allowing them to be themselves instead of a tired-ass stereotype.

Eat the mayonnaise and love your partner; the two are not mutually exclusive.

  1. Amen!

    I am so tired of the "oh you know how men/women are" thing.

    It's so lame!

    40 agree
  2. I think this same sort of thing happens with people you know well or for a long time in general. I have this issue with my family (but oddly not with my FH). They never quite seem to grasp that I'm not the same person I was when I was 5, or 10. I'm not even the same person I was 5 or 10 years ago. People get ideas of who you are and it can be very difficult to change that.
    I do think it's really important that you communicate with your spouse/partner though. In a family situation (parents, siblings) it breeds a little resentment. In a relationship, it's poisonous. Communicating is the key to solving most problems, everything else works out from there if it works out at all.

    29 agree
    • My husband gets this problem with his Mum. She is always surprised when he eats veg at her house…every single time…for the whole 10 years we have been together. The funny thing is he says he can't remember ever not liking it so maybe she made the whole thing up in her head. Also a common problem in husband/wife relationships!

      10 agree
    • I completely understand! My mother still is amazed that I keep my house clean. She says "you use to never clean your room". She is referring to the last time I lived with her, before I went to live with my dad, when I was 9 years old! I am 29 now and she thinks I am still the same way. I just don't get it LOL!!!

      4 agree
      • My standard response to people not getting that I've changed since I was five is to say: "Yes, and I used to hate boys and the color pink too!"

        14 agree
  3. Yes! I love Sarah Haskins, really miss her segments on infoMania. Every time I watch a commercial I think of that one. It's such a tired stereotype that hurts people of all genders.

    Also, some of us don't like mustard OR mayonnaise. So there, Rick Bragg.

    9 agree
    • And some of us like both and have been known to freak people out when putting both on the same burger. Not sure why but apparently it's wrong.

      19 agree
        • Just don't add ketchup as well. Too much sauce gets messy.

          1 agrees
          • Oh heck no, I'm all about mustard, ketchup, AND mayo on a burger. Yeah, add a huge pile of various veggies like mushrooms, tomatos, and red onion, and it's definitely messy. But that's just how I roll.

            24 agree
      • I wasn't even sure where we were going with mayo people and mustard people, I don't think that's a thing in Australia.

        They're completely different condiments, mayo is for salad, mustard is for meat. If you're having a burger with meat and salad, of course you have both.

        Also, you can buy "dijonaise" here, which is mayo mixed with dijon mustard. It's good on chips or as an alternative to tartare sauce with fish…

        2 agree
        • Dijonaise is the best :-)

          We don't really have the Mustard / Mayo thing in NZ either….I guess the closest is whether or not you like Watties Tomato Sauce. If you don't, you must be foreign. Haha.

          I've just finished working on an ad campaign for a wine company, where the whole premise of the ad was that men can't look after themselves, full of shots of men crying in front of the microwave, and folding washing with confused tears, and other such things. The tagline was "It's ok men, it's only girls night out"

          It was quite a well done ad, and obviously reached the target market, but the whole time, I felt a little uncomfortable helping them to perpetuate the stereotype that men are useless, especially given that mine is much more useful around the house than I am!

          2 agree
  4. That video is effing hilarious! What a perfect example of media defining gender roles, and trying to make us dissatisfied with ourselves/our partners so that we will buy shit. The truly effed up thing is that it works…

    I used to do all of the cooking/cleaning/laundry (and the yard work. I teased my husband about this, claiming that I was both the woman AND the man in the relationship). Then he started taking on some more duties, like laundry for instance… and when I told people that my husband did the laundry for our family, most of them were all like 'no way!'

    I should mention that everyone in this story has at one point or another been exposed to feminist theory, generally agreed with it (my husband included) and thinks of themselves as a feminist. Yet we have still on one level or another subscribed to the age old narrative. How does that still happen?

    7 agree
    • I have this problem too! Every night after dinner my husband cleans the kitchen.I was on the phone with my mother one night and she asked what he was doing. When I told her he was cleaning the kitchen she said "Oh! What a nice husband you have!" Why? Because he wants our house to be clean? Why is that when our partners do chores it's assumed that they're doing us a favor instead of doing them because it needs to be done?

      14 agree
    • My neighbour got my case about this.
      He said, don't you have a husband to do this stuff?
      I told him. I paid for the house with my own money. I will do the work. My guy is welcome to help, but I can do it too.

      0 agree
    • I still get this too, because Hubby does the floors and the laundry. Really? Because he's got a different set of parts, he can't run a vacuum cleaner? The damn vacuum cost more than my truck. <–that probably sums up our entire relationship, right there.

      0 agree
  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. As always, you somehow have impeccable timing for my life.

    1 agrees
  6. Yes! I get so sick of these tired tropes. I refuse to play into them, and it's so refreshing to hear that other women feel the same. What upsets me most is that I have a difficult time relating to many women because their idea of a conversation is complaining about the stupidity/insensitivity/dullness of their husbands or boyfriends. It all seems so negative to me. I'm all for needed to talk about relationship issues with friends, but I am not willing to bond with someone via husband bashing.

    27 agree
    • So true! My dad was always the odd one out in work because he refused point blank to ever bitch and moan about my mam. As he always said to the guys (and us), mam was the best thing that ever happened to him and if the guys he works with don't like that he couldn't care less. Growing up with that attitude has been such a positive influence on me, neither myself nor my partner moan about one another or blame things like not going out on one another. Solidarity for the win!

      4 agree
  7. Aww, how refreshing to be both aware that people are flawed and that it's ok. That relationships are not going to be comprises of two people that go "Yes, dear!" all day. My husband and I have been together for almost seven years and we have approached a point in life and our relationship where our differences are accepted. Seeing friends who still treat their partners like adorable, little morons who are beyond help begs the question "Why???" Why not accept your partners flaws as you would hope they should accept yours? Why make a constant headache for yourself? And why make something that can be so uplifting and positive, so negative and burdensome?

    3 agree
  8. Wow, even though my situation isn't about men being dumb this couldn't be much more timely!
    Right now my fiance is on the sofa acting like he's dying (again) because he's been ill with the much mocked "manflu" since yesterday. I've just recovered after being ill for 3 weeks during which time he was fairly insensitive (no on the mouth kisses aloud incase I infected him for a start) and now he wants to be taken care of. I'm busy here in another room resenting him, when I should just be talking to him or simply giving a cuddle.
    Treating him like he'll never understand or change his attitude and assuming he doesn't feel half as bad as I did certainly isn't helping. Yay for a well needed sanity check! ^_^

    6 agree
  9. Amen sister!

    Dan and I do sometimes joke around with each other about our flaws, but we are never insulting about it. Loving your partner the way they are means not insulting them for minor things. Obviously, you guys love something about each other or you wouldn't be together.

    0 agree
  10. Good point! This is why we wrote a bit in our vows about taking this "imperfect person"–to allow us to be who we are–always evolving–and not some "perfect mate." And my husband can definitely function without me, most days he's the one helping me keep it all together! But it's give and take!

    1 agrees
  11. My dude is pretty darn amazing. He doesn't play into these tropes and it helps me avoid them too. His issues are his own. Sure, some of them play into society's construction of what a man is, but I try to let him be himself and he never applies the negative stereotypes to me.

    1 agrees
  12. I love this, and had never thought about it in this way, "Telling these tired stories about each other doesn't give each other any room to grow. It denies your partner the opportunity to be something else." I'd go a step further and said that telling these tired stories about GENDER doesn't allow us to grow and change. I particularly loath "All Men are blahblahblah" tropes, because you know what? My husband isn't most of those things. He's responsible, and a cook, and a better housekeeper than me, and cares about clothes. Those things don't make him better (he has plenty of flaws) but they do prove that men are not all stereotypes. So I think when we tell the gender stories, we're either A) Telling people how they should behave as a member of their gender or B) Giving them permission to act in a sh*tty way because "men/women can't help it." Which sucks.

    Now I need to do some thinking about what we complain about. I'm not sure we have stories we always tell about each other, which is a good thing.

    13 agree
  13. After trying not to go on a tirade against my friend who WOULD NOT stop saying awful things about what she kept referring to as the "male pysche," I really needed to see this article and the great responses after it. I'm always glad to see, as many have written before here, that I'm not the only person who thinks that sex has very little to do with how people act. I wish I could hug all of you! :)

    3 agree
  14. I think a lot of this has to do with how people are socialized. When I was growing up, it was expected that I take part in the cooking, cleaning, ect. and my parents never hid how a house was run from me, since I would need to know one day. My husband, not so much. Also, I was in advanced classes from the fourth grade on and one of the major pushes from that through college was to learn to find the answers for yourself. So when I don't know how to fix the toilet, or how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, I start researching, asking people, weighing different options, ect. My husband went through the "regular" track in school and didn't have the same emphasis put on problem solving. When he doesn't know how to do something, he asks me, whines, asks again, whines some more, and eventually badgers me into doing it for him not because he's stupid (it's not stupid if you really don't know what you're doing) but because he was never trained to go find the answer. But, of course, because society tells us that husbands are incapable I see this as more proof that he couldn't function without me instead of exactly what it is – that he just never learned that skill and there's nothing wrong with that.

    5 agree
  15. I think one of the reasons that many people fall into the habit of picking on their partners' flaws is that they feel it will demonstrate their independence. It's almost like saying, "See? I'm not one of those people who gets all mushy and only sees their partner through rose colored glasses…they're flawed and I can live without them!"

    Of course, in reality listening to someone pick on their partner is pretty annoying and uncomfortable. The intended effect is to make the nit-picker look cool and aloof, and the actual result is that they appear immature, whiny and mean.

    4 agree
    • Agreed! I often hear people pick on their partner in social groups; maybe it's also a way to bond with social peers. When your friend is complaining about how her boyfriend just sits on the couch as soon as he gets home from work, it's easy to say, "Oh I know! Mine does that too! Aren't men lazy?" We've just made a connection, found a similarity, and importantly, differentiated US from THEM.

      It's not a constructive dialogue; nothing is improved in our relationships by reinforcing the idea that guys are stoopid and useless. Still, if it's making you feel independent from your partner and connected to your peers it's not hard to see why it can be so hard to unplug from that mindset.

      2 agree
  16. What an excellent article!! Great parody video too. It's all too true how these insidious stereotypes operate.

    0 agree
  17. I love love love when Ariel expounds! Always so right on and so damn down to earth. One of the many reasons I love this blog. I wish there was an "ask Ariel" column.:)

    And I'd like to add—we wouldn't have deviled eggs or egg salad (some of my fav. foods) if mayo and mustard couldn't live in harmony!

    6 agree
  18. Amen! We actually have a strict rule of not complaining about each other to other people or jesting about each other's flaws. Our problems can be worked out together not bottled up or spilled to others and not making fun of our flaws keeps us from being boxed in by them or getting defensive about them.

    Now that we're married I can't stand the cliches other couples bring up as if now that we're part of the "married club" all those cliches have come true. They haven't.

    2 agree
  19. I have several friends who get all "Boys are dumb – throw rocks at them" every time their partner does something annoying. It irritates me. My story when something about my sweetie annoys me has always been "Relationships are hard – let's do math". It's a play on the old Barbie "Math is hard – let's go shopping" trope. Admittedly, doing math doesn't solve relationship problems and I never ACTUALLY go do math instead of dealing with my sweetie, but the joke is that math is something people think is hard – and relationships are even harder!

    2 agree
  20. I think at least in part it's another example of gender stereotyping in society as a whole. A lot of the examples remind me of comments I used to get when I worked in a video game store, lots of "It's all a mystery to us girls isn't it?" and "I don't know how men can waste so much time/money on these things". For some reason it was always women saying it and they all assumed, based entirely on the fact that I am female that I had the same interests and opinions as them. (Which happened to also imply I knew nothing about my job.)

    I agree that it's a big problem in relationships however, for one thing if you keep saying these things you can start to believe them and if your partner keeps hearing them they might start to believe it too. (As proven by the years it took to break my boyfriend of his mothers "you shouldn't try that, you might not like it" approach to food, even though he kept finding things he did like.)

    2 agree
  21. TOTALLY. This is a bit of a tangent, but this incident showed me how some people think of their spouses. I had an aunt in town, trying to get us to visit her, who kept telling me (in front of him) to "just tell him this is what you're doing. You just tell him we're going on vacation here." I had to point out to her that we are a team, and decide things TOGETHER, we don't tell each other what to do. I had to repeatedly reinforce the TEAM factor to her, which I just found sad, and needless to say my honey was none too pleased about this! It's sad that people (maybe the older generations are used to it, and watching their parents behave this way just reinforced the attitude?) continue this behavior and find the idea of an equal partnership alien!

    0 agree
  22. AMEN AMEN AMEN

    Fabulous article! I want to hang it on the wall!

    I've had to ask my mother and my aunt to stop forwarding those cutesy 'aren't men silly/stupid' cartoons that get sent to hundreds of people on an flist. I know that if a male friend of mine sent around a sexist joke I'd be ALL OVER THEIR BUTTS. It's not funny and it's not ok.

    On a related note: all of the women in my husband's family now blame *me* for his perceived flaws. Because apparently I was supposed to fix him. My husband and I have been together 15 years at this point; I'm well aware of who he is and want him to grow however he likes.

    Let's not forget that marrying someone with the intent on changing them is an insult to everyone involved. (!)

    3 agree
  23. Not only do we not play into this pettiness, we're also a strange breed of people that believe not everything we say and do needs to be broadcast to the entire internet. No one cares if my FH didn't put a glass in the sink today and it got knocked off the counter and broken by our cat (again!)

    I've never, ever heard him or even heard him elude to "the ol' ball and chain" thing. I don't know if it's out of respect or if he just doesn't buy into it because it's never come up. Honestly, I've bitched a bit about some of his quirks and I'm sure he's bitched about some of mine, but we never broadcast it and make it into a big deal.

    I'm sure that one day we'll both laugh about the fact that when we were in our late 20's we had no glasses left in our kitchen at one point because someone kept leaving them on the counter to be broken by our cats. Who cares?!

    And for the record, we're both no mayo OR mustard :)

    0 agree
  24. ugh this reminds me of the other trope I hate: when someone's partner is watching the kids while they do something else, and they refer to it as "babysitting" as though they're not [his] kids or responsibility. I don't even know why, but under the right circumstances, that one makes me raaaage, haha.

    6 agree
    • This! My uncle babysits his kids while my aunt goes to weightwatchers cause he says she's fat, and somehow he deserves praise for this?!

      1 agrees
  25. You know what commercial where the man turns on the blender without the lid? I totally asked my fiance if he feels bad and that the commercials make all men out to be idiots and unable to use a blender. His response: "eh whatever. I dont mind if it means you will make me the smoothie and I dont have to". hah.

    0 agree
    • Ah yes: elective incompetence. That's a whole different issue for another day.

      3 agree
      • We refer to it as selective competence in our house. Much more positive spin. And both parties are guilty. He magically can't remember how to cook anything, and I can't remember what day the trash goes out.

        2 agree
  26. Love this! My husband and I have never been all about the defined gender roles; he's better at laundry than I am (although we both do it) and we take turns with the cooking because we both like it. He's a little more well-rounded when it comes to household skills than I am, due to various factors, but he has no problem teaching me how to do things. And why would I want to be reliant on him to be the only person who knows how to work the mysterious "Food-liquifier-bot"?
    My husband and bunch of his friends get together for game nights (Cyberpunk or WarHammer) occasionally, which means that the spouses/partners tend to have a corresponding night out all together. I went once: all conversations degenerated into "Oh, my partner is *so* dumb/retarded/stubborn/silly/just like a typical (insert gender)!" which, of course, led directly into "All I can do as a dutiful partner/spouse/whatever is *suffer in silence*!" It made me so crazy that I actually left early and walked home. Now, my husband has his game nights and I either find an actual friend to hang with, or I go hang out at the museum or art gallery on my own.
    I can't stand it when people bash their partners rather than talking to them about their issues … if they're the "old ball & chain", why on earth did that person marry/choose to be with them in the first place?? Who voluntarily commits to someone that they profess makes them miserable or controls them to the point where they can't have any sort of fun/a life/make their own dietary choices?? *ARGH*

    6 agree
  27. I just saw another one this morning for popcorn where the husband was eating a stick of butter and his wife and daughter walk in on him, looking disgusted. I never would have noticed it before! Thank you for making me more aware of another way the media tries to tell me how to think…

    0 agree
    • Ugh! I hate that one! I also hate the one where the husband destroys the party set-up by 'power-washing' the deck.

      0 agree
    • I used to eat butter like that as a kid. Drove my mom nuts. I'm surprised she didn't lock the fridge.

      1 agrees
  28. I do think it's impoirtant to keep in mind that our partner's flaw, and our own flaws, are not a matter of gender or stereotype.

    However, I think it's good to be able to talk with friends about the little things that drive you crazy. Not because it makes you look better in comparison or that you can bond over having similar problems- but because it helps put things in perspective. A person who is not inside the relationship can help you remind you that everyone has flaws, that no marriage is perfect, and how those same little flaws that drive you nuts aren't really a big deal in the big picture.
    For example: My hasband has the annoying habit of throwing trash in the sink, where it gets caught in the drain and I inevitably have to dig it out. We've talked about it numerous times, but it's just a habit he can't seem to break.
    So, the other night I'm talking with my husband's brother's wife, and they only just started living together after their wedding, and she's talking about the rough adjustment of getting used to his habits and routines. I mentioned how my husband throws trash in the sink. She replied with amazement that his brother does the exact same thing! It was such an eye-opening moment for the both of us. These bad habits they have are simply the way they were raised. If it wasn't for that conversation, we wouldn't have gotten that fresh perspective on the situation. We weren't complaining that they were awful people for doing these things, and we weren't dismissing the behavior as "how men are", we were simply sharing experiences, and it led to a bit of a breakthrough and new understanding of so much of their behavior.
    And I will say that some of the things my co-workers will tell me about their spouses make me realize that I'm lucky that the worst thing my husband does is throw trash in the sink.

    I think we're allowed to occasionally vent about these little things in a healthy way, and the above article helps point out that thinking or saying things like "My partner is awful because he/she does xyz" or "My partner's faults are due to his/her gender" are not a healthy way of coping with these problems.

    I'm also somewhat baffled when people say something like "My partner won't allow me to eat mayonnaise". I don't think I would ever dare tell my husband he couldn't eat something- and I can't imagine actually being upset that he ate something simply because I didn't want him to. I'm not his parent, and he is not mine. What we choose to eat is our own business.

    4 agree
  29. Thank you for this piece!!

    Fantastic timing — I'm just getting over laryngitis and was voice-less for several days. OF COURSE when I was out with my brand new husband, people would make the "She lost her voice? Lucky you!" jokes. I get it–it's just a joke, but I couldn't help being disappointed. This is how we treat our most important relationship? I'm already the old ball and chain? And it was coming from people who couldn't wait for our wedding just earlier this year.

    It's just reflective of how we discuss marriage and relationships–the spouse is supposed to be this terrible person, not the one you've chosen to spend your life with. And when you've just made that choice, it's disheartening.

    1 agrees
    • Ah, the laryngitis! I was at my aunts for Christmas and my aunt had laryngitis, totally lost her voice. I heard my uncle whisper to my brother, "this is MY Christmas present." I was so mad…my brother probably looks up to my uncles as role models, and that's what they're teaching him.

      0 agree
  30. AGREED!

    I get especially sick of the "my husband doesn't know how to [insert domestic house cleaning chore here] for his life!" Uh… have you tried patiently showing him? (and not in a demeaning way)? I love responding to the "men simply can't do housework right" with, "Uh… my man does ALL of the housework at our place. Have you tried actually talking to him about it?" The look of shock on their face is a bit satisfactory.

    3 agree
  31. Oh goodness yes!

    Matt and I have been together about 2.5 years. When we first got together I was a workaholic and stressaholic with a very relaxed attitude to time and a bad habit of leaving things everywhere; he was irresponsible with money and anal about time and cleaning up.

    Now, our attitudes to time are much closer together – I'm a lot more prompt and he's a lot more relaxed, I don't let work or stress rule me, he manages our household finances (with my input of course) and… well, I still leave things lying around, but not as much as I used to, and he's gotten more relaxed with that.

    Now my scatterbrainedness and his impatience are our biggest annoyances, and I'm sure in a few years time those will have changed as well.

    People change, and if you communicate well and work together, you can each change for the better within the relationship.

    0 agree
  32. Thank you – it is so refreshing to see that others value talking about and improving relationships!

    0 agree
  33. Eww, I think both mustard and mayo are gross. I agree that we all change and can work through things, but sometimes change is a slow process. I found my FH opening cans of peas and calling it "dinner." at least now he can make spaghetti, but it's still a terrifying experience to let him near the kitchen.

    2 agree

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.