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. My husband and I have been together since 1998, 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 and 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.