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

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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. 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.

Comments on It’s not about the mayonnaise: stop using tired tropes when complaining about your partner

  1. Amen!

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

    It’s so lame!

  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.

    • 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!

    • 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!!!

  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.

    • 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.

          • 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.

      • 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…

        • 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!

  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?

    • 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

  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.

    • 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!

  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?

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