My husband and I met a consecrated virgin last week. Later he commented to me, "She is full of light," and then added: "Why didn't I find a girl like that when I was young?" I broke out laughing. But he did not.
"Honey," I nudged him with a helpful tip toward his improvement, "You met me, remember?"
Only weeks earlier at a family dinner, his 85-year-old father barked aloud: "Why did I have to stay married to the same woman all these years? How come I couldn't have a bunch of marriages like other people until I found the perfect one?" My dear mother-in-law paid him no heed.
I wonder: Is this premeditated behavior? Is there a worn, tattered book – Beastly Things Men Say – secretly circulating among the men in my family? My mother-in-law once cautioned: "Ignore him. God didn't give him sensitivity or kindness or empathy or consideration or thoughtfulness… " I don't know where she stopped. But, like her, I have a growing list of attributes that God forgot to give my husband Bill.
I know I am not alone. My girlfriends have reported the following remarks from their men:
"You did all this to make me better and now I have to be holy, too?" "You wanted the children, so why do you complain about them so much?" "The guys were discussing why Jack's wife left him, and we all agreed, it's menopause." "Dear, I don't know why you get scared when I go 80 mph – why don't you try an antidepressant?" "I thought you would like to go to the motorcycle races for Mother's Day."
Do these comments make sense within the male brain? Could these men possibly think they are being tender, making interesting conversation?
Recently, I've detected a worrisome lack of progress in our efforts to improve them. I should not be surprised; my own husband's brain often seems limited in range. He has seven permanent topics of public interest: video equipment, cars, fitness, real estate, baseball, politics, and almonds. In these categories, he has astounding, detailed knowledge. We receive at least one monthly magazine related to each area, except almonds. But his new friend Jim works as national sales manager for Blue Diamond Almonds – that's even better.
It's hard not to be somewhat disappointed and wonder where I am going wrong. Bill thwarts my efforts to improve him. When I complain that he has arrived late, he says, "You didn't tell me what time I had to be there." I whip out a hard copy of the e-mail I sent him. Then, he says, "I was held up in traffic." I speed dial his office manager who yelps: "Boy, was he late today or what?" I look intently into Bill's lying brown eyes and he says, "Stop nagging me."
Why, I grieve, why can't he be more like me?
Frankly, it's very hard not be disappointed, chronically disappointed, with his resistance to his own betterment. I can stew for days, charting fresh, stealth approaches to improving him. But my failures choke me with frustration, and I become gloomy and pessimistic…
. . . until he dazzles me. It's always a surprise. Once, he sent a dozen red roses with a note, "I don't deserve a wonderful wife like you." He gave me an effusive talking Mr. Wonderful doll that "can say the things to you I can't say." One day in Atlanta, I received this voicemail: "Hi, honey. I want you to know how much I love the life we lead together." (I resaved that message until it disappeared one day.)
Then I notice he does amazing things I cannot do; he is who I cannot be. He concentrates like a brain surgeon as his buddy describes a whistle in his woofer and tweeter. He asks detailed questions as they follow a maze of wires between socket and sound. They guffaw aloud, exclaim "There's the little bugger," and clap each other on the back.
Later, Bill roars through the house chasing our two sons in a game I do not comprehend – a game that provokes such laughter, such bellowing joy, that I feel pleasingly puzzled as I dive for tipped lamps and straighten furniture thrown back in their wake. The boys fall exhausted into his arms, a pile of Campbell men that makes me cross my arms and hum happily.
Last week, this husband of mine gathered us for a family photo for his re-election brochure – a position on the San Francisco Republican Central Committee. Never mind that there are only 72 voting Republicans in San Francisco; he focuses his energy like he is leading an international movement, making heard a voice that the liberal urban mass would deride and silence. One day, after working the Republican table at a local street fair, he mentioned in passing that an angry, bearded young man had swept their literature to the ground and spit upon them. To my worried look, he answered with a grin, "Don't worry about lame jerks, honey."
In these moments, I forget that the man disappoints me, and I become lightheaded. "That," I whisper proudly, "is my husband."
Later, as his flaws resurface, I grow confused. How does he do this, showing such skill, such prowess, yet stubbornly persisting in his defects? Where's the normal learning curve, the improvement? Why won't he listen to me?
"Silly you," I tell myself, drying off tears after Bill has announced he's going four-wheeling with someone named Maniac on our anniversary. "We'll just celebrate later in the week, dear. No big deal," he said off-handedly.
"Silly you," I tell myself as I contemplate the original design of our marriage, our attempt at unity. Here's what God commanded: "Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you." This was the world's first formula for disappointment. My husband alone proves the creation story. The tireless longing of my heart provides the soundtrack.
Yet here we are, doing what we were designed to do, some days better than others. Together we are made in the image of God. Divided and fallen, ours is the struggle to find that image, day upon day. Alone, our souls know their incompleteness. Together, through the disappointment and joy, we live our hope, our purpose. Somehow, it's comforting to know that it's going according to plan.