A Husband’s View of Her Post-Work Vent-a-Thon
Being the husband of a successful professional woman means not only supporting and admiring her, but also, on occasion, serving as a virtual sounding board at the end of the day. At times my wife has come home so caught up in the latest political twist-and-turn of her work life saga that she immediately launches into a reenactment of some particularly dramatic or frustrating moment, with props and all. It actually gets a bit Twilight Zone once in a while, as though she thinks she’s been magically transported back to the moment, unaware that she’s actually in our living room and hasn’t even put down her briefcase yet.
As a reporter I generally manage to steer clear of work politics myself, and as a man I find when I’m chewing on some source of angst at work, I’d just as soon forget about it for the night and take care of it the next day.
Not so for the professional woman in my life—and, I suspect, millions like her.
Like many husbands, I do my best to help. I’ve learned a few critical tricks of the trade: delaying the onslaught briefly while her mind slows from 100 mph to about 75; caring as much as she does; focusing on solutions; and never underestimating the mind-numbing power of a sitcom.
Fortunately, we usually manage to clear her mind enough to have some relaxation time and let us both sleep peacefully. (Note: No guy wants to hear his wife talking about work in her sleep.)
And while I’m happy to share how-to-survive-evening-venting tips with other men, I’m also a big fan of everyone learning to let work troubles go—and having a moment of Zen before walking in the door.
I’d offer suggestions, but I don’t know how I do it. It just happens.
In fact, many of my crazy workdays have been followed by this exchange:
My wife: What did you do today?
Me: I have no idea.
Her at Work vs. Her at Home
My wife stood in front of a group of people, feet planted firmly on the ground, arms flailing through the air, staunchly demanding that everyone help separate her M&M’s by color, hand-deliver them to her “trailer” and have Denzel Washington feed them to her.
A husband’s nightmare? No, this actually happened. It’s on video. One she somehow decided I’d want to watch.
It was, you see, a role-playing exercise, part of a class ostensibly designed to help her and other successful professionals hone certain speaking skills. She made up the candy part. And the Denzel. Don’t get me started.
Watching this, I had two powerful reactions:
1) Wow. She is amazingly natural at this mega-assertiveness thing. Like, scary natural. Somebody unleashed her inner tiger.
2) Thank God I’ll never have to face this. This is the work her.
Call it confidence—or primal fear—but I didn’t think that tiger would ever try to bite me.
And it got me thinking about the two hers. It’s not as stark as night and day, and it’s certainly not like Wonder Woman’s whole Diana Prince alter-ego. But I do think of my wife existing in a couple of different forms. There’s her, and then there’s this other side, slightly more steeled, less emotional, more independent version that she—like so many other successful professional women—assumes in the workplace.
I recall picking her up for lunch at her office during her last job and hesitating before kissing her in the hallway. Would it break her work image? Or add to her work mystique? Maybe I should plant a big wet one on her right outside the boss’s office. Wait … maybe I should leave.
I recognize that there’s a difference—not just in the atmosphere of the workplace, but also in who she needs to be there.
Of course, I have these different sides too. But the differences seem to stand out more in her than in me. I admit, sometimes it freaks me out. On the rare occasion she reverts to her work self around me, I start wondering where my wife went.
Don’t get me wrong. I hardly expect her to June Cleaver-ize at home, any more than she expects me to My Three Sons-ify. The thought of her vacuuming the house in high heels and soaking her hands in Palmolive is as hilarious as the idea of my doing that. And she can be plenty tough at home. If neither of us wants to take out the trash, get set for a Mexican stand-off.
But, suffice it to say, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that tiger emerging from her home self, which I’m firmly committed to thinking of as the “real” her. Why wouldn’t I be? In my reality she’ll eat any color M&M’s. And, I swear, she’d really rather have them from me than Denzel.
Avoiding the Tag-Along
The editors of PINK tell me I’ve been sufficiently PC in previous postings to afford me the freedom to take on some, let’s say, touchier topics. They’ve asked me to start by divulging my stance on being asked to tag along when my wife and female co-workers decide it would be “fun” to go out and bring spouses.
My general policy boils down to: Hell no.
If you wonder why, picture this. She and this selected group of comrades have so incredibly much to talk about, and talk about all of it at such a record-shattering pace, that I start to think my head might explode. Meanwhile, us tag-alongers exchange some knowing glances and sip our drinks while wondering how women can talk to each other at the exact same time and still hear one another.
When placed in this precarious situation, a man is forced into the troubling discovery that women remember everything that happens in the workplace, even seemingly insignificant things guys don’t even notice in the first place. (“Did you see the way he moved those papers underneath the paperweight on his desk? He must want the corner office.”)
Suddenly you’re wondering what random details about you they’ve picked up and decided to “dish” over appletinis. Only those present make it through unscathed.
I end up craning my neck for a view of the TV at the bar, which at that point could win my attention even if it featured a ten-year-old re-run of Wheel of Fortune.
I’ve experienced this feeling before. Standing in front of a roomful of people at a recent dinner, my wife discounted my years of reporting for NPR and CNN to announce that my primary role in life is to serve as eye candy by her side. She made me realize that maybe, occasionally, I should at least give it a shot.
So on rare occasions I’ll give in and do the tag-along. After all, I can handle pretty much just sitting there and spacing out. Smiling of course.
My wife just came in with the shirt she wants me to wear for her night out with the colleagues. Gotta run.
By Joshua Levs