I recently treated myself to a couple hours out of the house and an indulgent pedicure. Apparently, on the same day, every other woman in my small town had the same idea, which gave me ample time to just sit back, relax, and read something without trains and trucks on the cover.
Even though I had a book in my bag, I picked up one of the salon’s glossy magazines, and I’m so glad I did, for buried deep in a fall issue of Redbook was the following article:
Like most men, I love the fact that Thanksgiving is all about food, family, and football. I have no qualms about eating until it literally hurts and then lying down in front of the TV to moan softly while I nurse a glass of scotch, watch whatever game is on, and hopefully digest enough of the pain away to be ready for dessert. The elders of the group are afforded the respect of easy chairs and couches, while the younger men of our tribe are relegated to whatever spots they can scrounge on the floor.
But my wife, Karel — along with the other women in her family — has never joined this Y-chromosome ritual. She does not give in to thoughtless gluttony during the holidays, or, for that matter, on any other day. It's not that she's a paranoid counter of calories or fat grams, it's just that she is aware of what, and how much, she is eating. It's like there's an invisible finish line of food that only Karel can see, and if she steps even a few feet over it, every time she sees herself in the mirror for the next week she'll grab her belly and say, "Look at how big my stomach is" or, "Look at how much weight I've put on this week." Meanwhile, I'm making the best possible use of leftovers by sandwiching turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans between two slices of chocolate-chip pecan pie.
The stories I hear from my guy friends go pretty much the same way. Their wives behave a lot like Karel, who gazes in the mirror and critiques every part of her amazing body. It's impossible for her to look at photos taken in the months after she gave birth to the kids without commenting on how "chunky" she was. She's forbidden me to hang up some of my favorite photos of her because she can see mysterious flaws or proportional eyesores that I and the rest of the world are completely oblivious to.
By contrast, when I look in the mirror, I don't see my faults. I stand there naked and make funny faces and flex muscles and never once see the pound or two that I gained over Thanksgiving — let alone the extra 15 pounds I've hauled around since my 19-month-old daughter, Josie, was born. All I'm thinking is, Hey, not bad for a 32-year-old.
Seriously, I understand that there are plenty of guys over 30 who are in much better shape than I am, but why would I compare myself to them? I might give myself a complex. Besides, I (and most of the other guys I know) realize that our looks played only a small part in landing our wives. Sure, they factored in, but they pale in comparison to our sense of humor, our ability to provide security, and that confusing, uncontrollable thing we call love. I may not know what it is, but Karel seems to see something in me that compensates for my concave pecs and deforested hairline.
I worry that she thinks it's different for women — that men fall hard for their looks, then expect perfect maintenance. But that's far from the truth. I may have noticed Karel initially because her personal-trainer-sculpted body had hills and valleys that would make Julie Andrews burst into song. But I'm here long after climbing every mountain because I fell in love with her funniness, her border-collie-like enthusiasm for life, and the nearly aneurysm-inducing sex. Guys may be shallow, but we're not stupid. We understand how the human body ages, and most of us have a fairly good grasp on the difference between fantasy and reality. I've never expected Karel to always look like she did when we first met. I thought she was stunning the moment I laid eyes on her nine years ago, and I thought she was stunning the moment she walked through the door half an hour ago — for very different reasons.
With the exception of a few tattoos, the Karel I married eight years ago looked like an alluring, 26-year-old blank slate waiting to be filled with stories, aglow in the possibilities of youth. But I imagine that staring at a blank page for the rest of your life would get boring, which is why it's so hard for me to understand how she can pinch and grab and criticize the parts of her that tell the best stories of our life. The scars on her belly, the changing shape of her breasts, the lines that are starting to appear on her face — these aren't imperfections; they're what keep me wanting to find out what happens next.
In a relationship where Karel is usually the sensible party, it's ironic that I'm so much more practical about body image. I know a day of gluttony won't kill me, and that health and beauty have just as much to do with your heart and mind as they do with your body.
So, reader, if somewhere deep down a part of you has always wanted to join the menfolk on the living room floor after Thanksgiving dinner, go for it. We'll share the scotch, we'll make sure you have a view of the game — hell, Grumpers might even let you wield the remote. And your guy will be thrilled to have your hot body stretched out by his side.
- by Redbook contributing author Aaron Traister
Wow, and sigh. Because I know that Jim feels the same way about me that Aaron feels about his wife Karel. In fact, not even 24 hours ago, I caught Jim watching me as I got dressed for church. I glared at him; he questioned my reaction, stating that he was entitled to “admire my wife.” I retorted that he wasn’t – at least not while I was hiking up pantyhose. And this debate ensued, that he thinks I’m beautiful no matter what, and I rolled my eyes and walked into the closet, and I hear him mutter from the bathroom: “try to compliment you, and I just get shot down.”
And I cringed. Because this Redbook article was fresh in my head (but apparently, not quite sunk in). I did brush off his [sincere] compliment [due to my own insecurities]. Shame on me.
So….I decided to post it here on Writer Chic. I figure it’ll keep the concept of “thinking like a guy” more front and center in my psyche, and maybe encourage someone else, too.
What do you think, wives? Is this a struggle for you, too? I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one…