As we’ve said, in most relationships, women are the primary scorekeepers. But men play ball, too. In the following entry, we’ll try to unravel the reasons why. Here’s what we think they are (brace yourselves!):
1. To preserve parity. Men feel like whatever they do, it is never enough.
2. To maintain control over their lives. Men express irritation that, often, their wives control (or attempt to control) their relationship with their kids, their home environment and, inadvertently, their free time.
3. They need acknowledgment (just like their wives). If the “Thank yous,” the “You’re working really hards,” and the “You’re a great Dads” are few and far between, they begin to wonder if their wives take them for granted.
Just as most women are stunned by, and rarely happy about, the domestic obligations associated with motherhood, men, at times, rail against the lack of freedom that accompanies fatherhood. Some men despair that fatherhood has reduced their life, outside of work, to one of relentless domesticity. It is this fear (that nagging “is this it?”) that serves as a backdrop to much of male scorekeeping.
It’s Never Enough!
“I get zero recognition for work. It doesn’t matter how tough of a day I’ve had. I get home and I have to be on.”
—Phil, married 7 years, 2 kids
Welcome to the doghouse. Most men feel like, no matter what they do, It’s Never Enough. They make comments such as, “my contributions are never appreciated,” or “I am behind, and always will be, for the rest of my entire life.” Many think that their wives have superhuman expectations of them. Most say it is completely unfair for their wives to criticize them for not helping enough at home when they make Herculean efforts to excel at work. This sense of unfairness is especially acute among men who are the primary, or only, income earners.
“You women want to have your cake and eat it, too. You can’t actively choose an aggressive alpha male because he’s a good provider and then expect him to be Mr. Mom at the same time.”
—Harrison, married 8 years, 2 kids
Another friend, Lee, said, “I cannot, cannot function at work when I’m constantly down in the weeds scrubbing bottles and burping babies at 3:00 a.m.” He may have a point. The three of us have all felt, at one time or another, that our husbands don’t do enough, despite the fact that they all do a hell of a lot. There are several categories of It’s Never Enough, including:
1. A man does not get credit for what he does do, especially what he does at work.
2. When he does do something around the house, it’s never right.
3. He has to guess what he is supposed to do.
4. When he doesn’t do something, or he doesn’t do it right, his wife holds it against him . . . indefinitely.
The three of us will be the first to admit that we’ve been guilty of some, if not all, of these infractions.
Work Counts for Nothing
“Why does work count for nothing in her mind? Shouldn’t there be some kind of percentage exchange going on here? If I am contributing eighty percent of the household income, shouldn’t I just be responsible for twenty percent of the domestic stuff?”
—Vince, married 5 years, 2 kids
Once children arrive, men feel the weight of the potential long-term consequences of every decision, whether it is seeking a promotion or selecting a college savings plan. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, especially if a man becomes the sole breadwinner. To him, it is a new world order. He is now shouldering 100 percent of the responsibility to provide enough money for the family. He starts to see it, as Vince does, as a percentage exchange, and he wonders why work is not included in his wife’s fifty–fifty calculation. Women born any time in the last fifty years, however, expect their husband’s share of the domestic workload to remain, if not exactly the same, at least in the same ballpark as it was before kids. Many men think this is totally unfair.
It is an ironic coincidence of timing, or the twisted sense of humor of an omnipotent deity, that the baby-making years occur just as the heat turns up on the work front. If, like many couples in our generation, you are marrying and having children in your thirties, you feel considerable pressure to make these years at work count, just as your responsibilities on the domestic front explode. (Women also feel this pressure. If they have taken a career break to focus on the kids, they fear they will never be able to catch up with their professional peers.)
“This is all happening during the sweet spot of our careers. The stakes are really high at work. Your thirties are make or break time. You can’t take your foot off the accelerator.”
—Karl, married 12 years, 3 kids
It’s Never Good Enough
Guys, as we’ve said, are problem solvers. They see a situation, especially one in which their beloved is not happy, and they want to fix it. They will fix it in the most expedient manner possible, but they are not detail-oriented about it. Wife wants to sleep in? No problem. I can turn on the Baby Einstein and the kid will be happy and she can sack out. Baby needs changing? Change the diaper. Doesn’t matter where I put the diaper after the changing part is over.
“Here’s an example of not good enough for you: last week, after I got up early and made the kids breakfast, I scrambled to shower and get dressed to make the 8:00 a.m. (i.e., late) train into work. I conscientiously threw away the dry-cleaning wrap from my dress shirt into the wastebasket in our bathroom. On my way out the door, my wife came at me with a scowl and said, ‘I don’t mean to be picky, but can you throw out all your dry-cleaning wraps in the downstairs garbage and not the one in our bathroom?’ I mean, come on! Which garbage can is the right garbage can? Has it come to that?”
—Robert, married 12 years, 2 kids
“So I took both kids and went to Costco. Just sucked it right up and did it, just like I thought she wanted me to. Did I get even a ‘thank you’ when I got back? No. Instead, she went through the shopping list and sighed and told me I forgot the detergent and the plastic cups.”
—Frank, married 7 years, 2 kids
Guys asked us, we guess because we’re women: why does she always want to micromanage everything? Why is doing it my way so terrible? What does she care if I take Matt and Andy to my parents while she’s at the gym all morning? They wonder why they don’t at least get partial credit for trying.
Men Answer Women’s Number One Question (Well, One of Them)
Question: Why don’t guys see the domestic crap the way we do?
Answer: They don’t see it because they just don’t care. They just don’t care.
Do you remember his apartment when you were dating? Would you have ever taken a shower in there? Or, God forbid, used the moldy, festering towels that hadn’t been washed in months? Today’s husband is not a closet chauvinist. He has no interest in seeing his wife on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. He’s probably not even threatened by her earning power or self-sufficiency. He is fully prepared to step up and help out. But he doesn’t like the routine running-of-the-household stuff and he never will. In his mind, it has no value and it should be avoided. If it cannot be avoided, it should be minimized. If possible, a shortcut should be used. He cares about getting it done, but not how it gets done.
Top Five Shortcuts Men Use
1. Change the diaper. Put soiled diaper on the floor or on top of the Diaper Genie, but not actually in the Diaper Genie.
2. Take the trash out. Don’t replace the trash bag in the kitchen.
3. Never change the toilet paper roll. Use tissue from the tissue box instead.
4. Place dirty clothes on top of the dirty clothes hamper.
5. Dress the kid in the first thing you pull out of the drawer. Whether it “works” or not is not an issue.
“When my wife is upset about something it doesn’t matter what I say, I just make her madder. I never seem to help the situation. Whatever she’s upset about changes on a daily basis. So every day, I have to figure out what the ‘issue du jour’ is and avoid it.”
—John, married 11 years, 2 kids
To a man, every single guy we’ve spoken to said something along the lines of, “It seems that the hardest thing for women is to articulate what it is they want us to do. We’re just supposed to know what they want.” And, shockingly, when a guy can’t read his wife’s mind, he gets in trouble.
“We would help out more if our wives would tell us exactly what they want us to do. For example, last Sunday night the house was a total mess and I said to my wife, ‘When this TV show is over we really need to clean up.’ She said, ‘You mean I need to clean up.’ And I didn’t—honestly—I meant that we both needed to do it. She got so annoyed with me and then told me about all the ways I had not helped her over the weekend. And I swear I had asked her so many times, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”
—José, married 7 years, 2 kids
As much as we want them to be, men are not mind readers. When they don’t have targets, they get frustrated. When we expect them to just “see” the things we see, we are bound to be disappointed.
Prior Convictions and the Log of Evidence
“If a guy messes up and does his ‘penance’ that should be the end of it. It’s not right to throw it back in our face six months later when we can hardly remember what it was all about anyway. Each individual incident should be dealt with separately. No mention of prior convictions.”
—James, married 9 years, 3 kids
Guys told us they feel there is no statute of limitations for their violations. What can we say? That statement is absolutely, totally, one hundred percent true. We can’t seem to forgive, or forget. It’s not one of our more attractive feminine virtues. (In our defense, though, we usually have to bring up the “priors” because our husbands are Repeat Offenders.) When we rehash old incidents, our husbands, quite naturally, get defensive and angry. They are less likely to want to talk about the issue at hand or be receptive to what we want to say.
Lack of Control
Most men feel as if they have little control over their environments. They are rarely the boss at work, and hardly ever the boss at home. Their wives act as Gatekeepers to the house and the children. Their wives plan weekends, select baby names, and evaluate vacation destinations. In many cases, their wives simply tell them where they need to be and when they need to be there. Lots of guys like it this way, but many others complain that their wives try to orchestrate their lives and fatherhoods.
They’re My Kids, Too
“My parents were divorced, so I never spent much time living with my dad. I don’t want that for my own kids, and I don’t want it for myself, either. I want to be there with them, watching them grow, sharing their ups and downs. And I want to help my wife. I don’t expect her to do everything.”
—Omar, married 10 years, 3 kids
The overwhelming majority of men want to be active, hands-on fathers, but it’s hard for a man (as it would be for anyone) to enjoy being a parent when his wife micromanages that relationship.
“I come home at night and it’s a great way to let off steam, rolling around on the floor with the boys. But I don’t do it anymore because she yells at me about getting them ‘all riled up’ before bedtime. Even when it’s ‘allowed,’ like on Saturday morning, she’s still kind of hovering over us. I can’t wait till they’re bigger. Then maybe she won’t be so worried all the time.”
—Luke, married 7 years, 2 kids
Men have commented to us that they “fall more in love” with their kids when they are left alone with them. As long as Mom is around, Dad is just the copilot.
It’s My House, Too
Some men confided to us that they can feel like (unwelcome) guests in their own homes. It’s their wife’s way or the highway. What’s the point of showing any initiative if you’re always getting smacked down? As Doug says, “Why do I always have to raise my standards? Why can’t she lower hers? Why is it when I clean the bathroom—and it looks totally clean to me—she gets mad and redoes it? Then I get no thanks for what I did do!”
“Sometimes I just want to retreat to the basement and watch a game for a few hours. I feel like I need to get a signed permission slip from my wife to watch the Rose Bowl in peace. I repeat, the Rose Bowl!”
—Jack, married 7 years, 1 kid
I Have a Life, Too (Don’t I?)
“I don’t even bother to plan anything on the weekends anymore because my wife has already planned every minute—on Microsoft Outlook, no less.”
—Joel, married 10 years, 4 kids
Why do guys keep track of points? To trade them in for freedom. As much as they love their wives and kids, a lot of guys feel the leash tighten around their necks as their families grow. They keep score about how much free time they are losing. Lance put it this way, “To men, marriage equals ‘I can’t do the things I want to do anymore.’ ” Charlie said, “I want it to be a quid pro quo so I can get some freedom.”
Men just want a little freedom from their responsibilities. “I want time away.” “I just want a break.” “My wife has never said to me, ‘Go do your thing. I’ll see you whenever.’ ”
Why Doesn’t She Just Go?
Guys also find a particular element of female scorekeeping confusing and annoying: they are perfectly willing to give us free time in exchange for their own. But then we don’t take advantage of the opportunity, and, exacerbating the problem, we turn around and: a) complain that we never get a break, and b) make our husbands feel guilty for taking their break. Understandably bewildered, they say, “She tells me she wants time to herself, but when I say go, she doesn’t go. Why doesn’t she just go?”
“If my wife hasn’t spent enough points, I’ll encourage her to spend them so that I can redeem mine. I want her to max out her points so I can use mine. I can’t go play golf for five hours if she hasn’t had a break for days.”
—Nathan, married 6 years, 1 kid
“I buy her spa time with an expiration date so she’ll be forced to use it.”
—Paul, married 9 years, 2 kids
Stop the Complaining and Start the Validating
“Last week, I had to go on two business trips for work. It was absolute hell, but she just seemed annoyed that I wasn’t around to help with the kids. Like I had some choice in the matter! Doesn’t she realize that I am working my ass off for everyone?”
—Mark, married 11 years, 2 kids
Just like women, men need validation. Just like women, men can feel their efforts on the domestic and work fronts go unnoticed and unappreciated. When a guy hears his wife express some appreciation, he feels like a million bucks. Who wouldn’t? They are disheartened by martyr-ish tendencies and too much complaining.
“I’m Married to a Martyr.”
“A lot of the stress women feel is self-created. There’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses.”
—Felix, married 6 years, 1 kid
“My wife’s maternal instincts whiplash the whole family. I feel like I spend half my time depressurizing her. It’s just too much.”
—Toby, married 9 years, 2 kids
All of us girls have played the Martyr. We’ve all slaved away on our husband’s behalf, and made damn well sure he knew about it. But a woman getting bent out of shape about an incomplete shopping list, or driving ten miles out of her way to get the special carpet cleaner, or staying up into the wee hours to hand-make party favors is virtually incomprehensible to a guy. Then, when she starts keeping score with him because he doesn’t adhere to the same meticulous (some might call it anal) standards, he considers it unnecessary, annoying, and largely ridiculous—“martyr-ish” was the word many of them used.
Well, gals, what do you think about what the men had to say? If you read both posts about why men and women keep score, you’d realize that we both have it pretty tough, we both work really hard. The important thing is that we get it out on the table and start the conversation. Keeping quiet and sweeping all that under the rug doesn’t do any good for anyone, especially your kids.