After her husband died unexpectedly, the dirty socks and pants she used to find thrown on the bedroom floor became something she missed.
She avoided washing his last load of laundry as long as she could. Savoring this once-annoying moment as she realized how much she would miss it.
Debbie Wilkins Baisden recounts this story and the life lesson it provided in her article “Stop Being a Butthole Wife.”
Everyone who has ever written about male-female relationships could have predicted what happened next.
Everyone in happy, peaceful marriages read it and said: “Amen, sister! Don’t sweat the small stuff!”
Wives frustrated and angry with their husbands who leave dirty laundry on the floor, and dirty dishes next to the sink said: “I know you’re sad your husband died, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse the disrespectful behavior! I’m not my husband’s maid, and he needs to respect me and pick up after himself!”
And then a guy would reply: “Why do you believe you have the right to command your husband to do things your way, or dictate the terms of your marriage when he feels differently? You’re not his mother!”
And then a married or divorced wife would reply: “The person who does all the cleaning should make the rules!”
And then a married guy would reply: “I suppose that’s what you say and feel when your husband is outside shoveling snow, or fixing the plumbing, or taking garbage to the curb! You feminists have ruined marriage!”
And then a woman would reply: “Actually, you misogynists are the ones who ruined marriage!”
And then more people would internet-scream at each other about who is responsible or to blame for their problems, the premise always being that “If only men/women would stop doing (insert ‘crime’ here), we wouldn’t have all these relationship problems!”
If I Blame Everything on Divorce, Then Nothing is Ever My Fault
That’s my life in a nutshell.
I don’t do it on purpose.
I don’t sit around thinking: This is all totally my fault, but I’ll just blame it on someone or something else for public-relations reasons and trick everyone.
But I do often catch myself blaming divorce for things.
I was popular and well-liked growing up. (Or at least, I THOUGHT I was popular and well-liked, which has the same effect on your mind and body even if it wasn’t true.)
I assumed everyone I met liked me, and I assumed everyone I would meet would like me, and that made me mostly fearless.
I made friends easily. Girls seemed to like me. Friends’ parents, teachers, and coaches all seemed to as well.
I had many friends. Both in high school and college. In two different states because my mom and dad lived in different places.
I struggled with the transition to domesticated, couples-based socializing after my girlfriend/fiancée/wife and I started our life together, and everything converted from big-group activities and parties, to small dinner parties and small-group gatherings.
But as time passed and I matured, I found peace and pleasure with the ebb and flow of being married and couples-based socializing as we all began building careers and families.
Then the hits started coming around age 30.
The fight about where we should live and work.
The birth of our son.
The death of a parent.
The near-universal husband/wife clashes over money, household chores, and how we treated one another when things got rough.
It’s the slow march to divorce most people don’t see coming nor recognize as it’s happening, but it mostly looks the same for everyone in failing or failed marriages.
My wife stopped liking me.
Then, stopped loving me.
She’s not big on pretending, so I felt the change. And one day at a time, it started pecking at my insides.
Next thing I knew, I was sleeping in the guest room and freaking out.
Then, she was gone, and I freaked out harder.
Then—I don’t know. That’s now, I guess. “Then” is now. On April 1, it will be four years since my marriage ended.
It’s a big blur in my head that feels simultaneously lightning-fast and like an agonizing eternity.
I only know this: When the story began, everyone liked me, I wasn’t afraid of anything, and life was awesome. And now? I worry about people liking me. I’m afraid of all kinds of things. And life is just okay.
It’s easy to blame her for my life and feel sorry for myself.
It’s easy to blame her when she goes on vacations with her boyfriend and our old couples friends.
It’s easy to blame her when she goes on trips with our son and families of his new friends from school.
It’s easy to feel: She did this to me. She turned me into someone else, and then dumped the person she made me become.
It’s easy to blame all the hurt and shame and fear and anxiety and inconveniences and difficulties on other people.
I think if men can keep blaming feminism and “nagging wives” for ruining marriage, then men will never have to grow and change.
I think if women can keep blaming misogyny and “shitty husbands” for ruining marriage, then women will never have to grow and change.
Growth and change is hard. Like cooking when you don’t feel like it.
Maybe I’ll just order a pizza.
Maybe someone can start a peaceful-relationship delivery service. Delivering harmony and kindness to our front doors for a small fee.
Nothing Changes Unless We Do
I don’t know Debbie Wilkins Baisden. But as someone helping to popularize the term “shitty husband,” I feel uniquely qualified to guess the following:
Debbie labeling herself a “butthole wife” because she used to complain about her husband’s dirty laundry was NOT to excuse husbands who are slobs, nor to label all wives seeking thoughtfulness and respect from their husbands as “buttholes.”
Me labeling myself a “shitty husband” is NOT me taking on all of the blame for my failed marriage, nor is it to condemn all men who leave laundry on the floor or dishes by the sink as “shitty.”
It’s simply a fun writing convention to talk about where I messed up in my marriage.
Maybe my ex-wife believes she messed up sometimes. I don’t know. I know only that I’m qualified to write about my thoughts, feelings and experiences, and NOT qualified to write about anyone else’s, least of all someone with whom I disagreed with so much, that we ended a marriage with a young child involved.
EVERYTHING is Our Responsibility
Guys LOVE to come back at me with: “This is all just theory and conjecture! If guys do all the stuff you say, they’re just going to get run over by their domineering, emotional, bitchy wives!”
To which I’d reply:
Don’t marry anyone who is domineering, bitchy, or whose emotional reactions you consider intolerable.
I’m simply NOT blaming myself or men for failed marriages. Never have; never will.
I am identifying all of the ways I messed up or made decisions which led to divorce, and asking myself the question: If I hadn’t messed up, and had I made better decisions, isn’t it possible that the events leading to divorce wouldn’t have happened in the first place, and that our marriage would have thrived?
Another good question: If instead of waiting for my wife to grow and change, I proactively grew and changed, isn’t it possible my wife would have felt and responded differently? Isn’t it possible most of our fights would have never happened at all?
Single people can point fingers at certain behaviors and decide for themselves that they’re unacceptable and that they’d never be in a relationship with someone who showcased them. Single people are responsible for their own happiness. Single people are not beholden to others.
Yet, single people almost ALWAYS (to the tune of 95%) pursue long-term relationships with other people, presumably because they believe a long-term relationship will make them happy.
However, the entry fee for a relationship is trading in your Single Person card and exchanging it for a In A Relationship one.
And now, in a certain context, you don’t get to be yourself anymore.
Marriages and Relationships Aren’t Two People Doing Something Together
We talk about two people getting married. And now they’re a couple. Two different people. But a team.
It’s kind of true. But as soon as it gets hard and one person feels like the other is a bad teammate, people start looking for another team to join, or to go back to being a team of one.
But I don’t believe a marriage is two people doing something together.
I believe a marriage is ONE thing. And it’s built from two parts.
What makes an airplane fly? The wings or the engine?
Two different parts, which if EITHER stops functioning, the entire thing goes down.
People fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight some more because they want their spouse to admit to being wrong and acknowledge that he or she was “right.”
And people fight, fight, fight, fight, and fight that EXACT SAME FIGHT until they die or divorce because the husband’s or wife’s goal is to win the fight.
When the airplane’s engine wins enough fights, one of the wings will fall off.
When the airplane’s wings win enough fights, the engine or engines will start to lose thrust.
And then, boom. Fiery explosions and sadness.
The intentions of critical airplane parts should be to maximize the aircraft’s performance, lest they all explode and die.
The intentions of husbands and wives should be to maximize the performance—NOT of themselves, but of the marriage as a unit.
The widowed Debbie missed picking up her husband’s annoying dirty laundry because the marriage was WAY bigger than just her, or just her feelings, or just the laundry, or just anything.
And she shared that experience because it mattered, just as I share mine.
But lost in all the noise, is purpose and meaning. The reasons WHY these stories matter.
He’s blaming her.
She’s blaming him.
I’m blaming her, and then…
I’m blaming me.
It’s no one’s fault and everyone’s.
And it’s easy to blame, blame, blame, so we all do it some more, even when we don’t need any more blame. We’re totally good on blame now. Quota’s filled.
We need responsibility.
The willingness to serve a thing bigger than just ourselves.
Because that’s where true peace, happiness, love and contentment lives. Or maybe just because you fucking promised. Take your pick.
Maybe we’ll get it right someday.
Maybe even me.