ONE-UPPING: Why Is Spouse ‘Dissing’ So Rampant in the ‘Burbs?

By E.J. Gordon

When the topic of where I live comes up, one word comes to mind: Competition.

Everything is competitive here. Everyone wants to be the one with the fanciest car, the biggest house, the best purse. Everyone wants to talk about how gifted their kids are either at school, at sports, or some other talent, like music. I’m convinced that women want to make their Starbucks order the most complicated in line  … Um, I’ll take a half-caff, grande soy vanilla latte, with two pumps sugar-free vanilla, two Splendas, extra hot, extra dry, easy whip. And I’m sure right now someone from my town is reading this thinking: “Well, my drink is even more complicated than that.”

Yes, even in non-competitive areas, there IS competition. Like yoga. Only HERE, in the ‘burbs, can yoga be competitive.

I went to a yoga class the other day that must have been 110 degrees, and each woman was skinnier and more fit than the next. And we must have spent a third of the class doing some sort of crazy ab exercise. Now stretch your hands around your back and while you’re crunching do 200 yogi bicycles. I’m sure just what the ancient sanskrit-speaking yogis had in mind was: “How defined is my core?” Needless to say, I was the one who spent half the class in Child’s Pose, breathing, because I’m sure one of my teachers had said once that you can come to class and just breathe, and that’s yoga too.

I’ve noticed another area of competition: Sucky Husband Stories.

Now we all know divorced women who’ve been through hell, but I’m not referring to that.

I’m talking about the mostly-happily married bunch of women who take turns talking about what stupid/annoying/rude things their husbands do. And, believe me,  it’s a competition.

Does this sound familiar?

Woman 1: “Listen to what my genius husband did yesterday: My girlfriends wanted to take me out to a birthday dinner, so I asked him to put the kids to bed. I come home at 10, and my daughter is still awake and can’t fall asleep because my husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided to show her a movie about the tsunami! I had to lay with her for 20 minutes trying to convince her that there are no tsunamis in Lake Michigan. Happy Fucking Birthday to me.

Woman 2: “That’s okay, because my husband did something even stupider. When I was at a meeting, he took the kids out for ice cream and let our four-year-old son pick cappuccino ice cream. How did he NOT know that coffee ice cream has caffeine in it! My kid was up until 11:30!”

Woman 3: “At least your husbands are taking care of the kids. Why does mine have to choose the one night a week that I have plans to schedule a business dinner? I had to hire a friggin’ sitter on a Wednesday night. On a Wednesday!! Now I have to listen to my kids complain about me leaving them with a sitter, and they are going to freak out! FREAK OUT!”

This conversation falls under the category of Competitive Husband Bashing.

I admit, some competition can be good. While I’m not a Type A myself, I did find myself at spin class staring up at the race screen for my bike number and fake name to see what place I was coming in during the “sprint”. And when I saw that my fake name was bouncing up and down from place 9 to 10 and back to 9, I did pedal harder. And every now and then, I, too, participate in Competitive Asana in yoga, getting into that offered arm balance even though I was perfectly happy just simply taking the side stretch. Competition pushes you to do better, work harder.

So therein lies the question:

Why is Competitive Husband Bashing something you’d want to win at? Why does it give a woman the upper hand to have the biggest dope or asshole as a husband?

I think back to the times when I tell my own Can you believe my husband did this stories. Mostly, I’ll tell a story about him because it will make people laugh, which is fun for me. But there are times I’ll tell a story about him because I want sympathy. Or maybe even admiration. So as usual, I’ve come up with some theories about what the motivations are behind Competitive Husband Bashing:

Theory 1: Woman tells horror stories so that other women can shake their heads in disbelief and say: “I don’t know how she does it. She’s a saint! What she puts up with!”

Theory 2: Woman needs people to think her husband is useless so that she can justify having full-time cleaning/nanny help. This way her friends can defend her to detractors by saying, “Yes, she’s a full-time stay-at-home-Mom and her kids are all in school all day, but her husband is NEVER home, so she can’t do it all by herself!”

Theory 3: Woman wants to brag about her kid so she couches it in husband bashing. For example: “You should have seen my husband at the spelling bee. I mean, since our daughter has won three years in a row, you would think he’d be more subdued in his support of her. However when she won, yet again, he jumped up and knocked over his chair! Lunatic!”

Theory 4: Woman bashes husband for the same reason she bought her Tory Birch flats and her Louis Vuitton tote: to be stylish or to fit in. My husband stinks too! He got so mad at me for dropping a grand at the mall, but what does he do? Comes home with a brand new set of golf clubs! He doesn’t even play golf!”

I hang my head in shame knowing full well that I do participate in this game sometimes. But I will forgive myself because I also know with certainty that my husband participates in Competitive Wife Complaining.  I know that my husband sits in the steam room at his gym after a run and has these conversations:

Man 1: “I kept calling my wife the other day and couldn’t find her. Finally she calls me back, and you know where she was? Getting a fucking massage. Really? Because her life is so hard? I’m working my ass off, and she’s getting a massage.”

Man 2: “No shit! The other day I found a a credit card bill from Nordstrom that I had no idea my wife opened. I think she was totally hiding it from me! Sometimes I find clothes in the closet that I’ve never seen her wear, and I’ll say, ‘Is that new?’, and she’ll respond, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve had this for years!’ — Does she think I’m an idiot? (YES) She’s clearly buying clothes and faking that they’re old.”

Man 3: “I can’t stand the drama in my wife’s life. She can find drama in a 50/50 coin flip. The other day I heard her in an intense conversation with her friend about overnight camp. The friend was apparently upset because all of her child’s friends from school decided to go to the same camp, and she was worried that they would fight or leave her daughter out. So my wife started on her rampage about how when we decide where our daughter is going, we’re not going to tell anyone so that none of her classmates go to the same camp and cause problems for her.”

Man 4: “What’s wrong with that?”

Man 3: “Our daughter is two years old! How is this relevant right now? For all we know our daughter won’t even want to go to overnight camp!”

So while we’re painting our husbands to be clueless, selfish, workaholics — they’re painting us to be overspending, pampered drama queens.

And while there might be an inkling of truth in these caricatures, the reality is that we’re just making engaging conversation in order to relate to other people. And for every story I tell about my hubby, I’m highlighting only what I’d do differently, not all the good in it, like how nice it is that my husband likes to be with the kids even though he might not value strict bed-times or make good food choices. And even when my husband might complain that my life seems easy because I’m off to yoga at 9:30 instead of a wage-earning job, he knows that while he was at the gym in the morning, I only had about two seconds to drink my coffee because I had three lunches to make, three backpacks to pack, three breakfasts to cook, and three kids to get dressed and out the door.

We’d probably say these nice things about our spouses to each other, but honestly, if my friends all talked about how wonderful their husbands were all the time, I’d probably want to punch them in the face. Because aside from your own parents, nobody wants to hear how great your life is all the time. That’s why when women post on Facebook things like:  “Happy birthday to the best, hottest, husband and most amazing Dad ever! You’re awesome!” — we make fun of them and roll our eyes.

That leads me to my concluding theory:  What we want is to hear that our lives are better than other people’s lives.

So if I hear that my friend’s husband travels all the time, I can say to myself, “At least mine is home for dinner most of the week.”

And if my husband hears that his friend’s wife bought a $1,100 purse, he can say to himself, “At least my wife likes purses from Target.”

This competition thing is something that you might want to participate in, so that you’re not the asshole with the perfect life who has nothing to talk about with your friends, but it’s one competition that you really don’t want to win.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla WarfareE.J. Gordon is a freelance writer, a regular contributor to GIRLillaWarfare,  and “Sexpert”. Have any questions or topics that you would like her to address? Remember: No subject is taboo, and Anonymity is accepted. Contact E.J. at: EJGordon529@gmail.com.

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