After receiving targeted ads promising a new husband in five days, Gabi Lardies accepts the challenge.
Last week, a sponsored Instagram post caught my eye. It was perhaps the red hand-drawn heart at first, the sort of ironic cuteness I’m a sucker for, but what really made me backtrack my doom scroll were the bold blue words: “Have a New Husband”, and then in red, “by Friday”. They’d cut “How to Date a Guy in Ten Days” in half, and upped the stakes. Did someone out there really believe me – a scruff muffin in a stained hoodie – could look good in a white dress by Friday?
Well, no. Upon further inspection, the book cover, advertising Audible, an audio book subscription service, was proposing I change my existing husband. I don’t have a husband, but I do have a boyfriend I’ve lived with for nearly two years, which is to say, we’re almost de facto – a relationship of the same legal standing as marriage or civil union. He’s not someone that navigates life by the rules, he has been known to not have a WOF or a rego for months on end, and been absolutely unperturbed by the possibility of getting caught. He used to constantly get detentions at school then not turn up to them. What I’m trying to say, without exposing too much, is he’s slightly ungovernable. He doesn’t take well to being told to pick up his clothes off the floor, leave a Friday night before its bitter end, or rinse his Sistema so they don’t stink (my pet peeve). Could a book help me govern my man, AKA eliminate smelly Sistema from my life?
Apologies to Audible, but it’s extremely difficult to speed read an audiobook, and I don’t like my time to be constrained by someone else’s reading speed, even if they do have a soothing, clear voice, so I circumnavigate their offer of a free trial and find a free PDF online. (In my legal defense, I tried the library first, but the only copy (an e-book) was checked out AND had four holds. Turns out everyone wants a new husband without having to pay for it.)
“Why settle for less when you could have so much more?” asks the inner flap of the book jacket. Why manipulate someone you claim to love into acting differently? I ask in return. The blurb continues to dig its problematic hole, “I’ve been working on him for years, and I’ve never been able to change him,” says the imagined intended audience. Ah, this old trope that women must change men… Then, the approach: a promise for a simple game plan to change his attitude, behaviour, and communication (ABC). And better yet, “You won’t even break a fingernail.”
His keys crunch into the front door just as I’m determining my eligibility on the first few pages. I’m probably not eligible since my fingernails are unbreakable (cut right down), and also because I’m not wondering where my knight in shining armour went (yes that was a tick-box). I quickly minimise my browser, so when he walks in, all that is on my screen is a little picture of a pink streak across a stormy sky (my desktop image). I look like I’ve just been twiddling my thumbs until he comes home from work. How embarrassing.
The Monday chapter starts with claiming men and women are different species. The author, Kevin Leman, is looking for the mustard that’s right in front of him in the fridge. His wife walks over and points it out. Classique. Then, it moves onto communication. Apparently, men simply say “that’s nice” while women ask follow up questions and actually listen. These are positioned as biological differences and the reader (presumed to be a woman) needs to learn to accept them. I start to wonder if this book is trying to put women in place, rather than trying to change their husbands? It is, after all, written by a husband who observes two women talking at a cafe and describes them as “two woodpeckers with ADHD.”
I’m on page 27. Leman thinks the feminist fight for equality hasn’t done women any favours in their relationships, and that the Almighty (god, I guess?) intended men to be leaders. He thinks popular culture makes men feel “not respected, not needed, and certainly not important”. It reads as an elongated excuse for misogyny, disguised as help for women.
My tasks for the day are:
1. Throw your expectations of your man out the window.
Consider this done.
2. Evaluate: how is he like you? Different from you?
He is like me because he is smart. He is not like me because he is good at spending lots of money without remorse. He is like me because he always gets food down his front. He is not like me because he buys T-shirts without trying them on first. He is like me because it’s better not to ask where the fancy cheese came from. He is not like me because cheese and crackers does not suffice for dinner. He is like me because if I keep going we will both die of embarrassment.
3. Think back. What attracted you to your husband in the first place? Make a list of these qualities.
Cutie that keeps being at the same parties as me.
Tuesday is about training. Apparently women are always pestering their husbands to change, and what we need to do is train them instead. “You just need to train him. People train puppies, so why can’t you train your husband? Men are trainable, and the best way for them to learn is through consequences.”
Unfortunately, the chapter is very conflicting. Take the example of a woman fed up with her husband’s inability to tidy or clean. One morning she is peeved to find a toilet roll left on the floor so she decides to conduct an experiment. She writes the date on it, October 30, and puts it back on the floor, like a parking warden and their chalk. One week passes. Then a month. Then two, then three. February comes and the toilet roll is still there. “She lost her cool and snapped.”
I see this as a training attempt – instead of nagging or picking up after her husband, she tried to show him the consequences – the roll on the floor. But, against his own advice, the author suggests that the woman simply should have told her husband, thus saving four months and getting her point across. But wouldn’t this be the pestering he is so against earlier in the chapter?
Unfortunately for my own experiments, I shredded all the toilet rolls on the floor into the compost bin this morning to add carbon. Admittedly, the three bowls and two mugs on the coffee table are mine so they wouldn’t be a fair experiment. There is however, one certain mustard stain on the duvet cover which turned up last Friday when I wasn’t home. It has been noted and identified between us (“What the hell, is that a poo stain?”) so he knows it’s there and he knows I know it’s from his sandwich. I am tempted to wash it, because it is gross, but then again, perhaps grossness is a powerful consequence for some training. So far, it’s on day five.
This morning, I attempt to redefine my relationship as a marriage. We are sitting on the couch with our coffees, mine in a handmade tumbler and his in a teddy bear mug I’ve had since I was little. We are discussing the prison in Andor, where prisoners are never let out, they are simply moved to different floors. In the TV series it’s framed as a secret, but “people would notice if their loved ones didn’t come back,” I said, “I would notice if you, my husband, never came back.”
“I’m not your husband.”
We don’t have time to discuss further. Tonight, I’ve got pottery, so I won’t see him till late. It should give him some time to think about it.
In the afternoon, I read the Wednesday chapter. Its subtitle is “Think about what you want to say, then divide it by 10.” Yep, it’s 35 pages long. “Men love to solve things, crack the code. Doing so makes them feel like James Bond himself.” Then again, just over the page I’m told I shouldn’t expect him to read my mind. So what am I to do? This advice is too confusing to follow.
Leman also suggests making your husband a “honey-do” list AKA a to-do list. “They give a man something to refer to and they don’t have a ‘tone.’” Years of flatting have taught me that written notes in fact do have a tone – a pissed off, passive aggressive tone – but these instructions are the only ones I can make sense of in the chapter. What do I want B to do tonight while I’m at pottery? It’s not really something I’ve thought of before, directing his time to certain activities. Should I mention the mustard stain or does that ruin the experiment?
I write my list, getting bolder as it progresses.
I leave it on the little table he tends to dump his stuff on when he gets home. I try not to think about it too much.
At pottery, I fret, which is not the point of pottery. Pottery is supposed to be about playing with mud and forgetting about all your troubles. Instead, I’m waiting for a message asking me what the hell this list is. My phone is still and silent, which is maybe worse. Luckily, there was a firing on the weekend, and I have two wonky mugs I can give him as a peace offering. I’ve even sgraffitoed a heart on one (I have a masters in fine art, you see). On the way home, my phone runs out of battery, which is terrible, because even though I’m halfway through my pottery course, I have no idea how to make it home without Google Maps… and it’s dark and scary.
When I finally get home, he only asks what took me so long. On the table, the honey-do list sits under his headphones, completely ignored. Thank the Almighty. He’s saved me some rice and beans, and then because he cooked (as always) I’m on dishes (as always). Three Sistemas wait for me by the sink. Because they are disgusting and contaminated, they are the last things to make it through the sink, by which point it can be hard to tell if they’re getting cleaner or dirtier. I hold my breath.
The mustard stain perseveres.
Before he sets off to work, he pauses in the hallway a moment. “The house is hilariously messy… one day… one day we will have time to clean it.” Off to work he goes. I empty the compost bin as a gesture of willingness to keep the house liveable.
Thursday is a chapter trying to convince me to openly adore my husband, and in particular, give him lots of sexual attention. Because he needs to “release that pent-up energy.” Gross.
For 10 years, the author thought the most important part of his marriage was sex. His poor, poor wife. Sex is cool, but have you ever tried… where to start… maybe… love? Sex is cool, but have you ever tried never being cold while sleeping again cause your partner runs super hot? Sex is cool, but have you ever tried having someone look after you when you’re sick? Sex is cool, but if it was really what I’m after there’s much simpler ways than marriage.
Still, I had better check I also shouldn’t be feeling sorry for myself. I’m out and about till late tonight so this is going to have to be done via Instagram messenger, between cute and funny pictures of monkeys. There’s no easy segue so I just dive in, and keep the question simple, as per previous communication advice.
“what’s the most important thing in a relationship?”
I wait a tense two minutes on the edge of my seat, which is actually his chair.
“Number of geeps”
(I should translate that geeps means me, never mind why)
“As many geeps as possible?”
1 is the total number
(eeek wasn’t prepared for a counter-question)
“Just wondering what boys think”
(pressing questioner! Maybe he should be a journalist)
“Because boys are a different species”
(trying to remember everything I’ve read)
When we’re going to sleep, I notice the duvet has been rotated, so that now the mustard stain is down by my feet.
He should be new today!!! He’s set an early alarm and he’s up quickly. He puts on the usual clothes, black T-shirt, pants with that little loop I think builders use to hold their hammers, and a hoodie, and shoots out the door. I linger in bed, sleepy. He comes back with two takeaway coffees, two croissant and a pain au chocolat, and brings them to bed on our breakfast tray with the sunflowers painted on it. When I’ve finished my croissant and most of my coffee, he pulls out a hoard of presents for me from under the bed, along with a cheesy card. Maybe you think I’m about to wake up, no! I really have been awake all this time, and the presents are real. It’s my birthday.
Today the chapter begins with “It takes a real woman to make a man feel like a real man.” It’s really cool how a book women may turn to if their husband is being shitty, turns things around and blames it on them. It’s even cooler how the way to be a “real woman” is to “put your man first”.
Have a New Husband by Friday was published in the US in 2009. It’s got 806 ratings on Good Reads, and an overall 3.78 star rating. Reviews are mixed, but entirely from women. Some are peeved that the onus of the relationship is placed on them, while husbands are given a free ride to be “dumb as mud” (Leman’s words). “I just don’t buy it!” one writes. Others have found the book helpful and encouraging. Kevin Leman is an old, white psychologist, and he’s massive. He’s written over 50 books, all with his “commonsense psychology” which appears to dig into ways of thinking better left in the past. He appears on TV and radio, and even has a school, the Leman Academy of Excellence. He’s thriving.
What is a happy marriage to Kevin Leman? It’s a wife accepting her lot, shutting up, and adoring her ningus husband. It’s saying “Tears from a woman neuter a man” and “an evening of cuddling and talking is about as unnatural for a man as it is for a fish to climb a tree” and “sex can open a man’s ears like nothing else”. It’s pushing a heteronormativity in which everyone is unhappy, but can’t admit it.
After a week in Leman’s world, my response is no thanks – hand me those smelly Sistema.