Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Topsy-Turvy World

The other day, dining out with my wife, I was surprised when the server set the bill down in front of me, instead of my wife across the table. In fact, I was every bit as surprised as, say, a 1950s’ housewife would have been to have a restaurant check presented to her instead of to her husband.

Just for a moment, my world had turned upside down.

So firmly entrenched is our matrimonial role reversal as we go about our activities that most restaurant servers and hotel clerks and salespeople automatically gravitate to my wife and give her all the appropriate attention and deference. When we walk in to a store, or sit down at a table, it’s like I don’t exist. They always address their questions to her, as they should. I assist them in their perceptions of power, I’m sure, by default. I emit absolutely no pay-attention-to-me, head-of-household, decision-maker vibes. This is not by design, but by long practice. It simply never occurs to me. I don’t look up expectantly at approaching waiters or waitresses. If they look at me or address me, I’m not impolite, but rather than respond directly, I defer to her. Without thinking. It is almost automatic that I look at my wife when a question is asked of me.

Occasionally, if I’m feeling frisky, I may answer, proudly and cheerfully, “My wife makes the decisions.”

Frankly, I don’t think of the way we are as role-reversal or topsy-turvy. I used to, but not for years now. I think in terms of normalcy, the way things are and ought to be. Where the woman rules and the man obeys. I can’t imagine it otherwise.

And it is comforting when the world agrees with my reality, as it so often does. When she is addressed with deference, and I am ignored, all is right with my world.

It would be even more pleasing, someday, if I could experience the same harmonious feedback among married couple friends, at dinner parties and barbecues, say, or soccer games. Automatic subservience to the wives by all the husbands, with the men keeping silent but attentive when the women were talking among themselves, but always ready to respond supportively when prompted.

In fact, it is always jarring to me in social settings to see a husband question his wife’s authority, or make some macho remark, to dare to contradict her or to sound off on any subject whatever. Or actually to put her down. And I don’t need to tell you, all this happens frequently.

And when it does, it’s like being instantly transported to an alternate universe, where males are allowed to act like grown-up hooligans, much like the “Pleasure Island’ sequence in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. I find myself looking at the wife and wondering, “Why do you put up with that moron?”

What used to seem normal now seems like Mondo Bizarro. “Curioser and curioser,” as Alice described the obvious absurdities of Wonderland.

In other words, to me it’s a life NOT lived under fully acknowledged female authority that constitutes the real role reversal, the real topsy-turvydom.

I can only take so much of this before I’m desperate to get back to reality—and my well-ordered, normal, natural, female-led and female-centric life.

Making role-reversal into the default dynamic of a marriage, of course, takes time and determination. But the reward for achieving it is the happy-ever-aftering of the storybook romance.

Ms. Lynda (of Spouseclub renown) was determined to settle for nothing less. And, so, she delighted in private and public displays of her role-reversal relationship with her fiancé (later her husband), whom she inevitably addressed and referred to as “Mr. Lynda.”

As more and more women take an active role in family leadership, she felt there should and would be more and more traditions to demonstrate women in charge. Her desire was to set an example, with appropriate public displays, of just how “woman-focused a marriage can be.”

“Has [your wife] ever made you call her Ma'am or such in public?” she asked a male Spousechatter. “I want to do that to Mr. Lynda during our [honeymoon] cruise so that everyone will know who the boss is at our house… As you know, it is often necessary for a woman to humiliate her man so he is reminded of who is in charge.”

She did exactly that, as she later recounts:

“On our honeymoon, we had some ‘antique’ pictures taken. In olden times, you could tell that the man was in charge because he was always seated. His wife stood behind or beside him. My husband and I reversed it. I sat and he stood. It is a subtle thing, but, it was not missed on us and some of our friends.

"Secondly, we took a busy and full bus into a resort town off the cruise ship. I made him sit. As head of the family, I must protect him and his honor. This reversal was noticed by several people. Finally, all reservations are made in my name and I produce the credit card. This is not so unusual because women carry purses. However, several hosts remarked on the reservation being made in my name. My husband was only too happy to inform them that I was head of the family, the breadwinner, and that he had taken my name in marriage. I do not know what they thought or said behind our backs, but they all treated us with respect and said our decision was cool.”

Some additional glimpses into Ms. and Mr. Lynda’s domestic arrangements:

“I do not lift a finger at home. I lounge around while Mr. Lynda does all the work. For the fun of it, I have had him serve me while he was completely naked. He is so handsome. A naked man can be a real turn-on. I love to see him grovel before me, kiss my feet and other parts of my body. It makes me feel so powerful.”

“I never want to hurt or abuse him, but, I do enjoy letting other people know that I am the boss. Is it wrong to want people to know that Mr. Lynda took my name in marriage? Of all the lovely things Mr. Lynda has done for me, this is the greatest because it tells the world that he sees me as the head.”

She counseled “Charles,” who described his own matriarchal marriage, to change his name to “Mr. Lisa,” then (with Ms. Lisa’s permission, of course) to order stationery reflecting the change:, “Ms. and Mr. Lisa Lastname.” Which he promptly did.

“I always love when my boyfriend does something that makes a very public statement of his subservience to me. I love to walk with him when he is wearing one of his matriarchal t-shirts. He has one that says, ‘I Belong to Her,’ and another that says, ‘Don't ask me. She's the Boss.’”

“It would be a real learning experience for men to have to live in a woman's world for just a few hours. It might truly change some minds if men had to identify themselves only by their wife's name (‘This is Mr. Susan Brown’).”

“My husband will be allowed to keep his masculine name forever. However, I do intend to always address him as Mr. Lynda in public. Someone must begin to set some new standards.”

A playful, fun-loving vixen, Ms. Lynda. Also a true believer and passionate advocate, who never backed down an inch from her strong views. As she signed one of her postings, in all caps like waving a banner at the barricades, “LONG LIVE THE SISTERHOOD OF WOMEN IN CHARGE!”

My question is, How is it with you? Does it seem jarring and discordant when you see husbands acting like it was 1955? Or wives deferring to them, or putting up with secondary status? Like me, are you slightly taken aback when you hear a wife respond to an invitation with “Of course, I’ll have to ask Bob.” On the other hand, my response of “I’ll have to ask my wife” is taken for granted. So much so, in fact, that friends rarely ask my consent or opinion; they know to bypass me and ask her. And they know that her powers are plenipotentiary powers, that she never has to say, “I’ll check with Mark first.”

Anyway, this is the blessed matriarchal universe that I inhabit, which completely encompasses my thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, and She is the radiant and powerful sun around whom I and the kids orbit, day and night. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.