Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Car Shopping, Then and Now

My father loved shopping for cars—walking the hot asphalt lot, kicking tires, looking under the hood (all for show, he wasn’t in the least mechanical), even locking horns with the sales manager in his sweatbox office.

Back then, that was what men did—make the big-ticket decisions on make, model and price, while wives might offer hesitant input on paintjob and trim packages.

My, how things have changed—in our wife-led marriage, and so many others where the wife is empowered to exercise her superior judgment in all matters.

My wife decides if and when we will buy a car, whether new or used, what make and model, from whom and for how much. Like “The Little Woman” of yore, I may be asked my opinion on various matters, but there is no slightest pretense that I will have any real say-so on the final decision. She also knows that I will completely support whatever she decides.

But it goes farther. Before our last car purchase, at a dinner party with friends she had announced, “I’m shopping for a Ford Explorer” (let’s say) and asked what people thought of it. There were several couples present--and me, of course. Note that my wife didn’t say, “Mark and I are shopping for…” or “We’re shopping for…” Didn’t say “Mark thinks this or that.”

She offered the same conversational gambit to other people in my presence. She then made calls to several private party sellers and arranged for us, as a family, to see and test drive one. The man met us in front of his apartment, and my wife did all the talking, again using “I…” not “We.”

So when he asked, “Do you want to take it for a spin?” it was directly to my wife, and she said yes. So she did, with the man sitting beside her in front, me alone in the second seat, and the kids on the rear foldout bench. We drove around his neighborhood, with the man and my wife carrying on a lively conversation about the car’s features. The kids said a few things, but I kept quiet. I certainly didn’t want to interrupt my wife’s conversation with the seller.

We returned to his apartment house and we all got out, and the man asked my wife how she liked it. There were a few more exchanges between them and then, when we were about to walk away, she turned to me and asked, as an afterthought, if I wanted to sit in the front—not drive it, mind you, just sit behind the wheel. And I said quickly and pleasantly, “No, that’s fine.” And my wife concluded with the man, telling him that we’d be in touch. (If I had been doing the talking, I would have hemmed and hawed and maybe ended up buying the darned thing, because I’m such an impulsive and erratic shopper, afraid to say no.)

And, of course, when my wife next began visiting dealerships, I went along and was relegated to the showroom couch with the kids, while she dealt with the various salespeople. All the eventual financial discussions were made between my wife and the sales manager, with me waiting outside the office. (She did ask me later which of two colors I preferred, and scolded me when I hedged. “Give me your opinion!” she said sharply, so I did. I was flattered to see that she had already made the same choice.)

Did I feel relegated to second-class status by all this? Did I feel, oh, you know, emasculated?

I guess maybe so, compared to The Way Things Were with my mom and dad (he would have been outraged by this spousal switcheroo). But their marriage went belly up, and our wife-led marriage is doing just fine, thank you. They argued, bitterly; we don’t. (Against the rulres, don’tcha know.)

Mainly what it felt like, with my wife in charge, was right and natural. I should be the subordinate partner. My wife is a vastly better shopper, bargainer and negotiator, budgeter and planner. And her social skills are light years ahead of mine. Too often I pipe up when I should be piping down. But I’m learning.

And I’m not alone. More and more wives are kicking the tires while having hubby mind the kids and wait for her to make up her mind and close the deal. Here are a few samples, starting with Fumika Misato’s recommendations for big-ticket purchases in wife worship marriages:

“As head of the household, you control the family finances. He is required to justify his expenses to you. But there is absolutely no need for you to explain anything whatsoever about the family finances to him… For example, if you want to buy a new car, that is your decision alone, but if he wants to purchase a new shirt he must seek your permission.”

This is precisely what a current FLR blogger, Ms. Marie, did recently:

“Last weekend I took [my husband] car shopping. In the past, he would decide if and when we needed a car. He would decide on the make and model, he would decide on the budget, he would test drive, etc. This time, I told him we were going to some dealers. I told him what I wanted, I spoke with the salespeople, I did all the test driving and I had final say. And he is happy and so am I.”

A similar outing was described by this wife-led husband in a letter to Elise Sutton: “[My wife] recently decided we needed to sell our SUV and buy a minivan. We went to a dealership where one of her female friends works, and while I looked after the kids on the showroom floor, she talked business with her friend & arrived at a deal completely independent of me, which of course was fine.”

Here’s a slight variation, with older wife and younger husband: “[My husband] was fresh out of college when we became engaged. Because of this he doesn't even have credit established as he found out when I told him he could get himself a car. He was ready to sign the papers when he was told that due to the way our finances are set up I would have to co-sign the loan in order for him to be approved. He was so humiliated when I walked into the dealership and sent him out to my car to wait while I handled the details. The female car salesperson and I sat down to finish the deal. She was so impressed with the control that I have over my husband that she gave me an extra two hundred off on the car and I signed for the loan. I had the car placed in my name. He still can't buy anything without my permission.”

Years after my own car-shopping experience related above, I came across this posting in the old Spousechat message board, which I could have written myself:

“Recently, we needed to purchase a new car for her. She said that she ‘is taking the lead on this’ and that I am only to support her when asked. I said OK since I'm open for her to have more control, or so I thought. Before test-driving new cars, the saleswoman asked for both of our driver licenses. In front of the saleswoman my wife told me to put mine away since I won't be driving any cars. The saleswoman seemed to enjoy this smackdown, and, from that point on, would only smile at me but direct all conversation to my wife. I felt like the woman in the relationship. The saleswoman would open the door for me as I sat in the back seat. They would talk about anything and everything while I was silent in back. At one point, my wife told me to walk across the street to a restaurant, while she discussed the car purchase with the saleswoman. While filling out the paperwork, my wife decided to remove me from the registration. The only paperwork I signed was to trade-in our old car. I was caught off-guard but complied. Once we got home, she had me restock her new car with the stuff from her old one, then told me to stay home, do some laundry while she showed her new car to her family and friends.”

Here’s a hubby whose wife overruled his choice of colors (or “colours”) for his company car: “Quite recently I was picking out the colours for my new car which comes with my job. I wanted a beige interior and black exterior while my wife wanted other colours. I tried to explain that, since it's a car I use all day, I may as well pick the colours. She didin’t see it that way. She ordered me to my knees and, as I was looking up at her, told me what colours I'd be getting. I happily complied. Now, every time I look at the car and see the colours she chose, I am reminded who’s the boss in our home, which is exactly what my wife intended.”

Who would dare argue that women aren’t the best shoppers? Why should car-buying be any different? And I'm talking about women of any age. For instance, I know of a woman in her upper-80s who was taken car shopping by her 40-year-old grandson. She liked a big new GM car every three years or so, and she would pay cash for it. But her grandson dragged out this particular purchase, making her wait in the hot son while he dickered on the deal and various packages of extras.

Finally she’d had enough and yelled out at him, “Vern, just give the man the money, so I can drive my new car home!”

I’ll wind this up with a final anecdote, recently sent to me by a dear “e-migo” who happily yields all decision-making to his adored and adoring matriarch wife. What is particularly noteworthy in his account, I think, is the “ordinariness” of it. It’s just the Way Things Are Now in wife-led marriages, now that wives have come such a long way from the Way Things Were:
About three years ago Lisa told me one morning over breakfast that she needed a new car. She began to shop online, without keeping me in the loop. She did tell me that she liked the idea of a used, BMW. When she learned that a local BMW dealer had two she liked, she told the dealership we’d be dropping by, then told me she wanted me to accompany her. She told me to drop what I was doing (housework) and come along.

At the dealership, Lisa spoke with a saleswoman named Kayla, while I tagged quietly along behind. The woman acknowledged me, then turned her attention back to Lisa. While they discussed the purchase options, I remained quiet. When they went out to test drive two of the vehicles, I remained in the showroom. When a salesman asked if he could help me, I explained that my wife was test driving a car.

When the two women returned, they began to talk business, and, naturally, I tuned out, but Lisa handed me the keys to her old car and told me to check to make sure she’d left nothing personal in it, while she completed the transaction. I went out and looked in the trunk, glove compartment and back seat and found a few items, which I brought in. In the meantime, Lisa had signed over her old car (she was sole owner) as her trade-in and was completing the purchase of the BMW. As she wrote the check, I could tell that the saleswoman noticed that only my wife’s name was on the check (it is after, all her, account). Lisa glanced up and told me “Sweetie, run out and wait for me in the car.” I replied, “Yes, dear,” and did as told, waiting perhaps another quarter-hour in the passenger seat while my wife and the saleswoman concluded their business and, perhaps, chatted a bit more.

When Lisa drove off, she thanked me for being a good husband and not involving myself in her purchase. She said she thought she might need me there to sign something, but, as it turned out, she only used me to run that one errand.