The January 1956 edition of The Atlantic Monthly quotes The American Cancer Society as saying it “does not hold that smoking causes cancer of the lung. It does not propose to tell the public not to smoke.”
In the 1960s, a person sick with a respiratory illness could visit her doctor and think nothing of him smoking a cigarette in a closed-door, windowless room while examining her.
Into the 1990s, smoking on airplanes and inside most public buildings was commonplace.
Sure, there were plenty who suspected tobacco smoking was a major individual and public health concern long before the Surgeon General got involved, but smoking was so routine and considered so benign, that things like “Smokes for the Troops” fundraising campaigns existed to supply tobacco to U.S. soldiers in 1918 during World War I.
In the following years, doctors began discovering the correlation between the heavy-smoking war veterans and the various cancers and respiratory diseases we now understand to be indisputably linked to smoking.
It was 1994 when I started smoking in high school. I was 15.
There was certainly a false sense of invincibility common to young people. That was a factor. But I’m not reckless regarding life and limb, and never have been.
I’m not a motorcycle guy for that very reason. It’s not because I don’t think they’re awesome, or don’t want one. I don’t ride a motorcycle because I’m not voluntarily signing up to do something where—no matter how skilled or cautiously I ride—some texting-and-driving asshole might clip me at a tortoise-like 20 miles per hour in the middle of a busy four-way intersection and kill me even though I didn’t make any mistakes.
I understood that smoking was bad. But I knew of plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who smoked regularly. There were still smoking sections in most restaurants then. How bad can it really be?
As a 15-year-old, smoking was bad for me for a variety of reasons. I didn’t make much money to buy them. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t smoke whenever I wanted because I was trying to hide it from my mom. My Catholic high school would have come down hard if they ever caught me with cigarettes or actually smoking. And it made conditioning for track season infinitely less pleasant.
But I did it anyway.
And anyone who has never smoked, nor felt the pull from a nicotine addiction, nor understood the allure of a bad habit would rightfully question why I’d ever want to.
Anyone with memories of watching a loved one die slowly and painfully from a smoking-related illness, or with a uniquely wise or mature life outlook, are probably incapable of understanding how a person could intentionally make the choice to smoke when it seems so obvious to so many how dangerous and harmful it is.
Over time, more people figured it out and have collectively instituted personal and societal changes for the better.
Emotional Neglect is Cancerous to Marriage in Less-Obvious Ways
Many wives don’t understand how it can happen. “I have told you over and over and over and over and over again. I’m exhausted from telling you. And now I say I’m leaving you, and you REALLY don’t understand why?”
My only lifelong female friend, despite being super-smart and thoughtful, is by her own admission the least-responsible car owner in the history of the universe. Throughout her marriage, she never paid attention to the oil-change mileage, the air pressure in her tires, the depth of her tire tread, or any unusual brake noises.
It left her husband totally vexed. “How in the hell could she be so negligent?” He’d complain about it. He’d try to explain to her why a particular aspect of vehicle maintenance was important for safety or financial reasons, and that would be the end of it until the next incident.
A lot of husbands might be able to relate to that. Shit happens. It’s kind of our wife’s fault. We’re annoyed because it costs money or creates a new broken thing to fix, or a new problem to solve. But, typically, once we find some kind of solution or workaround to the problem, everything goes back to normal and we forget about it.
From a How Angry Did That Make Us? standpoint, we tend to not have prolonged anger-and-freakout sessions over such things, and we usually move on quickly. We like this about ourselves.
This is why our immediate reaction when our wives appear—in our estimation—to be inordinately angry about a pair of jeans tossed on a piece of bedroom furniture or an empty glass sitting by the sink, is to get defensive and think it’s unreasonably harsh and unfair.
I don’t treat you like this when you make mistakes, we think, so why should I sit here and take this?
But it’s a lot more than that.
We think it should be REALLY obvious that you shouldn’t drive a car 10,000 miles without an oil change. We think it should be REALLY obvious that the DVD/CD-ROM slit on the side of the iMac is not designed for mini-discs.
Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars. iMacs cost a couple grand. Then our wives break shit on them. Then we get a little pissed about it, but work hard at being cool.
And THEN, we get taken to task over where a pair of pants or a used glass is set down?
In the moment, it feels very unfair when this is happening, and when it appears our wives are so incapable of taking historical context into account in any sort of fair or thoughtful way.
Our wives talk and talk and talk and talk, but we don’t hear it. It’s because we’re pissed. Really pissed. We don’t hear the things they say. And EVEN when we do, we don’t get it.
We don’t understand how if broken cars and expensive computers aren’t worthy of fighting about, we have to defend ourselves over something as petty as a dirty dish, or a pair of pants in the bedroom no one but us will ever see.
We Don’t Get It Because It Doesn’t Make Sense to Us
Wives and other female readers of this blog keep asking the question: “Hey Matt! I don’t get it. If she told you a bunch of times that leaving the dish by the sink hurt her feelings, how can you claim that you didn’t know you were hurting her?”
For the same reasons men don’t understand how “silly little things” related to housecleaning and grocery shopping and childcare can so profoundly affect their wives’ emotional health and jeopardize their marriages, women often don’t seem to understand how those men could continue to neglect them emotionally UNLESS their husbands were doing it intentionally.
Most of the time, (like 98 percent, probably) men don’t hurt their wives or girlfriends on purpose. They do it accidentally. Wives have A LOT of trouble believing this.
But just like we can improve marriages by husbands understanding how a dish by the sink can actually cause pain, we can also improve marriages by wives understanding how husbands can accidentally hurt them by doing the same things over and over.
It seems to be one of those intangible concepts that seem obvious to men, but remarkably difficult to understand for some women, especially those hurt by the men they love.
There’s a guy who lately has been commenting often, engaging in thoughtful and respectful conversation with other readers.
His name is Travis B. Maybe his real name is Travis. Maybe it’s not. Travis and I don’t know each other.
But Travis, in the comments of a recent post, explained this dynamic so much better than I ever have. I found it insightful, well-written and totally accurate in terms of how I experience life as a man capable of accidentally hurting the woman I love.
I don’t think I can write it better than Travis, so I’m not going to try.
Other readers (who go by “Donkey” and “wandathefish”) asked questions.
Travis replied to those questions. And any wives confused about the idea that men are ACCIDENTALLY neglectful should read it a dozen times and tell all their friends.
How Men Accidentally Hurt Their Wives (as written by Travis B.)
Travis: Please understand that the explanations and theories I’m offering up from my own male perspective are not to be taken as justifications or defenses of them.
Donkey: “But when he’s been made aware of it over and over? Isn’t the reality then that he behaves (to put it simply) at work and accepts feedback there because he has to, but he doesn’t at home because he believes she won’t leave him anyway so he won’t bother with the effort?
If that’s what you’re saying, then guys can’t also claim to have been blissfully ignorant of being bad husbands. Then he’s just exploiting that she won’t easily leave him.”
Travis: Yes, I am saying he doesn’t put out the necessary effort because he doesn’t believe she will leave him, and yes, I’m ALSO saying we men can accurately claim to have been blissfully unaware of being bad husbands at the same time. You see, this always comes back to Matt’s “dishes by the sink” post because we don’t ever believe our wives will actually leave us over such issues because, from our perspective, we can’t fathom how something so unimportant to us can truly be so important to you.
This is the point that I see missed over and over by women here—this sense that there has to be some sort of active maliciousness happening on the part of the men in your lives to properly explain your misery.
I’m sure there is a subsection of men in the world who are true down-in-the-marrow-of-their-bones assholes who legitimately seek to ruin the hearts and spirits of their wives, twisted and damaged men who can only keep themselves psychologically afloat by hurling all their inner loathing at anyone who will willingly endure it, but I very much believe (naively? I dunno) they’re the exception, not the rule. The majority of us dunderheaded husbands aren’t actively trying to exploit you. It’s that when we hear you complain for the umpteenth time about the dirty dish being left out, it’s simply that we’re not taking the complaint seriously because, again, we don’t relate to the importance of the “pain” associated with the “crime.” We don’t hear (even if these are the actual words used!), “I’ve told you so many times that this matters to me, and you constantly dismiss it, which means you constantly dismiss me, and I refuse to live a life where nothing that matters to me matters to you.” No, instead, instead, we’re thinking: Boy, you can always count on women to make the most minuscule complaints in the most overdramatic ways, can’t you?
It’s not that we know how much it means to you and don’t care, it’s that we don’t truly believe you care about it that much, either. We just think you’re taking a minor pittance of a concern and, to be frank, just “laying it on rather thickly.” Now is that sexist? Very possibly. Is it passively disrespectful? Most certainly. BUT IT’S NOT INTENTIONALLY DRIVEN BY MALICE AND A DESIRE TO HURT AND DEMEAN.
You don’t have to like that answer (heck, it may, paradoxically, even hurt worse than if our behavior was intentional) but you better serve your quest to find peace with the men in your lives to accept it as the fact of the matter. Again, it doesn’t EXCUSE our behavior, but it sheds light on our psychology and the gulf between our perception and what we desperately need to start understanding about our wives’.
wandathefish: “Why don’t you see the ever-present palpable threat for the spouse, that misalignment with spousal duties and expectations can and will lead directly to a cessation of the relationship? Even if it’s neither quick nor clinical? Why don’t men fear losing the person they are supposed to love more than anyone else in the world more or at least as much as they fear losing their job??”
Travis: The majority of men with their heads screwed on at least halfway will clearly recognize that, if their wives catch them having an affair, or gambling away all their paychecks and savings, or killing innocent people, or filling their veins with heroin every day and the like, divorce is almost surely going to be fast-tracked. But, at the risk of sounding like I’m going back over the same ground I just went over, do any of us assume we’re literally going to lose the love and presence of the wives who’ve taken life vows with us because of dirty dishes? Toilet seats with pee drops on them? Weekends of being plugged into the week’s big games? Eye rolls at being asked to watch a “chick flick”? Changing the radio without asking from your Beyonce to our AC/DC? Not for a second.
Because, again, these things seem such trifles to us. Wrongfully. Wrongfully. Let me beat that drum. WRONGFULLY.
But, nevertheless, we do think that way, because, when similar behaviors are practiced against us, they don’t typically wound our sense of dignity and internal equilibrium the way they do for most women. We simply do not relate. Not even close. It’s a very alien perspective to us.
wandathefish: “Moreover, your reply would seem to back up the theory that men are not unable but rather unwilling to make their partner’s happy.”
Travis: You’re quite right there, but again, that comes not from an actively malicious place but from a passively disrespectful and lazy one.
If men could truly process and internalize that the little shreds of dismissiveness we toss at our wives’ expressed needs, complaints and concerns festers into a tsunami of disrespect and wholesale invalidation in their minds, hearts and souls, the majority of us would be shaken to our core. But it’s so outside the pale of our internal normalcy as males that it almost always takes packed bags and loveless, dead-eyed messages of, “I’ve reached my breaking point and I’m not taking another minute of living life like this” before our proverbial light bulb belatedly goes off.
wandathefish: “And I can’t see anything for her to give him the benefit of the doubt on. Where do you see benefit of the doubt applying in this scenario? It comes across as simple and deliberate cruelty or at best indifference to her suffering. There is no possible positive intent that could be involved in this scenario. If a man tries hard and fails then yes, you could see positive intent but when no serious attempt is even made to understand a woman’s position then you can’t spin that as anything other than callous disregard. Can you?”
Travis: Well, I hope I’ve provided a bit more perspective above in addressing this concern. I do believe that it is better for all concerned in a loving relationship to always approach matters of both communication and observed behaviors from a perspective of assuming positive intent and providing the benefit of the doubt (because, really, if you think so very little of your mate’s motives, why did you betroth yourself to them for life???).
The positive intent from a man’s perspective is that, if he demonstrates how unimportant these issues of dishes, watching click flicks, et al are in the grand scheme of things, surely the woman will recognize the “truth” of it, too, and be freed of her angst over them. Does this amount to disregard? Yes. CALLOUS disregard? Not intentionally, or wantonly, no. Simple cruelty? Yes. DELIBERATE cruelty? Again, not at all.
I’m telling you, I feel 100% confident that the toxicity most men pour into their marriages stems from a complete lack of proper frame of female reference, not because of any willful, vicious, targeted desire to wound, belittle and demoralize. To paraphrase a quote from Mr. Spock, “Our scanners only recognize what they have been programmed to recognize.” Men need better programming.
Slapping on the Bow and Shipping It
I started smoking when I was 15 because I didn’t understand HOW bad it was for me, nor did I have the ability to feel mortal peril like I can in my 30s, nor did I have a child to love, protect and teach.
But today I do understand. And that’s why I quit smoking long ago. And now we live in a world where most people don’t smoke and most kids will never start.
I am divorced because throughout my marriage I didn’t understand how dangerously horrible my wife and I were at comprehending and accurately interpreting one another’s thoughts and behaviors, nor did I understand how hedonic adaptation unknowingly lulls us into treacherous complacency, and how ugly and life-changing divorce can really be.
But today I do understand. And that’s why I write things here.
And maybe someday we will live in a world where most people do understand how these nuanced moments in our relationships ultimately make or break them.
And maybe most kids won’t grow up to learn the hard way like you and me.