I did, said, and believed things throughout my youth and marriage that were totally sexist—even though I didn’t view them as sexist at the time—and those things more or less turned my wife against me and ultimately cost me my marriage and family.
If you’d have told me I was a sexist, I’d have undoubtedly responded with defensive outrage and mansplained how you were wrong, all the while believing everything I was saying and feeling.
That’s the real danger. THAT is what causes all of these relationships to slowly turn ugly and then end miserably—that we 100% believe all of the bullshit we peddle. We’re telling the truth. We act like we’re right and like we know everything because we all actually believe it at the time.
Life’s worst things happen while we feel CERTAIN about things that aren’t actually true.
It doesn’t matter that I didn’t believe I was sexist. What matters is that I was sexist.
My mom more or less ran the household growing up with her and my stepdad, and was the alpha in regards to parenting decisions determining what I was allowed or not allowed to do, or to determine punishments, and all sorts of other things.
Most of my teachers were female.
The very best students—the most intelligent and top-performing kids in my class—were female. Anne and Colleen. I think both are doctors now.
I had close-knit friendships with a few of the girls in my class that at the time rivaled my close friendships with guy friends, a handful of which remain strong more than three decades later.
All of this to say that I NEVER believed that men were fundamentally better than women. Like, never. Just like I never believed being white was better than having dark skin because so many of my favorite athletes, actors, and musicians didn’t look like me—which conned me into believing I couldn’t feel racist things—a belief proven wrong by how my brain reacted to boarding planes with people of Middle Eastern descent in those first few years following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Fear Perpetuated my Sexism—Is it the Same for You?
I never disliked someone because they were from Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I’ve always liked pretty much everyone. Maybe that’s an ENFP thing.
I was AFRAID—irrationally—that someone from a particular ethnicity was somehow more likely to harm me than someone who looked like Timothy McVeigh or Robert Gregory Bowers. Which I think we can agree, in hindsight, is a pretty stupid thing to believe.
Where I came from, it was BAD to be a guy who did anything like a girl.
As recently as my 20s, I was giving major judgy side-eye looks to buddies who listened to Taylor Swift (“girl music”) or who liked watching romantic comedies (“chick flicks”).
It wasn’t BAD to be a girl. It wasn’t BAD to be a woman.
It was simply bad to do things “like a girl” if you weren’t one. Maybe that’s why we were also all little homophobic assholes as well. We spent so much time calling each other “gay fags” as a way to rip on one another that there’s no chance that any of the kids who actually were gay could have ever felt respected, accepted, or comfortable around us—which is undoubtedly a factor in them moving far away and waiting several years before coming out.
Where I come from, if you’re a man who does “girl things,” you’re less of a man. Which is bad.
And where I come from, women do the majority of housework, the majority of childcare, the majority of social calendar management, etc. There was no Right vs. Wrong judgment about any of it. It was just The Way. It was Normal.
And we, as human beings, tend to react to things outside of OUR Normal as being “wrong.” It’s because we’re assholes, but we don’t have to be.
It Was My Wife’s Responsibility to Fix Her Dumb Girl Emotions
Right? If my wife was responding incorrectly to things because she had weak girl emotions, how was that MY fault?
Is it really fair to ask me to adjust everything I do, think, feel, and say simply because it hurts my wife’s incorrect feelings when all she has to do is realize her mistake and simply STOP feeling bad about silly things?
After writing about marriage and divorce for more than six years, I’ve come to believe that THAT sentiment is the No. 1 marriage killer in the world.
I ALREADY did more around the house (I probably did the majority of cooking, grocery shopping, and kitchen cleanup throughout our nine-year marriage) than every male role model I’d ever had.
I was ALREADY compromising my Man of the House role, and was hell-bent on retaining my Man Card.
I was working and making the most money. I was doing more housework (“women’s work,” you might have heard it called) than any of the adult men I grew up around. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t do drugs or drink excessively. I didn’t gamble away our savings. I wasn’t physically or verbally abusive. I was a reliable caretaker for our son.
So, when I was told what an insensitive and shitty husband I was being (she never actually called me those things), my reaction was always one of high-and-mighty moral outrage.
How DARE you tell me I’m not a good husband!
“Matt, would you please stop throwing your jeans on this nightstand? I try hard to keep the bedroom looking nice. Can you please just put them in the closet out of sight?”
How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like throwing my jeans on the nightstand that literally no other human being besides us will ever see! Why make a marriage fight out of this small thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!
“Matt, would you please stop leaving that dirty glass by the sink? I try hard to keep the kitchen looking nice. Can you please just put it in the dishwasher?”
How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like setting that water glass by the sink that isn’t even dirty! I’m just trying to recycle the glass because it’s easier than washing extra dishes every time. Why make a marriage fight out of this silly thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!
“Matt, would you please not make fun of me in front of our friends? It hurts my feelings. You’re literally nicer to total strangers than you are to me.”
Oh my God. How DARE she make a big deal out of something stupid like some playful mocking that everyone knows is a joke! I married this woman and chose her out of EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to love and commit to and have children with! Why make a marriage fight over this totally illogical thing?! This is all because of her dumb girl-feelings!
Because I was the more “emotionally stable” one—you know, because I handled things like a logical man—I was right, therefore my wife was wrong.
She was the one with the problem.
I believed she was the one responsible for maturing and simply CHOOSING to not feel hurt over things that were in no way intended to hurt her.
It’s a Respect Thing
I loved my wife. Maybe even more than myself. But I didn’t RESPECT her individual experiences as being equally valid to mine.
Things that were real and true—and often painful—for her didn’t affect me. Not outside of her complaining to me about it. My wife spent many years trying to recruit me to understand what was happening in her heart and mind so that her husband could work cooperatively with her to eliminate negativity in the marriage.
She tried every way she knew how to communicate to me that these “little, silly, emotional girl things” were important. Each and every time she tried, I made it clear to her how much I disagreed, and how certain I was that I was correct because of my wise man brain.
This idea can’t be shared enough times:
My wife HURT—down deep where the medicine can’t fix it—because of things I said and did. And for more than 10 years, when she came to me for help to make the hurt stop, I communicated to her that I thought she was MISTAKEN—wrong—to feel hurt, and even worse, that she was using it to cause problems in our marriage.
I seriously said that to her, like, a million times.
Every chance I had to respect my wife and live up to the vows I’d made on our wedding day, I instead communicated to her: No. Your girl-feelings are dumb. It’s not MY job to stop doing these things that don’t even matter. It’s YOUR job to stop caring about them so that you won’t feel hurt anymore.
This is why my wife could no longer trust me or feel safe with me. When you don’t make your partner feel safe and lose their trust, it’s all over.
I hope you’ll believe me when I say that if you’re someone who agrees with my thoughts and feelings from when I was still married, and feel as if my actions were justified when discussing it with my wife, your current or future relationships have almost no chance of succeeding. If you think what I did was right, we need to talk.
Happy International Women’s Day
I used to roll my eyes at things like today. March 8—International Women’s Day. What a bunch of hippie, liberal hogwash, I thought.
But then, I figured out what Accidental Sexism looks like, how I unwittingly abused my wife emotionally for a decade, and realized that I would have NEVER done those things had I known back then what I know now.
Being sexist is bad. Being a shitty husband is bad. But NOT all men (and/or women) who exhibit sexism and shitty husbandry are bad.
You can be—in your core—a good human being who genuinely cares about making this world a better place, and still innocently and unknowingly mistreat other people in ways you are blind to. You can be a good man who genuinely loves his wife and wants to have a long and happy marriage, and still innocently and unknowingly lack the knowledge and skills necessary to actually be a good husband.
To our daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, neighbors, bosses, friends, teachers, co-workers, nieces, cousins, and everyone I’m forgetting.
To our influencers and heroes.
And most importantly—to the women who voluntarily choose us out of all 7.7 billion people on earth—to love and trust and care for.
Your thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter because you’re women. They matter because you’re human, like me.
Thank you for all that you tolerate and give and fight through.
Thank you for helping me remove some of my blinders.
Thank you for being you.
Please don’t give up on us.