This week there were two pieces about the internet wife phenomenon, one by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker (Please, my wife, she’s very online) and one by Amanda Hess in the New York Times (The Age of the Internet Wife Guy), in which they unpack the phenomenon of men on the internet who talk about their wives and make “having a wife” their personality: Curvy Wife Guy, cliff wife guy, email wife guy, etc.
Those guys are the extremes, the ones whose internet behavior is so ridiculous it becomes an internet meme. But these stories were also interesting to me because I’ve always found it a little irksome hearing guys, particularly those in media with a public platform, talking about their wives. On podcasts, for instance, I often hear male hosts and guests talk about their wives to tell a story about something in their home/family life. They talk about “my wife” a lot. But you never hear the wives’ names, and you never learn more about them. The wives just sort of exist as a nameless character in the story, and it always irritated me. I sort of think podcast hosts like this (looking at you, Bill Simmons) are the original Wife Guys. They have a wife and they want everyone to know! But who is she? Does she have an identity? What does she do? I have no idea. She’s just The Wife.
I happen to also be a woman who is married, though I am very ambivalent about the term “wife,” which feels very retro to me. (For some reason, “husband” doesn’t feel as retro. But don’t even get me started on “hubs” and “hubby,” two words I despise, especially when other people insist on referring to Renan as my “hubby” when I would never say that.)
Anyways, Jia ties it all together in her analysis of the Wife Guys:
“In all of these Wife Events, as Tom Whyman termed them, at the Outline, the Wife Guys had actively taken steps to embarrass themselves and their life partners. These stories, in other words, ultimately revolve around the needs and neuroses of men. And yet they are, nonetheless, a gratifying pleasure to behold. The wife as she has historically been understood isn’t made to exist in a world of Wife Events. She will have to change—and she is changing. The online wife is unbiddable, like an escaped llama or a trickster god. She cosplays as an elf; she tweets that her husband blocked her. You can e-mail her if you want to. The wife, as you read this, is gently rolling off a cliff.”
“What explains the current proliferation of wife guys? It used to be that if you were a man, having a wife was the default position. But as Americans increasingly postpone or simply forgo marriage — and as some men marry husbands — having a wife is now one choice among many. That also means that marriage is being pitched less as the fulfillment of a social contract and more as a kind of personal achievement. The identification and mocking of “wife guys” evidences a mild discomfort with the tradition of marriage itself — an attitude that can be detected even among married people. But it is also a specific reaction to marriage in its current form, as a highly individualized pursuit in which a man may express his purest self.
Typically, it is women who are judged on such grounds, criticized for failing to settle down, or for how they aestheticize their weddings. The wife guy represents a kind of progress on this front: Now it is the man’s choices that are under review. And these days, building an identity around having a wife is an increasingly conspicuous choice.”
In the meantime, my husband Renan can only talk about me on the internet using my name, never as just The Wife.
Stuff I’m reading this week
The Catastrophist, or: On coming out as trans at 37, Vox. A beautiful essay by my colleague Emily VanDerWerff.
Too Many People Want to Travel, The Atlantic.
Fixing Your Work Environment Will Not Fix Your Life, New York Times. Deadspin EIC Megan Greenwell is guest writing the Times’ Work Friend column, and it is delightful.
The Adults Who Treat Reading Like Homework, The Atlantic. Last year I set a goal to read 52 books in 2018, and I achieved it! But I didn’t do it again this year, and this article does a good job of articulating why.
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