You know how I’m always scoffing at those men in moribund, static, loveless relationships at home and who, despite finding their joy and comfort elsewhere, still can’t bring themselves to leave; those fellers who, when pressed, will shrug and say, “Well, the woman don’t do me nothing … ?” Well, that’s what they say. What they’ve not said, but really mean, however, is that they can not leave because the woman has given them everything.
I don’t know why it took me this long to realise it; after all, I’d had the experience already when I was a mere girl, 16 years old. I remember well that Sunday afternoon at the Botanical Gardens; with GCE’s out of the way and no job yet to go to, I had been enjoying the attentions of a boy who’d been “courting” me through Fifth Form. He’d even gotten as far as my parents’ living-room, having successfully passed my mother’s and aunt’s, “And who are your people?”
So you can imagine my shock when a young woman, several years our senior, walked up to us, called me sweetly by my full name, and asked if I was having a good time with her man. Before I could formulate an answer, she advised me that the cap I was sporting – his signature wear – had been bought with her money, and then she rushed off in tears. All I could do was take the offending object off my head and hand it, wordlessly and scornfully, to him. He took it, shrugged shamefacedly, and took off after her… .
In time he would telephone and beg pardon, taking the time to explain, “I owe her a lot, you see.” Which, at that age – and, apparently, up until now – I didn’t. I couldn’t grasp, then, that he could give up all the excitement of seeing each other at football, or the hand-holding and kissing as we cut through the Academy grounds of an evening, or the privilege of being with my slim, tall, and pretty self, for this woman who’d bought him … a hat?!
I remembered this incident a couple days ago when I learned, in conversation, that a professional man I’ve known for some years has a wife. Being acquainted with his children and grandchildren and knowing his status – and very much knowing his woman – I’d thought – honest to God – that the feller was a widower. And so I exclaimed (silly me): “He’s married?! But he’s everywhere with Matilda (apologies to the Matildas out there); she works with him! I never even heard he has a wife!” To which my friend calmly replied: “Well, he hah one, though! And he live wid she!”
According to her story, while it is common knowledge that the couple have no relationship, what is not so commonly known is that the wife, it was, who put the feller through university and then helped him to set up shop by giving him family land. So that while they are now long out of love, they are now very much in the money, and – literally and figuratively – the mister owes the missus.
While thinking about this column, I remembered the scandal when Bill Cosby was accused of having fathered a child outside his long and seemingly idyllic marriage. Following the brouhaha – and a brouhaha it was when Dr Huxtable, the consummate family man, was exposed as having a liking for more than Jello pudding – I read a story in which Cosby was reported to have begun wearing a bracelet inscribed “Camille’s husband.” At the time, I thought it was a “touching reminder” of the fact that she had stood with him throughout the ordeal and had better not put her through another one; but, in my new, enlightened state, I have to wonder whose idea, really, the inscription was.
This is because I’m aware of other men who look, longingly, out of the windows of their marriage, but stay put because the wife has put up with so much already that he simply can’t put her through that final cut. (A lot of “putting,” as you’ll notice – in that sentence and in that life sentence, I might add – but no putting out, I bet you, in that relationship.) Other men, meanwhile, go into marriage attempting to settle some debt – “Well, when I was out of work for a whole year, she paid my bills,” or “She took care of my mother when she was dying….” Something. Anything. Except the reasons why people should get into relationships in the first place. (Although, to be strictly honest, I often wonder if there are any reasons.)
But it’s not only in marriage that this sad “making-do-because” takes place. There are hundreds of men who’ve never said “I do” and don’t plan to, either, but who are bound just as tightly by a sense of obligation. In fact, one feller I know went as far as saying he was not interested in marrying his woman, not even after years of being together; but he couldn’t leave her, because, after all, she had left her man for him.
In this day and age, when sisters are often out-earning men and the gender balance of power has shifted somewhat, I believe these obligation-oriented relationships will become even more common.
For many are the men in whom women have quite a stake; and I’m not talking only emotionally, now. I’m talking about a 25 per cent stake in their wardrobe; a 50 per cent stake in the house; a 75 per cent stake in the business; and a 100 per cent stake in the SUV. And these are the men who will tell you, glibly, “Can’t leave her; she don’t do me nutten… .”
Where love fails, Sisters, obligation will carry the day. The thing is, I don’t know whether to admire such a man for “honouring his duty” or despise him for it. I don’t know whether to pity the wife who’s accepting mere lip service as what she is “due,” either. And I certainly don’t know what to feel, except sadness, for the girlfriend who lights up the feller’s life, but not enough for him to see his way through the door of the house he calls home.