Saturday, January 10, 2015

Uxoriousness

One of the interests I've had over the years, which seems to have turned out to be a basic problem of life, is the nature of good relationships. Of the limited number of people I know, most of whom are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the majority eased into conventional monogamous heterosexual relationships by their early twenties. When I was growing up, it was hard to see inside other families, and my primary example was my parents' relationship. Before my father's decline, my parents got along well and cared about each other, but my father didn't particularly dote on my mother. He used affectionate nicknames for her and sometimes made big English breakfasts on the weekends. It was not until I moved to the Midwest and saw my then-wife's family close up that I became fully exposed to uxorious behavior.

My ex-wife's mother, one of her sisters, and my ex-wife herself all had psychiatric issues. My father-in-law doted on his wife, and they had a good relationship, but from my point of view it was lopsided. All of the psychiatric issues in the family were swept under the rug and never discussed, and my father-in-law worked very hard at home and at his office to provide security and social status for himself and his family. I think he had decided much earlier that if he didn't dote on his wife she might flip out and ruin everything for both of them. Alternatively, he may have felt lucky to have her, since he was never good looking and may have had trouble winning her over when he was courting her. As high school sweethearts from a farming background in rural Ohio, they weren't used to discussing psychiatric problems or even analyzing people. He was a small-town lawyer and also had difficulties when he failed to confront the deficiencies in some of his law partners. My mother-in-law was not above using passive-aggressive techniques to get her way, with others, including her own children, paying the price. As a couple, their system worked for them, but I think that by ignoring mental illness they facilitated its unchecked spread into the next generation. Their children grew up with mixed results, which is common, but half of them now live unacceptably according to the ethos of their parents, which would disturb them if they were still alive.

When some of my friends and acquaintances from college began pairing off, I also saw signs of inequality in relationships, with the wives calling the shots and the husbands kowtowing to them. By this time it was becoming clear to me that complex social factors figure into the power balances within couples. One friend was quite short and always did whatever his wife said. Another friend had a physical deformity and always did whatever his wife said. I found it odd initially, because I'm very independent and don't take orders well, not to mention the fact that in these cases the wives themselves didn't seem to merit deference: I would never have married either of them. Now that they've been married for a long time, their situations can readily be explained in terms of compromises that I probably wouldn't have made.

When I was married, my lack of uxoriousness was a factor in the divorce. Frankly, I hadn't wanted to get married in the first place and was tired of my wife after a few years, though I would not have sought a divorce. My ex-wife didn't think clearly about much of anything, and although she maintained the self-image of a free spirit, at heart she was an unimaginative conformist just like her parents, and thought that if she wasn't doted on by her husband he must be defective. That's all water under the bridge, but it was a waste of eleven years of my life.

These days I don't socialize much, not that I ever did, but I do have some exposure to other couples in my age group. There isn't a significant amount of explicit uxorious behavior here, but there seem to be many of the same structural elements in place among established couples with grown kids. The women usually dominate and the men are subservient in social situations. It is fairly obvious that the wives have trained their husbands how to behave, while stopping short of the blatant control exhibited in the case of extreme uxoriousness. I still don't train well and think that too much socializing might cause some of the wives to provide unwanted advice and put me under pressure to behave in a more woman-centric way.  I'm hoping that that won't happen, because I don't like being pushed around, particularly when the aggressor is biased.

There are real, intractable differences between men and women that inevitably bring tensions to relationships. Most of the men I know have less need for casual socializing than the women I know. They don't usually care much about home decoration, chitchat or backrubs. They are less interested in childrearing than they let on. The women don't usually care about chainsaws, telescopes or radical ideas, and they dislike physical risks. None of this is going to change, so you have to make some compromises unless you want to live alone. Unsurprisingly, many of the men who have made important contributions to civilization have been recluses, hell to live with or gay. Compromise comes at a cost.

2 comments:

  1. I came across the word a few years ago, looked it up and was thrilled. I did not know there was a word for the way some men behave to get along in a marriage. I have wondered about the nature of men such that they have a named mechanism to keep the peace or their sanity. You often attribute behaviour to evolutionary reasons. Would there be one for this? I'll guess it's something to do with protection. Last weekend I went to a party with numerous couples it was fascinating and it still makes me happy when I see a couple genuinely happy and respectful of each other.

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    1. It probably has some evolutionary basis, but cultural influences are also important. In our society, a man may have to make sacrifices in order to keep a woman, whereas in, say, a caliphate, a woman may have limited rights. Probably in situations where women are abundant and men have greater control, you won't see much uxoriousness. I think that when men live in circumstances that give them few choices they are more likely to make a conscious decision to go along with their wives when they disagree with them just to keep the relationship intact. I doubt that a deep commitment to the relationship itself makes much difference to most men when there are alternatives readily available. However, when women are scarce, uxoriousness could be a desirable behavior from an evolutionary standpoint. This would give men a competitive advantage over non-uxorious males for the few available women and increase their chances of having children.

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