There is a tendency for the type of mediocre men (and women) who need acknowledgement for their mediocrity to happily and haughtily volunteer the mediocrities that make them so painstakingly mediocre. This is where “boasts” like “I’ve never been to prison!” or “I’m 32, and I don’t have any kids!” or “I pay all my own bills!” happen. These are decidedly unspecial people seeking praise for decidedly unspecial things. When hearing these types of statements, I immediately regret the decision not to carry a bag of cookies in my pocket. Because their words also compel me to think “Do you want a cookie?” and it would be nice to actually be able to give them one.
I get where it’s coming from, though. Their perception of reality is skewed towards the substandard. Although they’ve achieved the bare minimum, their achievements are great beside those who haven’t achieved anything. They are not comparing themselves to people whose actions truly deserve acknowledgement. Instead, they’re rating themselves on the same scale as the people who don’t have jobs or don’t pay their own bills. Basically, it’s a reflexively self-conscious way to distinguish yourself from others.
But, again, I get it. Because it’s also how I’ve come to realize, after 15 months of marriage, that I’m a bad husband.
Okay. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. “Bad” probably isn’t the best word to capture my husbanding abilities. But I wouldn’t describe myself as “good.” Moderate, maybe. Mediocre, perhaps. But not good. Definitely not great.
On paper, however, I am good. Very good, actually. You know what? Screw that. On paper I’m a great husband. Faithful? Hell, the first time we kissed was the last time I was with someone new. Excited to be married? No eight-year-long cohabitations here. We were engaged after a year of dating, and married seven months after the engagement. Employed? Hardworking? Ambitious? Check! Check! Check! Loving? Check! Haven’t as much as raised my voice at her in the three years we’ve been together. Good with her family? Check! Equipped with a working penis? She’s pregnant now, so double check! Oh, and I’m a breathing Black man in a city with tens of thousands of breathing and single Black women. This alone is worthy of like a million “great on paper” checks.
But all any of this means is that I meet the bare minimum requirements for a husband. None of this makes me exceptional. Or even good. Just present. Yet, I spent much of the first year of my marriage clutching the belief that I was, in fact, great. Because I was comparing myself to a shitty standard. But – and I say this as grudgingly as possible — I am not a good husband. Not right now. I am not selfish, but I am self-centered. I tend to act and make decisions unilaterally. Which directly contradicts the terms of a partnership. I make a living finding ways to articulate complex thoughts to complete strangers, but I often struggle with communicating with the person I share a home with. And sometimes it’s not a struggle. Sometimes I just don’t want to.
I am a terrible roommate. Living with me is like living with the roommate you had sophomore year who’d frustrate the hell out of you because he’d never tightened the lid on the Pepsi, leaving you with flat-ass Pepsi.
I wish I had a good anecdote or clever epiphany to cite to strengthen this point. There are none. At least none that would be particularly provocative in print or cinematic. No instances of me forgetting her birthday because I was too focused on my work; no inappropriate comments on an ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page; no times when I refused to acknowledge her opinion or talk about an issue she (or I) was having. Instead, there are a thousand mundane moments. A “conversation” about her work day where I half listen and refresh Twitter. A dinner where I immediately apply salt and pepper to a meal she took hours preparing without tasting it yet. A need for her to remind me of plans we made six hours ago. An avalanche of teeny, tiny relationship microaggressions that add up.
I am presently attempting to be a better husband. Which, I’ve heard from people like Dr. Phil and my barber’s pizza delivery guy, is what matters. The effort to change — or, at least, alter — behavior that activity sabotages your marriage. And, as long as you’re making that effort, you’re good. Also, I am a new husband. And new husbands are still learning how to be husbands. So new husbands are inherently “eh” husbands until they prove otherwise. So I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Which sounds great (“Hey, I guess I’m a good husband after all!”)…until you realize how similar it is to the happy mediocrity.
I am just not a good right now husband. And the best — the only – way to change that is to accept it as true.