Husbandry

Sex, Love & Dirty Laundry
- Inside the Minds
of Married Men

By Stephen Fried

Bantam. 177 pp. $18


Reviewed by Susan Balée


This is a charming collection of personal essays about marriage by a guy who sounds like a devoted husband. A devoted husband, but still a

guy

, and that's what makes this book fun for women.

We wives recognize that even the best husbands still suffer from that pesky Y chromosome: They have sex on the brain, they don't listen to what we're telling them, and they suck at housework. At least two of these three traits are bound to cause problems in even the happiest couples. Fried gives us the husbands' perspective.

The root of the problem, Fried explains, is that most men have the attention span of gnats. Everything distracts them, and some things distract them more than others. An approaching female is such a thing, and Fried knows the drill: He can glance, but he'd better not stare.

He explains, "Some wives think that looking at other women, or tracking, is all about temptation. [But] looking and tracking are much more Pavlovian than that. At my regular half-court basketball game, if a woman wanders from the workout area onto the far end of our court, the guys gape even though most of them can't see that far without their glasses (or with their prescription goggles). So they can't really tell if the woman is twenty or ninety or attractive or an alien life-form. . . . Wives shouldn't be bothered by this any more than they should be bothered by channel surfing. . . . Just give us a moment, and we'll switch back to our regularly scheduled wife, already in progress."

Which brings us to the remote. Fried observes, "I'm starting to believe that the TV is a window into the soul of your marriage." A lot of us must have the same marriages, then. Like Fried's wife, I hate the way my husband speeds through channels, and he hates the way I start pushing all the buttons when the remote doesn't do what I want. Fried gives the male rationale, "Really, how long do you need to look at a curling match on ESPN 7, or a raccoon peeing on

Animal Planet

, or

Happy Days

in Portuguese to know that you don't want to watch it?"

And I know how Diane, Fried's wife, feels when she wants to talk to him about what's happening in the show they finally settle on. I, too, like to discuss the plotline, the characters, and other aspects of the show while it's happening. And, like Fried, my husband will slowly turn up the volume to drown me out, or finally tell me to be quiet, which may or may not result in my getting huffy or stalking out of the room.

Then there's the great chore divide and Fried's fear of the dishwasher. And here's where his marriage is the reverse of mine. I'm the one who is dishwasher-challenged: Allan never likes how I load it, and I always forget to add those rinse thingies. Plus, I run it on the wrong setting. Somehow, I just can't learn.

Nor can I remember to put the coffee pot in there, and if it's not in there and washed, Allan won't set up the percolator for my morning wake-up brew (his gift to me, because I can't do anything until that first jolt of java). Many a visitor to our house has noticed the weird message written in indelible ink on the lip of our dishwasher: "Wash pot or no fresh coffee!" Yup, it's to me. And still I forget.

Still, my passive-aggressiveness with the dishwasher is as nothing to his with paying attention. Like Mrs. Fried, I have discovered that when my husband appears to be listening and agreeing with what I'm saying, he is often paying no attention whatsoever to my words.

Uh-huh

, Fried tells us, can have many meanings: "1. Yes 2. No 3. Maybe 4. Maybe not 5. I acknowledge what you're saying but don't agree with it. 6. I agree with what you're saying but don't feel like acknowledging it. 7. I see your point. 8. I don't see your point. 9. I kind of see your point but don't see the point of making it just at this moment. 10. I wasn't listening to anything you just said and would feel stupid asking you to say it again. 11. I really

want

to listen, but I'm groggy from exertion. 12. I really want to listen - but to

The Sopranos

, so could we continue this conversation when the show's over, if I'm still awake? 13. I wonder if there's any of that pie left?"

Fried's guy friends won't be too pleased with his giving away their secrets, but wives will love this book - it's both funny and true.

Susan Balée and her husband recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. She is a regular book reviewer for the Hudson Review and The Inquirer.