‘Here, Wolf,’ says the Fawn to me, showing me a saucer. ‘Look at this! This is the new place where you put your mouth things. See! See the saucer? Look at the saucer! See the saucer! This saucer will now live by your bed. This is the place where from now on you put your mouth things. Not on the floor. In the saucer. See Wolf? See?’
(My ‘mouth things’, I should explain, are the manky strips of surgical tape I use to seal up my mouth every night. This sounds weird, I know, but it does have a purpose. I practise this breathing method called buteyko).
And that dialogue I gave you in the first par — that’s my wife (aka the Fawn) in the process of training me. She has worked out — correctly — that men are really very basic animals, not much different from dogs. So, just as we’ve learned to train Daisy our wayward Cocker spaniel pup using clear, repeated commands reinforced with rewards, we’re now seeing if the same techniques will work on me.
Many husbands, I know, are wont to think it’s a bad thing when their wives treat them like a dog. But not me: I think it’s a recipe for a quiet life. It’s a known fact that a man can only be as happy at any given time as the least happy member of his closest family. So clearly I have a strong vested interest in satisfying my wife’s every incomprehensible whim.
Let me give you an example. One of the Fawn’s many obsessions concerns the correct placement of bath mats. Once you’ve had a bath, she believes, you shouldn’t just leave the mats flat and sodden on the floor. What she likes is for you to rest the slatted wooden mat on its side against the bath and for you to fold the other mat (the one made of cloth) over the wooden mat so that it dries properly. (If that makes sense.)
For the first 15 years or so of our marriage I remained gloriously oblivious to this yearning need of the Fawn’s. This isn’t to say she didn’t nag me about it every single time I had a bath. Just that I learned very early on to let the nagging wash over me so that I didn’t really notice any more. Then one day the Fawn decided to change tack. ‘Do you know what would make me really, really happy?’ I said. ‘What?’ I said, warily, thinking it would almost certainly involve spending money we hadn’t got. But when she explained what it was — the correct placement of a bath mat — I was so relieved I thought I’d give it a go.
The response was extraordinary. Not only did I not get a post-bath nagging for the first time in aeons but I actually got praise. Real, heartfelt praise. This bath-mat business, I realised, was not just some random and irrelevant thing the Fawn had alighted on purely as an excuse to have a go at me every night. Rather, it was something that went to the very core of her well-being. ‘Wow!’ I thought. ‘I’ll do this again.’
And I have done, religiously, ever since.
I expect Fawn isn’t the only woman out there wondering why it is that no matter how many times she mentions something vitally important like the correct placement of a bath mat, her husband (or boyfriend or son) never seems to get the message. Perhaps I can explain what the problem is.
Basically, it’s that we men just don’t care. By this, I don’t mean at all that we don’t care about you. (Though that, of course, in your hypersensitive way, is what you imagine.) Deep down, we care about you and love you very, very much. What we don’t care about, though, are many of the immeasurably trivial domestic issues that you consider vital.
I’ve mentioned bath mats already. Into this category also you would fit stuff like lighting; tidiness of desks; totally washing up everything in the kitchen and then wiping the sink (as opposed to the preferred male variant: always leaving a couple of items unwashed up because, hell, we’ve made a pretty good hash of it); booking a decent summer holiday; organising a social life; sweeping the floor. Sure we like it when this stuff magically gets done, but it’s not something about which we lie awake worrying or over which we’d kill ourselves if it didn’t happen. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, like building our business empires or lowering our golf handicap or completing the next level on Call of Duty.
That’s why we find it so easy to edit out your ‘nagging’ (a term which you find offensive and demeaning and belittling). Imagine if someone were to say to you, every day, ‘God I really hate the lacy patterns on praying mantis’s wings. Can’t you do something about it?’ Well that, pretty much, is how men feel about bath mats and wiped sinks and so on: yeah, yeah, whatever.
But the good news is that the solution is very simple. First, appeal to our better nature by telling us how happy it will make you. Second, repeat, as often as you like, in an encouraging, positive way, always remembering to give plenty of rewards and treats. Never ever make the mistake of imagining that we men are anywhere nearly as sophisticated as you. Treat us like dogs — beloved pet dogs, that is — and we’ll be your faithful companions forever.