Saturday, August 7, 2010

Yes Dear

My best friend and his wife had a baby last year. They have a wonderful relationship, but just like any couple, they are feeling the stress of having a new baby and possibly trying for another one in the near future. I think that it affects his wife more than him. She is a strong independent woman who is still trying to adjust to the full time job of being a mom.

So, my friend has been trying really hard to support his wife and make sure that she gets enough time to herself. He had been planning for weeks to come to my house for dinner and see my new kitchen but at the last minute his wife was invited to go away with her girlfriends for the weekend, so we changed our plans. That may seem like a small thing, but I can tell you from experience that not all guys are willing to sacrifice their own needs for the good of their family.

I was telling my sister about my friend's situation and how much I respect him for doing whatever it takes to hold his family together. "It's the Yes Dear," she explained to me as we were driving out to the store.

I immediately started to feel defensive about my friend. To me, the concept of Yes Dear has always taken on a negative connotation. I envision a shrill, demanding wife shouting at her downtrodden husband who merely agrees with her because he is too exhausted to fight it. My friend is a thoughtful and sensitive person who is doing his best to maintain a harmonious home life. He is not just another Yes Man.

I personally don't understand the appeal of Yes Dear. Mostly it is because I would never want to make anyone do something they don't want to do just to please me. I have always preferred to compromise instead of exerting my will over the other person.

My sister is married with four children. She has a completely different perspective on Yes Dear. For her, it basically means that absent any extenuating circumstances, the husband should just listen to what the wife wants to do and then go with it. But is Yes Dear really what all women want? And if so, what's in it for the men?

I decided to go directly to the source: My Dad. He is the master of the Yes Dear, which is probably one of the reasons I have developed such a strong aversion to it over the years. When we were growing up, my Mom always ran the show at our house. It was rare to hear my Dad state his opinion on anything. I always felt sorry for my Dad. In my mind, he was full of ideas and insights that were constantly being suppressed by my Mom's dominant personality.

My Dad and I were sitting alone eating lunch at my niece and nephew's birthday party and I told him I was doing some research on men and women in relationships. "So, my question is about the concept of Yes Dear," I began. "Do you think that a man needs to go along with whatever the woman wants in order for the relationship to work?"

Without hesitation, he answered "Yes, absolutely." I pressed on for more details and he explained. "My friend Phil has an opinion on everything, even the color of the drapes on the windows. He and his wife are constantly arguing. There is no way anything can get done if both people need to have equal input on every little decision."

At that point, my other sister joined in on the conversation and agreed wholeheartedly. Clearly my research has demonstrated that Yes Dear is popular among the married crowd. I think that its really a matter of efficiency. When you start with the day to day grind of a marriage and then add some kids to the mix, you don't have time for all of the polite discussion and negotiation.

It's just easier for the woman to tell the man what she wants him to do instead of asking him. And the man knows that by just doing it he will avoid an argument and maybe even get something he wants in return for his cooperation. Although I understood the concept a lot better, I was still not convinced that Yes Dear was the best response for every situation.

Later that night I had plans to see the Boy. It had been a really long day and I just wanted to relax and go to a movie. But we had also been invited out to a party at his friend's house on the lake. It was so hot and humid outside. I was hoping he would decide not to go.

Around 5:00 he called me to make plans for the evening. I told him about the movie and he seemed less than excited about the idea. "I'm not sure if I am in the mood for a movie tonight," he hesitated. "Let's give it a few hours and see where we are at later."

After I hung up the phone, I felt disappointed that the Boy had not immediately acquiesced to my wishes. I was exhausted. Despite all of my statements to the contrary, in that moment I just wanted to hear my Yes Dear and get on with it. So I went back into the birthday party and thought about it for a few minutes. Then I sent the Boy a text message asking him to reconsider the movie.

A few minutes later he replied: We could make a 9:30 show if you want to check out a few options. Girls choice and boy will snuggle up with you.

The Boy and I did go to the movies that night. We had to work through it, but in the end it made the evening that much more satisfying. I held his hand as we walked into the theater and thanked him for coming with me. "I have been saying 'yes' to everyone for the past two days," I explained to him. "Tonight, I really needed to have someone say 'yes' to me."

"No problem," he said. "When you mentioned it the second time, I could tell that it was really important to you and it wasn't a big deal to me."

When the movie ended, we walked over to the bar to get a glass of wine. I started to wonder if I was just splitting hairs on the whole Yes Dear topic. After all, I did want to go to the movies and that is exactly what we ended up doing. So I asked the Boy what he thought about the concept of Yes Dear and whether we had just experienced our first Yes Dear moment as a couple.

"Not at all," he reassured me. "It's not about whether or not we went to see that movie. I did that because I wanted to make you happy. I just need to feel like I have a choice in the matter."

That night as we snuggled into bed, I felt closer to the Boy than ever before. And it wasn't because he went to the movies with me. It was so much more than that. The Boy made a conscious decision to do something for me and I let him know that I recognized and appreciated him for it.

Ultimately, his answer was Yes. But it wasn't a Yes Dear. And for us that is a subtle but very important distinction.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post, I can see how the topic generated lots of debate among your circle. I see two disinctions to your idea of Yes Dear, both of which are shown in the Boy's response. The first is that he did have an opinion on the movie, but it wasn't a strong one. The second is, it seems that he wanted to feel like he had the choice to disagree, even though he decided to go along in the end. It is this dynamic, which resides in the man and not in the "henpecking woman", that makes Yes Dear work or not. If a man (or Boy) is man-enough that he doesn't feel a need to impose his will on every decision that is made, then it works. I don't think any woman actually wants a Yes Man ... they may want their partner to choose to agree, even when they disagree. And often times they want their partners input, even if they don't take it exactly. The problem for some men is that they see this as an erosion of their masculinity. For others, it is a very easy thing to do precisely because it makes their partners happy (and presumably this brings other, offsetting, benefits to them in areas that they do care strongly about).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments! I agree that much of the dynamic rests with the man and how he views his relationship with the woman. Part of the reason the Boy and my Best Friend are willing to make those compromises is exactly because of those "other benefits" you mentioned. They are in love and they are receiving love, affection and many other things in return. One thing I left out of this post was a very insightful comment that my Best Friend made about his wife. He said that he loves the feeling of mutual respect that exists in their house and he knows that if he stops doing his part, then the whole thing will start to unravel. That is why he supports his wife - even when he does not completely understand or agree with her position.