Q: It is well know that Mrs. Ironwood is smart, well educated, and well paid. So obviously she is not playing dumb or incompetent in an attempt to make her man feel important. It would be interesting to know what she does to "be the woman" and allow you to "be the man" (generalities, not details - lol).
A: What an excellent question!
When I read this at Stately Ironwood Manor this morning over my usual coffee-and-cigarettes breakfast (most important meal of the day), I went ahead and read it aloud to Mrs. Ironwood, who has better sense about how to begin her day and was eating a ridiculously high-fiber cereal.
“Mostly, I stay out of your way and let you do what you do.”
She elaborated – one of the things I love about her is her keen insight into masculine psychology. Basically she told me that she recognizes that there are things that are inherently important to a man, and that when it comes to those issues (insofar as they do not negatively impact the over-all Mission), regardless of whether or not she thinks she knows a better way to do it, or a better approach, or whatever . . . she stays out of my way and lets me do those particular things my way.
It’s a struggle, sometimes, she continues. But just as she feels sensitive to the fact that I’ve assumed many of the “traditional wifely responsibilities” like laundry, getting the kids ready for school, shopping and cooking, things that she feels judged about by her mother and the other women in her personal Matrix, she understands that I feel sensitive to the need to assert my masculinity in other ways. Like working in porn and hanging pictures and spending my off-hours relentlessly trying to get into her pants.
She's such a trooper.
It was a fascinating discussion – we've covered some of this territory before, but it was interesting to see it like this. We’re very aware of our mutual interdependence and how important it is to a well-functioning ship, but we rarely discuss it in those terms. She makes more money. I do more housecleaning. Yet the social expectations of both issues put a lot of undue pressure on us from outside. That alone is often enough to put strain on a couple.
So we’re both willing to compromise about stuff . . . but we try like the dickens to make sure that we don’t have to. Luckily, we both are on the same page so much of the time that our compromises usually seem minor and unimportant when they actually happen. Chalk it up to good wife selection criteria and a long vetting period.
But one fundamental that we practice is always being willing to communicate, within the dictates of the Rules of Engagement. And we have both accumulated enough of a store of trust in each other that when one of us does something the other sees as dicey, then we’re willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to each other, even if we’re pretty sure the other person is wrong. I may know for a fact that what she’s doing is a mistake, but if I do not give her the freedom and autonomy to make and learn from mistakes (provided they don’t imperil the Mission) then I’m not leading properly.
The same goes for me: if I’m indulging in a masculine fit of do-it-myself, say, fixing the porch or painting a fence, then Mrs. Ironwood has the brains to recognize that the important issue is not whether or not the fence gets painted, it’s that I am painting the fence as an expression of my masculine power to Order the household. And because painting a fence is well within my capabilities. She trusts me to do the job to the best of my ability, and then knows that the proper feminine response – regardless of the outcome – is to praise the effort, not the result.
Admittedly the praise is higher when I don’t fuck things up, but she never – NEVER – tells me “I told you so!” when things go wrong. Indeed, even if I do fuck things up (it happens) she thanks me for my efforts and encourages me to think positively about it. She doesn’t use my failed attempt as a crowbar to leverage in a subsequent relationship discussion.
That’s a rare and special gift. Some folks think that marriage means that both husband and wife can relax into a perpetual casual relationship in which the little things don’t matter because of the strength of your love, but any OMG will tell you the opposite is true. Extending basic courtesy and politeness to your spouse is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to keeping the ship running properly.
Remember, Captain and First Officer are positions with a lot more ritual and protocol implicit in them than “wifey and hubby 2.0”. Ignoring basic courtesy because you’ve happened to see your spouse busting a grumpy in the bathroom is foolish. And ignoring her accomplishments and her efforts is twice as foolish. Remember, the performance of the First Officer is in part contingent on (and is a reflection of) your abilities as a leader. If that means calling out your spouse for praise more often than you probably would a casual acquaintance then remember that a) you likely did not exchange profound vows with a casual acquaintance and b) in most cases a casual acquaintance is unlikely to provide you with fellatio.
Mrs. Ironwood earns compliments from me every day – and note I said “earned” not “deserves”. It doesn’t matter whether or not she deserves the compliment – the fact is, she is a superlative wife who earns the praise I give her, and I would be a stingy husband to withhold it. And she reciprocates, often surprising me with “One of the reasons I love you is how you ….” at moments when I least suspect it. This has the dual effect of increasing my attraction to her (we’re always more attracted to those who offer praise and respect toward us) and rewarding good behavior on my part. The reward system works both ways, after all, and Mrs. Ironwood has learned how to work it to our mutual advantage.
Mrs. Ironwood also made this valuable point that I hadn’t considered:
“When you really are set on something and I think it’s a bad idea, and I’ve told you I think it’s a bad idea—”
“You let me do it anyway,” I finished, smugly.
“Well, not exactly,” she hedged, much to my surprise. “Just as you have the masculine power of Ordering, I have the feminine power of Persuasion. And in cases where I really think something is a bad idea, and you aren’t listening to my cogent and well-reasoned arguments, then I use my feminine wiles to distract you from the issue until you decide to do it my way.”
“Hey! That’s not fair!” I protested.
“It’s perfectly fair,” she disagreed. “Look, I respect your ability and willingness to be the leader of the household – I have too much leadership crap at work, the last thing I want is to be on the hook for the decisions that run the house. And in most cases, yeah, I can let you do it your way, anyway, and I stay out of your way.
“But if you are dead-set on doing something utterly bone-headed, yet doesn’t imperil the Mission, then I feel well within my rights to distract you away from it and give you some perspective.”
“Distract me how?” I asked, a little alarmed.
“And if I don’t?” I asked, warily.
“If sex doesn’t work to distract you,” she reasoned, “then that tells me that whatever it is Really Matters to you, and I can either let you go or get in your face about it. But usually you’re open to being distracted.”
I frowned. “Am I really that easy?”
She snorted. “Why do you think I married you?”
There were plenty of potential responses to that, but I found myself going in an unexpected direction. “So, does it bother you that our marriage isn’t based on the principal of equality?” I asked.
“Equality?” she asked, just as surprised. “Look, it’s a marriage, not a suspension bridge. We’re not two equally strong pillars both holding it up equally. That’s a stupid metaphor. Marriage is a fluid, plastic, constantly-changing thing, especially with kids involved. Forget equality. What we have is a teeter-totter. A see-saw. You’re at one end, I’m at the other. The goal is equilibrium, not equality. It’s not about what is fair to you, or fair to me. It’s how we both can dance along the length of the lever in order to maintain equilibrium.”
“Explain,” I directed, intrigued.
“Look, if I’m having a shit-week – like this week, for instance,” she added. “I’m so stressed out about work that I can’t even think about you and the kids, and that makes me feel like a bad wife and mother.
"But then I come home after bitching about it to you on the phone, and you have dinner cooked and laundry folded, it's like a Dido song. That still makes me feel like a bad wife and mother, but I also feel so loved and supported that you adjusted your side of the see-saw to compensate for my shitty week, it makes me forget about what a shitty wife and mother I am and just drop to my knees in gratitude . . . like I have time for that. And then next week, after I get my grades posted, I’ll re-adjust my position, spend a few evenings doing you like it’s prom night to show my appreciation and assuage my guilt, and we’ll be headed back into equilibrium. You can’t do that trying to keep both people ‘equal’. Someone’s always going to be up and someone’s always going to be down, but if both of us are trying for equilibrium in good faith, then we can appreciate the relationship better over time because we understand the process.”
“So to extend this metaphor,” I said, enthusiastically, “what happens if someone fails to adjust to compensate?”
“Then one of your asses is going to hit the ground with a decisive thud,” she replied, smoothly. “That happens. It’s happened to both of us, many times, in the last twenty years. As long as the other person doesn’t get off the other side, you’re both cool. But when you get off . . . well, it’s decisive thud time, only permanent.”
“So how have we avoided that, all these years?”
“You’re willing to dance on your end, I’m willing to dance on mind, and we’re both committed to the pursuit of equilibrium to affect the success of the Mission without being selfishly obsessed with equality. It might not be as stable as ‘two pillars of equality’, but we sure have a hell of a lot more fun around the fulcrum than those couples stiffly holding up their relationship. And then there’s the alternative . . .” she said, trailing off meaningfully.
“The thing that's really keeping me dancing on my end,” she confessed. “Besides, y'know, true love and shit. If one of us did step off, have you seen what’s available as replacement parts these days? Jesus, I think I’d enter a convent before I’d start dating again. No matter how bad you get – and you really don’t get bad,” she assured me, hurriedly, “don’t get me wrong, but no matter what a pain in my ass you are, you’re MY pain in the ass. There’s a security in that that allows me a lot more emotional freedom than my friends.” I was no good judge of that – that’s Matrix stuff – but I was willing to take her word for it.
“Seriously,” she continued, “half of my friends are obsessing about their lack of a boyfriend or husband, and the other half are bitching about their existing boyfriend or husband, and none of them are complaining that they aren’t being treated as an equal partner or they're getting laid too much. I get asked all the time why I don’t bitch about you the way other women bitch about their husbands, and it really is because you don’t give me a reason to bitch. In fact, I spent almost the entire conference talking about how great you are with the house, the kids, and me that I pissed off some people.”
I guess that’s a good thing. “So you aren’t worried that I’m treating you like a slave, dominating the relationship, relegating you to second-class status, all that bullshit?”
She patted my knee warmly. “Babe, my priorities are raising the kids well and keeping my family happy. That includes you. That’s where I find fulfillment. Yes, I have a career -- everyone needs a J-O-B -- and I'm lucky enough to have married a man who was willing to put up with all of that school and abject povety so that you could let me make a career out of making the world a better place in a really crappy industry. But you don’t let me make that my life. You keep me grounded about what is truly important to me because you know me. You get me. And I so appreciate that about you.” Awww! More praise! “So to answer your reader’s question, I’d say that I stay out of your way, let you be a man, and focus on my job as the woman in the relationship. And I don’t let other people define for me what that is. Not my mom. Not my sister. Not even you.”
Okay, I could accept that. “And you persuade me with sex,” I added. “When cogent and well-reasoned argument fails.”
“Right. Do you feel threatened about that? About me ‘using sex as a weapon’?” she asked, curious.
It was a fair question. I mean, a lot of guys accuse women of that, and I’ve seen it employed thus over and over in other relationships.
“No,” I decided. “Because you don’t use it as a weapon. You use it as a tool of engagement. When we have sex, it’s a non-verbal extension of our continuing intimate conversation. Sometimes you use it to say ‘Honey, you’re wrong, you should see my point’. I can handle that. And sometimes you use it to say ‘Babe, you did a really good job – more of that, please!’ and I can handle that, too.”
“And sometimes I just want you to throw me down, rip off my clothes, and do me hard,” she reminded me. “Just what do I have to do to persuade you to do that?”
The rest of the conversation would only be of interest to the voyeuristic and the aficionado, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
To this I will only add that Mrs. Ironwood does take care of her appearance, for work as much as for me, but she also doesn’t hesitate to doll up for date night and indulge in shameless PDAs in public. She is quite comfortable with her femininity – she knows she’s not winning any beauty contests, but that isn’t the point. She dresses up to show respect for me, because a wife dresses up for her husband on date night. She goes out of her way to ensure I get masculine down-time with my guy friends (I had to get her to stop calling them ‘play dates’ for the sake of my masculine dignity).
She treats me like her captain: with respect and honor and genuine loyalty. She takes care of me, and acknowleges that that's part of her job description as much as fixing cars or cooking dinner is in mine. She looks after my grooming and appearance, my skincare and whether or not my shoes are decent, and she tells me when I look hot enough to fuck. And she doesn’t hesitate to show me off, use me as arm candy, and brag to her pals about just how lucky she is – whether I’m there or not.
I understand part of that is just ‘marking her territory’, but, honestly, I find I don’t mind so much.