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How To Make A Man Happy

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb
A chapter from a 1950 home economics book has been making the rounds of the internet. It's a list of do's and don'ts addressed to wives searching for ways to make their husbands happy. Along with obvious advice such as "have a delicious dinner ready," and "don't greet him with complaints the minute he walks in the door," there are more complicated instructions.

For example, the wife is advised to touch up her make-up, put a ribbon in her hair, and lie down for fifteen minutes so as to be "refreshed" when the master arrives home from work. The children too need to be made as neat and attractive as possible, as is the house--shoes and homework clutter put away, tables dusted, household appliances turned off--for the return of the weary breadwinner. And here is my favorite part: "Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes [italics mine]. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind."

Sounds insane, doesn't it? Still, those of us who came of age a decade or two after the book was written should take a look back at our own youth. Even though we may have been in graduate school or working full-time, my generation was still haunted by the notion that, no matter how advanced our degrees or how demanding our work, our most important duty was to  make a man happy.

There are, of course, a number of problems with this notion, the main one being, what about the woman's need for a delicious dinner when she comes home from work? Who will neaten up the children and the house? Just how is she going to find the time for a quick nap, let alone renewing her make-up and putting a ribbon in her hair in order to greet her man in the manner he deserves? But back then we didn't allow ourselves to consider these questions. We who as young professionals were routinely asked in job interviews how we expected to manage the demands of work and home knew the only acceptable answer to be that yes, of course we could do it all, and we would!

The system was not only barbarously unfair but a recipe for disaster, because it created in women expectations that no man could possibly fulfill. Turning herself into a paragon of domesticity, with her husband's happiness her only goal, demanded a degree of abnegation approaching sainthood. However, this sacrifice would reap its rewards, not in heaven but right here on earth. Devote yourself to your husband's happiness, the message was, and you will be rewarded with conjugal bliss the rest of your life. He will treasure and adore you, and ensure your happiness forever.

Unfortunately, the proponents of domestic excellence forgot to check with the men.  Take your ordinary Joe: even if it really is his heart's desire to have his shoes removed while he drinks a cocktail in the evening, how long before he becomes used to it and ceases to express his appreciation of the cocktail and the shoe removal? Where is the man who can reciprocate, day after day and year after year, such soul-crushing devotion and sacrifice? Wouldn't the unspoken expectation of what he should do in return put a major damper on his pleasure?

Things changed quickly when women entered the workforce en masse and it became physically impossible to keep to the domestic standards of the 1950s. But I suspect that those standards still haunt many. Behind every Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, and online domestic goddess du jour there hovers the ghost of that ideal housewife, she of the low, soothing voice, hair ribbon, and perfect makeup, eternally whispering into the female ear, "you could be doing better."


6 Responses

  1. No, thanks. I explained to my now husband of almost 49 years that there was no way I was going to obey HIM. He seemed taken aback.

    I’m all for being polite, and for contributing to mutual happiness, but I’m not and never planned to be his doormat.

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