My aside yesterday about the "trashcan of my affections" inspired a squeak of protest from a Reader who has recently been bullied by a married couple. That's not her analysis: it's mine. In short, she called out a colleague, he complained to his wife, his wife sent her a nasty email, and so not only did the Reader have to patch up things with her colleague, she had to patch things up with his wife. But husband and wife see nothing wrong with his wife getting involved in the collegial dispute. They are One, etc.
I call shenanigans on this one. And here's why.
First, husband and wife are not One, except in a mysterious spiritual sense which means that when you hurt yourself, you hurt your spouse, and when you hurt your spouse, you hurt yourself. Your reputations are linked, too, so if your spouse behaves like an ass in public, people will pity you or blame you for not exerting more control over your spouse.
For example, I was once verbally attacked outside Mass by a married lady in one of the many countries in which I have attended Mass. She took exception to something I wrote years ago which she remembered imperfectly, to say the least, and accused me of nasty and even obscene speculations about her. I thought the church steps were the wrong place for this conversation, and said so. However, she persisted, so I said I had had enough and walked away.
"Wow. Just wow," she said loudly, and at once consulted her husband, who began bellowing after me. And suddenly I was hemmed in by two righteously angry people accusing me of x-year old (and fictional) nasty behaviour, all in earshot of other church-going married couples and their children. It was extremely embarrassing, and although mutual friends had praised the man, whom I barely knew, he plummeted in my estimation. Not only would MY husband never make a scene in public, let alone outside a church he would never stand by and let ME make a scene in public, let alone outside a church.
And the character of Benedict Ambrose is key to what I said yesterday. B.A. is an adult man with women colleagues and occasionally women superiors. Thus, he is used to women fighting their own battles. He is also used to women fighting battles with him with dirty tricks, e.g. bad-tempered tears. Benedict Ambrose is a very kind-hearted and good-natured man, but he is not moved by any old female tears. And it would never occur to him to fight my battles for me, which is a very good thing, as I write op. eds and so annoy people.
It also would not occur to me to fight B.A.'s battles for him because he is...how to put it...a MAN, a real man, an old-fashioned man, a manly man. He would never hide behind a woman's skirts, and he would not thank the woman who threw her skirts in front of him. He is not a baby boy, and he would not appreciate being treated like one. He would feel like a fool, and he does not like feeling like a fool, and he doesn't relish being thought of as having married one, either, which is why he would never let me make a scene in public. I can just imagine the subsequent scene in private. Erg.
If B.A. has a problem with someone annoying enough that he tells me about it, I do my spousal job, which is to listen and say, "How dreadful, darling. You don't deserve that. I'm glad/I hope you stand up to him/her." And I remind him that he is marvellous, which is easy to do because he actually is. He doesn't pick fights with people and will put up with a lot--not everything, he's no coward--for "a quiet life." And this is why if any of my friends or acquaintances pick fights with B.A., I quietly drop them into the trashcan of my affections. But his relationships with his work colleagues, his church colleagues, his old college pals are not really my business.
The other day he was having lunch with two female colleagues and I dropped in with my shopping. I like both colleagues very much. One is older, one is younger, and they are both Single. The younger one shares an office with B.A., and at some point she complained that he whistles, hums, coughs, sings and generally makes noises all day. And I was edified to discover that he does this at work, too. Instead of getting mad, I felt a strong sense of anti-whistling sisterhood. It would never have occurred to me in a million years to brood and send her an email defending B.A.'s humming, whistling, etc. and HOW INAPPROPRIATE OF HER blah blah blah bargle bargle. And if I--being bored or a born troublemaker or secretly jealous or whatever--had done something so stupid, B.A. would have been horribly embarrassed and felt utterly betrayed.
But even in private life married people have no business ganging up on Singles. Marrieds are in a position of social power, and not just because there are two of them. If a Single woman is making a sexual play for a married man, then I can see the married woman taking her aside and telling her to cut it out--simply because the sexual realm is the one place were most men are weaker than most women. And if a married woman's Single friend is nasty to her husband, than I can see the married woman having a private word with the Single friend to tell her to shape up or ship out--or, if the insult is the straw that breaks the camel's back, bringing the friendship to a swift and quiet close. (If the Single woman was the husband's friend before the marriage, though, the wife should expect her husband to deal with the problem, confining her activities to saying "How dreadful, daring. You don't deserve that," etc.) But, in general, two-against-one is totally unfair.
My idea of spousal loyalty is sticking with your spouse when he or she has a run of bad luck, or makes stupid (but non-violent) mistakes he or she regrets, or falls desperately ill, or goes to prison, plus not making an ass of/insulting him or her in company, plus choosing him or her over your own friends and family. It's not about starting or exacerbating fights with his or her colleagues or friends. It's about contributing to people thinking well of him or her; fighting his or her battles doesn't help.