When I lived on the East Coast, I was friends with a highly accomplished married woman. She was a university professor, whip smart, and did not suffer fools gladly. One time, a picture of her talking to a colleague was going to be published in a university magazine with the caption (I’m making up the names), “Jennifer gossiping with Judy.” She made them change it to “Jennifer discussing research with Judy.” Good for her.
She had a habit that I still find befuddling to this day. When she talked about things she didn’t do that perhaps she would like to do, she would say (again, I’m changing the name of her husband), “John won’t let me.”
The weirdest thing was, she almost seemed proud when she said it. I felt embarrassed for her every time. But she wasn’t embarrassed.
Was she just pleased to get to interject a reminder that she was married? If she had been saying this as a way to decline a favor I had asked or a suggestion that we go to some event together, I’d just figure that she was using her husband as an excuse to say ‘no’ without taking responsibility for rejecting my request. But those were never the contexts in which she said, “John won’t let me.”
For example, there was something she liked to wear that her husband disliked. So she did not wear it when she was with him instead of, say, her colleagues or friends. As she explained, “John won’t let me.”
I was thinking about this because I just read about Katie Couric, of all people, doing the same thing. Couric is one of the most phenomenally successful women in the media. No one should get to “let her” or “not let her” do anything. Yet here she is, answering a reporter who asks her to describe a good habit that she has:
Katie Couric: “My husband doesn’t allow the phone in the bedroom anymore, and I find that I do sleep better.”
What’s that about? Is she just acknowledging the positive role her husband played in this good habit? Maybe it’s a nice thing. Or maybe it is just the first thing that came to mind.
Still, I feel a bit embarrassed for her. It makes me wonder if she is grateful to have been house-broken by her husband: He taught her to be a good wife and attend only to him in the bedroom.
When hetero men are with their men friends, do they ever say to each other, “My wife won’t let me”? They’d probably get mocked for it.
Usually, when I ask a question in the title of my blog posts, I have an answer to offer. Not this time. I don’t know why married women say, “My husband won’t let me,” without even a whiff of self-consciousness or embarrassment.