The one question gentlemen should never ever ask

Published 6:14 pm Friday, November 15, 2019

As you know by now, one of the responsibilities that fall to a humble newspaper columnist is to help gentlemen and husbands avoid some of the pitfalls that are likely to come their way. It’s a free service, and I am glad to offer it.

For a case in point, I want to share an experience from a number of years ago that most men will be able to use to their advantage. The main drawback is that if your wife is the one who walks your recliner, drops this article in your lap, and says, “Read that,” you probably won’t appreciate my fine work here as much.

But, even at such a risk, I tell you my story.

Several years ago, the amazin’ blonde had surgery on her ankle and was unable to get around at all for about a week.  

I, of course, was her nurse of sorts during that week, a fact that automatically tells you this story is not going to end well. I was still coaching at the time, so my attention was divided a bit. So, one evening I had run home, grabbed a quick sandwich, kissed the blonde bye and headed back to school for the game. When I got back later that evening, she was still sitting where I left her, looking at me with one of those incredulous looks. Most gentlemen who have entered into the bliss of matrimony know the look well.

The key to deflecting that moment, if you’re smart, is to try to do something positive, hoping she’ll forget whatever was behind the look. Instead, I walked in the door, saw the look, shrugged one of those “What have I done?” shrugs, and said, “What’s wrong, honey?”

After 40-something years of marriage, I am now a firm believer that a husband could go his whole married life without saying “what’s wrong” and be the better for it. He could be happier, less stressed, more positive, more just-about-everything simply by removing that one little two-word question from his repertoire.

Just think of it: You could say, “I’m so glad to be back home” — “You sure look pretty today, honey” — “Do you know how much I missed you?” — or “The house smells like a fresh, sun-shiny mornin’, don’t you think?” instead of saying “What’s wrong?”

The problem with the “What’s wrong?” question is that it opens up a realm of discussion that really isn’t a discussion at all. Do you know that when you pose that question that she actually is going to tell you what’s wrong — which is the last thing you want to hear, because, most likely, you are a big part of what’s wrong?  

Here are just a few of the sample answers that you are liable to hear if you ask that question:

“What’s wrong? Are you kiddin’ me? Seriously, you want to know what’s wrong?”

Or, “Oh, I’m glad you asked that. I’m goin’ to tell you. I wasn’t goin’ to go there, but since you asked it, I’ll tell ya …”

Or, worse: “How long have we been married?” (By the way, fellas, don’t answer that.)  “No, how long have we been married? I’ll tell you. We’ve been married too long …”  

Or, the worst of all, the liberal use of sarcasm: “Oh, nothing’s wrong. Everything is just hunky-dory, just fiiiine. Things have never been better.”

I’m sorry to say that when you hear any of those answers you might as well skip from act one to the prologue and go grab your pillow and head to the back room where you keep the bed with the mattress that swallows you like a crater the minute you crawl in it.

I shared four hypothetical responses, but the real answer was nothing less than a dagger to the heart: 

“What’s wrong?” the amazin’ blonde said, in kind of a high-pitched voice, “What’s wrong is that you forgot to feed me supper!”

I paused and thought carefully how to respond, then settled for,

“I, uh … I did what?”

Yeah, you would think I could do better than that, but you don’t exactly have a day and a half to come up with something. And it just seems that pretending you are oblivious to it all is the most natural thing to do, even though I highly dis-recommend it. I really don’t have a recommendation, except, maybe, go grab your pillow and head back to your new room.

When you act confused by saying, “I did what?” you actually compound the problem. You have two problems now, instead of one: You are now insensitive to the original problem; and, likely, the original problem was not free of insensitivity, either. It’s a hard road, any way you look at it.

So, what comes next is your wife’s execution of a well-articulated opening argument where she’ll end up carving you up skillfully like a high-dollar lawyer.

Generally speaking, I’d say asking “I did what?” adds at least one night if not two sleeping on that mattress that kills your back and puts a big-time crick in your neck. While the back room is free, don’t expect room and board. There is no “board” in your foreseeable future.

“What did you do???” the amazin’ blonde repeated. “What you did is leave and go to your game and never fed me supper. I’ve been sitting here with a bad ankle, and you never thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d like to have supper. …”

I’ll close the curtain on the remainder of that scene, except to say that if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, do your best to enjoy your free room, free of any board whatsoever.

And when you walk into the kitchen the next morning holding your painful neck sideways, try not to offer a smart-alecky answer when your wife, with a pinch of sarcasm, says, “What’s wrong, honey?”