A happy marriage is clothed in effort

From The Suburban Crab archives

From The Suburban Crab archives

My dad used to come home after a long day at work and immediately go change his clothes. He’d come out of my parents’ bedroom in a faded navy-blue turtleneck, faded navy-blue sweatshirt and a pair of brown corduroy bell bottom pants so old that the knees and seat were worn smooth.

My mother apparently found his evening attire appalling and endlessly carped over his slovenly dress. She generally expressed the sentiment that what he wore in the evenings was shamefully raggedy, lacking in style and acceptable only for a homeless person to wear.

The funny thing about this—other than maybe the fact that it was no longer the ’70s but my dad was still clinging to his bell bottoms—is that my dad at that time was working as a physicist at a large government-funded research laboratory. If you know anything about government-funded physics labs, you might know that they do not require their employees to, how do you say, dress up. I think the general threshold was that employees must be dressed for work; dress-y was a whole other reality that I’m not sure existed at Fermi. My dad’s work attire, for example, usually consisted of a sweater and a pair of brown corduroy bell bottoms. (You know, his nice pair.) Not exactly constricting or uncomfortable, I would think, and certainly not an outfit that would require an immediate change once a person got home.

Except… I completely understand that desire to change. When I went back to work full-time, I had to upgrade from my freelancer’s wardrobe of jeans and sweatshirts to khakis and even occasionally—gasp!—skirts. And I have found that, no matter what I’m wearing, I pretty desperately want to change out of my work clothes when I get home. Maybe it’s psychological. Or maybe it’s that none of my work clothes have elastic waistbands. Whatever it is, I must get into casual wear as soon as I step into the house.

The difference between my dad and me, though, is that I take my at-home attire far more seriously than he ever did. My criteria for my after-work wardrobe: must be baggy and shapeless, must be made of cotton or flannel, and, yes, must have a flexible waistband.

All right, fine, yes, you got me. I usually change into pajamas when I get home, OK? Though I’d like everyone to know, for the record, that I refrain from changing directly into my PJs if it’s before 7 p.m. I like my comfort, but please. I have standards.

A mom I knew once told me that she showered every evening before her husband came home from work, apparently to look nice for him. To me it smacked a bit of insecurity and too much of the stereotypical 1950s housewife, waiting by the front door with a drink, a newspaper and an obedient kiss for the man of the house.

Lately, though, my thoughts have meandered back to that mom, after a couple of back-to-back fights with Ted left me wondering what I could be doing to make things better. And it came down to: effort.

The thing is, this mom’s “looking nice for her man” bit seemed a bit extreme to me, but I bet her hubby appreciated the effort. And frankly, effort was something that had been missing from me for a while: I’d long ago abandoned any pretense of making an effort for Ted. After all, I put in a lot of effort at my job. And sometimes, at parenting. Was I really expected to make an effort for my husband, too? The whole point of marriage was that you didn’t have to try, and you’d still be loved.

Except apparently that’s not how it works. Apparently, if you love your spouse even a little, you’re supposed to keep making an effort for them, be it putting a little more time into your appearance, doing thoughtful things for them or whatever. It makes me wonder whether my mother, all those years she complained about my dad’s clothes, was really just expressing her disappointment that her husband didn’t seem to be making a discernible effort for her. (It’s doubtful, but you never know.)

So I’m going to try a little harder. Tomorrow, when I get home from work, I’ll think twice when I find myself reaching for my flannel pajama pants from Old Navy with the colorful reindeer on them. Even though they are super baggy and comfortable. And even though the colorful reindeer are all wearing scarves and hats or earmuffs, and who doesn’t love that?

Instead, I’ll make that sacrifice for my husband and slip into my black yoga pants. Because black is both slimming and dressy, and—bonus!—the yoga pants have an elastic waistband.

What, you didn’t actually expect me to stay in my work clothes, did you?


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