Q. Fun without him: I am a woman in my early-30s, and I have been married for 10 years this summer. My husband is incredible—kind, generous, funny, supportive of my career, has a wonderful family, loves my family, and, in the inimitable words of Zoolander, is “really, really ridiculously good-looking.” I want to write apology cards to everyone who can’t be married to him because I am.
My miracle of a husband does not enjoy socializing. I like seeing friends outside work (dinner, brunch, a show, etc.) two or three times a month; he’s wholly satisfied with perhaps half that frequency. This isn’t an introvert-extrovert issue. (For what it’s worth, I test and identify as an ambivert, and he’s more clearly an introvert.) He just has lower need for an interest in social interaction beyond the two of us, even when it’s one on one or in a very small group. He’s pretty cerebral, and over the course of his life, he’s always had a handful of close, deep friendships, and he spends most of his time working, with his family, or occasionally that handful of people. He’s charming and wonderful when we do go out with others, but he’s clear about the fact that he’s not interested in doing any more of it than we currently do. I think this is totally reasonable—he has reflected on what’s meaningful and satisfying to him, it’s OK that his answer is different from mine, and we both feel like we talk and compromise about this in a healthy way.
My questions regard interactions about this with my friends who are in relationships. I can’t seem to communicate my husband’s preferences about this in a way that isn’t confusing or hurtful to them. I will very happily individually make plans to hang out with a couple, but when I make an invitation just from myself or reply to their invites with something along the lines of “[My husband] unfortunately isn’t able to make it, but if it’s OK if there are just three of us, I’d love to join you,” they want to know where he is, insist we reschedule when he can join, and generally have a lot of follow-up questions to anything general and warm I try to relay. My friends have all met him, but managing a rotation with the frequency he prefers, they would only see him a couple of times a year. It’s easy to get out of this in the short term by claiming a work obligation (his job has unpredictable and nontraditional hours), but that isn’t believable forever. I’ve had a friend say in exasperation, “I know other detectives, and I know they all eat dinner!”
On the other hand, a more honest “He likes you very much and is happy to see you as often as he sees other friends, but he prefers not to go out regularly” sounds like we’re hiding something. This isn’t an issue with my single friends, and I don’t think it would be an issue with his male friends—said more specifically, I don’t think a partnered man would be miffed if my husband said, “Sure, but [my wife] can’t make it.” Part of my frustration is admittedly that I think this problem is gendered and rooted in expectations specifically about how a married woman of a certain social class is expected to behave. (I grew up proudly working-class in rural middle America and now have a comfortable finance career in the Bay Area. I don’t remember this couples-have-to-go-out-with-couples thing being a problem in the former setting.) There also seems to be a miasma of “Is he not a good husband to you because he doesn’t want to do this?” That’s something I don’t appreciate. How can I explain this to friends I otherwise care about very much? And more philosophically, am I crazy to think it shouldn’t be a big deal if my husband and I don’t take every social engagement together?
A: I wonder, if you were to show your husband this letter and talk to him about just how much time and energy you have to spend making excuses for him to your friends, if he might reconsider going on an additional outing or two a month, even if it’s only for an hour and he begs off early to go be an introvert. Not in a punishing sense, as in “Look what you’ve reduced me to with your selfishness,” but in the sense of “Sometimes, when you prioritize your alone time, I’m hit with some unfair, maybe-unintentionally sexist expectations. It takes a lot out of me. I’m not asking you to go out with me and our friends every week, but I wanted to share with you how difficult it can be sometimes, because you haven’t seen it before. Do you think we could occasionally revisit our going-out policy? What would you need in order to feel comfortable going out to, say, one more dinner a month? If you could leave early, would that help? If we invited people over here? Let’s discuss all our options.”
In addition to that, I think you can push back a little bit with some of your friends: “Lt. Stabler takes a lot of downtime, and sometimes that means I want to go out when he doesn’t. I sometimes feel like I’m being called upon to account for him or to reassure other people that our relationships is OK, and it feels like a lot of pressure. I want to see you, I’m very happily married, and it would mean a lot to me if I could sometimes show up to dinner without him and without inviting comment.”