WHEN I married 39 years ago I was in charge. I'd been in charge of myself for almost a decade, coming and going from relationships and jobs and countries as I pleased, and being in charge was not a boast or arrogant, it was just the way it was. If there was a decision to be made, I made it.
I don't think I saw myself as in charge of my wife but certainly I saw myself as wearing the King Gees. I was bristling with testosterone and confidence, and prevarication was not my weakness.
So you can imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when my wife mentioned that she was shocked in the first year of our marriage that, as she put it, I did exactly what I wanted to do. The horror! That a young fellow who'd done exactly what he wanted to do in our relationship before marriage would do exactly what he wanted to do after marriage! I was surprised that she'd bother to mention it.
If I had known that there was an expectation that I not continue to do exactly what I wanted to do I may not have married, and it may have been just such an inkling that had seen me delay marrying a few years after my mates stood looking silly at the altar.
I assumed my wife did exactly what she wanted, too. In fact I wanted her to do exactly what she wanted, and she did. She wanted to have babies, and she did, and that was not exactly what I wanted to do. She had them one after the other, when I was more than keen to pull the plug at two, and the third, fourth and fifth are still a mystery to me.
Now, it's not that we didn't discuss the matters in need of a decision, that we didn't confer, and it was often that I decided to do exactly what she wanted to do. I wasn't selfish, or I hope inconsiderate, although when my wife tells me that every year of our marriage has been better than the previous she does sometimes add that it was from a low base.
Things began to change. At first I found that I was nervous about deciding to do anything that did not have her full support, later I was very nervous, and at some point I would decide to do only what she wanted to do.
Still, it was me who made a decision.
It was a decade into our marriage that she started to rock my foundations. We'd be driving past an expensive or beautiful house and she'd say "we could have bought that for $80,000 but you said the backyard was too steep". Oh. Sorry. Or she'd see a report in the paper about a waterfront house selling for a motza and she'd point out that we looked at buying it for $95,000 but I was worried about the fibro boatshed. Ooh.
She didn't confine herself to houses. Remember, she'd say as we passed one on the road, that Datsun 180B you insisted on buying? What a bomb! There were regrettable stockmarket flurries, holiday destinations, dinner guests and restaurants.
Things began to change. At first I found that I was nervous about deciding to do anything that did not have her full support, later I was very nervous, and at some point I would decide to do only what she wanted to do, exactly what she wanted to do.
Still, it was me who made the decision, even if it was by proxy. You know, man of the house when he's not at home, furtive little fellow when he is.
That began to change, too, six or seven years ago. Increasingly, I noticed, she was not only doing exactly what she wanted to do, it was she who was making the decision that both she and I would do it. If she did confer initially, she didn't for long.
Big and little things. Take the time a year ago we drove six hours to look at a caravan that had been described as in excellent condition. As we walked down the long drive we could see the caravan was not even in fair condition, but, I said, we should look inside. No, she said, let's go. I'll phone the owner to tell him we're here and we're leaving, I said. No, she said, don't, and so four minutes after we arrived we were driving home. I'm still relieved she was there to take charge.
Take the soap holder for the caravan she did decide to buy six months later. We needed just a simple suction-cup soap holder and so this week off I went to Bunnings, where to my consternation I found a choice of a dozen. I dithered for 15 minutes before driving home to get my wife, who refused to return with me.
So I waited, and when she went to Bunnings a couple of days later to get potting mix I went with her on the pretext of lifting the bags, and somehow I managed to steer her into the soap holder aisle. Not that one, she said, and that one's too big, that one won't stick to the wall, that one won't hold the soap ... this is the one we want. She was there for two minutes. Fits perfectly.
Recently I had my annual blood test and I asked my GP to include a test for testosterone, fearing that I'd become an old woman. There's plenty going on there, he told me later as he read the report, and so the problem may be that I'm not an old woman.
The old woman I know best has it all over me, and just as well.