Photo: Margaret McLoughlin.

The perfect husband

Jean's Journal by Jean Farrell

I’ll begin by stating that such a creature doesn’t exist (nor does ‘The Perfect Wife!’) What a pity!

I write often about how much life has changed since we were young. Well, if a picture paints a thousand words doesn’t this wonderful photo at the bottom of this column say it best?

I’ll start at the beginning of our search for ‘The Perfect Husband.’ During our early years he was ‘The Handsome Prince.’ Every fairy-tale ended with these lines. “The handsome prince asked her to marry him. She said ‘Yes’ and lived happily ever after.”

During the next years of our lives ‘The Perfect Husband’ was Mr Mills and Boon. He would be the strong silent type. He would be tall, tanned and wealthy, working as a doctor or an airline pilot.

The author D. Asthana best summed up these Mills and Boon romances. She wrote: “Most of the books perpetuated the stereotype of the doormat woman, taken by a boorish hero, crushed in his arms and transformed into a newer, different type of doormat. The message seemed to be that girls twiddle their thumbs and look pretty while boys build empires. Once this empire is built, the boy comes to claim his prize. She is the girl who had been twiddling her thumbs. Oh, what a lucky girl!”

As teenagers we yearned for romance and ‘unbridled passion’ (even though we didn’t know what this was!) Whilst in boarding school, my day-dreams were full of finding a Mr Mills and Boon. Of course this filled my head with foolish false expectations of romance and marriage.

‘Love is a dirty trick played on us to achieve continuity of the species,’ Somerset Maughan wrote, and he has a point. There is a very strong instinctive desire in us, during our reproductive years, to find a partner (in order to procreate the species.)

So, where do we find ‘The Perfect Husband,’ our perfect partner? The following advice was given to girls, in a 1950s book.

‘Get lost at a football match.

Read the obituaries to find eligible widowers.

Have your car break down at strategic places.

Get a job demonstrating fishing tackle in a store.

Ask your friends husbands about the eligible men in their offices.

Don’t be afraid to associate with good-looking girls. They may have left-overs.

Even be friendly with ugly men, handsome is as handsome does.’

And there was I thinking that I had to go to go to The Crescent to find him!

Were women doormats in the past?

Throughout the decades, before the 1970s, most women stayed at home bearing children and doing 100% of the work involved in rearing them. Their role-model was the meek and mild Blessed Virgin. The husband was the boss, because he was a man and the wage earner.

In order for any young woman to have sex, a home of her own and a baby - she had to get married. This may seem very strange to a young person nowadays. However, these were the attitudes and values of that time, as laid down by The Catholic Church. And we obeyed all the rules because of fear of the fires of Hell.

Remember this rule. ‘Sexual pleasure is only lawful in marriage and then according to God’s laws,’ (that meant no use of contraceptives.)

So, quite young, in our early twenties, we met our man, got married and (only then) set up home together. We had our babies and reality hit with a bang.

We quickly discovered that life wasn’t like it was in romantic movies or in Mills and Boon books. Of course it wasn’t!

We came of age in an interesting time in Ireland. In the 1970s, for the first time in decades, attitudes were beginning to change hugely.

‘The Women’s Liberation Movement’ had opened our eyes to a different way of life, consciously or subconsciously.

Girls had been educated and this made all the difference. We were no longer meek, mild, doormats! We were beginning to think for ourselves. Some us worked outside the home and therefore had our own money, unlike our mothers. And, very importantly (again unlike our mothers) we had control of our fertility.

Husbands changed too because women demanded more from them. Very gradually a brave father was seen wheeling a pram down the street. Very gradually membership of sports clubs declined. This is because young wives weren’t content to do all the parenting alone anymore, while their young husbands spent weekends on the golf course or in a sports club. And very gradually the image of ‘The Perfect Husband’ changed greatly, as did life for women.

Life for men changed too. By being involved with their children young fathers got to know and love them.

No longer is a handsome prince wanted by any girl. (Indeed, think of one American woman who did get her handsome prince. She definitely doesn’t appear to be living happily ever after.)

We’re aware now of what coercive control is. It’s been pointed out that a Mr Mills and Boon would fit this description well.

Having lived for a long time, and knowing now how much hard work there is involved in marriage and in parenting, I have decided that men like the two in this photograph are the nearest thing to ‘The Perfect Husband’ that I have seen.

Their wives are playing in a camogie match.

Both husbands are very interested in their game, as well as minding the couples’ babies.

How very lovely! And how very different from long ago!