I can’t apologize for your guy. I can’t fix whatever it was that he did. I can’t even promise I wouldn’t side with him if we were buddies. But as a far-from-perfect man, I might be able to answer the “Why?” that echoes in your mind when he pisses you off. Here’s what’s really at work when he makes…
1. The honest mistake. This is the best-case scenario of screwing up, because nobody (like you) gets too mad and nobody (like me) gets the stink eye for three days. It usually involves something that is more or less out of your guy’s control and/or was well-intentioned. For instance, in an attempt to avoid yet another plumber’s bill, he tried to fix the leaky toilet and ended up flooding the bathroom and creating a watery hellscape next to your home’s only shower. He meant to help! His heart was in the right place, even if his monkey wrench wasn’t. Sure, in trying to save you $75, he caused $500 worth of damage, but… intentions, effort, initiative. They count. The minute I hear my wife, Karel, utter the words, “I understand, it was an honest mistake,” I know I’m in the clear. So the faster you get to those magic words, the faster the mopping up starts. And we can handle that part, probably better than we can fix a toilet.
2. The stupid mistake. The honest mistake is 80 percent best intentions and 20 percent stupidity; flip that and you have the stupid mistake. These are most common when a guy is so preoccupied with something that he forgets basic common sense. Case in point: In my extreme nervousness about buying our first house, I made a joke at our mortgage-approval meeting about whether it was “okay to run a meth lab out of the basement to help offset some of the costs of home ownership.” Our lending agent was not amused. We almost lost our loan. Stupid mistake. Pregnancy is another time when things go cross-wire in a guy’s head. The dad-to-be’s brain feels like his wife’s ankles—swollen and heavy with concerns. This was one of mine: What if the baby is one of those genius Doogie Howser babies and it’s smarter than me by the time it’s 6? How will I discipline it or have any credibility in its eyes if it’s studying to be a doctor while I work on my funny marriage column? Such worries make normally intelligent men do idiotic stuff. Without checking with Karel, I got a giant bunk bed for our newborn. We had a crib, but I thought it would be a great idea to just go ahead and plan for the future, because if there is one thing you need in the swirling chaos of being a new parent, it’s an extra bunk bed in your tiny house. I even set it up as a surprise. And then I took it down. The only consolation when it comes to the stupid mistake is that nothing you can say or yell at us is as bad as how we feel about ourselves.
3. The social faux pas. Honestly, we make these mistakes because our brains simply do not get it. I know you’ve patiently explained that I wore the “wrong pants” to my best friend’s rehearsal dinner so I shouldn’t pull them back out for your niece’s first communion. I heard you. But can I be frank? How can you wear the wrong pants somewhere? What are the wrong pants? Okay, skiing in gym shorts: Those are the wrong pants. Double-front Carhartt work pants on the hottest day of the year: also the wrong pants. But wearing 501s with a plain black T-shirt to a rehearsal dinner seems totally reasonable to me. And no, I don’t care that the waiters were dressed fancier than I was, and Steve’s parents always give me that look. You can keep trying to explain to me what I did wrong, but there is a good chance that it won’t sink in, becauseI don’t really care. Besides, I didn’t swear once during my toast to the bride and groom. Celebrate the little victories, honey.
4. The lazy mistake. This is the result of not wanting to get off the couch to deal with a problem or thinking that we can ignore it until it goes away—as when a stubborn procrastinator believes that because he doesn’t agree with those parking tickets, he can let them sit there, unpaid, in a silent protest until the city caves. And then he’s surprised to find a boot on the car. Or when a guy waits until April 15 at 6 a.m. to do his taxes, only to discover he’s missing several important forms. The good news for you is that after we’ve screwed up due to sloth or denial, we tend to try to handle the mess all by ourselves. We will go to great lengths to not involve you, simply to avoid the inevitable chorus of I told you so‘s.
5. The catch-22 mistake. When your guy has to make a decision between what he wants to do and what you want him to do, a mistake is inevitable. For instance, what if that first communion falls on the Phillies’ opening day, which your husband bought tickets for a very long time ago? If he goes to the game and you’re stuck dragging the kids to your niece’s communion alone, he’s going to worry about your being quietly pissed at him for the next week (as you will be), which will ruin what could have been a glorious day. He’ll be sweatily checking his watch, wondering just how long he can push it before rushing back home to make up for his absence. On the other hand, if he goes to the communion, no matter how hard he tries to stay positive, he’ll be miserable. He doesn’t feel he needs to be there, but you feel like his absence will be obvious. He feels like that’s a dumb, self-serving argument. You ask him if he just called you “self-serving,” and you haven’t even left for the church yet. Every road leads to disappointment and a fight, and there is no right answer except not to schedule important family moments on Opening Day. That’s the real mistake, and it was made by Father Mike, who manages the church’s communion schedule. So now you can stop fighting and focus your frustration on organized religion. See, didn’t I make it better?