Okay, I confess: I envy married people.
But not for the reasons you may think. I envy married people because they have a built-in excuse to get out of absolutely anything.
The other day, I was caught unawares by someone asking me to do something I did not particularly want to do. I hemmed and I hawed, I prevaricated and stalled, but in the end I ended up just doing it because I could not figure out how to get out of it. That very same week, I called up a married neighbor who had borrowed my best ice bucket weeks before but had never returned it.
“F-ing Jim,” she swore. “I told him you needed that back! Without asking me, he took it to the office for a party they were having. I’ll bug him about it again this weekend.” That’s when it hit me what was missing from my life: a built-in, ready-made scapegoat.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that one of the main duties of a spouse is to be a scapegoat. (I believe promising to serve in this capacity is in the marriage contract). For example: “Sorry I’m late—my wife had a horrible sinus infection and I had to take her to the doctor.” Or “Oh dear! I would have so loved to come but Joe forced me to stay home to help him with this work thing.” Or “Darn, it turns out Sue made another date for us Saturday and neglected to tell me, as usual.” Or “My better half says I have to be home by 6 p.m.—or else.” Or “I can’t be on your fundraising committee because my spouse has me signed up for so many other things.” And the most common one of all: “He/she never gave me your message.” When your spouse is the scapegoat, the only blame that can be leveled at you is that you married the wrong person.
Couples have a decided advantage when it comes to the social arena. Let’s face it: When you are single and you feel like staying home alone rather than accept an invitation to a social event, you really can’t use that as your excuse. After all, “I have to wash my hair tonight,” does not really fly, while “I have to wash my wife’s hair”—well, that’s a whole different story.
Often, we’re not even sure we want to get out of whatever it is. We merely want to hedge our bets, to delay committing to whatever it is. Couples can easily make use of the handiest of all staving-off techniques, commonly known as the Spousal Consult, or the I-Have-To-Check-With-My-Wife ploy. Perfect for pop invitations, this dodge was ingrained in most of us as children (“I have to ask my mother.”) The beauty of the Spousal Consult is that it allows for the possibility that you may eventually accept the invitation—or that you will “forget” to check with your spouse at all, thereby letting the whole thing dissipate.
Last but not least, there’s the good old good cop/bad cop. A great ruse for married couples, but also quite doable with roommates or siblings, this dodge was custom-built for two. Let’s say you have guests who won’t leave your house. Dinner and coffee are long over. When you can’t stand it anymore and you are beginning to fear these people will never leave, the person cast as the bad cop yawns, stands up and excuses himself with, “I’m afraid I’ve got to hit the hay—I’m dead on my feet. Good night, Mr. and Ms. Guest. Don’t forget to let in the cat, sweetheart.” After the bad cop has disappeared, the good cop apologizes for her partner while emphasizing how much it really is past his customary bedtime. Even a braindead guest gets the message at this point and packs it in. Good cop/bad cop also works like a charm for quick exits: “I would love to stay at your wonderful party, but Charlie is falling asleep on his feet.” Or “I have to hang up now—my wife is standing over me with a rolling pin in her hand and the children are screaming.”
I don’t even want to get into how handy kids can be as excuses. Suffice it to say, once you are a parent, you have a get-out-of-it-free card for, like, the rest of your life.
*Originally published in the West Side Spirit, February 22, 2012