I’m about to make a highly inflammatory, clearly sexist, certainly offensive generalization. Readers will undoubtedly gasp at my insensitivity, and offer a myriad of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
But deep down in the recesses of our hearts and minds, in the spaces not corrupted by contrived societal notions of “equality” and “fairness,” we all secretly know these words to be true: Men are total wimps when they get sick.
Several years after getting married, I began to notice a recurring behavioral pattern every time my husband caught a cold. Unnecessary sniffling, dramatic coughing, flamboyant sneezing – each occurrence followed by a moan, groan or whimper, along with a pitiable declaration such as “I don’t feel so good.”
My husband’s pathetic actions while sick did not appear to be natural and spontaneous, but seemed intended to garner the maximum amount of attention (also known as “milking it.”) Additionally, when he got sick my husband would never simply approach me directly and say, “Honey, I think I’m coming down with something, and would appreciate you making me some chicken soup while I take it easy for the next couple days.” Instead, my husband would put on a dramatic display in hopes of indirectly compelling us all to run and get him a blankie and a fudgesicle.
“Why would my otherwise responsible, straightforward, masculine military husband resort to such childish passive aggressive tactics?” I wondered.
At first, I thought his germ-induced plea for attention might have something to do with him having grown up in a big family. One of five siblings, my husband was flanked by the smartest kid and the funniest kid in the family, so he had to do whatever he could to get his parent’s attention.
Occurrences which might otherwise seem unfortunate to a child were savored in my husband’s large family. For example, normally a kid would hate going with their mother to get orthopedic shoes, a tonsillectomy, allergy testing, and speech therapy; however, these were precious moments in my husband’s childhood when mom showed him special attention and bought him ice cream.
My “big family” theory seemed to explain my husband’s theatrical reaction to the common cold, but then I started talking to other wives. Apparently, my husband isn’t the only one — every man on the planet exhibits pathetic, overly dramatic, attention seeking behaviors when ill.
Ironically, just as otherwise strong husbands become groveling weaklings when stricken with the sniffles, their otherwise nurturing wives universally roll their eyes and find it impossible to muster sympathy.
We wives feel guilt and wonder why we find our husbands’ childish ploys for attention so patently unattractive. We wish our natural nurturing instincts would kick in, but instead of making soup, we find ourselves muttering insensitive remarks under our breath such as, “He should get an Oscar for that sneeze” or “Building the groundwork for another afternoon nap, are we?” or “Grow a pair, would ya?”
But perhaps all this irony and marital discourse during illness serves a higher purpose. Consider this: if sick males were babied by their female companions, the males might find it so enjoyable, there would be no reason to get back to the work of hunting, gathering, and mating to keep the tribe strong.
So, nature has built in an automatic trigger — men who get sick become so pathetic, their women find them repulsive and cannot produce sympathy. This motivates the men to recover quickly so that they will become attractive to women again and can thereby resume their main goal in life: mating.
So when my husband recently came down with a case of bronchitis, I decided that it was my wifely duty to be repulsed, to show no sympathy and to roll my eyes as much as humanly possible. It wasn’t easy to completely ignore my husband’s childish pleas for attention. But, I figured — it’s the least I could do.