No surrender

 

There has been a great deal of nonsense written recently in the alleged "feature" pages of allegedly reputable newspapers about a book called The Surrendered Wife. Written by Laura Doyle, a Californian housewife-turned-media-celebrity, the book asserts that women can save their troubled marriages by surrendering all control to their husbands.

What patronising guff, you will snigger. Obviously the thing is aimed at the standard Californian Amazon, the kind of woman for whom the word "ball-breaker" was coined, but who still nurtures some vague optimistic hope of her marriage lasting beyond the state standard of 51/2 months, or whatever it is these days. It can hardly apply to those of us in the civilised world where marital equality is long taken for granted and where marriage is not actually regarded as a state of siege.

Ms Doyle claims to have ended years of misery and loneliness in her marriage when she finally stopped treating her husband John like a child, telling him what to wear and what to do. She says she stopped criticising and nagging, gave up all financial control and made herself permanently available for sex. The result? "The man who had wooed me was back."

This is a bit worrying. Who was this man who had wooed her? His name is certainly not revealed in her book. My investigations have revealed that he is Dave Westingdale, an investment banker from New York, that he "wooed" her for all of three weeks, and now that he is back, the new relationship between Laura, John and Dave is still fairly shaky. Especially as Laura is now in such a permanently frisky state, which is putting rather a lot of pressure on both men.

However, on the positive side, the marriage has certainly entered a new if rather strange phase, and the Doyle family finances are at last under professional control (that of Mr Westingdale). Mr Doyle, meanwhile, having been treated for so long like a child, is gradually learning how to speak up for himself and how to use his own knife and fork, though he still needs help in choosing his clothes each morning. Things are looking up!

Despite our sniggering, then, this may well be the way forward for a wife in a troubled marriage. Cut out the nagging, drop all the "headache" excuses and back into your life will come the man who wooed you: yes, that flower-laden, compliment-paying, inane but wealthy loon you used to tag along before your husband arrived.

You may have seen Surrendered Wives last night, the Channel 4 programme based on Ms Doyle's book. The film was made by Ms Katinka Blackford Newman, who revealed herself in the Guardian the other day as a big fan of Ms Doyle's thesis. Married for only a year, she herself had tried "modest" surrendering efforts (don't ask) before her "biggest test": when her husband wanted to buy a car they couldn't afford. Her "natural instinct" was to fight, but she did a calculation: "the price of a new car in return for matrimonial harmony". Hubby got the car, the finances collapsed, yet joy filled the house. "A few months later, when the house was in darkness because we could no longer afford light bulbs, he decided to sell the car. Things have a habit of turning out okay in the end."

Turning out . . . OK? I happened to be down at a car dealer's showroom a few months back when a gentleman arrived in an extremely distressed state. I am not saying this was necessarily Ms Blackford Newman's husband, but the poor fellow was certainly most upset (and deeply embarrassed) at having to sell back his new Porsche Carrera for substantially less than what he had paid for it a few months earlier. At any rate, the sad story he told me bore a remarkable resemblance to the tale outlined above, and at length he spluttered away miserably in an eight-year-old Volkswagen Polo. "No surrender!" I encouraged him with a final wave, and saw him give a wan smile: no doubt he was cheered by the fabulously uplifting thought of going home to a room with a lightbulb in it, along with a wife doing everything possible not to appear smug while being permanently available for sex now that he no longer felt like it.

bglacken@irish-times.ie