There’s a New Yorker cartoon that I love. Two women stand together at a cocktail party, watching a man walk through the room. One murmurs admiringly to the other, ‘My dear, I love what you’ve done with him.’
I wonder if people say that to Jennifer Aniston about Justin Theroux since she made him shave off his Grizzly Adams beard? Or to Victoria Beckham about David? Shane Warne’s new penchant for fake tan and lipgloss makes me doubtful that anyone has said it to Elizabeth Hurley, but I’m pretty sure she loves what she’s done with him.
While we all hope for a man who will love and accept us just as we are, I’ve noticed it can be hard to resist the compulsion to make just a few little improvements to the men in our lives. It’s for their own good, you see. Amongst my own friends, I’ve seen some excellently masterminded makeovers aided by the fact the men in question don’t seem to mind (or even notice) a female influence over what they wear. Especially if it means someone else will do the clothes shopping for them.
Kate, the heroine of my new book, The Foster Husband, thinks upgrading your husband’s outfits is strictly for amateurs. Her own marriage has just ended, but clearly that was her husband’s fault and nothing to do with her. Now her sister Prue is about to get married, Kate thinks the very best thing she can do to help is makeover Prue’s unsuspecting fiancé. She’s not concerned with what he wears, she’s working on the big stuff that she thinks ruined her own relationship: how to clear up after yourself without being asked, when to interpret a hint as a command, why ‘you decide!’ does not mean ‘you decide!’ but rather, ‘work out what I want without my having to say so, and decide on that, or else’.
It doesn’t work out quite how she thinks it should. For all sorts of reasons, but mostly because when you’re busy telling everyone else how they should change, the person who should change is probably you.
I’ve had the reverse experience of the New Yorker cartoon, when a friend rang me to report with breathless excitement that an ex-boyfriend who I had steered away from his heavy metal tendencies was now back wandering the streets in a pair of previously banned lace-up-crotch jeans. We were too busy laughing hysterically at the terribleness of the resurrected trousers to reach the conclusion that should have been obvious to both of us: while you can change what a man wears, you’re unlikely to change who he fundamentally is. And nor should you. My poor head-banging ex was perfectly happy in his crotch-huggers, it was only me who minded. No wonder he pinged straight back like an elastic band the moment I let go of my influence.
By all means consign your partner’s ratty old university sweatshirt to the dog’s bed. Book him a haircut before he thinks he needs one. Compliment him extravagantly whenever he wears clothes you have chosen, and say nothing at all when he doesn’t. We can all agree that these are merely the acts of a sensible woman who would rather not be shown up in family photographs. But, ladies, let us tread with extreme caution if we think we can truly change anything else other than ourselves.
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