I put up with more than my girlfriend does

In an ideal relationship, shouldn't the annoyances be equally distributed?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 8, 2004 8:57PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am a light sleeper, and my girlfriend is a heavy sleeper. She sets the alarm for an hour or so before she gets out of bed. She says she should get out of bed after a snooze or two, but she never does. She does not react to the alarm at all for the first five or so times that it goes off. But I can't stand it, so I get up and hit the snooze button and mutter something to her about what time it is. She doesn't respond to me. Finally she gets up, but by then I'm irritated and mostly awake. Sometimes I lie in bed, wide awake, thinking about how irritated I am. I don't need to get up until an hour after she gets up, but in the meantime I feel like I am not getting real sleep. This morning when the alarm went off for the fifth or sixth time I made a growling noise, and her feelings were hurt. She feels like I shouldn't get annoyed with her for something she can't help.

We've talked about this several times over the past few months. She says that she can't set the alarm for the time she actually gets up because she needs the snoozing to wake her up. I've thought about getting a fancy alarm clock with a beautiful chime that gradually gets louder, but that'll wake me up long before it wakes her up. I've also thought about just getting up when the alarm first rings, and letting her hit snooze until she gets up, but I also hate listening to the alarm beep for 20 minutes straight while I'm sitting in the other room.

Even if you don't have practical advice (which I would dearly love), maybe you can help me not feel like this is a microcosm of our relationship. I often feel like I put up with things that I don't like more than she puts up with things that she doesn't like. I don't put up with them in silence, because I tell her how I feel. But when push comes to shove, most of the time I am more flexible (or something) than she is. Which I take some pride in, to be honest, but then I feel both put upon and guilty for feeling martyrlike.

Sleepy and Grumpy (and Maybe a Little Dopey)

Dear Sleepy,

Microcosm? Microcosm, you ask? Could this be a microcosm? Mon sembable, mon frere, O bleary-eyed, put-upon boyfriend among legions of bleary-eyed, put-upon boyfriends, this is a microcosm not only of your relationship but of all relationships, from the subatomic to the cosmic to the metaphysical. In fact, this phenomenon is described in Cary's First Law of Subjective Thermodynamics, which states that though the total energy in a system remains constant, it always seems like you're putting up with more crap than she is.

It is theoretically possible that your subjective view could be correct: Because energy and crap in the universe tend to cluster, it's possible that you're putting up with more than she is. But it's highly unlikely. What science has shown is that women put up with more crap than men, but they do it invisibly, using methods that can't be seen by the naked eye or even identified with telescopes.

You don't want to know all the crap she puts up with. You're better off not knowing. The last thing you want to do is goad her into telling you how she secretly cringed at that joke you told at her best friend's engagement party, how she can't believe your shoes, how she secretly thinks you're in the wrong job, how she likes your family but feels a little sorry for them because they just seem a little seedy, how ... unless you like the idea of lying on the kitchen floor, crumpled into a fetal ball, whimpering with self-loathing, you just don't need to know.

The funny thing is, you put up with all her crap out of principle, because that's what a guy does, and you feel good about how you put up with it, so you tell her about how you put up with it -- because you love her! -- and when she doesn't thank you, it seems like she's not being grateful or she really doesn't care. What a bitch!

This alarm business is the worst. I still don't understand why my wife can't creep around silently in the dark until I'm awake -- the way I do when she's sleeping. Maybe it's because she never played "commando" as a kid; I kind of like being stealthy, actually; it's a test of skill. But she, she just wants to get dressed and grind some coffee beans.

What I'm trying to say to you, my comrade in annoyance, is that your sacrifices are by nature invisible to the other party, because they are actions not taken. And while they loom large to you, describing them is a no-win situation, because what you describe, when you describe how you put up with something, is you describe your own previously well-disguised intolerance. Intolerance is not admirable. Intolerance of another person's habits is not made more admirable simply because you didn't act on it; furthermore, describing your suppressed intolerance is indeed acting on it. So shut up about her alarm clock already. You're not making any headway.

My brother, my double, you are a man, I am a man, and we men were built to shut up and take it. I'm sorry, that may sound medieval, but face it: We do not whine well; it is unbecoming to us. It only inspires women to heap upon us further indignities.

So I will state categorically: No girlfriend or wife is ever going to not annoy you. All wives and girlfriends will at some point do the things that you describe.

Having stated that, one must wonder: Might there indeed be a man out there who has never been annoyed by his wife or girlfriend? The mind staggers at the possibilities. If there be a man who has never been annoyed by his wife or girlfriend, a man in whose universe the crap is equally and amiably distributed, what manner of man might he be? We must hear from him.

So if there be a man who can say that his girlfriend or wife has never done any of the following: sniffed his laundry with disdain, frowned upon his shoes, kept him waiting in a restaurant, made him buy tampons, criticized his brand of milk, taken money and not paid him back, taken up more than her half of the space in the medicine cabinet, thrown away one of his T-shirts, set the alarm for the wrong time, left hair in the sink, bought an unfamiliar brand of toothpaste, insisted upon strange standards of kitchen cleanliness, suggested they get more pets, wondered aloud about having triplets, wanted to move to a nicer neighborhood without a nightclub downstairs, failed to adore all his friends from work, gone to bed before he was tired, told him afterward what he should have said, asked why he paid so much, not admired his mechanical skills, failed to compliment him on how many pushups he can do, beat him at Scrabble and forgot the score, not gotten a joke or gotten it but found it inane, turned the inside light on in the car and flipped down the visor mirror to apply makeup on the way to a party and then forgot to turn the inside light off in the car, forcing him to ask her to please turn off the inside light, or never in any other way failed to live up to his ideal of the perfect mate, I would very much like to hear from him.

The rest of you men: Soldier on.

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Cary Tennis

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