My Wife’s Secret Life
And why I’m happily married, blissfully in the dark
By Jim Dodson
I recently discovered that my wife, Wendy, enjoys a secret life.
Actually, I’ve known about it for years. I just never let her know that I knew about it.
It’s also possible that she’s always known that I know about it (and has chosen to keep that a secret, too).
Either way, the woman is a master at keeping her husband happily married and blissfully in the dark.
Consider the high drama of our recent unplanned kitchen makeover.
One evening last spring, our fancy German dishwasher blew up like the Hindenburg and flooded the kitchen of the charming mid-century bungalow we’ve spent the last five years faithfully restoring.
I suggested we move to Scotland.
Within days, however, Wendy had rallied a small army of specialists with industrial driers, fans and blueprints for a complete renovation.
Curiously, they all seemed to know my wife by her first name.
Though I’m hardly the suspicious type, such fraternal bonhomie did make me momentarily wonder if Dame Wendy might have a private, second career as a kitchen subcontractor and home makeover artist.
One of her not-so-secret pleasures, after all, are the makeover programs playing around the clock on HGTV, brick-and-mortar dramas where — in the span of 45 minutes — unspeakably decrepit houses are transformed into suburban show palaces by clever couples who make witty remarks about shiplap and infinity tubs.
Not that I’m the jealous type, but my bride speaks so casually about home-rehab hosts Joanna and Chip Gaines or the dorky Property Brothers or that sweet, folksy couple redoing the entire town of Laurel, Mississippi, it’s as if she actually knows them. And I can almost picture the Good Bones gals whispering sweet nothings about rare Victorian beadboard or vintage crown molding in Dame Wendy’s wise conch-like ear.
Unlike the unreality of these home makeovers, our massive kitchen “reno” took nearly a year to complete, including endless delays due to COVID-19. We upgraded the subflooring, wiring and plumbing; installed a beautiful Tuscan tile floor; searched two counties for new granite counters; and outfitted the entire kitchen with new appliances. We also ordered so many takeout meals that I considered moonlighting for Grubhub.
I’ll confess, there were moments when I had beguiling dreams of misty Scotland — specifically a rather fetching one in which I am rowing a dinghy across Loch Lomond with a provocatively dressed (and pre-crazy) Kim Basinger sitting in the bow.
Strictly between us, I have no idea what this dream could mean. But I’m not dinghy enough to tell my wife about it because she’ll know exactly what it means, and I really don’t want to spoil the surprise if Kim and I ever reach the other side of the loch.
Besides, doesn’t a bloke deserve a few healthy secrets of his own? Sadly, I don’t have many others. Unless you count the fantasy about being the first man in history to ride his John Deere lawn tractor across America. Of course, that dream died when Wendy sold my tractor at a yard sale in Maine right before we moved to Carolina. She claims there was no room for it on the moving truck, meaning I couldn’t at least drive it home to the South and make a few bucks mowing lawns along the way.
I recently heard a top marriage specialist on the radio insist that the secret to a long and happy marriage is “not having too many secrets, but enough to keep a marriage interesting.”
The specialist, a female psychologist, didn’t specify how many secrets keep a marriage interesting, or conversely, how many keep a marriage from collapsing like a $2 beach chair.
Fact is, I am perfectly happy operating on a strictly “need-to-know” basis. She knows that what I don’t know won’t hurt me, which may be the key to our own long and happy marriage.
Besides, we have an enviable distribution of domestic duties and responsibilities.
Wendy runs the house, pays the bills, makes most of the important decisions and never fails to find my missing eyeglasses/wallet/car keys or TV remote when it’s clear some thoughtless nitwit has mistakenly put them somewhere just to make me go crazy.
Suffice it to say, I know my proper place in our happy domestic realm, outside in the yard quietly missing my beloved John Deere lawn tractor.
On an entirely separate front, I have no idea how much money I earn from my so-called literary career. I simply put together words that amuse me, send them off to editors I’ve never met who (sometimes) like and (eventually) pay me real folding money for them.
It’s a sweet mystery how this magic happens. I frankly never know my precise material worth, year to year, but I assure you it’s no mystery to Dame Wendy how much money I make — or am due — down to the last farthing.
Home and family, however, are where Wendy’s secret life truly excels.
Our four fully grown and theoretically independent children constantly call up from faraway places to share their endless existential crises or ask her advice on all manner of discreet topics, confiding things they wouldn’t dream of telling the old man, whom they only call when they need more farthings to cover the rent.
But that’s OK with the old man in question. The older he gets, the less he knows and the happier he is.
For it’s all about perspective — i.e. my wife’s clever design for our happily married life.
One final example shall suffice.
The other afternoon, I popped into the house from trying to start up my walk-behind mower for the first lawn-cutting of the spring and discovered that my multitasking domestic Chief Executive was putting the final touches on our brand new fully renovated kitchen in a manner most unusual.
She’d just assembled an elaborate rolling cart she’d ordered from some chic West Coast design house and was dancing rumba-like to South African reggae music as she decorated Easter cookies for neighborhood kids.
“I’m thinking of painting the den a lovely new green for the spring,” she blithely announced, sashaying past me. “It’s called Mountain Air. What do you think?”
As our elegant new dishwasher purred away, she waved the sample color on her smart phone, which isn’t remotely as smart as she is but probably a good deal smarter than her husband.
After 20 years of happy marriage, I’m no April fool.
I simply told her that I loved it and headed back to my stubborn lawn mower, secretly dreaming about Kim Basinger riding a John Deere tractor through the misty Scottish Highlands. OH
Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry magazine.