Perhaps. My bachelor friend, Dr. Barolo, thinks that "some women actually appreciate it when you tell them the truth." He takes a deep breath of fermented grape. "But—you never know when that is," he sighs. "When they ask you what they should wear, I used to tell them, 'Wear what you want.' Wrong. They want you to be the man, to take command." Or do they? Husbands and lovers who try to be Pygmalion, pushing women to match some image of perfection, are just as intolerable as,well, any other sort of pig.
It means to be the key to weathering this little inquisition, and turning it into something positive, lies not so much in what you say as in proving that you see. There is a terrible invisibility that creeps into long-term partnerships, a corrosive obliviousness, and it's especially dangerous for women. Many become like the shopper in Randall Jarrell’s heartbreaking poem "Next Day," who is buying detergent in the supermarket, "Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All," then meditating on what is overlooked in life, including herself:
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I’m old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
See me. It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
Men are not always good at showing the people we love that we see them. But there's really nothing more important to a relationship. So now when my wife asks me how she looks, I say to her what I said to her more than two decades ago,when she was my girlfriend: "Perfect in every way." And I mean it. And now she doesn't push for me to find the slightest flaw. She says, "You're saying that because you love me."
Yes, I say, and because I love her, it's true.
Christopher Dickey is Newsweek’s Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor. His most recent book is The Sleeper.