It wasn't just about the pants, per se, but what they represented.
Being married to a French man, I am constantly forced to see the cultural differences between Americans and the French. Although they're not totally opposite, they're still different enough that it's something both my husband, Olivier, and I have gotten used to.
As an American, I'm louder, an over-sharer, and I think of cheese as an appetizer. Being a born and raised Parisian, Olivier is quiet, wouldn't dare to share the things that I do, and thinks of cheese as a dessert.
Personality and cheese aside, there are other places we’re different as well. As an American, I'm not opposed to loungewear, often opting for my yoga pants when we're not doing anything too exciting, whereas he didn't even know what sweatpants were until we met. If you've yet to go to Paris, allow me to explain to you a harsh truth: Even when Parisians are dressed "down," they look far more put together than a lot of Americans do when they're dolled up. Sorry; but it's true.
The whole reason for our conversation about sweatpants stemmed from the fact that in early October my husband and I did a canopy tour in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. What it involved was hiking up a mountain, then descending back down through a series of zip lines. Olivier, in all his French-ness, did not have the necessary clothing to do such a thing, so I suggested he just get a cheap pair of sweatpants that he could throw out afterward, if he wanted.
He headed down to Soho, and came back with some stuff from a store he'd never heard of (Old Navy),and was really excited about his new foray into this whole sweatpants thing. In fact, he was so excited that he had worn the sweatpants home from the store.
"Look!" he exclaimed as he walked through the door. "They're so soft! It's like I can't feel anything, but softness!"
The pants were black, had cuffs that were free from the elastic that really makes a pair of sweatpants a pair of sweatpants, and had some silly Old Navy symbol on the thigh. For the next three days, he wore the pants around the apartment, in awe of how cozy they were. Then we headed up north, did the zip line, and I assumed, after that, I'd never see him in the pants again. I was wrong.
When we came back to the city, he continued to wear them around the apartment almost every night. That was fine, I thought. He'd never had pants like that before, so of course they were still a novelty, and since I'd be sitting next to him on the sofa in yoga pants, I wasn't really in any place to judge.
Then one day he decided to get coffee and run some errands in his sweatpants, which, again I couldn't really judge him for, but was also slightly confused by this decision of his. I knew if we were in Paris he wouldn't dare to wear those pants in public, because, well, the French know better than to be so lazy in their attire outside of their homes. But I chalked it up to being a new thing; sort of like how I might behave if I were to purchase a Snuggie. For all I know, I might go out into the world in my Snuggie, too.
Slowly, but surely, Olivier started working his new favorite pants into not just errands, but other things, too. There was the time he showed up to brunch in them, the time he wore them out to dinner with my sister and her family in Boulder, then the time he showed up to my parents' house for Thanksgiving rocking the pants as if they were a new edition to Thom Browne's fall men's line. Before I knew it, Olivier was in those pants more than he was out of them, and it started taking a toll on my attraction to him.
It's hard to want to be intimate with someone who it sort of feels like they've just given up. It wasn't just about the pants, per se, but what they represented. My handsome French husband, the one who was always so eloquent in his fashion choices and presentation, I feared, was just 24 hours away from thinking that the Olive Garden is some sort of delicacy. I imagined it was just a matter of days before he was suggesting we go to McDonald's for dinner or head to Walmart to buy, well, whatever the hell they have at Walmart.
It was difficult to see the man I loved become so, well, Americanized. Our cultural differences were the stuff that made our relationship so great. We were constantly learning from each other, and everyday was an adventure in dialogue and French versus American anecdotes. But then, adorning those pants and probably with donuts on the brain, he'd reach to kiss me, and I'd pull away. I wanted my French man back.
So, we had a chat about the pants. I explained to him the effect the pants were having on me and my sexual attraction to him, and he explained how much he loved the pants and didn't see how they could affect sexual attraction. By the time we had the chat, the pants had a hole in the knee and the cuffs were pretty beaten up, too, but he still couldn’t let go. "I can breathe in them," he explained, "I love them."
I stared at him realizing that I would have to accept the pants as a new part of our relationship together. He wasn't going to give them up and I wasn't going to be that woman who ended a marriage over a pair of sweatpants.
Instead, we compromised.
We decided that he wouldn’t wear the pants into eating establishments or to family events, and, if he wanted to have sex, he would remove the pants beforehand so I wouldn’t have to see them. I agreed to not make fun of him for wearing the pants and accept that he was just trying on the American version of him. It seemed like ridiculous things to agree upon, but what relationships aren’t without ridiculousness?
That conversation was two weeks ago.
So far, things are working out and we’re both sticking to our agreement. At the moment, Olivier is back in France for a visit and he has left his sweatpants behind in the States because he knows that they have no place in a city like Paris. But I know, when he returns, he'll start up his love affair with the pants again, and that's OK….as long as we stick to our agreement.
I knew that when he came to the States parts of him would become Americanized, but I just didn't realize it would involve sweatpants. But I guess I'd take the sweatpants over him wanting to shop at Walmart or going out to buy a gun any day. Some Americanisms would just be unforgiveable.