I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

Marriage and the Creeping Incompetence
from volume 12, issue 2 of The Inner Swine, 2006

THERE is a certain smoothing mechanism to marriage, or at least there is when you enter into it as a lazy, somewhat grooming-challenged and disorganized person like me.

The phenomenon is difficult to explain but is undeniable — a lot of us go into marriage sweaty, disdainful of society’s norms, and somewhat unhygienic, only to emerge on the other side looking like a movie star. Or at least closer to looking like a movie star than you ever looked before by an order of magnitude. Gaining a spouse often means gaining other things as well, especially since opposites do tend, in general, to attract. So some people will gain an accountant, some will gain a butler or chambermaid, and some will gain a stylist.

Sure, sometimes this is disagreeable and amounts to being remade in your spouse’s image of who they’d meant to marry before you threw yourself bodily at them and conned them to the altar through a mixture of booze, charm, and Jedi Mind Tricks. More often, however, this is a beneficial situation, this smoothing, and usually involves a trade of skills. In my case, my wife provides to me a general smoothing — the skill set of a stylist, really. Not every day, or even on a regular basis — only when a public appearance is required.

In short, she makes sure that whenever we have an important event to attend I emerge from the house looking vaguely sane and prosperous, instead of the deranged hobo look I usually employ. After all, who can be bothered to actually find clean clothes every day, or shave on a regular basis, or not be drunk by 10 AM every day? not me, boyo — I’m not fancy-pants movie star. But because I have gained a wife, a few times a year I get to live like a movie star. Assuming movie stars are also menaced from room to room of their apartment by their stick-bearing wives who threaten all sorts of terrible things if they don’t clean up their acts right quick.

Thankfully, this only happens a few times a year and is probably good for me. But it does beg the question: Is this just a difference of opinion concerning my personal style (me: sublime; The Duchess: stunted, insofar as it is thought to actually exist), or am I being made incompetent?

Incompetence is not a constant, after all. One person’s incompetence is someone else’s complete disinterest. Competence implies an attempt at mastery, after all; I can’t be an incompetent astronaut unless I am first trying to be an astronaut. If I am not trying to be an astronaut, then I am merely not an astronaut, and competence doesn’t enter it, does it?

But let’s assume, for sake of argument, that I am competent at being me. Being Jeff Somers, Your Humble Editor. That as far as being me goes, I am not only competent but perhaps expert. Who else could be better at being me? No one. No one can be better at being me. I am completely competent when it comes to being a doughy, white, drunken zine publisher, baby.

Yet, on those relatively rare occasions when the wife lays out a suit of clothes and marches me into the bathroom for another attempt at taming my hair (impossible), what’s happening is that my competence at being me is being questioned. Slowly, over time, my faith in my own ability to be myself is being eroded, simply because when I emerge from the bathroom like a wet cat some hours later, followed by my exhausted wife who has just managed to make me appear non-deranged for at least a few hours, I am, indeed, improved  in some sense of the term.

If that’s the case, am I not, somehow, less competent at being me? If the cleaned-up version of me presented at weddings, funerals, and other family events is an improvement, then my management of my own physical form is, arguably, of a lesser standard.

Of course, the perceived “improvement” found in my wife’s management of my hair, whiskers, and attire is subjective—your mileage will vary on people’s reactions. It’s not an absolute, so determining competence isn’t really possible. Some people might look at me on a typical day and be horrified, wondering aloud if perhaps The Duchess had not accidentally married a hobo or mental patient. Others might look at me after a rigorous shining-up for, say, a wedding and think I’d lost that certain charm and panache1 I’m well-known for.  The only problem here is if I start to believe that I am no longer competent to manage my own physical appearance—belief is reality, after all.

It probably doesn’t matter. Decades of neglect have left my visage ravaged by the elements, and it’s probably impossible to make me look like anything than a boozy writer, dooming me to a lifetime of steady unemployment, mockery, and entombment in shadowy, stuffy rooms. Even the heroic efforts of my wife, normally sufficient to bend all reality to her will on any given day, can only do so much. After a few hours being worked on my The Duchess I might not be arrested immediately upon leaving the apartment, but I probably still won’t be able to enter any business establishments. Which actually has less to do with my ingrained disreputable look and more to do with a few bathroom incidents I’ve had over the years. Bork! Bork!?


  1. Patty Blount

    This is the source of many an argument at the Blount House. My husband, who’d managed the fine art of dressing himself unassisted for many years before I came along, inexplicably FORGOT HOW after our marriage.

    If there’s a wedding, a communion, even a backyard barbecue, the man cannot leave the house without badgering me, “Is this good enough? Can you iron my shorts? Can I wear sneakers or do I have to wear real shoes?”

    I’ve tried to explain to him that he’s not a Barbie Doll and dressing him isn’t as much fun as he thinks, but to no avail.

    Number two on this list of arguments: why do men ASSUME wives are now their social secretaries and will henceforth remember HIS parents’ birthdays, anniversary, plus shop for those occasions??

  2. David


    It’s because once we got the lady to marry us we become lazy! Just kidding I don’t really know. Been married a long time and I do the same thing. If it wasn’t for my wife I’d probably forget to wear pants.

  3. Henrik B

    I remember reading this in Dune way back, but I’m sure someone even more clever than Frank Herbert said it first: If you order someone to do something, from then on they’ll only do it when ordered(paraphrase, because it was several years ago). Maybe that could account for some of it?

  4. Patty Blount


    It’s a mystery. I may forget my keys, my purse, my gym bag, but DAMN, forgetting pants? Nuh uh.

  5. jsomers (Post author)

    Henrik: I like that sentiment. I’m going to find the quote you’re referring to. And probably steal it.

    Patty: It’s not so much “forgetting” pants as “freeing yourself from” pants. THE TYRANNY OF PANTS.

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