“I only eat dinner with my wife”

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Apparently Mike Pence only ever eats dinner with his wife. Another guy, a blogger called Matt Walsh, does the same – never dining with any women other than his wife in case it could be construed that he likes them. Or might shag them. Or fall in love with them. Today I learned that some men refuse to eat dinner with any women other than their wives. Consider my mind blown.

If you only ever want to eat dinner with your wife, I can see a few lovely reasons why that might be the case. Maybe one or the other of you is an excellent cook, and you have a kind of romantic thing going on, whereby one of the foundation stones of your relationship is the quiet, mindful time you spend together each evening eating food and sharing stories about your day.

But maybe the reason you only eat dinner with your wife is because you do not trust yourself – or her – to eat dinner alone with someone else.

The original quote about Pence came from a Washington Post profile of his wife, Karen, which said:

“In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”

However I came to this discussion on Twitter earlier today, when the conversation had turned to a debate on trust – married people not dining (or being alone) with people of the opposite sex, because they didn’t trust themselves or their partner. Specifically the conversation attached to this tweet by blogger Matt Walsh who said:

“I wouldn’t dine alone with a member of the opposite sex either, neither would my wife. Is that really some radical approach?”

Yes, Matt Walsh. It is. It really really and truly is.

It’s radical to me – a massive lefty – for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly because if you are a powerful man who refuses to be alone with a woman, you are likely a powerful man who will never hire women, as pointed out in this excellent Twitter thread:

So I have political reasons for spitting feathers over this. Some of my other reasons are personal: for instance my best friend in the whole world is a dude. Some of the happiest times of my life have been spent with him. We don’t ‘dine’ alone together as often as we ‘get utterly wankered in pub gardens’ but the principle is the same. I have loads of male friends, who I frequently spend one-on-one time with, and so the idea that someone would slam that door firmly shut on either themself or a loved one is… terrifying? Saddening? Tragic. It is tragic. And I am sure neither Matt Walsh nor Mike Pence wants my pity, but it’s there anyway.

Let’s leave aside my feelings, though, because clearly I am going to disagree on quite a few relationship points with Mike and Matt: they are both married, and I likely never will be. At least not until the tax breaks get such that it balances out the cost of a wedding dress. But I am monogamous, and I understand the principles of marriage, and even within this framework the idea of only ever being alone with your spouse – not just forsaking all others but avoiding them like their touch is actively poisonous – seems a truly frightening thing.

Till death do us part

Firstly, just to lay a bit of groundwork: you have chosen to be with this person for the rest of your life. THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Saying ‘I or she will never do X thing while we’re married’ is equivalent to saying ‘I or she will never do this thing again as long as we live.’ If that thing were, say, hugging a porcupine or watching an Xfactor marathon, you can be pretty sure you will never want to do it. But with something like ‘eating dinner with someone of the opposite sex’ you either need to be someone who genuinely doesn’t enjoy doing that, or accept that one potential source of joy is closed off to you forever.

(Aside: naturally this extends to ‘never dine alone with the same sex if you’re gay’, or of course either sex if you’re bisexual. CAN YOU IMAGINE how claustrophobic a rule like this would be for someone who potentially fancied ANY of their friends, regardless of gender? You would literally have to have a rule that said you will never be alone with another adult human who is not a close relative.)

That’s the groundwork. OK? No dining alone with someone you might potentially fancy. That avenue of joy is closed off forever.

Forsaking all others

Let’s deal with the trust thing first. When you say to your wife ‘I will never eat dinner alone with any woman other than you’, you are potentially doing one (or both) of these things:

Saying that you do not trust yourself in the company of other women. I understand this worry, as someone who has made more than my fair share of mistakes in the past, fidelity-wise. However, because I have made mistakes I think I’m fairly qualified to say that ‘refusing to ever be alone with someone you might fancy’ is not a successful way of dealing with the problems thrown up by monogamy. When you get married, you promise to love, honour, and cherish, etc. You don’t promise to lock yourself away in a box to avoid all temptation until the day you finally croak. It would be like me vowing to my other half that I will never again drink any alcohol, then insisting we move to a dry country because I know I can’t fulfil my promise if at any point I am offered the chance to break it.

What’s more – how unbelievably hurtful is this for your wife, not just to hear but to be reminded of every day? That you are so desperate to stick your dick in someone else that you feel the urge will take you involuntarily and you will stalk, zombie-like, from the dinner table for a quick hump with your companion in the toilets? I feel like this ‘temptation’ argument comes from a similar place as ‘she was asking for it’ – a misandrist assumption that men are unthinking automata, rather than moral agents who can control and be held accountable for their actions. I won’t dwell on this for too long, I’ll only say that I hope you think more of men than that. I do.

But if you only ever dine with your wife, and consider having friendships with other women too tempting or potentially dangerous, you are asking your wife to maintain a baseline level of mistrust about your ability to honour your promises for the rest of both of your lives. Like I say, I’m not a marriage expert, but that sounds like kind of the opposite of what the vows are aiming at. If it’s not about trusting yourself, then perhaps what you’re worried about is this:

Saying that you do not trust your partner in the company of other men. (I’m using Mike Pence as the example here, but this point should hold no matter which gender you are, so feel free to flip them).

This one is much more complicated, because it can come from a number of places. As someone who’s been intensely jealous in the past, I fully understand the pangs of misery when you sit at home and wonder if your other half is out somewhere fucking someone else. I have felt, and wallowed in, this kind of jealousy before (both founded and unfounded), and I know it hurts like an absolute fucker. But it is not an excuse to dictate what your partner can and can’t do. It cannot possibly be. Because the tighter you cling to them, the more strictly you keep tabs on them, the more your jealousy will feed itself.

If you’re convinced that their ‘dinner’ with a colleague might indicate an affair, then their reassurance that it isn’t will likely mean nothing to you: they would say that, wouldn’t they? If you check their phone and find no saucy texts, well that’s to be expected: they’d have deleted them, wouldn’t they? If you sit outside their office waiting to see if they leave and kiss their colleague goodbye, then they don’t: well they must be being really careful, right? Jealousy, taken to extremes, frequently becomes unfalsifiable. It eats itself. Remember our foundation? You are asking your partner to accept a baseline of your simmering jealousy or mistrust for the rest of your lives.

For better or worse

Now. Let’s lay aside jealousy and go back to the fact that eating with people is often a nice thing. It is lovely to have dinner with an old friend, catch up and chatter and gossip and all that fun stuff. For most humans, eating is an important social time during which we do a lot of our relationship-building and maintenance. Eating as a group is important, and most big festivals are based around some kind of exchange or sharing of food. And dining one-on-one is important in different ways – it might be a means to build intimacy or trust, to share secrets, to get things off your chest, to relieve stress, whatever. Some of these things might be things you only want to do with a partner: personally, I know there are some topics my other half would only discuss with me, and for those no individual could provide him the kind of listening ear/chatter that I could.

But equally there are many social interactions that are not only better to do with someone who isn’t your wife, they are things it is unreasonable to expect of your wife. Social interactions are so many and varied that the idea of making just one person perform all the necessary roles is like… well, it’s like asking one actor to play all the parts in a drama series. You must be the best friend and the sounding-board and the business associate and the lover and the counsellor and… do you get what I mean? I hope so. If you only ever eat with your wife – never alone with another woman – you are asking your wife to be every single person you could ever possibly need. For the rest of your lives. That pressure is phenomenal.

Remember what I said at the beginning about joy? Dining with people – or just having one-on-one time with them – can bring so much joy. I don’t expect Mike Pence or Matt Walsh to live anything like the kind of life I do, but they’re both human beings so I imagine they both have the capacity to feel joy, and to laugh and love and all the rest of it. If you limit yourself, and refuse to engage in certain types of relationship, you close off all those little tributaries which could drip-feed more happiness into your life.

The moments spent giggling with your friend about this silly thing your wife did, or the comfort they can give you when you and your partner have had a row. Personally, I love that my best friend is often able to raise his eyebrows and explain when I have been a dick to my partner – I go to him for comfort and he’ll hug me and tell me I’m right. But equally often he will point out something I’ve done or said that I shouldn’t have, or ask a question that makes me think again. Other guys I know and love tell me about their relationships – giving me tricks or advice that I use to help understand more about my own. Some of them listen while I wax lyrical about my partner, and pretend to vomit under the table when I bang on for too long about how much I love him. They bring me down to Earth, hold me to account, console, challenge, and call me out.

And – because my social life is far from just a string of ‘Dear Abby’ columns – they also make me laugh. We have fun. They bring me joy.

For the rest. Of. Your. Lives.

I’m not telling you how to do your own marriage, but this strikes me as a bit like that hypothetical question: would you rather die tomorrow or live forever? Would you rather be nothing to someone, or have to be their everything until the day you die?

I know which I would pick.

16 Comments

  • Dan says:

    Funnily enough, I discourage my wife from fucking lone members of the opposite sex, in case she’s tempted to invite them home for dinner and I have to cook for them.

  • Dan says:

    (Previous comment proofread and corrected. Delete as you see fit – thanks)

  • Scary Boots says:

    Or Mike and Matt can’t imagine being friends with someone of another gender, and so they fulfill all supportive roles in their life with men. Sad, excluding a whole half-planet full of potential confidantes, but possible.

  • Ben Kirkby says:

    I’ve encountered people with that mindset. Best example was when, a couple of years ago, I was working with a guy (let’s call him Jim) who started seeing another colleague of mine (we’ll call her Sally). I was working with Sally at one branch of the business while Jim was at the main branch that day. Part of his job was to drive the van and collect us and the takings and take them back to the main shop, so once we’d closed and cleaned we rang up to let him know we were ready. He told us things had been busy at the shop and we’d have to wait for half an hour before he could come get us, so we decided to grab a drink together while we waited. When he came to get us he got really weird that we’d done that and acted like she’d cheated on him. He eventually left and forced her to as well, in part because he didn’t like her working with other guys when he wasn’t there.

    It may be related but he was also a hardcore Christian in the American style, like Mike Pence is…

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh God, yes that sounds quite odd. I would have done the same thing, and would be entirely baffled if someone objected. Also – what did he expect you to do? Just stand around on the road until he got there?! Also forcing her out of a job because of jealousy of her colleagues is a terrifying level of control. Shudder.

  • techreader says:

    Given the nature of leftist “GOTCHA!!!” journalism of which this tweet was a part (the article is derived from a 15-year-old comment), I can sort of understand the idea; avoid even the APPEARANCE of dishonorable behavior. Don’t give paparazzi the opportunity to create misleading photographs.

    You’ve managed to create a mountain of outrage out of a few grains of offense. Why should it matter to you who he has dinner with? He has FREQUENTLY had dinner with women other than his wife. Just not ALONE. He doesn’t attend functions where alcohol is served without her. Let’s face it; any function where alcohol is served is more “social” than “business”, and spouses are generally invited to social functions. He apparently LIKES his wife, and prefers to have her around. I gather that she shares that opinion. I’d rather have people like this in government that Democrat horndogs like Clinton, Johnson or Kennedy. (I’d rather have real big-L Libertarians like Ron Paul than either, but nobody gets everything that they want.)

    • Girl on the net says:

      “Why should it matter to you who he has dinner with?”

      Why indeed? It’s not, after all, like I am a sex blogger whose job it is to write blog posts about sex, relationships, and my opinions on them. It’s not like this discussion was topical and relevant yesterday when loads of people were talking about it. Or even that this proved to be one of the most widely-shared and discussed posts I’ve written for a few weeks. It’s not even like Pence’s arrangement was picked up and held aloft by right wing bloggers yesterday as an example of a good relationship arrangement, and thus provided an excellent opportunity to talk more broadly about expectations within relationships and attitudes towards trust and friendship.

      (And sorry I can’t help but laugh at the irony of ‘this was a 15 year old comment!’ Sure, Mike Pence agreed to a thing with his wife who he has promised to be with forever. But, like, Geez, that was FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, get over it leftists!)

      • techreader says:

        No, the discussion wasn’t suddenly “relevant” yesterday; it was suddenly MANUFACTURED yesterday, as a feeble attempt to invent dirt that nobody has been able to actually FIND. To the extent that righty bloggers commented on it, it was more of “What’s the big deal? More FAKE NEWS!” and “Perhaps he was correct to be cautious, if this is all the scandal that they can find”.

        I myself don’t much care, being neither evangelical nor a politician. But there’s hardly any salacious content for a sex blogger to extract from this story.

        Perhaps you’ll have better luck spinning up something from this Daily Mail article about Miami, FL police arresting a prostitute with connections to Bill Clinton. Not that I care about that, either, since I think prostitution should be legal. But at least there is SOME dirt here.

        • Girl on the net says:

          You sound a lot more outraged than I am. Maybe you should stop reading my blog if it makes you this incensed.

          Your DM link got caught in spam, I’m afraid, and that is where it’s staying.

  • SweetTheSting says:

    Techreader

    Working life often involves two people having dinner together. Sounds like you are American, but in the U.K., Tony Blair and Gordon Brown famously had dinner together to decide which of them would lead the party. If Tony had been Antonia, should Gordon have swerved it?

    Clinton and Obama? Rice and Bush? No working meals for private policy discussions? Really? Why should Clinton or Rice be excluded from such individual meals if their presidents were holding them with Biden and Cheney?

    Through no fault of Clinton or Rice, then, their chromosomes would make their bosses exclude them from elements of governmental working life. And if that’s the case, say, wouldn’t it be easier to hire men in their roles?

    If a man in power is a “horndog”…..he should learn to control it, not exclude women and make it their problem.

  • Tim says:

    It’s the aspect of “I don’t trust myself not to pursue other women because I eat dinner with them” that I find most disturbing. What a pathetically low standard to hold yourself to. Although I wouldn’t want to spend my time with a person who held such insultingly low opinions of those around them.

    • techreader says:

      I suspect it was less “I don’t trust myself having dinner with another woman” as “I don’t trust the media not to manufacture a phony accusation because of a business meeting”.

  • Andy says:

    While my girlfriend and I were enjoying a foursome at 4am the other night I did find myself thinking “this is the only kind of eating I want to do with these people.”

    I have some sympathy. They’d have made terrible dinner guests.

    Great article btw.

  • Kitty says:

    I don’t know where to begin with this, but “why would you marry someone you don’t trust?” seems to me to be a reasonable opening gambit. And to borrow a pop culture reference, “grrr, argh” perhaps a fitting closing one.*

    This whole attitude stinks, not in a ‘week-old cheese’ kind of way but in a ‘Chris Hadfield up on the ISS going “what’s that fucking smell?”‘ kind of way. It’s an “all men are rapists” attitude, it’s a “women should all wear potato sacks lest they lead men into temptation” kind of attitude. It’s, y’know, a little bit rapey. And fuck me, even staring down the barrel of Britain voting for Brexit because brown people, and America then going “here, hold my beer and watch this,” I’d still have hoped that we’d got past this shit.

    I have male friends that I don’t want to fuck.
    I have female friends that I don’t want to fuck.
    And frankly, the presence or absence of a penis does not dictate who I choose to have a pint and a bag of chips with. Seriously, WTF is wrong with some people?

    (* – Can you have closing gambits? Enquiring minds want to know.)

  • q85 says:

    I suppose there is a line when dinners can turn into dating, I had this recently. I was single she wasn’t we had a few work lunches then after work dinners then whole evenings and days together and then we openly admitting it was like dating even though we told ourselves it was ok as we didn’t have sex at the end(though we touched and kissed).

    So I can see both sides and how friendship can slip into something more, I was single so I wasn’t doing much wrong. Had I not been single I would of stopped it after a few dates after clearly noticing a change in how we approached it, does that make me wrong ?

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