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:
1/ If Pence won't eat dinner alone with any woman but his wife, that means he won't hire women in key spots.
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) March 29, 2017
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.