Why Do Women Always Have To Look After Their Man’s Health?
Is it too much to ask that they look after their own — and maybe even ours?
Maybe you saw it, the video of Jill Biden pulling her masked husband, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, away from reporters to keep him socially distanced.
I saw it on Twitter and “liked” the video clip and retweeted it because it seemed sweet and loving. And so I didn’t think too much about it until I saw a tweet from Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, a huge promoter of marriage as the answer to everything — poverty, loneliness, health, etc.
“*This* helps visualize why married men live longer,” he tweeted.
And then I got a bit miffed.
Not just because it was promoting marriage over any other form of relationship, romantic or not. I’m sure unmarried women, whether cohabiting with or living apart from their romantic partner, would do the same. This is not something you agree to as part of a marriage license. Actually, even good friends would most likely do the same.
No, what bothered me is that it’s, once again, the woman watching over her man’s health. That it’s somehow a woman’s responsibility to help her man live longer.
Of course, one would expect a spouse or romantic partner to look after their loved one’s well being. After all, you love this person and want to make sure they’re safe! But the truth is, while wives overwhelming do this for their husbands, husbands rarely do the same for their wives.
This is not a problem same-sex couples because, according to research, they are really good at looking after their partner’s health. And, like Jill Biden, hetero wives are also really good at looking after their hubby’s health. The bummer is that men do not do the same for their wives. In fact, researchers discovered that women who are diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis are six times more likely to find themselves separated or divorced shortly after their diagnosis than if they were a man — a situation researchers call “partner abandonment.
They also observed that the older the wife was, the more likely she was headed for a divorce, resulting in serious impacts on her health and quality of life.
Hey, thanks guys! Just when we need you most.
Why does happen? Well, many men don’t see themselves as caregivers outside of their bread-winning role. Many men — like society in general— see nurturing as a woman’s thing and so when they are forced into caregiving their wife, they consider it burdensome.
So while marriage may be great for men’s health, it isn’t so great for women. Please, ask me again why some women are choosing not to marry.
Still, Jill Biden did something loving and protective for her husband, a kindness I want to believe he would do for her. And as research has shown, kindness and generosity are what make long-term relationships good relationships — the kind we want.
Let’s compare that with how Donald and Melania Trump have responded to a health crisis. Both have been stricken recently with COVID-19. While the president made mention once or twice of Melania’s health —not a peep about how grateful he is that his teen-aged son Barron is healthy and hasn’t tested positive for the virus — his photo op upon returning to the White House after a few days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was all about him, and a bizarre macho display to squash what many men fear most: looking weak. Even though his breathing was clearly labored.
Men don’t want to seem weak, doctors say. So they often don’t take charge of their own health, and so it typically falls in the lap of their woman to make sure they go to the doctor, take their meds, eat right, exercise, etc.
I’m not sure that’s going on for the Trumps but honestly, it’s kind of exhausting to be the one who has to do that.
Do women have to? No, as syndicated columnist Amy Alkon, whose advice I have admired, tweeted to me:
“So, answer isn’t that women ‘have to be in charge of their man’s health,” but they’re probably more conscious of risk & thus more concerned with it. Additionally, my BF notices things he can do for me (& does them) w/o my thinking of them or asking — & out of love, not ‘have to’”
And there you go. If you’re a hetero woman and want a romantic partner, find yourself a man who will notice things he can do for you and do them without you having to think of them or ask for them out of love, and not because he “has to.” In other words, someone who is as conscious and concerned as you are (and why shouldn’t he be?)
But the question I keep coming back to — and one that Alkon doesn’t satisfactorily address — is, why do women tend to be “more conscious of risk & thus more concerned with it”? Why can’t men look after their own health? And how can we, as a society, help men realize that’s something they need to do for themselves — and maybe even be capable of doing for their loved ones?
Because until they can, women — moms, daughters, sisters, wives, aunts — will forever have to be the only conscious and concerned ones. And, please, that’s exhausting.