When Marriage Rots Your Brain

I married my husband soon after this photo was taken, and my brain started to rot right away.
Photo credit: Liz Reap Carlson

When I saw Megan McArdle’s article on titled “Marriage Makes You Rich and Stupid,” I had to know more. It does? Make one rich? And stupid?

So, of course, I clicked through. McArdle makes a good case, and, like any gifted storyteller, she withholds the juicy payoff  — the evidence for how marriage rots one’s brain — until the end.

That’s where she talks about specialization, which doesn’t sound nearly as interesting and argument-provoking as “marriage makes you stupid.” Still, she’s definitely onto something. She writes, “I mean, I used to know where I kept my batteries and old documents. But when we got married, my husband, who is much tidier than I am, took over organizing the house. Now, unless it’s a piece of my clothing or kitchen equipment, I have no idea where we keep anything.”

Not long ago, I wouldn’t have believed McArdle. After all, at any random gathering of moms, the conversation often centers on hapless husbands who can’t ever seem to find anything.

“He asks me ‘Hon, do you know where my socks are?’ and he hasn’t even tried to find them himself!” one mom might say. “They are right there in the sock drawer where they ALWAYS areand he still asks me!”

Another will chime in, “I know! He’ll open the fridge and ask, ‘Do we have any milk?’ before he’s even bothered to look inside! How hard is it to see a container of milk? And it’s not like we ever keep it anywhere other than the fridge!”

Still another will say, “It’s like I have to be the GPS for everything in my house. If someone wants to know where something is, they ask me.”

As a result, many mothers believe that dads and children — and especially boy children — lack some sort of gene that allows humans locate household items.

Until very recently, I believed this too. I didn’t talk about  this belief very often because it’s sexist and inflammatory, and not worth getting into an argument over. But believe it, I did.

Then three things happened. One, about six months ago, my husband and I swapped roles. I became the full-time money earner, and he became the full-time parent. Two, I read McArdle’s article. Three, I realized that relinquishing my role as top caregiver in exchange for my role as sole money earner has definitely caused my brain to rot.

Now, six months after our role swap, when my child says nearly anything, I robotically spit out either “Ask your father” or “Talk to your father.” It’s as if I know no other response.

I have this thing on my lip. That’s interesting. Talk to your father.

The dog ate my homework! Talk to your father.

I need a haircut. Talk to your father.

Where are the Band-Aids!?!  Who knows!?! Wait until your father comes home, and ask him.

I don’t have any clean underwear. Talk to your father. He’ll know what to do.

The other day, I asked my husband to mail a letter because I couldn’t find a stamp, and, honestly, it hurt my brain too much to even think about trying.

That very day I also stood in front of the fridge, the door open, and the chilly air escaping. I couldn’t find the peanut butter.

“It was there yesterday,” I kept saying over and over again.

“It’s right here,” my husband said as he reached in and pulled it out for me. Yes, it was right in front of me, hiding in plain sight.

I also seem to have completely lost the ability to put dishes in the dishwasher. In just the past six months, my DNA has been reprogrammed, causing me to just leave them in the sink.

When we have house guests who are in dire need of caffeine, I look at the espresso machine, feel a deep sense of inadequacy, and then beg my husband, “Please make them espresso before you leave for wherever you are going.”

When those very same house guests ask for fried eggs and my wonderful husband is not home, I hand them a frying pan and a container of eggsand I say, “I need to go walk the dog. Do you mind?”

And, people, yes, you’re right: It’s not as if I can’t do any of these things. I did once cook. I also once found things. And there was a time when I knew how my appliances worked. But now that knowledge is no longer at the front of my mind. It’s buried deep inside my brain, in the same gray, mushy place that I store my ability to do multiplication and parallel park. To put a dish in the dishwasher or find a stamp, I can’t just operate on autopilot. No, I have to think and, for that to happen, oxygenated blood must flow to that mushy gray place.

To earn money, I think a lot all day long. I think too much, if you ask me.

By the time I switch from my role as money earner to my roles as wife and mother, my brain is tired.




It might even be half rotten.

Or even half dead.

So it really is harder for me to fry an egg than it is for my husband to do the very same thing, just as it’s harder for him to keep track of our finances than it is for me.

If he weren’t around? I’d start frying eggs, people. And I’d find my own stamps, and I’d reacquaint myself with my dishwasher.

But he is aroundand he’s also willing to serve as my GPS, and, for that, I am grateful.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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