The Husband, the Wife and the Wardrobe

suits_closetI didn’t know much when I was younger, but I did have a few fundamental rules on which I based my life:

  1. I will never “sell out”
  2. I will never “go corporate”
  3. I’ll never have a job that requires me to dress in anything other than jeans and a t-shirt

I held true to #1 for a long time. Working as a print journalist is about as far from glamorous as you can get, with long and unpredictable hours, a crazy amount of stress, all for absolute peanuts when it comes to pay. But despite the lack of zeros in my paycheck, I held fast to the knowledge that I was educating the public everyday, tracking down leads and serving as a conduit between public officials and the citizenry.

MJ was the one who lived in the corporate world.

As a bank manager she was sharply dressed day in and day out with a seemingly never-ending supply of professional power suits that I termed “Business Sexy.” Working for several large banks means she definitely sold out and was unequivocally corporate. I would listen to her at home taking these foreign things called “conference calls” and speaking in some sort of corporate language rife with unintelligible acronyms and buzzwords that made me want to light myself on fire.

At the paper we didn’t have conference calls and we didn’t mask all our speech. We yelled at each other across the newsroom and usually argued with each other right out in the open about our stories as deadline approached. No scheduling meetings to talk about scheduling meetings to “noodle on some cross-platform synergy.” She had her world and I had mine — and I liked it that way.

Two years ago, with my family in financial ruin and our situation on Cape Cod untenable, I took a deep breath and realized at least a couple of my cardinal rules had to change.

I sold out and got a new job outside of journalism. I was still writing, but I couldn’t pretend I was making the world a better place and uncovering corruption like I was before. And I knew on my first day I had gone corporate. I received an email from the guy sitting next to me who invited me to a meeting later in the day. That just didn’t happen at the paper and I never once used Outlook to schedule anything. So I stood up, leaned over my cubicle wall and said “Did you just send me this email? Why didn’t you just ask me? I’m sitting right here.” He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient, and I knew right then and there I was a corporate sellout.

But I still had #3 — not dressing up. The office dress code is fairly relaxed so I was still getting away with jeans, which kept me sane.

You have to understand something — I never dressed up. I mean EVER. I had one suit jacket, one pair of dress pants, one tie and one pair of black socks. The suit and dress pants didn’t even match each other, and the tie was one I stole from a wedding after someone left it at the reception. “Dressing up” meant wearing my jeans with no rips or fraying, and my shirt with a collar. I couldn’t stand all the pretentious fashion-conscious ninnies who made sure their socks matched their shirts which matched their expensive watches.

MJ tried to tell me about the importance of looking professional and how it truly does benefit your career, but I wasn’t having it. Whenever she talked about that stuff all I heard was “you’re trying to change me,” and the minute I know someone is trying to change me is the minute I become more obstinate than ever and vow to NEVER change. Because while I sold out and went corporate, I would never cave in on the dress stuff. Never!!

I had to go to a wake for a family friend’s mom earlier this week, so I needed a suit and tie. I went into my closet, grabbed the suit — and stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Four suit jackets.

It’s not like they were all new. MJ didn’t go out and buy me a bunch of suits that day or anything. They had just slowly made their way into my wardrobe over the course of several years without me even realizing it. Taken aback, I then grabbed a pair of dress pants. But in doing so, I was suddenly hit with a terrifying truth — there were about eight pairs of them. Glancing up towards the top shelf where my jeans are kept, a quick count revealed I have more dress pants than jeans.

Panic started setting in and a grim realization settled around me like a thick fog. There was one more test — the ties. With great trepidation, I moved to the left side of my closet and then — fingers trembling — grabbed the hanger holding my ties. In my head I had 2-3 ties, tops. Surely that’s all I’d find there…right? Wrong.

Fourteen. I have 14 different ties.

I won’t lie, I was mad at first. Mad at MJ. Because it’s obvious I didn’t go out and purchase these fancy clothes myself. I’m not allowed to buy my own clothes without a competent person accompanying me, so I knew it was her. I had a brief bout of “HOW COULD SHE?!” but I couldn’t maintain that level of outrage. Mainly because I was too impressed with MJ’s efforts.

For two years MJ has slowly and painstakingly been infusing my wardrobe with dress clothes. A suit jacket here, a dress shirt there, black socks for Christmas, etc. She’s been smuggling in ties and dress slacks like inmates trafficking contraband into prison. And in a fit of genius, she had the presence of mind not to throw out my old stuff because I would’ve noticed and her entire operation would’ve been blown. All the old jeans, ripped sweatshirts, comfortable boxers with “natural cooling” (or in other words, holes) — instead of throwing them out like many wives would’ve, she put them on the top shelf where I could see them and take comfort in the fact they were still there. But in the meantime, she was funneling in dress clothes on the sly, subjecting me to tiny increments of maturity.

I love MJ. She not only knows what I need, she knows me well enough to realize I’m my own worst enemy. So instead of throwing down the hammer like a lot of wives, she allows me to think I’m still in charge while silently and thanklessly helping me improve.

Good wives change you for the better. Great wives make you better yourself without you even realizing it.

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