(Editor’s Note: This post is part of a monthly feature in which Ryan takes an actual letter written to “Dear Abby” and answers it himself. For further background see the introductory post here, or maybe also here. Please note that this advice column should only be used as directed, and should not be read if you are pregnant or operating heavy machinery. Though if you are pregnant and operating heavy machinery, by all means, continue reading).
Before I get to this month’s letter, a bit of disclaimer is in order. A few of my posts–most notably my review of the Viking Quest restaurant and even the background section to my original Dear Abby piece–prompted some people to ask me, wait, is this for real or are you making this up? In general I’d take anything I have written with a massive, horse-crushing/glue-producing grain of salt. But when I’m responding to these Dear Abby letters, they are 100% for real. Scout’s honor. Cross my heart and hope to die, throw horse-crushing grains of salt in my eye.
I say all this because the letter I’m going to answer today is so deliciously bizarre I know your natural response is going to be, “Ryan, you sly, handsome fox. Surely you’ve made this up just to tee yourself up with a grapefruit-sized softball to knock out of the advice columnist park.” Well check the link if you want my sources, because this is 100% verbatim. So here goes. From “Dear Abby’s” column on July 7th (it’s the third one down, fact-checkers):
Am I crazy? I was raised to believe you address a person by name, say “thank you” if someone does something nice, and compliment a person if he or she has done well. Can you help me understand why he behaves this way? — I HAVE A NAME
DEAR I HAVE A NAME: Wow. I need a glass of water after reading that. You can’t tell since I’m typing this, but I just spit out a big swig of water in surprise after my second reading of your letter. Dammit, now there’s water all over my carpet. And nothing gets water out! Maybe if I rub some grape juice and dirt on it (advice columnist home remedy!).
Anyway, that is one dilly of a pickle you’re in, “I have a name.” Not to add to your grief, but you sort of missed an opportunity to potentially solve your problem if you actually signed your letter with your real name. I know part of the fun of writing into “Dear Abby” is coming up with clever pseudonyms, but in this case I think signing your actual name would be justified. That way you could give your husband a subtle little reminder of the name of his wife of 17 years by, say, stapling the column to his forehead while he’s asleep. Or maybe even taking a page out of The Shining and write “My name is X” all over your bedroom walls for him to wake up to. But sadly it looks like the name train has passed by identity station, so we’ll just have to take another approach. I do feel bad that you have to go through life namelessly though, so if it’s OK with you, I’’m going to refer to you as Mulva throughout this letter. Another option is Jane Doe, but I don’t want you to feel like a cadaver on Law & Order.
So let’s get cracking on how to work through this problem, Mulva. First and foremost, before I can prescribe my uncaged wisdom on how to get your husband of 17 years to acknowledge your first name, I need to delve into the possible causes of this. That way I can tell whether he can’t or won’t say your name. After all, proper treatment requires a proper understanding of the causes of the problem. See, advice columnists are a lot like doctors–doctors of the soul, if I may. Except on the plus side we have far less student loans and don’t have to respond to a medical review board. Though on the down side, our credentials don’t give us free reign to see people naked.
I can think of a few possible reasons for why your husband can’t or won’t say your name, Mulva. First, is your name one of the following: 1) Beetlejuice, 2) Voldemort, or 3) Yahweh? If it’s Beetlejuice, he may have already said it twice–I’m guessing first when he asked you out, second when you got married–and now he’s stuck because your parents may not told you this key piece of info about your name, but one more “Beetlejuice” out of your hubby’s mouth and it’s off to the netherworld you go! If it’s Voldemort, well let’s just say I get chills even typing the name of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And if your name is Yahweh, well that’s just straight-up unpronounceable to us mortals. Not to mention that’s pretty blasphemous of your parents to even name you that. How did they even fill out the birth certificate anyway? Is it written in Amharic on one of the Dead Sea scrolls? Anyway, if your name is any of these three I’d give your husband a break since he pretty much can’t say your name in the first place.
Now that we’ve gone through the name games, the second reason for your husband’s inability say your name could be gender-related. Not to beat a dead horse into glue, but I’ve written in other posts about how males tend to not be that great with details. Stuff like birthdays, anniversaries, safety words, etc, we just tend to forget that type of stuff. So perhaps a gentle reminder is in order. You might consider investing in some custom-made his-and-hers towels (in your case, Mulva and Mr. Mulva), wearing a name tag around the house for a few days, or maybe even highlighting your name in your marriage certificate and wearing that around your neck like a tricked out, Flava-Flav type pendant. Or if none of that works, you can just go ahead and change your name to whatever he thinks it is. From your letter I guess that would make you “hey” or “ummm,” but at least your name wouldn’t rhyme with a part of the female anatomy anymore.
The third reason has nothing to do with names or genders, but does involve your husband’s physical state. Let me ask you this: did you happen to get married late one night in Vegas, perhaps after having a few dozen too many cocktails? Has your husband been on a bender for pretty much the entire 17-year period of your marriage? In that case, this informational video may sum up your current predicament:
In case you didn’t catch it due to the funny accent, the boy at the end says “good morning, Dad”
If that video strikes a chord with you then the answer isn’t quite as simple as changing or advertising your name. You can either confront Mr. Mulva with this information, ask him if he’s made a huge mistake and wants out. Or you can just head back to Vegas, reenact your romantic “first date” and just hope his liver has another 17 years of abuse left in it. Bit of a grim but important side note: if you opt for the latter you may want to make arrangements for your tombstone beforehand in the unlikely event he somehow outlives you.
Last, there’s one other possible explanation that your husband of 17 years does not call you by your name. It’s simply this: he’s a total dick. I don’t often do this, but I’m actually going to quote my rival–shoot, I totally forget her name–I feel like it was either “Crindy” or “Saul Zinsman.” Either way, whats-her-name is said: “Did your husband treat you this way before you married him? If so, you married an undemonstrative lump of a man [sic]* who apparently never learned basic manners while growing up.”
Now here’s where I’m going to depart from Dear Crindy a bit. She says that your gross lump-man never learned basic manners. In your letter you echoed this and said you were “raised to believe you address a person by name, say thank you if someone does something nice, and compliment a person if he or she has done well.” This may just be me, but I don’t think using the gift of language to address the woman you’ve vowed to spend your life with by her first name falls under the category of “manners.” If he didn’t do stuff like hold the door for you, lend you his coat when you were cold, or challenge foppish Englishmen in powdered wigs to duels to defend your honor, that’s a failure of manners. But not calling you by your name for 17 years? Yeah, that’s just being a dick.
So with all that said, let’s get to some advice. I gave you the options for how to deal with Mr. Mulva in the first three possible scenarios, so let’s focus here on number four: your husband’s dickishness.
Clearly the best response to this would be confront him head on, ask him why in the name of Yahweh he hasn’t said your first name for almost two decades, and threaten to kick him out of the house unless he pulls his head out of his ass and audibly says your name 17 times a day for the next 17 years as penance. But I feel like the fact that you’re only just writing in as you approach the “one score” anniversary of your marriage means you’re not the confrontational type. So here’s a couple of alternatives.
First, turn the tables on him. Stop calling him by his name and see how he likes it! Maybe even start using some embarrassing or vaguely offensive “pet names” when you’re in public together, like “My Incontinent Sweetness” or “Half Mast”. That or you can just call him Dick. Though if that actually is his real name just go for “Big Poppa Smurf.” I don’t know why but guys really hate that.
Second, if you have the resources, hook him up to one of those Clockwork Orange-type machines, blast Destiny’s Child “Say My Name”, and have your name flash across the screen for his unblinking eye to focus on through the duration of his reprogramming. Just be sure to keep him away from any radio or TV stations that might play a Beyonce song for, say, the rest of his waking life. Or even classical stations lest he be subjected to Beethoven’s 9th (just to be on the safe side).
Finally, some general wisdom to you and your husband for the future of your relationship. The key to any healthy marriage is communication. If you’re upset about something–he leaves the toilet seat up, he goes out with the guys too much, he hasn’t said your name in over a decade–tell him that! You can’t be passive-aggressive, drop subtle hints or signals, and expect him to pick up on it. You need to sit him down, tell him exactly what’s on your mind, and what you’re feeling. And when you do so, I’d advise you to talk exclusively in the third person.
You’re welcome, Mulva.
*There’s actually nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence. It just pisses me off when I see [sic] in quotes and I can’t figure out why.