My husband, Andy, is a handsome, well-put together guy. Sure, there are a few quirks. He favors sweatpants with the bottoms cut off and the fray dragging through the dirt. Then there are his wire glasses (think Anthony Edwards in “Revenge of the Nerds”). Still, I didn’t intend to become one of those I love you, you’re perfect, now change, wives.
But when a single pair of black glasses—black rim, flat across the top, rounded at the bottom, and little retro—worn by People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ came across my radar, the inner fashion witch in me took notice. With one accessory, I could modify Andy’s somewhat nebbishy and unpolished look so that he resembled Johnny Depp.
When people tell Andy he looks a celebrity they’ll point to Robin Williams and Ryan Adams. “Or John Denver,” Andy has said. “I get that a lot.”
John Denver or not, I love Andy. He’s a voracious reader. He dreams of volunteer missions to Africa and Haiti. He’s got gray-blue eyes and chin-length hair I can run my fingers through. And when we first met, Andy accepted me, and my baggage—an ex-husband and a toddler—without much of a flinch. But his glasses? Less-than-desirable.
So I approached him with photos of Depp decked in his antique tortoise shell frames. Andy was an easy sell.
“I like it,” he said. “Find something similar, and I’ll try them on.”
But as I shuffled through Oliver Peoples’ online catalog, I wondered about my makeover. Was I stepping into some prescribed gender role where the woman must “clean up” her unruly husband? Did wanting his look to change mean I was pulling a Frankenstein number on him? And if so, did my desire for him to emulate another man say something tragic about our marriage?
Here’s some full cornball disclosure: I loved Billy Joel’s song “Just The Way You Are” as a child—I always considered it to be the truest confession of love. Though I can cringe hearing the slow rumba of that first line—”don’t go changing, to try and please me”—the message itself is pretty damn good. (Don’t be such a people pleaser! Stay true to yourself! I wish someone sang this manifesto to me in my early 20s when I was starving myself for a stupid boyfriend who got off on Playboy models.)
And now. Here I was, demanding my husband wear glasses for the purpose of resembling another man. Don’t go changing my-double-standard-ass is more like it.
* * *
I called my friend Beth, a therapist in Austin. Not only was she my authority on relationships, but she had been married for 15 years.
She reassured me that I wasn’t a selfish narcissist. (Phew.) I was engaging in fantasy, she said, similar to asking a lover to dress up like a French maid or the pool boy.
“Look, there’s a playfulness in it,” she said. “And Johnny Depp? He’s the epitome of cool. I think it’s great.”
“But Andy never asked me to change,” I said. “He never pined for me to put on a blonde wig like Meryl Streep.”
“Wait. Andy has a crush on Meryl Streep?”
“Meryl Streep in Kramer Vs. Kramer—but that’s not the point.” I pressed Beth to take my question seriously.
“Okay, so here’s the therapy speak,” Beth said. “If you didn’t love him the way he was, then, yes, it would be a problem. Because then that would be a different request. That’s often what happens to people. They’ve lost the attraction, and they don’t have that same charge. But you do. You just want to upgrade the image a little bit.”
Andy and I first met 20 years ago. Spring. Upstate New York. I was visiting my friend at her college. The night lingered at a bar where we met up with Andy and some of his friends. Nothing romantic materialized that night (according to Andy, I had a boyfriend at the time), yet he remained indelible. I remembered his terrible jokes. His smile stretching across his cheeks. His eyes, oceanic and penetrable. Our mutual friend would update me with Andy stories. Andy’s taking an African tribal dance class. Andy moved to San Francisco. Andy’s becoming a teacher.
Then, about five years ago, Andy learned I was divorced and asked our mutual friend for my number.
On the first date he wore ripped cargo shorts, a stretched out t-shirt with holes around the neck and an over-sized blue button down. It didn’t stop us from a marathon five-hour date cruising the blooming Shakespeare Garden in Central Park, wandering through the medieval exhibit at the MET and eating at a sidewalk café. I agreed to a second date before our first date was over. (Andy would like all readers to know that on the second date, he wore a crisp shirt and a new pair of New Balance sneakers. Nice!)
Marriage counselors speak of differentiation—coming together as a couple while maintaining individuality—as a crucial element to a healthy relationship.
Johnny Depp aside, the new glasses had nothing to do with controlling, or dramatically altering who Andy was as an individual. It was possible he grew bored of his wire glasses and my suggestion came at the right time. They were an upgrade, as my friend Beth said. And what’s a marriage without some gentle nudging?
I didn’t want to pressure Andy to visit an eyeglass store; he needed to decide without my influence. But then my mother offered to watch the kids so we could have an afternoon lunch date. And a trip to the eyeglass store.
Inside the store, Andy stood in front of the mirror and swept his hair out of his face. The glasses were fantastic on him. Masculine. Bewitching.
He said something about them being expensive.
I said something about the glasses making him look hot.
Andy handed his credit card to the salesman.
* * *
The next day, Andy came downstairs wearing his new glasses. He was part John Denver. Part Harry Potter. Part Johnny Depp. I was in love with all of them. Did I mention that he was wearing the same frayed sweatpants that he swore he wanted to be buried in?
“Like the glasses, babe?” he said.
“Love ‘em,” I said.
After all, what did the tattered sweats matter? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
You can read more of Hayley’s work on her blog, Femamom