Frankly, Im not the surrendering type. I argue over small insignificancies like a terrier worries small rodents, attacking them with sharp teeth and shaking them till theyre dead. I hoard grudges so long that if they were green Shield stamps Id have enough for a wall of Smeg appliances and a pair of kitchen steps to reach the really high-minded grievances that other grumblers just cant reach. I remember slights with litigious zeal and can criticise in 3D - indeed I even get paid for it. However, though a bad-tempered bitch, I am certainly not a member of the SAS wife division. In marriage, when the going gets tough, I usually go to bed with two Paracetamol and sulk.
So getting in touch with my compliant, soft, sensitive side for a week as a surrendered wife shouldnt be too difficult, I thought. But when I discovered that I had to surrender, not only myself, but my debit card, cheque book and all four credit cards I thought maybe I should call myself Madame Submissive and put a card in a telephone box first. According to Laura Doyles step-by-step guide to finding intimacy, passion and peace with a man I had to forgo any responsibility for the family finances, pay my money into a joint bank account and let my husband give me back pocket money, preferably in cash, for my little girlie indulgences such as pedicures and manicures. Furthermore, I also had to make myself available for sex whenever required. Sounds like prostitution to me - with the added handicap of keeping house and holding down a day job at the same time.
But fine, I dutifully pressed a wad of the bills Im usually responsible for, my Royal Flush of visa cards, and two untotalled check books into husbands hands telling him that from now on I thought he should do my dosh and Id just take an allowance. Are you off your head? he asked suspiciously?
No, I just cant manage it any more, I protested, following another of Ms Doyles rules. She insists that you have to disenfranchise yourself from perfectly normal activities by being helpless and to practice saying I cant. Another is to say: whatever you think, when he makes a suggestion you would normally disagree with. Actually, Ive been saying similar phrases for years but I call it passive aggression.
Him: Can you program the video?
Me: No I cant. (looking at it blankly though Ive memorised the manual). Translation: weve had it ten years, program it yourself.
Him: Do we have milk. Translation - will you get some?
Me: I dont know. Translation - not unless were suddenly keeping Fressians.
Him: Shall we call my mother? translation - will you ring her?
Me: Whatever you think. Translation - my dialing finger is broken.
But money-wise, husband was suspicious. I dont want your wages, he stammered, equally worried that I might then want his. I did as Ms Doyle suggested and left my check book and cards lying around the house, but he just kept putting them in my drawers - the study ones, you understand, not the lap dancing g-string, whilst urging me to take better care of my cash.
But if being a surrendered wife really means turning over your hard earned salary to your husband in return for pre-arranged pocket money, then I must have been one of the original white flag wavers. My first husband and I lived on my wages and saved his for a deposit on a house. There was no sacrifice I was not prepared to make for a Barrett home where personality was expressed in gloss paint and upholstery trim. So far so gormless. The arrangement worked as long as my husband did, but when he tired of employment and I found myself supporting him with no money of my own and no savings, I decided I could live without an avocado bathroom suite and fully fitted carpets. Of course, he might tell you that I ran off with an American medical student, but in the real world, when you surrender, someone is liable to take you prisoner and then your natural urge is to escape. The truth is I didnt leave him for love, I left him for money. Mine.
Second time around, Ive done a long apprenticeship as a stay-at-home non-earning mother of four, and relied on my present husband for every penny I spent. never have I felt less of a person and more like a self-cleaning, domestic appliance with very low running costs. Intimacy with your partner is certainly desirable, but I came to realise there are some things - flossing, plucking, clipping and spending, that you just dont need to share.
Sex, however, I admit does necessitate a degree of give and take. But Ms Doyle has her views on that too. Seduce your man, she says, but do not initiate sex. Be soft, tender vulnerable and receptive, which suddenly sounds suspiciously close to needy - not one of my husbands top ten turn ons. Seduction amongst most of my married friends is not a particularly onerous task. If they dont want sex, they just dont catch his eye at bedtime, or smile at him after the watershed. Furthermore, life in La La land may be different from Ladbroke Grove, but most married women with young children, as far as I can ascertain from a quick meeting of the West London Wives fight club, dont actually have sex. They have facials, exfoliation and gym memberships and they call it pampering. But you can have lots of that as a surrendered wife. You are encouraged to go around saying I want whenever you covet something. I began saying I really want a pair of Burmese kittens, to which he readily agreed. But this was a Pyrrhic victory as with four kids - do I look like a woman who needs more helpless creatures to care for? I tried again for again for a Harley Davidson but the cats had had worn out his generosity.
But according to Ms Doyle, the surrendered wife should be ready to receive gifts as her reward for being a good little supplicant wife - and these must be accepted graciously. I confess, gift receiving is not my good point. I collect store receipts like children collect Pokemon cards. Though this Christmas when he gave me a necklace, I decided to keep it. Id already returned it last year, and he had just bought the same one again.
Still, with a mission to seduce, I dutifully made myself appealing and sweet-smelling. I lit candles. The kids extinguished them. I followed Ms Doyles advice and paid husband copious compliments on his undershirt and boxer shorts. Hour our timetables coincided I might have been more successful. He works until seven and I usually go out at eight so the window of opportunity is more of a peephole than a plate glass. Alternatively, I might have disguised myself as Frasier or Jerry Seinfeld and told him gags. I think his heart really belongs to the Paramount Comedy Channel.
But hardest of all was biting my tongue. As I mentioned earlier, I can be difficult, but in marriage I am the most reasonable of women. I never nag, berate, correct, or disrespect my husband. What can Ms Doyle's checklist for intimacy possibly teach me? On day one, I found myself listening into a telephone conversation (Do you eavesdrop on your husbands conversations?), then asked him why he was giving his assistant a day off but couldnt take a break himself (Do you think everything would be fine if only your husband would do what you tell him to do?). I then told him how he really should be running his office (Do you hear yourself say I told my husband?). I offered to drive him instead of letting him go to the office by cab (do you do things for your husband that he is capable of doing for himself?), after which I fumed for hours as I lost my mornings work sitting in a traffic jam (Do you feel resentful? Do you feel exhausted?).
What me control my husband? By the end of the week I had swallowed so many words I could have written a novel in bile. Worse, you are supposed to apologise whenever you disrespect your husband - and I thought love meant never having to say sorry? I whined as I appended every forbidden statement with lengthy and uncharacteristic apologies, to which his reply was invariably; are you feeling all right?
Of course, it makes sense. Just as you dont always have to pass comment on your girlfriends lack of moral fibre, fat thighs or bad hair day, why should you dictate to the person you love best in the world? Honesty is often overrated and we would all do better to shut up occasionally. Though being polite surely has more to do with good manners than surrendering.
However, for all Ms Doyles words of wisdom there is something she knows nothing about - family life. No one can deny that the arrival of children in a relationship entails more negotiation between parents than the Arab-Israeli peace process, with marginally less acrimony. Who decides what, who does what, and when, who pays for it, and who baby-sits. Let your husband be the childrens father, she urges. Make a point of referring your children to your husband for permission or help - yeah - like your opinion doesnt count. Now my husband is a great father. He is also a pushover. Thus, with his permission, we spent the weekend with four extra children in the house who never slept, two of whom spent the evening trading mild obscenities in a chat room with their school classmates, while another killed people for seven solid hours on his PC. The kitchen looked like Bosnia, complete with camp set up underneath the table and they had chip-shop chips for lunch with tomato ketchup being their only source of vitamin C.
Did I yell? Did I screech. Did I sound like the nagging mother our sons dont want to be reminded of when they grow up and marry? You bet your sweet wife I did. However, it occurs to me that if parents raised their kids better, perhaps the poor wife wouldnt have to nag them later?
So I shut my pouting Im available for sex mouth. and said I want like a spoilt little Princess and I cant with the tremulous uncertainty of a blind tightrope walker. I tried asking helplessly for a big strong man to come and help me do things I was perfectly able to do myself given that, in Maribou mules, Im taller than my husband, and a big enough girl to wear his trousers. I flounced around in a negligee wearing lipstick at 9am, and prayed, dear God, that 1957 would soon be over. Being Lucille Ball in a pinnie isnt quite as funny, or black and white, as it is with Desi Arnez.
At the end of the week I asked my husband if he realised Id been surrendering. I cant say I noticed, he replied holding his laptop upside down.
Dyou know - this bloody thing isnt working, he said. Can you fix it - I dont know whats wrong with it?
Well you might try plugging it in, I said sharply, and not without sarcasm. Hey, welcome back to the 21st century. Were not in Kansas any more, Toto.