March 9, 2005

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VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment, by Neil Chethik (Simon & Schuster, 2006, 260 pages)

Ah, poor men.

Women have so many outlets to talk about the ins and outs of marriage. The world is oh so understanding of their fear and confusion and questions about the odd state of matrimony. Men on the other hand have no place to turn, no voice of reason with whom they can discuss their uncertainty about life as a newlywed, their stress during childrearing, their feelings about being empty-nesters. Thank goodness VoiceMale has come along to discuss with men from all walks of life their feelings about marriage.

Neil Chethik, author of this survey of married men and what they’re thinking, makes this woe-is-men argument throughout VoiceMale. He makes it so convincingly you almost forget that it is complete hooey. Sure, there are lots of books on motherhood and there’s Oprah for the Talmudic study of self-esteem but look for advice on marriage and you’ll find yourself looking at a lot of books about how Christ’s love can help you be a better wife. For those desiring non-religious advice on marriage, the pickings are fairly slim (in fact, Peter Post’s Essential Manners for Couples is the only truly sensible book I’ve seen on the subject). Perhaps Chethik confused the army of pink-covered monstrosities about dating and finding a husband with books on the actual subject of marriage.

The truth is that almost nobody gets to talk about marriage — how it’s weird, how it presents problems you don’t immediately know how to deal with. And all that non-talking seems to be the gist of VoiceMale. Marriages seem to go wrong when one half of the couple has a problem that he either can’t communicate to the other or communicates via indirect, destructive ways — like having an affair or spending all his time at work, the book says. Men talk — to Chethik — about being cheesed about sex and the frequency of it, about finances, about children (when to have them, how to parent them). And they talk about not talking to their wives. The book offers dozens of examples of that one truism — that everything gets worse when the couple doesn’t communicate about something (or when the man doesn’t respond to the woman’s attempts to communicating, a problem most often of couples married in their young twenties). Not an earth-shattering discovery but one that could probably bear repeating. That men won’t pour forth their emotions is another frequently mentioned facet of how men “do” marriage (talking is a girl thing; doing is a guy thing, so says Chethik). He seems to encourage, without directly prescribing, straightforward unemotional recitation of the facts of a problem in order to see it through.

What’s missing from VoiceMale is much more in the way of advice than “talk about it” or more in the way of insight than “men won’t talk about it.” Most of the book is taken up with quotes from men interviewed and a lot of it is of the “some men say this while other men say the opposite” variety. This has you leaving a chapter with a feeling that you just got a whole lot of raw data and no actual point. VoiceMale offers interesting tidbits but, like an incomplete school report, still needs someone to pull some findings out of all the research. C+

—Amy Diaz