You know how everyone has those expressions which set their teeth on edge? For some people it’s ‘girl boss’ (just boss will do, thank you), for others its ‘adulting’ (getting to work on time is not a big achievement, guys). For me, it’s ‘wife material’. Which is why during a recent episode of Love Island I very nearly threw my gin and tonic at the TV.
In case you’re not watching, this week contestant Megan had her ‘wife potential’ called into question. Her crime? Struggling to ‘mother’ the (frankly terrifying) plastic doll she was tasked with looking after with her onscreen boyfriend Wes.
It doesn’t matter that she’s only 24 years old and was trying to co-parent an animatronic piece of plastic with a guy she’s known less than three months. Apparently because she can’t devote herself to looking after the doll her onscreen boyfriend Wes began to question her potential as ‘wife material. Which is extra disappointing because up until this point Wes seemed pretty decent.
Firstly, let’s be clear: being a wife and being a mother are not mutually inclusive. Getting married does not mean wanting children, and wanting children doesn’t mean being able to have them. Millions of marriages flourish while being childfree, and the suggestion that being good with kids is a defining factor in a woman’s worthiness as a partner is a slap in the face to married women without children.
Back in the late 1990’s, Sex and the City tackled the idea of husband or wife material, taking down the idea that certain characteristics make you more or less suitable for ring-wearing. They asked whether there was anything to be gained by acting docile and domesticated to score a man. Some of the contestants on Love Island were literal toddlers when that episode came out. And yet we’re still having the same conversation.
The problem with the expression ‘wife material’ is that it strips away the idea that we choose to date and marry people on the basis of their specific characteristics and instead we follow a blueprint for what is ‘right’ in a woman. And despite the fact that it’s 2018, ‘right’ still seems to mean conventionally beautiful, good with children, domestically skilled and unambitious.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with valuing traditional skills. If you’re wonderful with kids or you can work a steam iron, more power to you. But they don’t make you any more or any less appropriate ‘wife material’ because being a wife is no longer a job title. Stay-at-home mum is a brilliant, important, worthy job. But it’s just one of the millions of ways to be a wife.
A quick Google for the words ‘wife material’ will bring up hundreds of articles, most of which explain how to persuade a man that you are ‘wife material’ so that he’ll put a ring on it. The advice? to make yourself as much like a virgin who recently left Swiss finishing school as possible.
Wife material, according to the internet, means giving blow jobs, doing housework and never complaining. Wives will wear sexy underwear but act like they’re a little embarrassed about it, and will never say no to sex but also never initiate it. Wives do housework and cooking but don’t moan.
Only, the thing is I’m a wife, and I have to say I can’t remember the last time I put a load of laundry on and I’ve certainly never attempted to use oral sex as a bribe. So I can say with some authority that it is perfectly possible to find someone to spend the rest of your life with if you’re not a Stepford Bride.
When I got married (last year, aged 26) it wasn’t because I’d convinced my husband that I filled certain tick boxes based on sexist and outdated ideals. I’m more likely to drink too much Rose at his work party and sneak canapes into my handbag than I am to charm his boss to help develop his career.
For my husband, I am wife material (as in, someone he wanted to marry) for a whole host of reasons, including because I’m great at darts. Because I know which McDonalds within a 3 mile radius of our house is open at 3AM and because watching University Challenge with a glass of wine is my ideal night.
Anyone who wants to create a sort of marital UCAS form to assess how you would perform as a wife is not going to be fun to live with. It should go without saying, but whether or not you’re ‘wife material’ should be based around how happy you make each other, how well you can navigate difficult situations together and whether or not you’re in love. If ‘wife material’ exists, it’s about the potential for longevity, depth of connection and how well suited you are for building a life (with or without children) together.
Marriage is a great way to solidify your relationship, can have some tax benefits (which I still haven’t worked out…) and is a great excuse for a party. But it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal in your life. And if you’re having to change your personality to persuade your partner to see you as ‘wife material’, then doesn't that tell you everything you need to know