When’s the last time you saw a woman with a much more attractive husband on TV? Gabby Hutchinson Crouch knows what it’s like to be in a marriage which, according to most media, doesn’t exist.
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I am Barney Rubble.
Not because I live in a Stone Age version of early 1960s suburbia, with mod cons powered by wisecracking dinosaurs. Don’t be silly. I’m Barney Rubble by the terms of the specific definition set out by great philosophical mind of our age, Cher Horowitz from Clueless, namely: an unattractive man, often unaccountably romantically entangled with a beautiful “Betty”.
I’ll be the first to admit that my general aesthetic is short, fat and shabby. I’m often too busy to redo makeup, but rarely too busy to eat. Anything beyond washing, brushing and putting in a bun is considered too much hassle for my hair. My only concessions to beauty (besides a daily application of mascara and lipstick while muttering “right, let’s polish this turd”) are occasionally covering my grey hairs with a shade of red that would only be mistaken for natural if I were an Anime character, and the now Sisyphus-like task of pulling out what is clearly attempting to be a full Brian Blessed beard.
My husband, on the other hand, has hit his late 30s looking stupidly good. I know I’m supposed to find him attractive and everything, but even I think the gap between our objective appearances is getting ridiculous now. We’re not talking creepy 50 Shades of Grey, he’s so beautiful I need to sniff his hairbrush’ stuff. He’s still the same doofus who proposed to me with marigolds on and grew a rubbish beard on honeymoon – but he works out a lot and watches what he eats and it shows. Add to this a very youthful face with hair that, at 37, is still as naturally thick and black as a Tim Burton mood board, and it’s all looking annoyingly pretty. Put us together, and you’ve got The Rubbles, only with a female Barney and a male Betty. Which is confusing, since according to the vast majority of the media, we shouldn’t exist.
Even in the mid ‘90s, the ‘below average bloke with a hot missus’ trope was so overused in popular culture that Clueless was able to skewer it with two names – and not even those of the main characters in The Flintstones. Since then, we’ve barely been able to move for heart-warming fictions about human Michelin Men and stunningly attractive women. (Usually these stories involve people called Seth.)
Even my beloved Parks & Recreation recently had Chris Pratt eat his way out of his superhero figure to get schlubby enough to convincingly play the husband of the gorgeous Aubrey Plaza.
It’s fine, really it is. Every time a fictional ‘3’ bags himself a fictional ‘9’, a cherub gets its wings and we all learn an important lesson about how it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So long as it’s the woman doing the ‘love is blind’ thing.
If you look up ‘Ugly Guy, Hot Wife’ on TV Tropes then, as well as losing a good 12 hours of your life to the intertwined labyrinth of rhetorical devices that is that website, you’ll see a huge list of examples, from media as obvious as animation and advertising, through fairy tales and mythology to pro wrestling and, bizarrely, pinball. Looking up the gender-flipped version gives up a very scanty list. Even with shows like The Vicar of Dibley and Miranda, where the star is female and has a bit of podge, the pretty men are occasional love interests, not a permanent hot husband. If my marriage were a sitcom, it would be ground-breaking. Which is a bit weird, for 2014.
People say things about couples where one partner’s much better looking than the other, usually behind their backs, which is probably why we have yet to hear any comments about how we look together. Where the woman’s more attractive, the murmurs are often that the man must be rich, especially if he’s considerably older, but that cliché doesn’t apply to ladies – an upside to being in the half the population with 1% of the world’s wealth, I suppose.
The one comment which sticks in my mind about a couple where the man’s more attractive is Frankie Boyle on Rebecca Adlington and her partner – that it made one assume she was filthy in bed. This was obviously unacceptable, a needless attack, judging her by her looks instead of her achievements. It was sexist and cheap, like a Yorkie bar.
And yet, like a fistful of inexplicably patriarchal chocolate, I personally will take that ‘filthy in bed’ sentiment, dammit. I hope they DO think that, as I’m waddling along, arm in arm with my Betty of a husband. Who wouldn’t rather swap ‘look at that unkempt fatty’ for ‘look at that unkempt fatty who must be an absolute demon in the sack’? As a slob, I can’t think of anything better than getting credit for being good at something, as a result of actually putting in less effort than somebody else. My husband does all the weightlifting and calorie counting, and I’m the one who gets lauded as a sex goddess? Hell yes.
I am Barney Rubble and all I’ve done to get this way has been to eat a load of cheese.
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.