Desperate husbands

When the darkly comic American hit 'Desperate Housewives' aired this week, it wasn't just women who squirmed in recognition. Here, five husbands reveal how their lives bear an uncanny resemblance to the neurotic, harassed, sex-starved wives of Wisteria Lane
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The Independent Online

Dan Crowe, 32, is editor of Zembla, a literary magazine. He lives in London with his wife Lauren and their twins

The twins, our first children, arrived in October. My wife Lauren used to be fashion editor at Time magazine. Now she's changing nappies in Shepherd's Bush. I run my own business publishing a magazine and now I am the only breadwinner. I'm kind of in denial about having to support her and two children. The pressure is horrific.

I might work all day every day but I'm still a very hands-on parent. I never get any time to myself. When I go to bed after dealing with the babies and doing housework, all I do is just lie there waiting for them to start crying. I never get a proper night's sleep which is fairly daunting since I realise it's going to be like that for two years.

I can't believe that people don't talk about how difficult having twins is. When you get one fed, or washed, or to bed, the other automatically picks this up on its special radar and starts going crazy. Then you have to deal with that. The incredible thing is when one kid is going crazy, the other one shuts up and listens and when that one stops crying, the other one picks up on the radar that there's a free space for them to start going mad again.

It's a mixture of feeling elated and exhausted. I feel frustrated in that there is never enough time - one task collapses into another task. You never resolve anything. It's like one long unresolved panic. It seems astonishing that I have kids at all. I still feel like a child. It doesn't make any sense that I'm a dad. It just seems extraordinary that life would give me this kind of responsibility. When you're giving a bottle to one of your children at 4.15 in the morning, it's pretty amazing, but I do wonder how the hell I'm going get through this. There just doesn't seem enough time to wash my clothes, never mind finish the editor's letter.

Martin Plimmer, 52, is an author and broadcaster who lives with his wife and three children in London

Men fall in love and expect everything to be fantastic. You win your woman and expect that from then on you'll be floating on a cloud of happiness. A man would be quite happy to stand in the pouring rain if needs be just gazing at his woman in adoration. But almost immediately she starts acquiring things, and this is a pattern that your whole life together will follow. She wants children and houses and many, many more things that he can't see the need for. It's not just a question of one house. You buy a lovely house and almost immediately she is thinking about the next house you need to get. Maybe it's because women are biological containers - they carry children in their bodies.

I can't buy petrol on the motorway without my wife going in and buying other things. She has to come out with a carrier bag full of bottles of water - things men wouldn't even consider buying in a million years. I do the food shopping only when it's absolutely necessary, when everything in the house has gone bad, whereas my wife has to go once a week on the dot otherwise she gets distressed.

I think it's significant that when men and women separate, it's often the women who end up with the children, the house and the car while their ex-husbands have to go and live in a bedsit on the Archway Road. Men aren't prepared to fight to the death for those things, whereas women are. If ever I split up from my wife I'd just give her everything immediately and run away.

I have never asked for any of the things that I have at the moment. I can't ever remember wanting them, apart from wanting to be in love and to have a woman. I never even really wanted children. I don't think many men do. Once you've got them you can't do without them, of course. I thought I'd like a place to live but I didn't have a vision like my wife has. You sometimes wonder whether it keeps us from other more romantic, more adventurous causes, like travelling the world and discovering new things and devoting your life to one idea.

As a young man I thought of myself an unfettered free spirit, like Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man, mobile and independent, answerable to nobody. Then along came love, three children and a house of burgeoning things. The ramblin' man still tugs poignantly at my sleeve and has kidnapped me on occasion when drunk, though I know now that without this love or these children I'd be lost. I've even grown accustomed to the house.

Olly Smith, 30, is a voiceover artist. He is married to Sophie and they live in Lewes, East Sussex, with their dog

I work at home and my domain is constantly being reordered. The problem is "the hand". It has become an entity in its own right. Whenever I come into the house and put anything down - whether it's a newspaper, a bunch of keys, the dog, my notebook - within 30 seconds it has been moved. I'm not the most tidy guy, I admit, but I know exactly where everything is. The hand will move things; not to be tidy or to put them into any particular order, but to put them into another pile. This other pile will have no obvious theme. This means that I can never find anything, ever. Things are in constant motion, orbiting me. I reach for the apple, it's gone. The hand also moves the car. I have to go outside and look for it.

My wife, Sophie, is aware of the hand. She acknowledges the hand, she even admits responsibility for the hand, but she still defends the hand as being superior. It has a master plan. It's an entity that's trying to control everything around me. I was trying to catch a spider the other day, but couldn't find my A4 pad. The hand had put it in the spare room, naturally.

I spent the Christmas holidays with my in-laws in Ireland. When we were getting ready to leave, I left my passport on top of my pile of clothes to be packed. The hand came and very generously folded my clothes, but also lost my passport. Fortunately, I had a driving licence and was able to fly back. The passport has, of course, been found in the room in Ireland, but the hand denied all knowledge.

If I can't find something, I will call Sophie at work, but I can't get through because she's too busy having meetings and her mobile is always switched off. So if I need to know where the satsumas went, then frankly I'm going to be crawling through a desert of satsumas for the rest of the day. Eventually, I'll start sending her e-mails - Where's the key? Where's the dog? I can feel my blood boiling as I talk about it.

Iain Cummings is 46 and works for a multi-media software company. He lives in Leeds with his wife and two daughters

When I met Sue at university, I was the one who always wanted to stay up all night and she would always want to go home early. But now the situation has reversed. I'm the one who's looking at my watch mumbling: "It's 11pm. I'd better go home." I don't think I've become a boring old fart, but I've definitely slowed down. On the other hand, Sue, who is a nurse, is the head of the social committee at work. She's often out with friends and not back until 4am or 5am. As she is exploding socially, I seem to be contracting. I used to love going out and getting drunk, but now it doesn't appeal to me.

Sue started going out more about six years ago when we were having marital problems (thankfully, they've all been resolved now). Our problems started when I had the mid-life crisis of 10 men: to be honest I went a bit mad, had an affair and left the family house for a year. I think Sue got used to me not being around. She made sure she went out a lot and got into new social habits. And they've stuck.

Our marital problems affected me in a different way. I got all that stuff about the grass being greener off my chest. Those illusions have disappeared. I'm more content. I like to stay at home. It's not that I'm standing around with a rolling pin wondering when she'll be home. She always texts me to let me know when she'll be back. And she's content as well. Touch wood, our relationship is fantastic again.

It's very hard to be married for a long time. We've been together for 23 years now. Initially, you don't analyse the relationship. For the first 10 years, we didn't scrutinise our relationship at all, even though there were structural problems. And then when I had my mid-life crisis, those problems were addressed. I'm not saying that you have to go through these crises to make your relationship happier, but in the long run it helped us. What it all boils down to is that both men and women need time to themselves.

Dean Cavanagh, 38, is a screenwriter. He lives in Cottingley, West Yorkshire, with his wife and five children

I have a great marriage and so I shouldn't worry. But I'm a total pessimist, so I'm always thinking about the worst-case scenario, which would be getting divorced. I worry that I would then end up losing my children as well. Nowadays, when you get into an argument with your wife, she can always turn round and say: "Well, the law's on my side." I have five kids. Three are my own and two are my wife's sister's children: she died a few years ago. If you love your kids, as I do, you really worry that, if something goes wrong in your relationship, you will lose everything - your kids, your house, everything you love. It makes me feel powerless. Like a bit of a eunuch.

Men have much less margin for error these days. You've got to be on your best behaviour all the time. Of course, you have to tone your lifestyle down when you become a father. But I would like to go out on benders more often and to be able to see my rowdier mates. I travel a lot on business and it's always in the back of my mind that my wife might suspect me of cheating while I'm away. She might be imagining me in glamorous parties with beautiful women. Of course, the reality is that I'm sitting in offices talking to suits all day, but that doesn't stop me getting a guilty pang thinking of my wife at home.

Men also know that, even if their marriage breaks down because of their wife's behaviour, even if it's not their fault at all, if they don't respond in the right way, they could still lose everything.

As told to Clare Rudebeck and Julia Stuart

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