When I bought my house, the first thing to go was the refrigerator. I’d gotten the home warranty, so the warranty company sent out this appliance repair guy. His name was Javier. It was his company – Javier’s Appliance Repair.
So, Javier arrives at my house on a sunny afternoon in July. He’s an older man, in his late fifties. At some point during the repair job, I end up sitting at the kitchen table to watch him work, and we begin to talk.
He asks me where my husband is. It doesn’t occur to me to be insulted. I’m used to this question.
“Where is your husband?”
“How can you not have a boyfriend?”
“How is it you aren’t attached?”
I have a standard comeback I use when this question comes up. I always tell them that there’s no husband, boyfriend, or significant other and that “I’m just lucky I guess.”
But with Javier, I sense my usual reply won’t go over in the spirit in which it’s intended, so I just shrug and say, “I don’t have a husband.” Then I smile to show him that I’m okay with that and that it’s okay that he asked.
Javier tells me, “I counsel couples at my church. Couples who are having problems.”
“Really?” I ask, being polite but not really caring.
“Do you know what women are most afraid of when it comes to relationships?”
I sense that this is a rhetorical question and shake my head.
“Women are most afraid of being tricked.”
I think about this for a minute before I respond. He’s heaving my refrigerator door back in place to attach the hinges, and for a moment there’s only the sound of scraping and of him struggling to hold the door in place while he screws in the bolts.
“Do you need help with that?” I ask.
“No, I’ve got it,” he tells me. And I can see that he does.
“I think you may be right,” I say.
He nods, grunts and shifts to screw in another bolt. “I know I’m right. I see it time and time again. And this is what causes the most trouble.”
I’m suddenly a little put out for all women.
“See?” he asks, swinging the door back and forth to test it. “See what you’re doing right there?”
“You’re starting to get angry, and you’re thinking about all the ways I could be wrong.”
I let out a little chuckle and then tell him, “You’re right.”
He’s got the door back on and his tools together and comes to sit down across from me at the table to write up the invoice.
“Well, I’m not wrong. It causes the problem. A woman’s natural instinct is to take care of things. It’s not that they’re incapable of doing it all. They are. But women just need to trust their man. When women start to get scared and try to take control, try to change their man and get him to be different from who he knows himself to be, the man starts to detach, he starts to run away. He’ll go around with other women. He’ll stay out late with the boys. Oh, he may stay for a while longer, but unless you let him be who he is, take care of things in his way, in his time, the relationship will never be a happy one.”
I watch him finish up his calculations on the invoice with a flourish, and I say nothing.
He goes on, “When a woman tries to be the man in a relationship, make all the decisions, fix everything that’s broken, it’s a power shift.”
“Why? Why is that a problem?” I ask. “I mean if a woman can do everything, like you said, why can’t she just take care of things?”
“Because there can only be one man in a relationship. You have to trust the man to be the man. Once you, – and by you, I mean women – give up this fear of being tricked and just trust, no more problems. Everyone knows their role and acts accordingly.”
I thought about what Javier told me for days after he left. It really did get to me. I don’t know if it was his culture or age that made him look at things that way. It’s not something I’d ever been taught. Well, not directly. Thinking back at the deference my mother always showed my father and the fact that they’ve been together for so long, I guess it makes sense.
I just never looked at it that way before.
Since then, I’ve watched couples come together and separate. I’ve watched them fight and make up. I’ve listened to their stories. I’ve sat with them, both sexes, while they cried or vented or just couldn’t understand why it didn’t work.
I know why. Javier told me. And he was right. Nine times out of ten, those relationships failed because of a power shift, real or imagined. But I don’t think I could explain it to them in a way that would make a difference or even make sense.
Javier’s company magnet is on my refrigerator door, and three years later, I still think about our conversation every time it catches my eye.