My husband has a lot of wonderful qualities: he’s caring, he’s thoughtful, he’s generous, he has good taste in jewelry. But he also has some, uh, not so great qualities, as well: his taste in music, his habit of putting his dirty clothes on the floor next to the hamper, his picky palate. But perhaps his worst quality – or, at least, the quality of his that offends me the most – is his mouth.
I grew up on the east coast, outside of conservative, proper, Philadelphia. In my house, we did not swear. To this day, I have not heard my mother utter a profanity. When I was sixteen, my father accidentally said the f-word, and I almost went into anaphylactic shock. Of course, when I was a teenager, I swore all the time around my friends. But in front of my parents, or my friends’ parents, or teachers, or coaches, or pretty much any adult or authority figure - never. And even today, swearing is something I do only around people I know well, and who know me well. I would never swear in front of someone I’ve just met, or in front of anyone over the age of fifty. I’m not saying its right or wrong; it’s just how I was raised.
My husband, on the other hand, grew up in Los Angeles, in a family that was, shall we say, slightly less uptight than my own. My husband regularly swears in front of his mother, and she in front of him. His sister uses words that would make a truck driver blush. But for them, swear words are like any other words – they’re just a part of the English language, everybody’s heard them before, and so there’s no reason to treat them differently from any other words. Again, it’s not right or wrong, it’s just how they are. Which is all fine and good, until someone like me and someone like him get married and have children, and encounter all kinds of strangers and people over the age of fifty.
Thankfully, my husband does see the wisdom in not swearing around our kids. Because while a four year-old saying f--- might arguably, in some circumstances, be cute, getting an angry phone call from the parents of your four year-old’s friend is not. But that’s pretty much where the logic ends. Because the minute we’re in any kind of adult company, the f-bombs start flying. And I’m not just talking about adults who we’re friends with. I’m talking about any adults. Salespeople. Waitresses. Rabbis. School principals. Just last week, we were at my son’s parent-teacher conference, and my husband said something along the lines of, as long as he [my son] is not a total f--- up, we’re fine. Conservative, uptight, east coast me almost died. What?, my husband asked, after I swatted him on the arm. You think they’ve never heard the word f--- before? We left, me bright red and wanting to crawl under a table; him, shaking his head and rolling his eyes at me; the teachers, laughing and telling us that we’re funny. Great, I thought. It’s the Michael and Risa Comedy Hour. Bring out the dancing animals.
But how to resolve such a difference of opinion? We’ve discussed it many times, but the conversation always ends the same way. I tell him to please try to watch his mouth around people we don’t know, and he tells me that if anyone he talks to is offended by the f-word, they’re probably not someone he’d want to be friends with anyway, so who cares. Which is a valid point, but still, I can’t help being mortified. I mean, I love it that my husband is comfortable enough with himself to be himself with all people equally, but at the same time, I do think a filter is appropriate. It’s not that I care so much what people think, it’s just that…well, yeah, I guess I do care what people think. Because while he might not mind if people think he’s a vulgar, disrespectful man, I mind if people judge me for being married to a vulgar, disrespectful man. But given that, sometimes I wonder, who’s the better person here? Me for being respectful yet shallow, or him for being inappropriate yet totally genuine?
I think this is one of those chicken and egg problems, or, more aptly, one of those you put your peanut butter in my chocolate, no you put your chocolate in my peanut butter problems. Like I said before, I don’t think that either of us is necessarily right or wrong. But what are we going to teach our kids when they’re old enough to understand? I’m totally debasing and perverting Hamlet here, but really, to say f---, or not to say f---? That is the question. At least, it is when your husband has a mouth on him like mine does.