But if money and space were no object, would I like to be surprised with a Peloton for Christmas? Sure I would. But I seem to be guilty of false consciousness, because social media has already decided that the only possible reason a husband buys his wife an exercise bike is to guilt her into losing weight.
This episode was, of course, just one more example of Twitter’s toxic culture. But it was also an example of ageism. For the young and fit, exercising to get “healthy” tends to be a code word for getting buff and beach ready. But as middle age creeps up, you actually need to exercise to maintain a minimal acceptable level of health. Unfortunately, this happens right at the point of maximal family and work obligations — which is why that ad, like many Peloton ads, features no sweat-drenched biceps or bared midriffs, just a busy professional squeezing in a workout while everyone else is asleep. Had critics wondered who the ad was aimed at, and whether the targets might be different from themselves, they could have avoided an unnecessary freak-out.
In a calmer state, they even might have noticed the genuinely problematic implication of that ad, and the Lexus “December to Remember” campaign, and all the other holiday spots built around the idea of hubby wowing his wife with an ultra-lavish gift. I speak, of course, of the suggestion that he has some source of funds to which his wife does not have access — because otherwise, this is a “gift” akin to your sister grabbing your credit card so she can “give” you a washing machine.
That implication should appall the left and right alike. One explanation suggests that the wife is a slightly taller child rather than a fully self-supporting human being who has equal ownership of the family funds. Since she has no authority over the money, she is excited and surprised, rather than anxious, when the family patriarch decides to shower her with extravagance. I don’t have to explain the problems with this demeaning atavism.
An equally plausible, and equally troubling, explanation is that the couple has substantial separate “his” and “hers” bank accounts. Which reduces marriage to an arm’s-length joint venture rather than a commitment so deep that it is metaphysically impossible for one spouse to have access to significantly more resources than the other.
Such a transactional view of marriage is unhealthy for a couple, or a culture. Except in limited circumstances, it’s a bad idea for couples to keep separate bank accounts. Separate accounts don’t necessarily protect you in a divorce, and the arguments over who pays for what can be as draining and hostile as arguments about what to spend your joint funds on. Nor can separate finances fully shield you from your partner’s problems, because if it is possible for you to happily prosper while your spouse is financially drowning, then you don’t have a spouse but a roommate — and by keeping most of your money separate, you are declaring as much, psychologically speaking.
I shouldn’t overlook somewhat kinder explanations — Peloton Husband could have been carefully saving out of the funds he’d normally have spent on little treats for himself. Or perhaps the couple can easily afford the Peloton she’s been longing for, but he knew his selfless wife would never spend that much money on herself without a nudge. It’s not that you can’t defend the financial or marital relationship implied by the ad, but rather that we didn’t even have that conversation. Yet the question of how Americans should think about marriage, and money, is far more important than the debate we did have.
After all, most American husbands know better than to suggest, by word or by gesture, that their wives need to lose weight. But how many of them, or their spouses, have really thought about the larger implications of extreme spousal gifting? And if they haven’t, wouldn’t the holiday season be a perfect time to start?