Marriage With Amy Sutherland or Life In The Zoo?

Courtesy of the New York Times, here’s some of the most demeaning marriage advice you’ve ever seen from some devil-shrew named Amy Sutherland:

“I love my husband. He’s well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I’m trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. “What did you say?” he’ll shout.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn’t keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

…Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don’t. After all, you don’t get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

…Once I started thinking this way, I couldn’t stop. At the school in California, I’d be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I’d be thinking, “I can’t wait to try this on Scott.”

…I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, “Try on Scott!”

…After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love.”

Can you imagine being married to this emasculating trench harpy? She talks about her husband like he’s a dolphin or an emu that she has to train to stay out of her way. It’s almost like he’s a dog that she’s toilet training. “Then Scott wet the carpet! I was very annoyed with him and so I rubbed Scott’s nose in it and said, ‘bad boy!'”

You just know that Scott, or as he’ll probably be known around the office after this, Flipper, is going to get ribbed mercilessly when he goes into work today.

Co-Worker #1: “Hey, Scott, I bought this ball for you. Can you balance it on your nose?”

Scott: “Very funny, guys.”

Co-Worker #2: “Scott, can you call this client?”

Scott: “Sure!”

Co-Worker #2: “Good. Now if you do it quick, I’ll give you a fish for doing the trick right.”

Scott, can I just give you one piece of advice? Wait until Amy leaves the house — then run, Scott, run for your life before your crackpot wife neuters you, slaps a dog collar around your neck, and makes you start sleeping in a cage!

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