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Can marriage turn a woman into a monster?

I overheard a conversation between two men recently. When they'd finished rhapsodising about their iPads and berating Ireland's dismal performance at the Euros, they got onto the real reason for their crisis summit. "She wants to get married," one of them said glumly.

The other stared at him in silent horror.

"I know," the first said, downing the rest of his pint. The second was silent for a moment, while he tried to think of something suitably profound to say.

He eventually reclaimed the power of speech. "I'll get you another, so," he muttered in a tone normally reserved for hospices and funeral homes.

I wanted to charge over and ask them what the problem was; why the prospect of getting married to someone he was -- presumably -- in a happy relationship with was so horrifying. But I didn't. Not because I was afraid of what I'd hear, but because I already knew the answer.


What men fear when they joke about marriage being a life sentence isn't the commitment -- if the recent census figures are any indication, they're happily shacking up and having kids all over the place.

Rather, they're afraid of what marriage might do to the woman they love. They're terrified that the second she gets a ring on her finger, the sexy, fun, caring girl they fell in love with will be catapulted into a chrysalis, from which she will emerge as a cross between Brendan O'Carroll's Mrs Brown and Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

They're afraid that getting married means they won't be able to go out with their single friends any more, and fall into bed at 4am, snoring apocalyptically and smelling of kebabs. They're afraid that instead of spending Saturdays slouched in front of Sky Sports, they'll find themselves getting intimately acquainted with bathroom fixtures in B&Q.

They're afraid that they'll never again have sex with a strange woman on the kitchen floor -- not that they've ever had sex with a strange woman on the kitchen floor.

But they don't want to give up on the prospect that they one day might.

I remember meeting a male colleague on the morning of his wedding. "Congratulations," I said. "Can you please direct me to the nearest pier so I can throw myself off?" was his anguished response.

Several years on, he'll say that his wedding day was the happiest of his life, that marrying the woman he loved was the smartest thing he ever did. But at the time, he believed that life as he knew it was over. But who could blame men for feeling apprehensive about the prospect of marriage and 2.1 kids?

Everywhere they look -- from sitcoms to soap operas to the big screen -- women are portrayed as either alluring little sex kittens (the unmarried kind), or shrieking, scheming harridans (the married kind).

Jennifer Aniston's controlling, perfectionist character Brooke in The Break-Up, the movie she made with Vince Vaughn, offers an insight into how Hollywood sees wives.

While husband Gary just wants a little bit of downtime in front of the game after a busy day, she wants to harangue him about the "12-lemon centrepiece" for the middle of their table. No man wants to become that guy: the guy who stays up all night, arguing with his wife about 12-lemon centrepieces. In fact, no man ever even wants to hear the words "12-lemon centrepiece" issue forth from the lips of the woman he loves.

And it's not just men in the movies. When Bill Clinton was caught doing unspeakable things with interns in the toilet of the Oval Office, nobody said, "poor Hillary".

What they said was: "Who could blame him?" That's what she gets for thinking she had him under the thumb, the rationale went.

It's interesting, in this context, to look at the origin of the phrase 'under the thumb' -- you might be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with overbearing wives or meek husbands.


Chillingly, it comes from a practice in old English common law, which said that a husband was allowed to beat his wife with a stick, "so long as it was no bigger than his thumb".

While the stereotype of the henpecked husband and the controlling, over-achieving wife is annoying in popular culture, when it starts seeping into real life in this way it's depressing.

That's why I'm going to let you in on a little secret, boys. Women aren't actually that much of a mystery.

Just like you, we don't spend too many of our waking hours worrying about 12-lemon centrepieces (at least, not once the wedding is over.) We don't much care if you go out on a Friday night and come home smelling of kebabs, so long as you remember where the guest bedroom is -- and spare us the moaning about your hangover the next day.

We like spending time with you, but we enjoy spending time apart from you as well.

So stop worrying about taking the plunge, and instead follow the advice of that great philosopher and exponent of women's rights, Beyonce. If you like it, then put a ring on it.