A thing that surprised me after I got married is that people treat you differently when you've got a husband. I don't know if it's the same for men and I can't quite put my finger on it, but I suppose the closest word that springs to mind is respect: you get more respect.
I didn't realise that I wasn't being treated with respect until suddenly I was getting some. Even though Giles and I were living together - even after he was my fiance, it wasn't the same as saying "my husband." Once you say to someone "my husband" something in their manner shifts. It is as imperceptible as any kind of prejudice, but it is there.
I had thought that our recent two rounds of building work were so trouble-free because I was better with builders, more honest and upfront and less apologetic. But I think the fact was that I had a husband. Not a boyfriend, not a live-in lover, but a husband. God only knows why it makes a difference, and maybe it doesn't make a difference to everyone, but it made a difference to me. It's so sad and fucked up, it says such awful things about us, as people - but I think it really might be the case that if you are married, everyone just backs off.
And I exploit it, shamelessly. "Oh" I hoot grandly but politely down the phone to anyone who's asking for anything "my husband makes all the decisions like that. I'm afraid I simply couldn't possibly talk to you any more about it or all the cotton wool in my head will catch fire from the friction of my three braincells rubbing together."
It's a terrific laugh.
Having children is more complicated when it comes to respect. Day to day, as A MUM, you get no respect at all. You're just a nuisance with your fucking buggy and whining, pissing, shitting, puking baby/toddler. You're in a shit mood. You very occasionally forget to say thanks when someone holds open a door because you're in the middle of a Technicolor daydream about murdering the bus driver who was a bit mean to you just now, and you then form the basis of that person's lifelong prejudice against mothers. "I once held open a door for this woman with a buggy," they will say at dinner parties, "and she didn't EVEN say thank you. I don't know what's wrong with women once they've had kids. It's like they think they're so special."
It's also tricky between women who do have children and women who don't. You can connect, and get on and laugh at each other's jokes. But there's a gap there. When you are with another mother, you can get out a packet of chocolate buttons and aggressively bribe your child with them. You can stick Peppa Pig on for 2 hours so that you can sit down and bitch hard and in peace about someone else's new kitchen extension. You can shriek "Christ another poo? What the hell is wrong with you?" to your child. You can get ever so slightly tearful because child #2 just nodded off for 20 mins in the buggy on the way home and so won't do it's lunchtime nap today.
You can do all that without suspecting that the child-free woman is sitting there, looking at your walls covered in scribble, or floor studded with Play Doh and ancient peas going: "Fucking hell, get me out of here," or "Fucking hell if I had kids I wouldn't do it like this." Even if she is not thinking that, she might be and that causes the faintest of discomforts, like someone, not far away, playing clusters of wrong notes together on a piano.
Another mother, even if her parenting methods are completely and totally anathema to yours, will rarely, unless she is a total monster, judge you too badly for it. I mean, she will judge you, because that's what we all do - we're either starry-eyed with admiration ("her house is so tidy, she is so organised") or we judge ("I don't know how she can live like that.") But it's done so internally, quietly and subtly that no-one will notice, not even for a millisecond. The most powerful and detectable thought other mothers have is usually: "Whatever works for you, man." And that is, in its own way, a sort of respect.
But society, in general, likes MOTHERS, when they are not in the way, or moaning on about being tired, or expecting anyone to admire their revolting, dim children. If you've got children, somewhere, then that's a good thing. And the more you have the more people defer to you on everything. I mean, up to four children. Five or more children and people assume you have some sort of addiction.
The greatest thrill I get these days is when I am out in town without Kitty, looking extremely pregnant and I come across someone who assumes it is my first child. It might be someone with a baby, or a toddler, or just a random person who wants to acknowledge that I am up the duff (which is fine). "You all ready then?" they'll say. Or the mother will say "you've got all this to look forward to." And then I smile sweetly and say "It's my second". It is the female equivalent of pushing up a shirtsleeve to reveal a tattoo on the forearm that reads "légion étrangère". Maybe it's because I have a horror of being vulnerable, being patronised, of being weak, which could probably do with another six weeks with therapy. Or maybe, deep down, we all just want a bit of respect.
Food needs respect, too. And a thing that rarely gets any is salad. We have started eating in this house for dinner a thing I have named Macho Salad. I may have got this phrase from somewhere else, but I don't know where. But anyway, macho salad is what it is. And what it is is a salad that will do for an entire dinner, that a man would not be ashamed to be seen eating.
It consists of assorted leaves, meat or fish, some sort of thick dressing (probably made partly with mayonnaise, or blue cheese) a good scattering of firm beans - like soya beans, maybe some shards of parmesan? Nuts and seeds (sunflower is good), avocado? Chopped or quartered egg? And of course a scattering over the top of croutons, for crunch.
Last night I made one that consisted of 3 chicken thighs roasted for 45 mins (the fourth was eaten by Kitty for her tea) and chopped, a bag of mixed leaves plus dainty strips of beetroot, cucumber, a dressing of mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon, vinegar and a lot of salt, avocado, soya beans, croutons and sunflower seeds.
We ate it while watching Friday Night Lights, feeling very butch. But then we ruined it by having an alcohol-free beer apiece. Because you've got to draw the line somewhere.