Diary of a Marriage: The Time My Husband Grew Mutton Chops

And other stories from the frontlines of the facial hair war

iStockphoto courtesy of ThinkStock.com. J. started growing his sideburns unintentionally. It wasn’t until they stretched to the bottoms of his ear lobes—slightly fluted at the ends—that I really noticed them, with nothing short of abject horror. They were nearly at complete mutton chop lengths, thick and cutting into the sides of his cheeks in a most unflattering way.

I avoided the issue for a week or so, and then finally—gently—I inquired as to what exactly was happening on the sides of his face. And, in true husband fashion, it was only then that he decided that, well, he kind of liked them.

“I look like a drummer in a band or something,” he said.

“No,” I said firmly. “No, you do not. You look like Fat Elvis.”

He looked in the mirror, turning his face from side to side. “Yeah,” he said, looking at me with something I swear was defiance. “I like them.”

And that was that. His mutton chops were here to stay.

We went to my parents’ house for dinner one night during the Mutton Chop Phase. I felt like everyone was avoiding the issue, letting Fat Elvis sit at the dinner table without so much as a quizzical comment or raised eyebrow. So, once again, I broached the subject, while we ate our roast chicken.

“So, yeah, my husband is growing mutton chops, if you haven’t noticed.” I ate a forkful of green beans. J. glared at me.

I think everyone at the table breathed a sigh of relief: The elephant in the room had been addressed. And this elephant had mutton chops. The opinions came, spitfire:

My mom: “Oh, yes, honey, I thought they looked a little bit long. You know I love you, but really, it’s not a good look.”

My dad: “I haven’t seen sideburns like that since the seventies!”

My sister: “You look like a freak.”

J. sat steadfastly. “Yeah, it’s my new look.”

He couldn’t be serious.

J.’s not the first man I’ve known to suddenly undergo a sort of quarter-life hair crisis. A friend’s husband inexplicably decided to grow his hair out not too long ago. It looked horrible on him. His hair was thin and flat and it stuck out from his head at all sorts of weird angles. While out to dinner with them one night, his wife pleaded with us: “Please, guys, tell him he looks like an idiot.” We obliged, as mildly as possible. She was right: He did look like an idiot. But her hatred for his hair spurred him to grow it to new lengths. It was only after she got pregnant and gave up that he finally chopped it.

When I brought up my facial hair complaint at work, my female colleagues immediately piped up with stories of their own: There was the boyfriend with the weird scruffy stubble. And the fiancé who ever so often decides to pursue a “mountain man” look.

One kvetched about the time her boyfriend shaved his “perfectly adorable” short-boxed beard into what amounted to a mustache with a soul patch. “I hated it. And I told him so. He thinks it is hilarious. I think it makes him look like a porn star,” she said. “Now he does this every year for his birthday. And sometimes for special occasions.”

Another colleague dished about her husband’s shocking turn with the razor: “He had a beard for the first 25 years I knew him—which would be the first 22 years of our marriage. I had never seen his chin. When he finally shaved—after he became a basketball referee; they’re not allowed to have facial hair in his league—I was shocked. It took me years to get used to his chin. It was much smaller than I’d always thought. I begged him to grow the beard back every off-season. For a while he did. Then gradually I got used to the chin, and now he looks normal to me without the beard—though still, frankly, a little strange, and kind of young to be married to me.”

I wonder why men suddenly decide to change up what works, and if we’ll ever get used to their odd compulsion to grow bizarre things like handlebar mustaches and thick mutton chops on their faces. But I suppose I should be grateful: J. has since shaved his ‘burns back to a normal length. He looks like himself, the clean-cut guy I married. Sometimes, though, I think I see him looking wistfully at his cropped sideburns in the mirror, the way I imagine an aged rock star looks at his dusty collection of electric guitars. In any case, J.’s brief flirtation with mutton chops has ushered in a new phase: the one in which the buzz of his electric razor sounds like what I imagine singing angels sound like. As soon as I hear it, I breathe a small sigh of relief. I know what he’s capable of growing, and it’s not pretty.

Has your husband ever done something with his appearance that horrified you—and delighted him? How’d you finally get him to cave? Or is he still sporting a look you hate?



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