The first recorded wife in human history was married in ancient Mesopotamia around 2,350 B.C., establishing a tradition that would continue and evolve throughout the ages. Millennia later, “wife” entered the modern English language, from the Middle English “wif” or “wyf,” the old English “wīf,” and the Proto-Germanic “wībą.” In 2006, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen breathed new linguistic life into the word when his character Borat, a Khazak man touring the United States, referred to his spouse using the infectiously quotable pronunciation “mah wiiiiife.” This brief, incomplete history culminated yesterday: the day we officially reached Peak Wife.
To understand how we’ve gotten here requires looking back on the past few years, and especially the past few months, online. The onslaught started slowly enough: The Borat vocalization of “my wife” re-entered the zeitgeist as a popular meme, while an image of a garage spray-painted with the words “STOP NOW! DON’T EMAIL MY WIFE!” began circulating after cropping up on Reddit in 2013. By August 2017, Twitter user Brooks Otterlake was able to observe that “the best days on the internet are the ones where you can refer to ‘the wife guy’ and everyone knows who you're talking about.” With this framework in place—further solidified by deep dives in MEL Magazine and the Outline in May of this year—we began to see and quickly identify the Wife Guys in our midst, a Baader–Meinhof effect for the extremely online. (To be fair, there was a bevy of them, from Curvy Wife Guy to Cliff Wife Guy, Gamer Elf Wife Guy to the Guy Pretending to Be His Own Wife.) The New Yorker and The New York Times both published philosophical meditations on Wife Guys shortly after, while the New York Post interpreted the amusement around the subject as political correctness run amok, prompting them to publish a steaming-mad take on how “griping about ‘wife guys’ is beyond insane.”
We realized, en masse, that it’s a Wife Guy’s world, we’re just living in it. The 2020 Democratic candidates who referred to their wives as their heroes? Wife Guys. Previous U.S. presidents? A lot of Wife Guys. Earlier this week, Congressman Ted Lieu sent a well-meaning tweet in response to Senator Mitch McConnell’s simpering answer on whether telling his immigrant wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, to “go back” to her country was racist. Lieu’s tweet also happened to include the sentence “My wife is the love of my life”—a once innocuous statement that is now astoundingly difficult to read with a straight face.
So what brought us to the wife tipping point? Two events occurred yesterday to signal what I believe is the beginning of the end of an era. The first is host Jesse Watters referring to America as “a wife” on Fox & Friends, as in: "If you love something, you don't radically transform it...she likes you how you are.” (Watters’s actual wife, it should be noted, filed for divorce last year after learning that her husband was having an affair with a 25-year-old Fox News producer.)
Secondly, and more importantly, USA Today published an article titled “‘Rise of the 'Wife Guy': Men who post about their partners at the center of a viral trend,” which admitted that “the subject can be confusing, though, because the internet amplifies some wife guys who are divorced and others who aren't even real.” I keep serenely imagining a retired Boomer who gets all his news from the outlet reading this diligently assembled explainer, getting a dose of Twitter brain-poisoning while sipping his morning Folger’s out of a “Happy Wife, Happy Life” mug. And thus, the circle of wife is complete.
Where do we go from here? Fortunately, I sense the rumblings of a new, equally embarrassing era, thanks to an ex-Fox News host’s wife who wrote a blog post in defense of her husband—which included a photo of him featuring the words "This man is a hero and a badass"—when he fled the country after allegedly defrauding investors. Yes: the Husband Lady is finally here.
Originally Appeared on GQ