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The “Wife Guy” Downfall - He Was Too Good to Be True

The “Wife Guy” started out to mean someone who posts online content about his wife, but it’s now extended to include any guy who uses his wife to build his personal brand. Increasing numbers of celebrities and politicians position themselves as trustworthy and relatable based on showcasing that they’re super into their spouses. But after a string of recent infidelity scandals among these exact types, from John Mulaney to Adam Levine to ‘Try Guy’ Ned Fulmer, it’s hard not to automatically suspect something’s up with men who especially love gushing to the public about how much they love their other halves.

Transcript

Culture is coming for the “wife guy”–because can anyone who’s that performative about simply having a wife really be trusted? The “Wife Guy” (a term popularized in 2016) started out to mean someone who posts online content about his wife, but it’s now extended to include any guy who uses his wife to build his personal brand. Increasing numbers of celebrities and politicians position themselves as trustworthy and relatable based on showcasing that they’re super into their spouses. But after a string of recent infidelity scandals among these exact types, it’s hard not to automatically suspect something’s up with men who especially love gushing to the public about how much they love their other halves.

In fall 2022, a slew of thirsty DMs married Adam Levine sent to Instagram model Sumner Stroh (who claimed they had an affair) led to a chain reaction, with other women sharing similar experiences of flirtation from the supposed ‘family man.’ This was followed by “wife guy” ‘Try Guy’ Ned Fulmer being dropped from the popular YouTube channel for cheating on his wife in a ‘consensual workplace relationship.” There was also the 2019 “elf family guy” scandal around a professional gamer who cheated on his wife, and the 2021 dramas surrounding John Mulaney and Anthony Ramos following a similar pattern of a famous person who’s vocal about their relationship, maybe even using it as performance material only to then act in ways that don’t fit that picture at all. So now, do we have to worry about every guy who seems too much like the perfect devoted husband and dad? Here’s our take on the wife guy, how just being married became enough for a brand–and what it means that he’s facing such a reckoning.

“I would never say that, not even as a joke, that my wife is a b*tch and I don’t like her. That is not true. My wife is a b*tch and I like her so much.”

- John Mulaney

CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS A “WIFE GUY”?

So, what’s the difference between simply being a married man, and a “wife guy”? Amanda Hess argues the wife guy is an evolution of the “Instagram husband”—the man who exists to take flattering photos of his other half for her social media feed. But while the Instagram husband is mostly invisible, the wife guy is front and center–crafting a persona around his relationship with his wife, while she provides the content but is often more silent or anonymous. Robbie Tripp rose to fame for posting about how much he loved his “curvy wife” on Instagram, and since then he’s accrued a huge following, endorsement deals and launched a music career around being “curvy wife guy” (while his wife quietly dances in the video). Offline, there are many historical precedents for men who’ve gained status by having attaching themselves to the right kind of woman. And we can also see this same kind of reputation-boosting trick with the idea of the ‘trophy wife’ or ‘trophy girlfriend’

But with the “wife guy,” the wife doesn’t have to be especially rich or beautiful or anything –he crafts his identity based on simply having a wife (and expressing that he loves her, or perhaps jokes about her random personality quirks)

The wife guy is savvy about just how charming contemporary audiences find a certain type of performative male devotion. One of TV’s most iconic and lovable versions of this is The Office’s Jim Halpert, who never seems to have any doubt that Pam’s the one woman for him. Other TV husbands like Marshall on How I Met Your Mother, Schmidt on New Girl, Ben on Parks and Recreation, and Jake on Brooklyn Nine-Nine have likewise won fans’ hearts with that over-the-top devotion to one woman. Perhaps because we’re traditionally used to a relationship norm where the woman is expected to make sacrifices to accommodate the man’s career or individual goals, there’s something moving and sweetly comforting to audiences about seeing a male character put his love first in his life, and never waver in his appreciation of her.

In real life, too, actors like Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling have also endeared themselves to fans by showcasing their devotion and appreciation for their partners

or the fun they have together. Celebrities ranging from John Legend, Nick Jonas and Mark Consuelos to Alexis Ohanian and Barack Obama have all enjoyed popularity thanks to publicly bragging about their wives. Sometimes the wife guy positions his wife as almost a reforming influence. There’s a shift in who the man was before he got married, versus who he is after–so it’s truly as if she has come to define the person he is. These relationships might even be spoken about as if the wife has tamed a previously wild man. George Clooney was one of Hollywood’s biggest bachelors, never really with one woman for that long a time. But since settling down with Amal Alamuddin, he has become even more beloved because of how openly supportive and effusive he’s been about her successes, and how she changed his life. When it comes to celebrity or influencer versions of the wife guy, though, there’s something inherently cultivated about the decision to broadcast this image with the world. The shock around Adam Levine wasn’t just that he stepped out on his beautiful, pregnant, Victoria Secret model wife; it’s that since he got married to Behati Prinsloo in 2014, he’s been very open about how perfect their life is. And through sharing about their marriage and their family, he’d adopted almost a new persona, moving away from ‘bad boy rock star’ and toward ‘husband and father’

So while plenty of famous “wife guys’ may be for real, scandals like Levine’s have drawn attention to just how self-serving this kind of persona can be. The more a man uses his wife to make himself look better, the more suspicious we’re becoming about the kind of husband he truly is behind closed doors.

CHAPTER TWO: THE PROBLEM WITH HERO (HUSBAND) WORSHIP

The reason recent “wife guy” infidelities have hit so hard is because the men involved were often beloved–in part because of the image they built around their home life. John Mulaney was an almost old-fashioned kind of stand up who frequently brought his family life into his routines. He openly spoke about how he and his wife enjoyed their married life without kids–before he suddenly left her and announced he was expecting a baby with Olivia Munn. Anthony Ramos and Jasmine Cephas-Jones were together since the Hamilton workshops; there was a feeling that the growth of their relationship mirrored their individual stars rising. So people took it hard when footage surfaced of Ramos at a strip club, after he’d gushed about his fiancée being his “rock”. But is part of the problem that–because these celebrity relationships seem so amazing–we expect too much from them? Being a wife guy means your life revolves around your wife, and you couldn’t imagine it any other way. But even in Jim’s and Pam’s “perfect” relationship on The Office, we can see how this ideal of romance can’t hold up forever. At the beginning, when Jim’s life is going nowhere, he views Pam almost as a savior figure, and for a while after they get together, Pam and his family is enough to make him feel totally fulfilled. Eventually, though, Jim has to confront that he does have other goals outside their relationship, too. When he stops centering Pam to pursue his career dreams, this almost breaks their marriage, until he takes a step back to prove she’s still his first priority. On Friends, Ross is such a “wife guy” that he marries three different women and ends up feeling highly adrift when this leads to three divorces. So his obsession with this aspect of himself as such a central part of his identity doesn’t lead to a very stable mindset. One of recent televisions most appealing Wife Guy’s is Marvel’s vision, as portrayed in the throwback sitcom renderings of Wandavision–but most of Wandavision turns out to be something Wanda has manufactured as she grieves, underlining just how unattainable this vision of perfect couplehood truly is.

In the case of influencers, the letdown with the wife-guy is especially intense, as we’re prone to developing parasocial relationships due to the intimacy of their content. Shay Carl built his brand off of family-focused content, and his kind of schlubby, everyman persona that he contrasted with his more attractive wife. As a result, when it was revealed he was exchanging explicit messages with a cam girl in 2017, the story felt like more of a betrayal because of how invested fans were in their life. They felt close not only to him, but to his whole family–and it was as if he’d also cheated on them. The same thing has happened with Ned Fulmer because his audience came up with him, and feel closer to his success–whereas the traditional entertainment machines that an Adam Levine or a John Mulaney rose up through have inherently more distance and mystery. Moreover, rock and roll and stand-up comedy have long histories of debauchery and shady behavior, so even if we’re disappointed by these infidelities, they’re not wholly surprising. But influencer culture is newer, so we’re less primed to expect this behavior from this genre of celebrity, and it’s also a field where personalities are made and broken on upholding their very particular image

THE RECKONING OF THE MALE HOMEWRECKER

Unfortunately, infidelity is not uncommon. However, men who cheat have historically gotten off pretty easy. Powerful or famous men were almost expected to be unfaithful. And as biopics from Ray and Walk The Line to Fosse/Verdon highlight, talented or successful men’s adultery has long been quickly brushed aside or excused because of their “genius”. Other times, adultery has been seen as a manifestation of trauma. Something that makes a man complex or interestingly troubled. And when men do cheat, the primary wrongdoer is often not seen as him, but the other woman.

Women, on the other hand, are far more heavily shamed for cheating. And this gender imbalance reflects old-fashioned views about the roles men and women are expected to play. Women are seen as the homemaker, and if they cheat, they’re homewreckers. The burden of blame is disproportionately placed on them because it’s seen as their responsibility to keep the home (and institution of the family) alive.

Thus, the reckoning for the unfaithful Wife Guy marks a meaningful shift in how we approach these questions of domestic blame. No longer is it automatically accepted that a powerful or beloved guy gets to do whatever he wants. Still, some of these cases can also get a little murky in terms of the level of judgment or punishment the transgressor deserves. But the debate around this shows we’re in a messy process of reckoning with the ripple effect of this particular cultural moment. And it ties into our collective attempt to better understand power dynamics. Whereas the other woman trope has long falsely pretended that the sexy mistress holds power over the cheating man, who’s helpless to resist her, backlash against cheating wife guys points out that they often hold the power–and that can lead to some pretty ugly situations

OUTRO

Millennial culture was shaped by the idea of the curated online aesthetic. As people built brands on YouTube and Instagram, they did it with an image of the perfect life. The online Wife Guy is part of that trend, only showing the good, never the complicated, more three-dimensional truth

But no life is perfect, and no person is either. We’ve started dismantling that first idea, but it’s taking longer to dismantle the second. Could the scrutiny on the Wife Guy be the beginning of that process? When something seems too good to be true, our first reaction should probably be that it is.

“ Above perv is a bozo. A bozo is any man who cheats on his wife.”

- John Mulaney