“What is it I’m supposed to say you do again?” I ask my boyfriend as we head out to see friends. “Just say I own my own software company,” he says, which is true. But it’s a very specialized software company, focusing on registration for the “conference and trade show industry.” I’m still not sure what that means, though I have rehearsed my lines.
I’m not the only one who has a hard time explaining or understanding what my partner does. When I posted on Facebook recently that he was headed off to do his “something-something” job in Washington, numerous women replied, admitting to being in the same clueless boat I was. “I can’t even remember the current title of my hubby. So don’t worry about it,” wrote one. Another replied, “I had a guy like that once. I tried to explain to people what he did but in the end gave up and boiled it down to, ‘He goes to an office tower in a suit and comes home with money.’ ” Still another suggested I just “say he’s in business.” This woman added, “Gone are the days when everyone had one job responsibility or title.” I’ll say.
“Not knowing, understanding, or being able to say what your husband does is very this-generation,” says Sari Friedman, an HR consultant and career coach. “The landscape has changed so much. Roles are more specific these days and more complicated to explain.”
But that’s not an excuse for not knowing, she says: “If you can figure out what a Twitter hashtag is, you can learn what your husband does.” She advises coming up with an “umbrella” term to explain it. “You’re much better saying something than not answering or saying, ‘I don’t know.’ Say he’s in sales or in business so you’re at least giving a big picture, without getting into all of it.” Yes, she says, there will be follow-up questions, which is why she suggests you ask your spouse for a “simple version.”
Jen Taylor, who lives in Saskatchewan, has been married 13 years. Recently, a babysitter asked her what her husband, Bart, did…again. Technically, he’s a chemist, which is easy enough to say. “But then people picture him in a white lab coat over beakers and he really works in the environmental industry,” she laughs. “But saying ‘chemist’ is the simplest way I can put it. He does very specialized stuff. He sometimes does emergency response and regulatory compliance. He tore down a meth lab in Vancouver. He does training in Trinidad. And now it gets better because he’s working half-time at a consulting firm and we’ve started our own business called Chemsmart.ca.”
Danielle Christopher of Fraser Valley, B.C., has a hard time explaining her husband’s work, too. Her “umbrella” explanation is that he is in the “housing industry.” What he really does is build custom homes. “But then people always ask, ‘Can he do this or that?’ He builds homes ranging from 6,000 to 17,000 square feet, but he’s more of a carpenter/finishing kind of guy and he doesn’t do electricity or plumbing,” she explains.
It wasn’t any easier to describe his previous job, which even Christopher’s husband couldn’t explain. “He, wait, I’m going blank…He worked at a building supply store, but he sometimes ran the store, sometimes he dealt with suppliers and buyers. He did a million things.” She and her husband used to tell people he was a “design consultant.” “But that just confused people even more,” she says, and those business cards went into the trash.
Toronto relationship expert Jen Kirsch says it is important to know what your husband or partner does. “If you can’t explain and someone asks you to, then it’s the perfect opportunity to ask your partner to explain it to you,” she says. Knowing what your partner does in detail opens the lines of communication. “So much happens during a workday and if you’re not engaged and interested in his job, then you’re not talking about serious issues.” And, she adds, women do want their partner’s jobs to sound successful. “It is a reflection on you. As awful as it seems, when women ask each other what their partners do, they are really asking, ‘Does he do something better than my husband?’ ”
Kirsh suggests you “impress people with your knowledge of what your spouse does. Who cares if they want to hear it or not or how long it takes to explain? It makes it sound like you are very in tune with each other. Plus, perception is everything.”
My boyfriend owns a software company, I announce. “See? That’s such a testament to his leadership skills!” she says. Suddenly, I find myself much more interested.