Rise of the Fallen Wife Guy
There are many wife guys, but no husband gals. Too many generations of women are in the ground with “beloved wife of” carved over them for co-opting your husband’s identity to ever be a man-bites-dog story.
But man-loves-bitch still turns heads! That’s a reference to John Mulaney’s “My wife is a bitch and I like her so much” joke; part of the schtick that qualified him as a wife guy before he left his beloved wife, fine artist Anna Marie Tendler, for an affair with Olivia Munn.
I am here not to judge, but to seek patterns, and I’ve noticed two. One, it seems like a lot of these wife guys end up cheating on their wives. And two, I don’t generally hear about them until they do.
Questions are important, they’re the only thing the AI can’t generate yet (AI’s first question: “how to convert 731 billion tons of long pig into electricity”), so I want to ask the right one. Which is not WHY these guys keep cheating on their wives (they are bottomless pits of need and anhedonia like the rest of us, duh) but why, oh why, are we all so relentlessly informed that wife guys cheat on their wives?
You’re thinking schadenfreude, but I’m not so sure, friend. “Harm joy,” like all human emotions, is with us because it serves an evolutionary function: it incentivizes seeking justice! A man gains acclaim for loving his wife. He’s proven unfaithful. So, it is just that he falls. Sure.
But the idea that a rockstar would cheat on his model wife, a comedian initiate a divorce, or a YouTuber act disingenuously should net, at best, the sort of knowing chuckle usually associated with New Yorker cartoons. Not the visceral rage and shocked despair that accompanies coverage of the Fallen Wife Guys. Which is more coverage than every combined derailment of our Fallen Chemical Trains.
When something this trivial is so widely known, it is because our knowing it enforces something important that can’t be plainly spoken. What is the secret lesson of the fallen wife guy?
I posit there are two. One is bad, the other is worse.
First, let’s analyze the participants of this discourse.
Fans of Ned Fulmer, Adam Levine, John Mulaney, and Ryan Reynolds (not yet fallen but happy to place odds) are not alpha-male, bride-hungry lumberjacks. Wife guys are not praising their wives to other dudes, they are performing wholesome commitment for an audience that is mostly women, mostly single-but-looking, or anxiously partnered. Their audience aspires to one day be a beloved wife, which, fine, who doesn’t want to be loved.
But anyone who is happily partnered and hears an adoring speech about a wife/fawning tweet about a spouse/anything out of pre-2022 Ned Fulmer’s mouth immediately thinks “Wow they must have had a knock-down drag-out.”
1) Our audience is gathered around the wife guy performing commitment.
2) The wife guy inevitably implodes under the weight of this performance because it effectively neuters him and he would never have taken it up in the first place if he wasn’t thirstin’ for validation.
3) Every detail of his fall from grace is laid out in the sun.
Articles devoted to the subject almost always include pictures of the wife and the other woman for our convenient comparison—inviting us to judge—and will remind us how beautiful/accomplished/desirable his blindsided wife was. This is the crucial part, because the silent coda is: she was still no match for the sexual novelty of the other woman.
And since all other women are the potential other woman, never forget this first lesson of the wife guy: no one woman is enough. See that banner ad under the article for hair color? The mistress is a brunette, the wife is a blonde. Was that what drew him in? All coverage frames it as a direct competition, until the six other women he was sexting come forward. The fallen wife guy has a hole in his soul. And while you know that a hole is not shaped like a blonde or a brunette, you’re still seriously considering highlights for spring.
Who you are (his best friend lol) or what you’ve done (carried his children lol) does not exempt you. This is a cradle-to-grave beauty contest and if you’re over twenty-seven you’ve already lost. Oh, you got up on a steel table and pushed out a baby so hard your asshole required stitches? So did Victoria’s Secret Angel Behati Prinsloo, multiple times, and he still cheated, and she’s still with him. He wiiiiill be looooved. He, apparently, is enough.
The first lesson of the fallen wife guy: no actual woman can compete with the fantasy of what a woman could be; so kaizen ladies! Either install the automatic updates as prompted or welcome to obsolescence.
If this analysis seems fairly obvious to you, don’t worry, we are merely at the threshold of hell; please open your books to Ned “Yes We Like When You Try Things But Not Other Women” Fulmer.
The Try Guys. What a gig! Imagine making millions for just hanging out and trying stuff with your “friends.” You each have your own color and thing that sets you apart, sort of like the Power Rangers or those walking talking M&Ms. Ned’s thing was loving his wife, Ariel, like an Oilers fan loves Gretzky. He fawned over her to the extent that, had they not been married and cohabitating, a restraining order might have been called for. But Ariel did not seem to mind and if you ever thought she might mind, well, you didn’t know her the way he did.
What a savvy play! There’s no better move for an influencer than to make your ‘whole thing’ an interpersonal relationship absolutely no one can challenge you on. You are the expert on both your wife and your marriage, and loving your wife is legal in all fifty states, bipartisan, and more inclusive than hockey. Ned and Ariel had a date night cookbook and a line at Target.
Then footage surfaced of Ned canoodling with a co-worker. The Try Guys promptly and publicly fired Ariel’s DH, vowed to edit him out of their upcoming videos, and all but held a living funeral for him the way medieval Europeans did for lepers.
Seems like the actions of people who either knew what was going on for the entire year-long affair and were absolutely disgusted by him, or never liked him much in the first place, but what do I know.
But in all the explainers and reactions and fan outcry over this juicy domestic tragedy, the genuine anger over the situation is centered less on the dissolution of their marriage than the death of a brand. The cri de coeur from his fans is not “you lost the love of your life” but “yOu hAD A LiNE aT TARGEt!!!” with “and those poor kids” thrown in.
Ned lost his brand, and it was such an easy brand to maintain. Ned, look out upon the multitudes. See the huddled masses doing arm dances on TikTok? Baring their buttholes on Only Fans? Sobbing about the darkest moments of their lives to a front facing camera in the hope, the wish, the prayer that the algorithm will lift them up out of the falling night of financial precarity and no guaranteed health care and grant them some kind of monetization?
And all you had to do was hang out with your friends and pretend to love your wife! Hell, for all we know Ariel was in on it and they had an open marriage, what woman enjoys getting simped on that hard. But if that’s the case, Ned, have you never heard of back stairs and private islands? “ThEY WenT to A HARRY STylES CONCErt!”
The anger is not at the betrayal of his wife as much as the flagrancy with which he destroyed a profitable image.
The wife guy violates a social compliance that hinges not on honor, or moral courage, or what is good for the community, but financial viability. A post-ethical, outside-in code that is only possible when our common denominators are camera phones and scarcity. What comes through the loudest in the criticism of Ned is not that he used a power differential in his affair, or leveraged a personal relationship that involved children for gain, but that he betrayed an audience who gave him so much for so little.
Do you know what the rest of us have to do for financial viability? Suck dick on camera and mop public toilets. What were you thinking?!
The second lesson of the fallen wife guy forces us ask the wrong questions, questions that fight his utility (see first lesson) of goading us into compliance: What if we get it all—a successful company staffed with our besties, or a Netflix special, or a big red spinny chair from which we judge hopeful vocalists, and our soulmate, and that still doesn’t satisfy our drive to be loved and known? What if even real people are as interchangeable as hot girls now, and no amount of highlights or likes will save us, the higher we climb the more harshly we will be depersoned by our friend-workers, who will race to ring the leper bell and drive us from the red and white Valhalla of Target: SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!
We need our Two Minutes Hate for the fallen wife guy because he threatens the highest dream our society has to offer: you could make a living just being yourself! Individualism and technology will free us! You cannot be replaced if you are valued for being yourself!
Not to get too Ship of Theseus here y’all, but all of our cells fully replace themselves every 7–10 years, correct? Except for our cerebral cortex, where memory lives. So, I would argue the only place you exist—all of you, the summation of past and present and character and context which we call a person—is in another person’s perception.
To properly encompass a person takes a whole other person. Throughout their life, in person, every day. Living like this, two people could theoretically create a loop of awareness that allows both of them became wholly seen and known to the other. Done right, you give your life over to mapping the soul of the person you love most, and reify your mutual understanding into a life and a home. That’s a spouse.
An audience provides an inverse relationship. The audience adores what reflects well on themselves, the idol is their mirror: I am what I like. There is no question of knowing; all connection is a parasocial hallucination.
That is why we shudder at wife guys inviting an audience into their relationship with their spouse. And when they fall, and the performance is laid bare, it’s clear none of us—wife guy or fans—were invested in whatsherface, but in colluding in a fantasy of being publicly adored; that our ideal of love is an audience of one (with an audience of their own). The fallen wife guy leads us like a truffle pig to the roots of our cultural problem: we are frantic to be loved, but the deepest love we feel can only be for someone else.