The internet is full of irksome words — “heckin,” “awesomesauce,” “updoot” — but the worst one by far is “hubby.” Hubby, if you’re not familiar, is short for “husband” and is primarily used in spaces where certain types of married women hang out online. On mummy forums, it pops up like measles on the skin of an un-vaccinated child. In recent months, I’ve become addicted to the feuds and foibles of this corner of the internet and, since then, the h-word has slowly driven me insane.
To me, “hubby” conjures an image of a very specific type of dude: a slovenly figure who ignores his screaming toddler to check on his fantasy draft picks, a guy who argues with “wifey” about whether it’s appropriate to wear his stained cargo shorts to her sister’s wedding. Somewhere, dedicated and present hubbies who don’t take 40-minute toilet breaks to avoid their families must exist, but the hubby of my mind’s eye is uninterested, lethargic, inconsiderate. In German, the closest translation of “hubby” is probably a compound word meaning “a dream deferred because you married some sweaty dipshit.”
I know that some women in healthy marriages say “hubby” in real life, but I didn’t regularly encounter the word until I dug deep into what I’ll call Normal Lady Internet (NLI). Rarely covered by the news sites, Normal Lady Internet is the patchwork of Facebook parenting groups, knitting forums, and family advice subreddits where women meet up to discuss domestic interests online. Like any subculture, it has its own dialect, featuring jargon that ranges from the cutesy (DH: dear husband, HIPPO: happily ignoring previous posters’ opinions) to the clinical (CM: cervical mucus, EBF: exclusively breast feeding) to the ominous (lawn tantrum: when an estranged relative appears in one’s yard to shriek). To the uninitiated, the NLI’s lingo better resembles that of a tabletop RPG.
My entry point into Normal Lady Internet was relationship advice and family conflict subreddits, where I’d feast on the most unhinged stories I could find. I’d spend my commute reading about doomed households whose fights were as compelling as they were unbelievable: a young couple debating whether periods could be “held in,” a man whose decades-younger wife scammed him into buying 5 Pelotons, a married woman who — to her husband’s chagrin — kept putting off having babies to buy more horses.
Soon, however, these Reddit posts weren’t enough to satisfy my growing appetite. I began recognising most of them as fanciful bits of creative writing and started jonesing for the harder stuff. Eventually, I found it on two forums dedicated to pregnancy and child-rearing: BabyCenter and Mumsnet.
After discovering these suppliers of pure, uncut mummy drama, my NLI habit spiralled out of control, keeping me up until the wee hours of the morning reading cross-stitch disputes. In lockdown, there’s little to pull me out of this hubby-addled K-hole, so I spend my free time engrossed in the most heartbreaking stories I can find: A woman whose hateful mother-in-law gifts her beautifully wrapped garbage every Christmas, mailing her mismatched socks, old pens, or losing lotto tickets that have already been scratched. A poster whose husband didn’t change their baby’s diaper when she was pulled into a last-minute shift, leaving the crib covered in shit. A stay-at-home mum looking for advice on how to feed three young children on $280/a month after realising her dire financial situation is caused by her husband, who has been blowing thousands of dollars on camgirls. She can’t put away enough money, she writes, to move out or hire a divorce lawyer.
To me, these stories feel familiar and yet very distant. Where I grew up in Indiana, moving more than a county away was frowned upon, especially for women. Having any career dreams larger than a part-time gig at Hobby Lobby was considered unladylike. A woman travelling thousands of miles to chase a “selfish” ambition in the big city, as I did, approached heresy. I’m still treated with sneering condescension when I attend the occasional family gathering. Older male relatives seem invested in setting a deadline for my independence — one asked my partner when I’m finally going to quit my job and learn to cook.
Women in my hometown just sort of fall into marriage and motherhood, often too soon and with the wrong people, existing on the fringes, expected to drop everything to support a husband, an ageing relative, a young niece or nephew. I share few interests and fewer struggles with these women, making the cultural divide between us more like a continental rift. Lacking any other connection, I look into their world the only way I know how: online. When I do, the word “hubby” is a constant reminder that hubby selfishness depends on the fretting and planning and daily sacrifice of wifeys.
The BabyCenter stories fascinate me because they depict the everyday lives of women typically ignored by screenwriters and thought leaders — women I grew up with, like my grandma’s caretaker, whom I’ll call Sweetie. Sweetie scrimped and saved for years doing yard sales and random cleaning gigs for low wages. Anything she could hustle, Sweetie hustled, drawing on an internal drive only partly fuelled by the 1,133.98 g Pepsi she took everywhere. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Sweetie’s dipshit husband spent her savings on a brand new Harley. They divorced. Classic hubby behaviour. “Husbands aren’t worth shit,” she said.
Recently, screenshots of the following tweet have been making the rounds online:
“As a woman no matter how old your hubby is, he is first your child. Men are babies and it takes a mother at heart to handle a man and capture his soul. Your hubby is your first practical child and if done successfully, motherhood and marriage will be fun even in pains.”
To me, this message serves as the clearest articulation of hubby-centrism, encapsulating everything that’s perverse about the word and the marriages it’s used to describe. “This person will let you down!” I want to scream through the screen when I read something like this. “He does not deserve your energy!”
Encouragingly, women in my hometown (the ones I’m friends with on Facebook, at least) have been reacting to the message above with animated barf stickers. Maybe this is a sign that the “everything for hubby” mindset is gasping its dying breath. It’s probably not the end of certain dudes halfheartedly shuffling into adulthood by signing a marriage licence and refusing to grow up in any other way. And it’s also probably not the end of women volunteering to pick up these guys’ slack. But maybe, hopefully, those puking emojis on Facebook signify an end to romanticizing the lazy, selfish “hubby.”