Downtime

What Is a “Wife Guy”?

The New York Times, the New Yorker, and New York magazine have answers!

Wedding cake with bride and groom toppers, where the groom is standing in front of the bride.
Do you take this wife guy?
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by artoleshko/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images.

A few weeks ago, the term “wife guy” was barely a glint in the internet’s eye—a recurring online character that did not yet really have a name, much less a whole discourse around him. Well, as of last week, there were at least five major pieces that dug into the subject, attempting to define it and diagnose what it means for society. Five! What’s responsible for this sudden explosion of wife guy content (aside from choreplay wife guy, who I think sent writers over the edge)? And what can we learn from it? Read on for some Cliff [Wife] Notes.

Several of the articles about wife guys aimed to present us with a conclusive definition of the concept. “Wife Guys are the men who make themselves famous for things their wives did, or qualities their wives have or had,” New York magazine explained. Per the Outline, a wife guy is “a man who has become ridiculous through his involvement in something wife-related and has happened to become known online.” The New York Times went with “a man who has risen to prominence online by posting content about his wife.” Commonly cited examples from the pieces include curvy wife guy and elf wife guy.

As some of the definitions take care to reflect, the wife guy’s relationship to the wife that he … is the wife guy of? … isn’t as clear-cut as it may initially sound. Things get ambiguous: It’s not actually required that the wife guy be married to the wife in any given scenario, just that there is a wife, and it’s also not certain whether the wife guy himself needs to have posted the original content to qualify as a bona fide wife guy. Is a wife guy born, or is wife guyness thrust upon him? The aforementioned curvy wife guy is quite clearly the one in the driver’s seat on his wife journey, posting Instagrams and even a music video about his wife, but other wife guys, like don’t-email-my-wife guy, named for the viral photo of a garage with the words “don’t email my wife” spray-painted on it, arise from the internet back alleys of social media and Reddit, their identities severed from the feats of legendary wife guyliness that they represent. These loopholes expand the pool of wife guys, and it is in the interests of the chronicler of the wife guy for the definition of the term to be looser, because the more wife guys there are, the more chances the writer has to prove that is a real category of guy worthy of discussion.

The other two so-called wife guy articles, in Mel and the New Yorker, didn’t provide clear definitions of the wife guy because they aren’t even really about wife guys; they are about wives. It’s an important point: Whether study of this phenomenon should focus on the wife guy or the wife herself remains a central question. When you think about it, wife or wife guy is a philosophical debate on the level of chicken or the egg. Usually we don’t actually know anything about the wife other than that she is a wife, because the wife guy is speaking for her. But then, wife guy is only interesting because he got a wife, somehow. We could go back and forth on this forever.

How does one illustrate the concept of a wife guy? The most straightforward way, chosen by New York magazine, is a still of a wife guy and his wife (here, Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Wife). The Outline used the photo that constitutes the entirety of the don’t-email-my-wife guy’s persona. A picture of Borat gets the message across for the New Yorker. I confess I don’t know who is pictured in Mel’s art, but presumably they are wife guys? But anyway, they are covered in lava and melting. Perhaps photography is too literal a medium to communicate this abstract sort of guy: To go with its piece, the New York Times published an illustration of a colorful bride and groom kissing, where the groom is holding up a smartphone over the bride’s shoulder, capturing a photo of the two. It reminds me a lot of the famous photo of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez kissing at the Oscars, in which Ben Affleck’s eyes are clearly trained somewhere other than on Lopez. Was Bennifer-era Affleck the original wife guy?

Some finer points:

On capitalizing “wife guy”: The articles were also split on this. For capitalization: New York magazine, the Outline, the New Yorker. Against: the New York Times (and, I guess, Slate, I just decided).

Did not actually use the term “wife guy” in its article: Mel.

Number of these articles that cited @dril, the popular pseudonymous Twitter account known for its humor: three of the five.

How @dril is introduced in each of them: “the prophet” (Mel); “Twitter bard and my nomination for the Nobel Prize” (the Outline); “weird Twitter account” (the New York Times).

Why are all the wives and wife guys, and the articles about them, emerging now? Well, for one, writers have to post every day; you got anything better? But also because it’s always fun to discover that there is a new type of “guy,” and you can analyze what this means about “how we live now.” And when you can fit ideas about the state of gender and marriage in too? Chef’s kiss. You’re telling me a stupid online thing can reflect “a deeply ambivalent state of heterosexual coupling” (the New York Times) or that “commitment [is] barely necessary at this point in the Western history of sexual romance” (Mel)? That’s every culture writer’s dream.

Honestly, all the wife and wife guy articles were good reads. Did the internet need five of them? Perhaps not, but it’s a fitting tribute to the wife guy, who is not known for his restraint. All that knowledge lets us build on the old adage that behind every great man is a great woman: It turns out that if that woman is a wife, there just might be a wife guy behind her. And then behind that wife guy? Another shrewd and informative article about wife guys.