Downtime

The Curse of the Wife Guy

Once you start, you can’t stop.

A snapshot of Anthony Ramos and Jasmine Cephas Jones looking cute together with hearts around them and a rip down the middle
Anthony Ramos and Jasmine Cephas Jones. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Derrick Salters/WENN.com/Reuters and Getty Images Plus.

Anthony Ramos—fan-favorite, swoon-worthy star of critical hits like In the Heights and Hamilton—is in the hot seat. After TikTokkers shared clips of him allegedly at a strip club getting up close and personal with a woman other than his similarly beloved fiancée, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ramos trended all over social media with a scarlet letter: Cheater. Heartbreaker. Asshole. Perhaps worst of all, he transformed into the worst kind of guy—the Fake Wife Guy.

The Wife Guy is nothing novel in the world of celebrity gossip and in the parasocial relationships born out of being Very Online. Ramos has long been a sterling example of the type: He and Cephas Jones met while working on Hamilton in 2015, got engaged in 2018, and have been cute and cuddly in public since day one. For someone thought to be so loving and lovable to then (supposedly) commit a cardinal sin—not just cheating on his fiancée but cheating on the (figurative) Wife to his Wife Guy—is a uniquely embarrassing, enraging offense to the fans that invest so much into famous relationships that aren’t theirs.

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This sordid episode made us realize that, as much as the public seems to love Wife Guys, from Ramos to John Mulaney to Will Smith, we love to hate them just as much. What is the benefit to the moniker, if any? Or is it, perhaps, nothing more than a simple curse?

Recently, five of Slate’s biggest celebrity enthusiasts, gossip mill scrutinizers, and relationship theorists came together to discuss these and other probing questions.

Rebecca Onion: I’m pretty sure the Wife Guy couldn’t exist without social media. Wife Guy is a person who publicly celebrates both his wife, as a person, and his couplehood. Wife Guy makes his wife’s virtues a constant topic in public and posts schmoopy things about domestic life. Wife Guy is unable to say anything that sounds at all realistic about marriage and relationships! He is happier than could possibly ever be true. And that’s why a rupture is such a risk for him: When we see the cracks, we’re like, “I FREAKING KNEW IT!!!”

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Rachelle Hampton: It’s impossible to talk about the Wife Guy without talking about Curvy Wife Guy, who defined the genre. Curvy Wife Guy went viral after an unnecessarily long Instagram post about how much he loves his wife despite the fact she’s not a size 2. The undertone of that post was that he was the bravest among men for daring to love this objectively hot woman, and while that mentality isn’t necessary for a Wife Guy (Anthony Ramos, importantly, doesn’t do this), I’d say that 9 out of 10 Wife Guys also, like Curvy, neg their wives while writing their schmoopy posts about domestic life.

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Rebecca: Thank you, Rachelle. That is an excellent point. The recent Chris Pratt post about his wife Katherine Schwarzenegger—a post that got dinged (including in Slate) for some weird stuff about “healthy babies”—was a Wife Guy post that was sort of neg-y, in my eyes. The whole thing was a long cascade about how much he loved his wife because of all the things she does for him (while he does literally nothing), but the end result made me profoundly embarrassed for Katherine. Like, you’re taking this from him? You’re living like this? Embarrassing. I know a lot of people didn’t see it that way, and wished their husbands would post like this about them, but if my husband said that about me in public, I would wonder if something was going on behind the scenes. Like, protesting too much, much?

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Sam Adams: As this chat’s token Guy With a Wife, my understanding of the Wife Guy is that he’s a little too eager to make sure everyone knows just how much he loves his little lady. Loving your wife: good. Performing that love for a largely unseen audience that may or may not include said wife: a little shakier. (Like, if you want your wife to know you love her, you could presumably just … tell her?) For reasons more pertinent to a therapy session than a group chat, I have an almost pathological aversion to hollow gestures, to the extent that I sometimes have to be nudged toward the nonhollow kind. But it nonetheless starts to seem a little suspect when men need to make a big public show out of what ought to just be the bedrock of a marriage. Part of me is just thinking: What did you do? (To be fair, there are some men who at least seem to be wildly in love with their spouses and have no hang-ups about expressing it publicly. Good for you, fellas. I hate you just a little.)

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Julia Craven: Yeah, that’s my general assessment of the Wife Guy too. He’s performing the act of loving his wife for everyone to see, which is a bit weird and annoying! I’m glad the guy loves his wife, as you should, but making sure everyone knows? OK! But, like Rachelle and Rebecca said, there’s an element of negging their wives in a way that I think, inadvertently or not, puts down other women or even their wife. It’s all strange AF to me.

Rachelle: I do think we have to leave room for the Wife Guy who manages to do it right. Examples that come to mind are Joshua Jackson, who’s married to Jodie Turner-Smith and … actually that’s the only one I can think of. Do y’all have any others? I think, before their recent falls from grace, Anthony Ramos and John Mulaney probably would’ve qualified as the rare Good Wife Guy. Which is, in my opinion, why the news of their infidelity caused such an uproar. Like the higher you rise in transcending the mostly annoying genre of Wife Guy, the harder you fall.

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Nadira Goffe: Absolutely, and the most dangerous part about being the Wife Guy is there’s no way to go back from being the Wife Guy other than to fall and fall hard. Once we are lulled into believing in this idea of a man who, if he hasn’t already told you enough, really loves his wife, it’s hard to see him as Just Another Guy. We don’t want to see him as Just Another Guy. He has essentially invited more people to the party: his wife, but also us as their parasocial friends.

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Rebecca: Wife Guy is a dangerous game. VERY DANGEROUS. Russell Wilson? John Legend? (Though that Wife Guy situation has been fraught in so many ways, unrelated to anything Legend has done!) Those are two Wife Guys I can think of who have been able to maintain. But a lot of people try it and fail.

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Rachelle: Ooh, Russell Wilson’s a good one.

Nadira: Let’s not forget the Wife Guy that Chris Pratt was clearly trying to imitate but failed: Ryan Reynolds. As Sam has stated, Ryan Reynolds dials into the lovable, sarcastic asshole shtick to such a pitch-perfect degree that it has not only landed him an entire film franchise, but also the adoring attention of Wife Guy fans everywhere who wait with bated breath for his next hilariously mean ode to his wife, Blake Lively.

Julia: Shoutout to John Legend—he has a tough job. But, nah, for real, I think Wife Guy works for Wilson and Legend because you can tell that they communicate with their wives really well and they aren’t performing the support. They genuinely seem like pillars for their wives and their endeavors.

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Sam: Rachelle points to an important distinction, I think, which is between Wife Guys we are invested in and Wife Guys we are not. The reaction to Chris Pratt’s post seemed to be a uniform ick, but John Mulaney and Anthony Ramos actually seemed to have it together. I was rooting for those crazy kids! Their relationships were stories we’d been watching from afar for years, and every post was a little confirmation things were proceeding as planned. On the day the internet learned the word parasocial, people were pushing the idea that what happens in John Mulaney’s marriage is none of our business. But Wife Guys make it our business, so it feels just a touch personal when they get unwifed.

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Nadira: There’s definitely something to be said for relatability here. I think what made John Mulaney and Anthony Ramos so effective as Wife Guys is that they were relatable, especially John Mulaney with his self-deprecating humor about his wife being in love with Timothée Chalamet and whatnot. For me, John Legend is most ick as Wife Guy when he’s writing songs like “All of Me,” but most successful when Chrissy Teigen posts about him making her pancakes or really mundane stuff. Chris Pratt’s recent Wife Guy posts are just off the deep end.

Rachelle: Even the reaction to Chris Pratt’s post is, I think, partially a result of the fact that at one point in the distant past a lot of people were rooting for him and Anna Faris. Their split was the first crack in the Pratt facade and it’s been mostly downhill from there. Him continuing to be a Wife Guy but for a different Wife only makes the ick factor worse. If Curvy Wife Guy ever left his wife, I’d just be like, Well, that makes sense. But Anthony Ramos cheating on Jasmine Cephas Jones just hits different.

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Rebecca: Wife Guy for a different Wife!!!!! THE WORST.

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Rachelle: You might say he Wife Guy–ed too close to the sun.

Nadira: … but should you? (I’m JK Rachelle I love you JK JK JK)

Julia: I wonder why it’s so hard for me to stomach the Wife Guy becoming a Wife Guy for a new Wife. I don’t know if I take it personally so much as it’s like—God, I have to watch this man perform AGAIN for a new woman and hopefully not embarrass her, too. But, then again, I say that like I didn’t get really invested in how Jay-Z, America’s fave post-scandal Wife Guy, treated Beyoncé.

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Rachelle: For me, I think becoming a Wife Guy for a new Wife just reveals that being a Wife Guy isn’t about the Wife at all—it’s about performing your own goodness for clout. Which, even before the fall from grace, I know is what’s really happening, but it just makes it even more irritating when, despite my best instincts, I get duped into rooting for a Wife Guy that turns out to be Just Another Guy.

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Nadira: And that’s really the part that makes the societal consequences of cracking the Wife Guy facade much worse than the consequences of Just Another Guy’s misdeeds: that we feel we were played for fools. When in reality … all guys have the potential to be Just Another Guy! And it has nothing to do with us! But if somewhere deep down we know it’s false, why do we let ourselves get so invested in the first place?

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Julia: I think it’s because celebs and famous people are usually interesting or aspirational in some way. And they sell us “perfection,” which is very easy to get invested in.

Nadira: Great point, Julia. And it doesn’t help that this particular kind of Wife Guy perfection is something that’s sold to us in countless rom-coms, too. Which is hilarious, because I always watch those movies thinking, Aww, this is so cute! But in reality, if someone ran through an airport to profess their love to me in front of hundreds of strangers, I would get on that plane and never look back.

Rebecca: What’s happened with Ramos makes it crystal clear that this “cheesy public proposal,” “goofy airport sprint,” “gushy birthday post” approach to romance comes with its own risks. Real-life Wife Guys, beware. You only get one bite at this particular apple, so make it count.

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