To all the self-proclaimed “wife guys” that we loved before: so long, sweethearts.
It’s not like we didn’t see this downfall coming — for many millennial-slash-Gen Z-ers, the news of John Mulaney’s return to rehab, subsequent divorce from his wife, Anna-Marie Tendler, and child, co-parented by actor Olivia Munn, last year crashed through the idealistic “relationship goals” notions in our heads.
It didn’t stop there. The recent news of Adam Levine’s flirtations with Not His Wife and, even more recently, former Try Guy Ned Fulmer’s admittance of a “consensual workplace relationship” with a subordinate — and, more importantly, Not His Wife — have just added fuel to a previously beloved trope set ablaze. In a world plagued by distrust, lies, and literal plagues, we once used to think of men like these as bright lights in a suffocating darkness of creepy Tinder fish-pic bros and 4Chan/Reddit incels. How far the mighty have fallen.
Given that Buzzfeed, Fulmer and the Try Guys’ former place of employment, has released an op-ed about the death of “wife guy” culture that hits on a lot of great points — how wives of wife guys lose their identities due to their husbands’ content, what wife guys become when they lose that monetizable identity, et cetera — you’d think I’d have nothing else to say. However, despite the immediate and valid clownery of these pop culture icons fallen from grace, there is something to be said for how immediately we jump from this love and adoration to betrayal and standoffishness.
The amount of Tweets and TikToks from upset fans who remember the Ned Fulmer of their childhoods and have now turned to saying things like “I never liked him anyway” or “he always gave me bad vibes” are countless in number. The upsetting truths we learn about men like Fulmer not only push people away from their comfort creators, but have made them turn on them out of disdain for their actions. It’s hard to feel like you’ve been bamboozled by someone who made you feel safe, and the parasocial relationships that are inherent to Wife Guy Success contribute to higher highs and lower lows.
Beyond the relationship issues, the treatment of Mulaney in particular drastically shifted when the news broke that he returned to rehab. Despite his mentioning of his substance abuse issues in some of his sets, viewers willingly overlooked those not-so-squeaky-clean references of his past in favor of the clean-cut, former altar boy, “you could spill soup in my lap and I’d apologize to you” persona. This isn’t to say that his subsequent actions were undeserving of the mass heel turn, but it is sobering to admit that we as a social media collective are apt to lap up all of the good that a content creator pushes out into the world in a way that is wholly unforgiving of any remote wrongdoing. While I hate to speak on “cancel culture,” there is something jarring about the brutality of which we condemn those we once sought solace in.
I can’t really say I was ever a big “Try Guys” guy, so to speak, but I know the soul-rending feeling of realizing that your idols are human too. While the people that upend our worldview may not be deserving of forgiveness, we may owe it to ourselves to be okay with the fact that there was a time when their portrayal of goodwill was important to us. It is not our folly for falling for a romanticized wife guy — instead, it is indicative of our want and need for wholesome love. We deserve to have that ideal, and when it is violated by the darker parts of our humanity, we are allowed to grieve what once was.