When it comes to “I love you,” some husbands say it with flowers. Others say it with poetry. Mine says it by building me a chicken coop.
This guy is not the type to take me on long, romantic walks and compare my beauty to the earth and sky. During the rare private moments we share, he is more likely to gaze deeply at me and say after a pause, “Wow. I never noticed how lopsided your eyes were before.”
But I don’t think he’s unusual; most men squirm at the thought of declaring their love outright. Unlike women, who tend to communicate through a handy mechanism known as “speech,” men generally prefer to share their emotions through actions. This disconnect between the sexes can cause serious problems in a relationship.
For instance, say that a man feels a rush of affection for his wife. Uncomfortable telling her how much he adores her, he instead may do something subtler, like putting down the toilet seat for once. Not appreciating the sentiment behind this gesture, the wife fails to thank him profusely. He feels rejected, and vows never to lay his heart on the line like that again. Situations like the have made bestsellers out of dozens of books, most notably, “Women Are from Earth, Men Are from Pods.”
Men can express their love through gift giving, but even then, it’s hard for them to understand exactly what makes a woman happy. My husband, through 11 years of trial and error, is getting better every year. I figure by now he’s worked up a mental list of what I would and would not like for my birthday: “Jewelry: yes. Power tools: no. Power tools for me to build something for her: possible, but a stretch. Hunting gear: definitely no.” And, overall other than the $200 set of router bits he got me for our anniversary one year (“to make you raised-panel doors for your kitchen cupboards”) he’s improving steadily.
But training a man to buy an appropriate present is not the same as having a man show he cares. Until I asked for a chicken coop, I had never understood that my husband, a builder, could use his carpentry skills to demonstrate the depth of his feelings for me. (The state of our partially renovated house supports this theory: He’s dragging out the work over the course of our lives so he’ll never run out of ways to say he cares.)
The first surprise came when I told him I wanted to raise a few laying hens. He only shrugged. I’m sure he knew better than to point out the dubious economics of getting your own eggs; last fall we calculated the cost of deer hunting in terms of time and equipment and determined that the venison he brought home rang up at $29 a pound. Still, he never questioned my sudden desire for poultry, and only put up token resistance to my request for a coop.
I figured he could throw one together in a weekend. Once construction began, however, I found that he had much more planned than the simple 4-by-8 raised structure I had in mind. His brother and nephew came to help, and together they dragged out every tool he owned, then measured, cut, nailed, screwed, cursed, unscrewed, and re-screwed for days on end. The result: a tiny, barn-red, dormered cottage nestled in the woods at the side of our yard.
Insulated, ventilated, and decorated, the coop could double as a lavishly appointed guesthouse. (I expected the roosts and nest boxes, but the sunken living room and breakfast nook came as a surprise. And I still question whether chickens, not the brightest of creatures, will ever figure out how to operate the home theater system.)
Everyone who comes to visit marvels at the attention to detail that my husband put into this project, and I really can’t get over it myself. But when you marry a contractor who is better with a hammer than he is with soul-baring romantic language, you learn to recognize that the overbuilt coop represents much more than just a checked-off item on his to-do list. It means he loves me. He really loves me.
Or maybe he just loves chickens.
Jessie Raymond is a freelance writer whose humor column “Around the Bend” appears in the Addison Independent of Middlebury, Vermont.