A wrong answer can bring a strong man to his knees

I’ve been married long enough to know that when my wife asks certain questions, I can’t answer her honestly.

I want to be truthful, of course, but there are times in every relationship when an incomplete answer is much better — much safer — than the truth.

You probably know what I’m talking about when I tell you that there is simply no correct answer for this question: “Does this outfit make me look fat?” There’s even a TV commercial on the subject. And while on TV it’s a make-believe situation between two actors, in truth, the question is straight out of one of those reality TV shows.

Though it seems logical that the get-out-of-jail-free answer would be: “No, that outfit doesn’t make you look fat,” there’s more to this risky gambit than meets the eye.

The path of least resistance obviously is the one that generates the fewest follow-up questions, but if I deliver even a correct answer too quickly, I’m likely to hear: “You didn’t even look to see what I’m wearing!”

And if I deliver the correct answer with too much deliberation, I’ll hear: “Why did you take so long to decide? It DOES make me look fat, doesn’t it?” followed by a considerable amount of mirror-gazing and consternation.

Either way, the discussion continues, and as it does, the situation grows more and more perilous.

I can offer up the tried-and-true “Everything you wear makes you look beautiful,” but I’ve learned that’s a hard line to deliver sincerely under pressure, particularly if the dress or top or pants or shoes or jewelry or makeup in question don’t immediately conjure the word “beautiful.”

Or I can try the “turn around and let me take another look” approach, which makes me appear focused on the issue at hand while also generating precious additional seconds to consider my options.

The goal, I’ve found, is to maneuver things to the ultimate sweet spot comment from her: “You know, I’m only wearing this because I want to look good for you.”

At that point, the smart money says to grab her lovingly, hold her close and whisper sweet things into her ear. If done properly and convincingly, the situation will be disarmed, and it will be safe to return to watching sports on television.

But deliver it with even the slightest waver of authenticity, or be caught glancing at the game score while giving a consoling neck rub, and I’m likely back on the path to another series of questions, beginning with the more direct: “You haven’t been listening to anything I’ve been saying, have you?”

Which, if I actually have been listening, leads to an attempt to circle back around to how great the shoes or top or pants or jewelry or whatever looks on her.

And if the blank look in my eyes proves I actually haven’t been listening (and I am only supposing here because this scenario has never happened to me), and if I don’t answer quickly enough or with enough conviction about how lovely she and her accessories really are, all of this leads to the only thing more dreaded than the question.

That would be “The Look,” which will be accompanied by another series of questions between which there is no time provided to answer because, it would appear, I’ve already said and done enough.

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