Why do ‘respectable’ women want dead husbands?

I find this hostile wife phenomenon pretty confusing for several reasons:

  1. Wanting other people dead is generally considered an evil character trait. Most people either don’t have such wishes or don’t admit to them. This is especially the case when the person you prefer dead is someone you are meant to be loyal to. Often this applies even if they are permanently unconscious. The ‘analogy’ between wanting someone dead and insisting they don’t get cryonics is too clear to be missed by anyone.
  2. People don’t usually seem to care much about abstract beliefs or what anybody is going to do in the distant future, except as far as these things imply character traits or group ties. If the fact your partner is likely to die at all in the distant future isn’t enough to scare you away, I can’t see how anything he might do after that can be disturbing.
  3. People tend to care a lot about romantic partners, compared to other things. They are often willing to change religion or overlook homocidal tendencies to be with the one they love. Romance is infamous for making people not care about whether the sky falls, or they catch deadly venerial diseases.
  4. The hostile wife phenomenon seems to be a mostly female thing, but doesn’t go with any especially strong female-specific characteristics I know of. Women overall don’t especially resist medical spending for instance, and are often criticized as a group for enjoying otherwise pointless expenditures too much.
  5. My surprise is probably somewhat exacerbated by pre-existing surprise over many people wanting to die ever, but that is another issue.

Partial explanations of the hostile wife phenomenon offered by Darwin, de Wolf and de Wolf, Quentin, C (#44), Robin Hanson, and others:

  • Women are more often hostile just because most interested parties are heterosexual men (This is presumably some part of the explanation, but not much – in around ninety cases of significant others interfering in cryonics arrangements recorded between 1978-86 I count four males, while roughly one quarter of Alcor’s members are women. It wouldn’t explain the strong opposition anyway, nor the fact that men are more interested in cryonics to begin with).
  • Women really don’t like looking strange (according to Darwin and the de Wolfs, women often claim deep embarrassment. This just raises the question of why it’s so embarrassing. Plenty of people have plenty of strange opinions about all sorts of far off things, and they can usually devote some resources to them before it becomes so problematic for their partner).
  • Cryonics looks like a one way ticket to somewhere else, where other women are, which also makes here and now less significant, shows the man could go on with life without the woman (this at least a cost in terms of something that usually matters in relationships. But why not go with him then? Why not divorce him over his excercize habits? Why wouldn’t men have similar concerns?)
  • Cost, perhaps specifically that it is selfish not to give money to more needy, or to the wife or family (But people put up with huge expense on other funeral rituals and last minute attempts to live longer. Perhaps cryonics just looks less likely to do what it is meant to do? Would it be more admissible if it weren’t meant to do anything? Why would women care about this more than men?)
  • Separation in whatever other afterlife the spouse has planned (this could only explain whatever proportion of religious people don’t believe you go to the same place eventually after living longer, and should apply to men also)
  • Cryonics is seen as a substitute to caring about raising family, since you don’t need genetic immortality if you have proper immortality (if genetic immortality is a common conscious reason to invest in a family I’m not aware of it, and this shouldn’t especially apply to women)
  • Wives object to their husband joining a boys’ club, and feel left out (this only makes sense for those heavily socially involved in a cryonics organization, and I understand this phenomenon is much broader)
  • Thinking styles: women don’t like risky things, ‘global solutions’, or the sort of innovative thinking required to appreciate cryonics (this is Darwin, and the de Wolf’s main answer. It is made of controversial assumptions and wouldn’t explain strong antagonism anyway, just lack of enthusiasm. Even if you aren’t a fan of risk, it’s generally considered better that complete failure).
  • Women either want to die, or have tenuously justified doing it, and resent being presented alternatives. This also explains why the answer to many of the above things is not to just sign up with your husband (But I see no evidence women want to die especially much, and while apparently many people have come to terms with their mortality enough to not fight it, I don’t think this is much higher among females than males)

None of these is satisfying. Got any more?

On the off chance the somewhat promising social disapproval hypothesis is correct, I warn any prospective hostile wives reading how deeply I disrespect them for preferring their husbands dead.

20 responses to “Why do ‘respectable’ women want dead husbands?

  1. I think your “one way ticket to somewhere else” explanation is obviously correct. When a man signals that he desires, and is committed to investing in, a new life beyond his wife, most women would be biologically predisposed to have a problem with that.

    But why not go with him then?

    Show me the examples of the men who asked, or even insisted that their wives go with them, and said “If you don’t go with me, I won’t go”. The fact that men generally don’t do this, is likely a big contributor to the female reaction.

    Imagine your husband or boyfriend telling you, “I just scheduled a 1 year vacation in Pattaya, and since I know you hate Thai food, I didn’t buy you tickets. I’ll remember you fondly.”

    That’s very different from the man who says, “I’ve always dreamed of living in Antarctica, but I won’t do it without you, so I’m prepared to spend the next 5 years convincing you that it’s a great idea”.

    Why not divorce him over his exercise habits?

    Women put up with all sorts of disloyal behavior from men, but that doesn’t mean they like it, or that they can’t kvetch about it. Fantasizing about cryogenic rebirth isn’t terribly different from looking at porn, and many women unhappily tolerate their husband’s porn consumption or even the occasional affair. If you’re dependent on your husband for your well-being, you’re not likely to jeopardize that arrangement over something that’s very unlikely to materialize anyway — Jenna Jameson isn’t really going to steal him from you, and he’s not really going to hook up with futuristic hotties 1,000 years from now. You’ll just be pissed at him for fantasizing about it in the first place.

    Why wouldn’t men have similar concerns?

    This is easy to answer, isn’t it? Women who are financially dependent on a man who fantasizes about cheating far outnumber males in the analogous situation. The very few men who find themselves in analogous situations quite likely have a problem with it.

  2. Ditto to JS – but add on the fact that cryonics is new and is something that could be made public to their friends. She would be very humiliated to have to admit to all of her friends that her husband, unlike their husbands, is actively investing in his life beyond her, making his commitment to her seem like less than the commitment that all her friends managed to get out of their men.

  3. The fundamental difference between life extension and cryonics is that the former keeps her beloved husband alive for [i]her[/i].

    Still, we should see parallels with terminally ill wives then. Suppose a incurable woman with 6 months to live is married to a man who would have 6 months to live unless he spends $100,000 on a operation that has a decent chance of completely curing him. If women tend to be hostile to men trying to live longer than them, then the woman in this example should oppose her husband undergoing this operation. This scenario is pretty rare, but I would imagine that relatively few women would oppose the operation if asked in a hypothetical question – but they perhaps might only say so to avoid seeming selfish.

    What if the man wasn’t ill himself? Is the terminally ill wife likely to try to “take him down with her?” I very much doubt it.

    Perhaps an evolutionary perspective is worth looking into. Why should it matter what a man does after his wife’s death? A man who tries to extend his own life beyond his wife’s may change his behaviour in a way that is detrimental to the future success of their mutual children. He might save up resources (rather than spend them on his current children) for use on his future children with other women. However, this doesn’t mean that wives should actively try to kill their husbands to stop them outliving them, if only because the murder is usually unexpected and will therefore not change their behaviour in an evolutionary-beneficial (for the wife) way.

  4. “Women are more often hostile just because most interested parties are heterosexual men ”
    Note that many of the female cryonicists are the non-hostile wives of male cryonicists (who had the idea first).

  5. Young women, especially, have embraced cosmetic surgery, tattoos and piercings, so those ways of “looking strange” don’t seem to bother them. They also display a willingness to ignore ridicule from males for their fads like Twilight. So women don’t necessarily organize their lives around avoiding humiliation and seeking others’ approval. Why do they draw the line at cryonics?

    On the other hand, women show a greater willingness to follow cues from popular culture. What would happen if one of the women in “The Jersey Shore” signed up for cryonics, for example?

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  7. Might women have a stronger sense of “disgust” than men do, perhaps for evolutionary reasons?

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  9. Indeed, I buy the “one way ticket away from here” explanation. If I bought a one-way ticket to France, and was intent on going whether my wife wanted to come with me or not, then there would be reason for her to be miffed. If she didn’t want to go, the “correct” answer is “I won’t go without you”. But that is not the answer the cryonicist gives to his “hostile” wife.

    It’s like the opposite of “I would die for you” – he actually got a chance to take that test, and failed.

  10. Mitchell Porter

    I would guess that the main predictor of hostility from wives (and the occasional husband) is simply whether they think that cryonics could work. If they think it could work, they may be accepting and may even sign up as well. If they think it wouldn’t work, really think it wouldn’t work, then the seeds of discord have been planted (and the discord won’t always originate with the skeptical partner). The skeptical spouse may use arguments which appear to accept the cryonic premise – e.g. “why would you want to live so long anyway”, “why would the future bring you back” – but some of this must be a matter of engaging with the crazy ideas of their partner, for the sake of discussion.

    Why is it mostly wives objecting? Because it’s mostly men who are signing up to begin with, and that is broadly consistent with male majorities elsewhere (in science, engineering, and so on).

    “My surprise is probably somewhat exacerbated by pre-existing surprise over many people wanting to die ever, but that is another issue.”

    It is not another issue. And it is not that people “want to die” – or want others to die. The prospect of death, and the reality of death when it comes to other people close by, causes terror, horror, and despair. But all this is considered inevitable, except perhaps the emotional component, which is alleviated by focusing on the inevitability of death. Why cry for long over something that has to happen? That is normal psychology. You, and all your commenters who consider cryonics a serious possibility, are abnormal, because you have an attitude of something other than abject helplessness towards mortality.

  11. “You, and all your commenters who consider cryonics a serious possibility, are abnormal, because you have an attitude of something other than abject helplessness towards mortality.”

    This is true to some extent. Though pioneers, explorers, and inventors are abnormal as well. The field of Psychology is in a transitional phase, as is the meaning of normality. One thing is certain, Al Bundy (Ed O’Neil) from the t.v. classic ‘Married with Children’, would have signed up enthusiastically! lol

    The larger field of cryogenics will likely become more accepted and seem less bizarre when hurricanes are deflected or their intensity is calmed using their technology. This should have a positive effect on peoples’ perception of cryonics as well.

    Also, regenerative technologies might eclipse the need for cryonics in many cases. Either way it’s about healing, and much less about living forever (though the subject has been predominantly cast in this light).

  12. “You, and all your commenters who consider cryonics a serious possibility, are abnormal, because you have an attitude of something other than abject helplessness towards mortality.”

    I noticed that people expected, and demanded, that someone come up with an engineering solution to the oil well problem in the Gulf of Mexico, regardless of how desperate the situation seemed for many weeks. They categorically rejected “abject helplessness”as an option, despite a trend away from belief in human efficacy.

    Cryonicists just apply similar reasoning to the problem of mortality.

  13. Cryonics is a status grab. Immortality is for big epic heroes, not for everyone. I frequently get “I don’t deserve immortality” responses from people I talk to about cryonics, especially women. Talking about immortality as if you had a right to it is claiming way higher status than you have. Women are not as status-hungry as men, which explains the gender imbalance.

  14. “Cryonics is a status grab. Immortality is for big epic heroes, not for everyone.”

    Funny, I know plenty of unspectacular people who’ve signed up for cryonics. I earn somewhat less than the median U.S. household income and manage a motel.

  15. Yes, that’s why some people want you dead. If you had defeated the sun god with a magic sword, instead of buying life insurance and filling some paperwork, people wouldn’t object to your getting frozen.

  16. @Leopold: lol
    I do think that’s an interesting theory though.

  17. Everyone seems to be missing something obvious. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you get your head frozen, the law regards your wife/husband as a widow/widower. I don’t believe any jurisdictions has laws allowing a cryogenically frozen person to be involuntarily divorced – put it that way.

    So legally they would be free to grieve, move on and (if they wanted) find a new partner. But rationally – and ethically? Would they be stuck in limbo until the end of their days, not knowing if you were ever going to be brought back to life within their lifetimes?

    Marriage vows typically state that you are together “till death do us part” or similar words. If you actually take your marriage vows literally (which, of course, many people don’t), and believe in cryonics, this means that you (the non-frozen spouse) would be morally obligated to stay in this limbo, never having sex with anyone else, much less having any kind of romantic relationship. Not very nice!

    Yes, it’s something I’d be prepared to put up with if my wife was in a coma, but not if she was in a self-induced state of head-frozen-ness.

    • I’m not surprised if that’s at least part of the explanation, but insisting on your partner’s death seems a bizarre way to deal with the problem. It probably feels bad to sleep with others while your partner is frozen, but could it really feel worse than sleeping with others in the knowledge you forced your partner to die so that you could do so ‘ethically’?

      If you would be willing to take the chance of life away from your partner to assure yourself the opportunity to somehow have guilt free sex with others, why not do them a favor and just leave them, in your mind if that’s the only place that still recognizes your marriage.

  18. Thanks for finally talking about >Why do respectable women want dead
    husbands? | Meteuphoric <Loved it!

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