Sex, Lies and Wife Guys

When a cheating scandal hits close to home

Sex, Lies and Wife Guys
Try Guys always get to keep trying

I keep a list of too-raw things I’ve written in my head. I try to keep myself from adding to that list. But with the publication of this essay, that list just grew. I don’t know. I am not good at being careful, I guess.

I use Mormon and LDS interchangeably in this essay. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prefers LDS, but when I was growing up, they preferred Mormon.

At the end of the essay, right past the (worth reading!) footnotes, I share a link to a free subscription to Scribd so you can listen FOR FREE to Anne Helen Petersen’snew book, The Mom’s Are Not Alright. They’re not. We’re not. 

I also include a new homeculture reading soundtrack, Run Mad As Often As You Choose, But Do Not Cheat. Paid subscribers helped me build the playlist! It was a fun collaborative project. Thank you, homeculture community!

Okay, now onto the show essay. 

I lost sleep last week because a YouTuber named Ned Fulmer cheated on his wife. I’d never heard of the man when he started trending. At first, I wasn’t interested. I was sure The Fulmer Affair was a rich text if you knew someone involved. But flattened into a pop culture narrative, the details of the scandal were about as bland as Ned’s supporting character name. Wife Guy Cheats on Devoted Wife with Someone at Work is only an interesting plot twist if you’re in the story. 

But I started clenching my jaw halfway through reading the first explainer. And then I couldn’t pull my teeth apart long enough to let it go. So I read through every other explainer, sifted through reddit threads and took notes while watching YouTube videos. Notes. While watching YouTube videos. I was the real life version of the Charlie Day conspiracy meme

Ned was a Try Guy. The Try Guys are a group of men who film themselves trying things, like ladies underwear and colonics. The Try Guys started at Buzzfeed. Their biggest hit is The Try Guys Try Labor Pain Simulation (35,599,507 views). In 2018, they left to form their own production company. Buzzfeed maintained a stake in the brand. It wasn’t a bad investment. The Try Guys have billions of YouTube views with an estimated annual revenue of $3 million. There’s merch, tours, a book (one week as #1 NYT bestseller) and sponsorships. So that revenue number is probably much higher. 

Each Try Guy has a personal brand. Ned’s brand was Wife Guy. Viewers watched him cook with his wife, remodel a home with his wife, and have children with his wife. When a video had nothing to do with his wife, he’d remind his viewers he had a wife, who he loved. He’s famous for interjecting “my wife” into conversations. But maybe not the conversations that really mattered. There is a history of Reddit users claiming the Try Guys have long known that Ned could get “sloppy” at night clubs. 

Then last week, someone on Reddit posted a fuzzy video of Ned making out with aTry Guy producer. In the days since, more images of the two have been posted by other gloating concerned citizens. Ned is no longer a Try Guy. And the remaining three Try Guys want their viewers to know they are pretty forking mad (8,255,728 views). No word on how they felt about the alleged night club sloppiness. Anyways.

After he was exposed, Ned released a statement on Instagram,

"Family should have always been my priority, but I lost focus and had a consensual workplace relationship. I'm sorry for any pain that my actions may have caused to the guys and the fans but most of all to Ariel. The only thing that matters right now is my marriage and my children, and that's where I am going to focus my attention."

Ned’s statement reads like a CEO apologizing for missing an end of year target because that’s what it is. His household exists to support his production (company). He got distracted and let down the people invested in him. The relationship was with one of his employees, so “consensual” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. But he’s sorry for any pain his actions may or may not have caused. He does not refer to Ariel as “my wife.” Once a Wife Guy, not always a Wife Guy. 

When I read Ned’s statement, I understood why I couldn’t stop working my teeth across the surface of the Wife Guy Cheats saga. I was in it. It’s a story about the house my country and religion taught me to keep - the standardized white middle class American Home(™). 

The American Home(™) is a private enterprise with an operating model. Unpaid care work is an input that’s transformed into support for capitalist production. The home’s organizational strategy depends on traditional roles. The husband works outside the home. The wife might work in the home or work outside of the home. Either way, she’s the primary parent. Unpaid labor falls overwhelmingly to her and is intentionally devalued by the state. She supports the husband’s career at the expense of her own interests, with the understanding his income will support the household. She’s all in. And she’s been told it’s not much of a gamble because the American Home was built to make a profit.

The American Home(™) seems designed for social media engagement. People love to watch a husband thrive because of a wife who sustains a home with little visible work.

The standardized American Home(™) is one of the Wife Guys natural habitats. And for the past ten years, Ned has publicly flourished in it. When his content wasn’t being filmed inside of his home with his wife, he reminded people he had a wife at home. The American Home(™) seems designed for social media engagement. People love to watch a husband thrive because of a wife who sustains a home with little visible work. And really, the American Home(™) was built for social media engagement, because it was built to support all kinds of markets. It’s just a much older construction than YouTube. 

In the 19th century, industrial capitalists were bloated with capital, mostly acquired through slavery and genocide. They were also besotted with the potentiality of mass production. The scalable future of industrial capitalism required unpaid and underpaid care work. So the American Home(™) was fitted to capitalism’s needs. White middle class women were told to stay home where they could support their husband, consume mass produced goods and raise babies to fill church pews and workspaces. 

Their homes were held together by the exploitation of low-income and Black women. Their exploitation protected the profit margins of the American Home.

White picket fences isolated white middle class domestic spaces from community custom and support. Wife Guys were quick to credit the angels in their homes for holding everything together. But their homes were really held together by the exploitation of low-income and Black women, who worked for poverty wages in white middle class homes, in farm fields and on factory floors. Their exploitation protected the profit margins of the American Home(™). 

Since then, the American Home(™) has been sold to millions of women at a staggering cost, to them and others. Doing unpaid care work full time is not proof of going all in on the American Home(™). Going all in means conceding and reinforcing the idea that the care work of the home exists to support economic production. Tradwives are all in, sure. But so is every girlboss seeking liberation through leaning in while underpaying her nanny. She’s as willing to exploit care work as J.P. Morgan. She just isn’t doing it at the same scale, but give her time. 

It’s amazing what a belief in a profit-driving American Home(™) can justify. Like telling millions of people you adore your wife in monetized videos while having sex with one of the women on the production team. In Ned’s defense, continuing to exploit the home in the face of a growing self-inflicted crisis is an American tradition. 

Tradwives are all in, sure. But so is every girlboss seeking liberation through leaning in while underpaying her nanny. She’s as willing to exploit care work as J.P. Morgan.

When the stock market collapsed in 1929, Herbert Hoover refused to allow federal intervention because he was certain the white American Home(™) would produce a better outcome. He asked companies to maintain steady wages for men. A Wife Guy to the core, he thought mothers were saints who could raise “healthy children” to make American great again. And yes, pretty much any time “healthy children” were referenced in the early 20th century by a white guy, he was talking about eugenics. Hoover had been talking about “healthy children” for a long time. He was one of the notable attendees of The Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921.

In 1930, just three years after the Buck v Bell decision, Hoover gave a chilling address at the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. He urged his listeners to find hope despite the existence of disabled children in America, “be not discouraged, let us bear in mind that there are 35 million reasonably normal, cheerful…vivid, romping, everyday children.”1

The American Home(™) and the Mormon Home(™) had become mirror images by the 1970s. In 1973, one of the top leaders of the LDS church, N. Eldon Tanner, gave a sermon, No Greater Honor: The Woman’s Role. He preached that the American Home(™) was part of God’s plan. The sermon is full of capitalist language of incentives and state power to persuade women to stay home as supporting characters. In a particularly on the nose moment, Tanner quoted Hoover’s eugenics speech,

“The Lord has promised us great blessings if we will do our part in this divine plan. President Herbert Hoover gave this incentive: ‘If we could have but one generation of properly born, trained, educated and healthy children, a thousand other problems of government would vanish. We would assure ourselves of healthier minds, more vigorous bodies, to direct the energies of our nation to greater heights of achievement.’”

In 1987, the President of the LDS Church, Ezra Taft Benson, urged LDS mothers to leave the workforce. His sermon is included in a marriage manual on the Church of Latter-day Saint website. Quoting the man who served as president before him, Benson said that mothers worked outside the home to afford things like “sweaters” and “music lessons.” Kids these days and their fancy sweaters is an old man gripe that would be funny, if the intent wasn’t so horrifying. Middle class families could easily afford things like nice sweaters and music lessons. But only white people could easily become middle class.

That same year, The Washington Post reported that most white households entered the middle class with one wage. Structural racism meant Black people had fewer opportunities and earned less money. It took two incomes to bring most Black households into the middle class. America’s road to middle class heaven was designed to leave Black people stranded. And Tanner’s road to hell was paved with low-income people and middle-income Black people wearing outer layers while playing Für Elise.

Mormon women are taught the Wife Guy is the good guy.

By the time I was a teenager in the 2000s, the message had softened a little. An LDS woman could work outside the home, if she remembered the home was where they really belonged. The language of incentives remained. If a woman promised to be all in, her home on earth and her home in heaven would be secure. That wasn’t all. She’d also get the praise of her husband. Mormon women are taught the Wife Guy is the good guy. 

In No Greater Honor, Tanner created the perfect Wife Guy tagline when he asked, “What woman could want any greater glory or tribute than that which comes from an appreciative and loving husband?”2 This is like an influencer who's deeply invested in the blockchain asking, "Who could want something more valuable than bitcoin?" A husband’s public adoration is a social currency that only he can cash. Tanner went on to say that company executives often wanted “to know what kind of wife a man has” for the same reason the church wants to know - a worthy wife can give a man the support he needs to be successful. 

A Wife Guy doesn’t talk about his wife as a person, he talks about her as a vessel of virtues. In his telling she is always more selfless than him, more kind, much wiser, and more patient.  Wife Guys are never really talking about their wives, they’re talking about themselves. Mormon Wife Guys want you to know a saint chose them. Her choice reinforces their authority in the church. 

A husband’s public adoration is a social currency that only he can cash. 

Ned’s my wifes were functionally similar. He mentioned her to assure people he was a sound investment. A saint chose him for life, certainly his viewers could choose him for a few minutes a day. Millions of viewers agreed with him. My wife has been a winning business strategy since the beginning of the Guys. Ned was a Wife Guy well before the Try Guys broke off from Buzzfeed. When Buzzfeed maintained a stake in the Try Guys, the popularity of Ned’s online persona helped justify their investment. They knew what kind of wife he had. 

The Try Guys promoted, and profited off of, Ned’s Wife Guy ways, including making a compilation of times he said, “my wife.” Try Guy Reddit Lore says that the Guys independent production company, 2nd Try LLC, was partially funded by a loan Ned took out on his home. It was his wife’s home too, but that only seems to come up regularly in post-scandal threads. I doubt he had an issue getting the money. The American Home (™) has always been a sound investment for people not dependent on it.

Maybe they should though

Ned’s wife has a name. It’s Ariel Fulmer. Ariel went all in on the American Home(™) in support of Ned and the other Try Guys. Over the years, she’s become a staple on the Try Guy channels. Try Girl might have been nice branding next to Try Guy. But instead she was branded to communicate Try Guy has an American Home(™); she is a Try Wife and Try Mom. 

Ariele appears in Try Guys videos, in a DIY series with Ned and videos of her own in the Try Guy extended universe. She also has a podcast with the other Try Wives and Try Partners. It has excellent reviews. What happens to her career now, when every bit of it has been constructed in relation to her husband? What happens to the other Try Wives and Try Partners if their Try Guy decides to try someone new?  

One of Ariel’s most watched videos is Moms Post Thirst Traps for a Week (1,938,220 views).3 The title is very descriptive. In the video, she learns how to take and post thirst traps. She poses across the surfaces of a mansion in lingerie and bathing suits. She looks beautiful. But in the cutaway interviews, Ariel is open about how uncertain she feels about her body after having two babies. 

She’s become elemental, the stuff of which the babies and the universe is made, she’s more particle than person, more Try Mom than Try Woman.

Becoming a mother is in many ways transformative. Ariel sounds like she’s been more transfigured than transformed. In one mid-shoot interview, she said, “I feel like I am disappearing. Being a mom does not mean I should fade away.” She’s become elemental, the stuff of which the babies and the universe is made, she’s more particle than person, more Try Mom than Try Woman.

When Ariel saw the photos from the shoot, it was jarring. A series of photos of her in high heels by a pool brought her to the point of tears. She said she was embarrassed she felt appealing during the shoot because she can’t see what she felt in the pictures. The other women assure her, “It’s the lighting, it’s not you.” I think she looked great in all of the photos. But those words keep resonating. Wives and mothers in bad lighting is a standard fixture of the American Home(™). 

I curled up inside myself in mortification when I read a tweet that said the employee Ned cheated with helped film the video. She’s listed as an assistant producer, but I don’t know if she was there. If she was, it’s more Ned’s fault than hers. He abused a position of power and chose to cheat with a person who helped produce the Try Wife content supporting his Wife Guy empire.

Ariel and Ned released a cookbook together last year, The Date Night Cookbook.There are pictures of Ned gazing at Ariel alongside the pictures of food. The recipes are “organized by relationship stage—from single and dating to meeting the parents to long-term commitment.” Chapter 3 is titled Disappointment and includes recipes for Kitchen Sink Nachos with Refried Black Beans, Vegan Lemon and Broccoli Bowties and Kiss + Make Up Flourless Chocolate Cake. That last one gives me pause. In my experience, forgiveness requires a rising agent.

I am a Try Wife too, I guess.

I was raised to keep the American Home(™). I understand now that the American Home(™) was created to keep me, in labor and complicity. My husband understands that too. That understanding doesn’t remove us from its framing. I am still not paid for my care work. And my care work doesn’t count as work experience. 37 year olds with no experience are not qualified for most professional positions. 

Without Riley’s work we can’t pay our mortgage. Without my work we couldn’t pay for the fifteen hours of childcare it took me to research and write this essay. We are in the middle class, even without my withering writerly earnings, because the American Home(™) was built for us. Riley’s wages make my small wages possible. I am a Try Wife too, I guess. So what happens if my husband loses focus?

Every person’s answer to this is going to be different, influenced by different ideas about monogamy, marriage and partnership. I am not sure there is a right answer. Years ago, I would have taken his betrayal into account and revised my projections for our next few quarters. It would be hard, but by focusing on the family, we’d get back on track. But now? I can’t feel at home in a market-driven enterprise. And I know there’s no salvation in the glory of any husband’s tributes. I was raised to believe I existed to hold a home together. But maybe I exist to be held and to hold.

Alison Krauss sings a song I love, Take Me for Longing

Don't choose me because I am faithful/Don't choose me because I am kind/If your heart settles on me, I'm for the taking/Take me for longing or leave me behind 

I remember singing along with it in high school. I felt radical. Church leaders taught me I would be chosen because I was faithful and kind. I couldn’t imagine a boy simply longing for me, and that being enough for him. I stopped attending the Mormon church a while ago. But singing along to the song still feels radical. 

My body has been shaped by the birth of three children, and the loss of one pregnancy. I have not been transfigured, but I am being transformed. The lines are deepening around my mouth and the silver streaming through my hair. As I age, my value in the American Home(™), in real life and online, is more and more tied up with my ability to be a kind mother, a faithful wife, a woman who holds things together. 

I want him to take me for longing, or leave me behind.

But I can’t imagine a heaven made of repeating picket fences. I wasn’t formed by the nuclear family, I was formed by the nuclear fusion of stars we can’t build telescopes big enough to see. I don’t want my husband to have to concentrate on our family to remember what he owes me. I can’t be bothered to wait for eternal glory, I want to pull him in and have everything right now, again and again. I want him to take me for longing, or leave me behind.

It’s all easier written than lived. I may reject the idea of the American Home(™) but I grew up eating pomegranate seeds at its kitchen table. I belong to it. I am 37 years old, I’ve no degree and no career prospects. If Riley left me behind, how would I buy cereal for the kids? Or the bowls for the cereal? Or the beds they sleep in? Or qualify to rent an apartment with rooms for the beds? How would I hold everything together? 

The day after my first sleepless night of Try Guy message boards, I slept in. When I got downstairs, Riley was already making breakfast. Before he looked up from the stove, I said, "If you ever cheat on me, I will salt the earth around you and nothing will grow for a thousand years." 

He said, "Morning, Meg. I guess you heard about the Try Boy or whatever he's called." 

Then he handed me my coffee. 

1 The “reasonably normal” children he had in mind were white. Hoover blamed Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans for the continuing economic crisis. He oversaw the Mexican Repatriation, a multi-year period when Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were deported or forced to repatriate. Over 40% of the people deported were citizens, many of whom were children.

2 In 2004, the year after I graduated high school, LDS Apostle Quentin Cook gave a global sermon titled, LDS Women are Incredible! The title was a reference to a line Wallace Stegner wrote in his history about the Mormon Migration, The Gathering of Zion.

He said while he did not share Mormon beliefs, he did not doubt their devotion, “especially their women. Their women were incredible.” Stegner was talking about women who bore and buried babies on their 1000 mile trek across America. A trek that took them to Utah where the Mormons settled on land that was not theirs. And some enslaved indigenous people.

Cook uses the quote to praise women who cook and clean so their husbands can do God’s work, the accomplishments of men in the church are “due to the selfless service of women.”

3 The video has been viewed over 30,000 more times since I wrote that sentence. Is Ariel seeing any of the profits being generated because her husband’s infidelity went viral?