What I’ve learned in marriage: to be direct

Confession: Not many years ago, when I was young, I was under the impression that the best way to ask a favor or broach a difficult subject was to sidle up to it gently. I always preferred to drop enough hints about where I was heading that the other person could a) offer the adjustment or favor of their own initiative if they were so inclined, or b) steer the conversation away if they were not. This inclination reflects both how I was raised as a Minnesotan child* and who I am as a person.

It almost made my husband crazy.

Mr. Direct Speech, whom I married by accident while marrying Mr. Handsome, Mr. Intelligent, Mr. Merciful, Mr. Good with Words, and Mr. Great Volleyball Player insisted that I say what I wanted to say, a cruel and unusual punishment, as anyone who shares my dislike of unpleasant conversations will easily see.

“Honey. Um. Honey, I feel like you’re – What is the speed limit through here? Isn’t it forty-five miles an hour? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to drive, but the baby – !” He prefers that I drop all that and substitute this, which feel impossibly rude and impolitic: “Ryan, you’re driving like Jehu. Please slow down.”

He put a stop to “Do you know what time it is??” and “Are you hoping to get to that project today??” and “Oh shoot, I forgot the salt and pepper…??” (Double question marks in any situation are his abhorrence, and “Do you want to…?” is even worse. Um, no. He doesn’t.) He is teaching me to say, “It’s time to go” and “Would you add this to your task list?” and “Will you please bring salt and pepper to the table?”

Seriously??

It took years to learn. Perhaps I should say it has taken years, and it is still taking years, and it is about to have taken more years, until death do us part. But he will not give up on me.

It’s almost making me crazy.


* I had never factored geography into my makeup until I read this line: “He had been through many of these conversations. He has a calm, reassuring air and a native Minnesotan’s tendency to avoid confrontation or over-intimacy.” It cracked me right up. – Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Metropolitan Books, 2014, p. 166.

Which brings to mind another quote: “I like that about myself, and I like myself, and I have a lot of other great qualities as well.” – Marcel the Shell

Excerpts

I guess you know that even when I’m not writing here, I am always writing, in some form or another? Here’s a glimpse into a few things I’ve sent to others in the last week or two.


To a dear sis-in-law:

Aw I LOVE the air plant you sent me! And that cute little log to set it on… It’s on my kitchen window sill and making me happy every time I look at it.


To a friend:

You were NOT blubbering. I totally get what you’re saying and don’t always know how concerned to be for you or for myself. The whole rest of the day I could not think at all… I had dizzy spells and ringing in my ears (okay, once) and felt like a fluffball of mishmash. Now do you think it was the devil or the caffeine or the fact that we talked about not being able to think??!

{Aside to you readers: Please, as you love me, do not give me health advice at this moment. I am already drinking kefir and reading my Bible every day, so I figure I’m covered.}


To an employee on a mission:

I appreciate you thinking of me, but it doesn’t feel like my niche. I have rewritten others’ work in the past, but it’s not my favorite thing; it’s hard for me to catch vision for redoing someone else’s material and perhaps not doing it justice. Of course the other issue is time and energy for taking on an additional project of that size. I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I think A.Y. or A.Z. should do it. {grin} Both are gifted with eyes for improving literary quality and age appropriateness, and both have shown some historical/ biographical interest or talent.


To the boss:

Leaving to see my dad, hope Jenny sleeps till I return xo


To select church ladies:

I’m sorry to have to cancel the plant swap party entirely. I only had one definite yes, and the rest either had schedule conflicts or weren’t sure… I guess the time of year that the plants are ready is not a very good time for people’s schedules.


To a new colleague:

I am very interested in your little boy. In fact, I have fallen in love with him. He looks like some of my foster children when they wake up their first morning in a new house, and all they have known has been taken away, and all the rules have changed.


To a most loved sister:

You’re a very tough cookie. You’ve been through a lot and aced it. Don’t even think that because you were given the answers to your prayers and these miracle babies and healings and second chances, you should be on easy street or have become some kind of perfect saint. I really believe that the things we most beg God for turn out to be our hardest assignments. Maybe he plants the seeds of our callings in our hearts, and so we ask him for them, and then they are so. much. harder. than we expected. But He is there, and good to us. It’s not hard because we made a wrong choice or arm-twisted him into grudgingly going along with our foolish ideas. It’s hard because it’s his beautiful plan for us, and just what we were made to do. Why do I always end up preaching?!?! #soapboxsister


To a bio mom:

Would you mind texting me when they leave the visit so I know when to expect them back here? I really appreciate you trusting us with your kiddos…They are very sweet and a delight to care for.


To a fellow foster mom, for whom we did respite:

If children’s happiness can be measured by the amount of muddy laundry they produce, I think we can safely call the weekend a success.


To the same:

On second thought it was judgmental of me to say it was “careless of the adult.”


To our babysitter:

Let us know what you think, and thanks for considering.

Perambulations inspired by a spider

Today begins a week’s worth of daily, pre-scheduled blog posts. This will clear my written but unpublished backlog and make a valiant attempt at ending the navel-gazing I’m fighting this spring. I’m sorry the posts don’t really ask much of you; that feels a little selfish but I can’t fix it right now. Thank you for your forbearance in this matter.


I was watching a spider crawl down my wall and thinking I ought to get up and squish him.

He was just a little spider, though, and I was waiting for my daughter to go to sleep, and I thought I wonder how he decides which of his eight legs to move next? He decides so fast. It’s hard to believe there is really a brain in that little blob at all. Is there? Do spiders have brains?

What is a brain?

If that is the smallest brain, what is the biggest?

Maybe – I was getting very tired, lying there and beginning to think in pictures, not in English – maybe the whole world is the brain of a creature so big and so Other we cannot imagine it. That’s why it’s so important to keep talking to each other – we send the electrical signals within a gigantic brain. Every conversation, every text, every shared smile, every successful connection lights up the whole, and when we stop signaling, something big dies.

I thought on these things sleepily, for some time, and all because of a spider.

After a while I got up and squished him.

The key to communication found MIA

So last night I had a dream in which Ryan was talking to a group of men about the challenges of communicating with women. He was acting out the roles, the way he can be toodling along in a conversation and then suddenly blind-sided by a sharp question from his wife. POW! Ryan staggered around acting out how this feels and all the men started choking up, getting tears in their eyes.

I mean whaddya say? It’s one of those questions where every answer gets your head cut off.

Oh yeah man, that cuts deep.

Someone in the audience tried to read aloud a passage from a helpful book (I think it was this board book that belongs to my son, brightly colored and with googly eyes on the cover)

children's book

but he couldn’t talk past the lump in his throat and passed it to a friend, who hemmed and hawed trying to get himself under control so he could share its profound wisdom with the class.

Sadly, the dream ended before anyone read the enlightening words that would have made sense of it all and offered a way forward.

*****

I guess you will have to write them yourself… What say?

When talking with women

No, I haven’t forgotten. And yes, I offered the opportunity of writing this post to my husband, who laughed out loud.

“No, really,” I said, “would you?”

“I know better than that!” he said.

So I waited.

Two days later I asked him again. He looked startled and said “Goodness, when?” Which being interpreted is, “I would be so delighted to do this thing for you, my dear, truly I would. But as you know, I am much occupied in the winning of bread and the performing of other manly offices. You go right ahead: I believe in you.”

At least, I’m sure it went something like that…

*****

coffee

When talking with women

1. Say a lot

If the rule for women is 49%, the rule for men must be 210%. Which means, you say what you’re thinking—like open your mouth and let it all out—and then look deeply into her eyes and lower your voice and say it all again in slightly different words, gently. Adding a little extra that you thought of during the second go.

You see, when you don’t say what you’re thinking she thinks about what you’re thinking, and 99% of the time she ramps it too high, too dark, too horrible. What you say is less viral than what you don’t say. But please. For your own sake as well as hers, say it

2. Carefully.

I don’t mean to be rude, and I’m making a point of saying that you men are good at many things—if the world depended on me to pound nails and build websites and grow beards and stuff we’d all be dead by now—but really? the subtle cue thing is a little lost on you.

Kronk described it well: “the Cold Shoulder, the Frenzied Eyebrow, the Grimace of Doom, the Sneer of Despair, the Crippling Wince of Guilt, the Scowl of Impending Wrath, and worst of all, the Nostril Flare of Total Rejection.”

Little things like that. It’s important to stay tuned, men, or honestly? You’ll never know what hit you. Even though she gave you fair warning.

3. Ask questions.

I am probably betraying my half of the species by admitting it, but women love questions. Not “Where’d you get this cut of meat and how much did you pay for it and did you remember to fill the car with gas?” but “How was your day? Are things going better with that friendship you talked about last week? What do you think about…?”

When the words “Talk to me, hon. What are you feeling?” come out of your mouth, you achieve instant hero status. Her whole world lights up.

And in the end, if this is all too tall an order and too hot a minefield, do this little thing:

4. Listen well.

Look into her eyes, lay down the paper or the laptop or the smartphone at least for a time, and make sympathetic noises. Grunts are good. Chuckles. Sighs. {Just no farts or hiccups, por favor.}

This will please her. She will go away thinking what a great conversationalist you are.

*****

So then… after my husband said No, he produced this brilliance:

  • Listen much. Talk little.*
  • Your wife can’t read your mind. Surprise, surprise.
  • “I’m sorry” is not an admission of guilt. Unless you are. Then it is.
  • You both lose arguments unless you’re on the same team.
  • Listen when she talks. Then listen when you talk.
  • If you’re in deep doodoo, stop digging.

* No, this is not the same viewpoint as the one his wife expressed above. I’m leaving it in, with a disclaimer—unlike his last point, which I struck from the record entirely: something about “if you have something difficult to say and you don’t know how to say it—don’t.” Utter poppycock. Well, well. You see we are still under construction.

In short, good luck to you boys: you will need it. May your race increase.

*****

I am not sure if any of this is true. Persons of either gender should feel free to amend and correct. I should, however, like to state for the sake of anyone who is in doubt that I am madly in love with my husband.

And as always… But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions. You may be one: in which case you may x this window and say “That woman does not have a clue what she’s talking about.” You would be quite right. Although I would prefer that you’d say it to my face. Twice over. Gently.