You learn many things in an extended marriage. (Mine is edging toward its twenty-ninth anniversaire.) One of them is to communicate without speaking.
I can’t speak about other people’s marriages. I can barely speak about mine, due to one its member’s having a confidentiality issue related to their job, and I’ll give you a hint on that one – I don’t have a job.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of the Board of Psychology Disciplinary Committee (and my wife’s), I will reveal only this. In this particular marriage, things seem to get done without our actually having conversations about them. As with Rumsfeld’s description of the events in Iraq, stuff just kinda happens.
The empty trash cans get hauled back from the curb, meals get prepared, the light bulbs get changed, the groceries get bought, the empty toilet paper roll gets exchanged for a full roll, the bills get paid, the dry cleaning gets picked up, the toothpaste gets squeezed up to the top of the tube, left-on lights get turned off, the chain’s slipped onto the lock at bedtime…
Stuff like that. There are no meetings involved. No discussions over division of labor. No discussions whatsoever. I quietly do some things; Dr. Anonymous handles the others.
And it all gets done.
Not that non-communicational communications always yield the fastest results. Years ago, I remember coming from work late at night, and discovering this small, turquoise, ceramic flowerpot sitting on the third step from the bottom of the back stairs leading up to the house.
There it was. A little, blue flowerpot. Sitting on the stairs. I hadn’t recalled seeing it there that morning. I didn’t even recognize it. Now, it was suddenly…
I said nothing about it. Why should I? Somebody sets a flowerpot on the steps, they obviously have something in mind for it. And I had no pressing need to know what it was.
Time passes. The flowerpot remains on the steps. Not surprisingly, the longer it stays there, the more curious I become, though my curiosity still does not rise to the level of “Maybe I should say something.”
When I used the stairs, I would step around it. At the time, we enjoyed the company of an outdoor cat. Franky stepped around it as well.
Not that I didn’t wonder about it. Questions along the line of,
“What’s it doing there?”
“Why doesn’t she move it?”
I was curious, but not concerned. It was her flowerpot – I surmised that by a process of elimination, there being only two people in the house. She would move it when she was good and ready. It wasn’t bothering me…that much. It was none of my business.
But then I thought, “Maybe it is.” Maybe somewhere in the mists of forgotten promises, I had told her I’d take care of the flowerpot, and, in the stress and confusion of running a network television show, it had completely slipped my mind.
Suddenly, it all became clear to me. She was leaving it there on purpose. To teach me a lesson.
Or maybe not. I just wasn’t sure. I was in a terrible dilemma, caught between “Don’t touch it!” and “You promised you would!” As time went on, the tension inexorably increased. It was the “Chinese Water Torture”, with a flower pot.
I come home, there it is. I come home, there it is. I come home, there it is.
Something had to be done!
Finally, I decided to take action.
On a day when I simply couldn’t stand it anymore, I reached down, picked up the flowerpot, I and carried it to the garage, where I placed it carefully on a shelf.
The preceding process took two years.
The cat had died in the meantime. That’s how long it was.
And the aftermath? Nothing. There was complete silence on the matter. Had I done the right thing; had I done the wrong thing. I had no idea. All I knew was I couldn’t look at it anymore. And I had taken decisive action. If a two-year delay can be called “decisive”, which it probably can’t.
I recently found a pair of white cotton sports socks on the chair beside my side of the bed. The socks are unquestionably not mine. They said bolga on them. I was certain I owned no bolga socks.
So I picked them up, and, as a favor to the other member of the family, I carried them to the other side of the room, where I deposited them on the chair beside her bed.
The next day, with no words having been spoken, the socks were back on my chair.
Once again, I returned them to her chair. The following morning, they were back on my chair again. Over the next few days, the sock-shuttle continued, with neither comment nor interruption. Her chair. My chair. Her chair. My chair. Her chair. My chair.
What the heck was going on? I knew the socks weren’t mine. Process of elimination…come on!
Finally, I spoke up. Firmly, but politely.
“I have noticed that the pair of socks I’ve been putting on your chair keeps ending up back on my chair. I was wondering if there was an explanation for that.”
“They’re not my socks.”
“They not my socks.”
“Well, they’re not my socks either.”
Okay, so we have a mystery about socks. Some people lose socks; we gain them. It’s socks. It’s a world of its own. It’s not for us to understand.
The point here is, unlike the flowerpot fiasco which took two years, the mystery – at least the “floating socks” portion of it – was resolved in less than two weeks.
A valuable lesson had been learned.
Sometimes, no matter how long you’ve been married,
You still actually have to talk.