“I have to work because if I was at home I’d be dead,” answered the old guy piloting the shuttle van from the hotel. “At home, I sit in a chair and it’s—what are you sitting in that chair for!?! And I say I thought chairs were for sitting! So I say I’m going to go look at cars and she says—you’re not going to look at cars in those pants! What kind of pants do you need to look at cars for God’s sake?” He looks at me and laughs.
I offer him some hope. “I had dinner with a female friend. She kept shushing me while we were eating. It turned out she was listening to a table of guys behind her. They were about 20 years older than her. She noticed they weren’t complaining about how their spouses treated them, but listening to it, it sounded to her like they got treated like children.”
“Well thank God one of them noticed!” He laughed again.
“It gets better. She said she felt pretty embarrassed when she realized she had said a lot of the exact same stuff to her own husband.” Now he’s really laughing, but he also now has an empathetic connection to both me and my friend’s husband, which helps him feel better. “She said she had just never thought about her phrasing before but once she did she realized it was pretty thoroughly ungrateful.”
“Does she teach a class? Come on, there’s no hope. On the weekend I took the missus for dinner. I’m a picky eater, so I get my choice just the way I want it and she says to me—you’re not going to order the pulled pork again!? You always order that. Why don’t you try something different?! I told her I liked pulled pork, it’s on the menu and that’s what I came for. But she said I was boring. That I had no sense of… adventure. Then—get this part—the food comes and guess who doesn’t like hers? And now who suddenly wants to trade with the boring guy? I told her no way. I told her she didn’t want to eat a boring meal. She should go find one with adventure in it.
“Afterwards she says to me, I’ll buy you some ice cream. My treat. So we get to the place and I’m scared already because there’s signs all over the place. A million signs. And her—she’s always reading everything in sight. If there’s a handwritten little note taped half way under the cash register she’ll yell at you for not seeing it. So I’m scared. Even the menu’s got a million flavours. But there it is, alphabetically it’s right near the top: C for chocolate—my favourite flavour since I was a kid.
“So we get up to the counter there and she looks at me and asks me what I’ll have and I say: chocolate. Chocolate?! She yells at me. They got a million flavours and you’re gonna order chocolate!? Do you realize how boring you are?” He looks at me for support. “Boring? Again I’m boring because I like chocolate? IT’S A FLAVOUR! It’s on the friggin’ menu! It’s a legitimate friggin’ flavour! I’ll have to ask her tomorrow if my shoes fit.”
I knew my job. I continued to establish connection. “A friend of mine used to manage a place in Australia that had 88 flavours. I asked him how they managed to stock that much. He said it was one tub of each flavour and 40 tubs each of chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch and vanilla.”
“You see? There it is right there. I’m right in the thick of it. An average person. I’m picking one of the four most popular flavours in the world but somehow that makes me a boring idiot. You know those dumb little plastic flowers? I don’t know why women like those fake things that have no smell but whatever okay. But this one’s got a tiny little base and it’s real tall and every time I put up the seat on the toilet the darn thing tips over and I’m constantly picking it up off the floor and balancing it on there like it’s a tiara. I’m 82. I’m not lookin’ to do a lot of bendin’ over. I’m tired of it. So I say to her, hey, let’s get rid of that plastic flower. That thing drives me nuts. And you know what she she says? She says it ‘balances the room.’ Balances the room? It can’t even balance itself.” He howls again.
I’m enjoying it. Because this is two guys connecting. He knows I can fill in all kinds of little details, just like when women discuss men they can say one phrase and it means three paragraphs. We know each other. Genders don’t have firm roles, but they have powerful predispositions. And it struck me that what this man was doing was bonding with me over that common knowledge.
If you were there, the tone didn’t feel like he was dissing his wife. Not in the sense that his intention was for me to not like her or to feel pity for him. He didn’t want me thinking why are you married to this awful person? I’m confident he wouldn’t have liked that at all. No, what he wanted was the connection. That empathetic—you’ve been there too, right?—
When he dropped me off he finished off by saying, “Hey thanks for the conversation. And, you know, I say all this stuff about how they drive us crazy but still we go back for more, don’t we? We go back for more. And it’s because despite all that nutty stuff they do, they’re still so friggin’ great. She’s just so friggin’ great.”
“They put up with us….”
“Worse, she puts up with me.” He winks and is off.
Now, we could look at that as a wasted 20 minutes where this guy bitched about something from the previous weekend and that would be true. If he was high-consciousness he might have wanted to talk about something happy. But it’s important to accept people where they are. That is true empathy.
He wasn’t bashing, but it was venting. And I didn’t add to or help prolong his emotional state because I knew my job was to get him some place better. What he and I knew was that conversation was about keeping his marriage healthy. He wasn’t saying he wanted his wife to be different. He wasn’t trying to change her. He wasn’t looking for me to join him in being against her. He could accept her just fine. He just wanted to connect with someone every now and then who actually noticed that in each of those stories he was describing how he loves her. He was describing the sacrifices he makes for love.
Every couple has these little battles. But it’s worthwhile to ask yourself which side of that you’re on. Because if you’re the one that’s oblivious to how bossy or controlling you are, then you are missing out on recognizing the vast majority of the love that is being extended to you via patience and the voluntary surrender of most personal control. After all, it doesn’t get much more basic than choosing your own pants. 🙂
Love comes in many forms. Make sure you’re watching for the quiet, subtle versions like patience. Because they’re actually the most common.
Have yourself an awesome day. And maybe phone your partner and thank them for something nice they’ve done recently.