Something interesting happened the other day. It concerns a dynamic that has been consistent over a forty-six-year marriage that, for the first time, I saw from a different angle, or, through fresh eyes, if you will. It started as a simple question from my wife in the kitchen. She asked, “Does your clock show the day and date?”
My first thought was: What does she mean by ‘my clock?’ I glanced around the kitchen at the wall oven clock, the coffeemaker clock, and the clock behind me on the wall. So, I asked what I thought was a reasonable follow-up question, “Do you mean my wristwatch?”
“Your clock,” she replied in raised voice tinged with frustration, as if repeating the same words louder would somehow magically add clarity to the question. I began to smile and nod at her, and then I asked as gently as I could, “I just need you to define ‘my clock’. Would you do that for me, and maybe I can answer your question?”
My smile may have been closely akin to a George W. Bush smirk, so I’ll accept blame here when I tell you that she rolled her eyes, tossed her hands into the air and became louder still. “Your clock! Your clock! For God’s sake how many times do I have to say it?”
A boisterous laugh came out of me so fast that I couldn’t stop it. Of course, that aggravated her even more and she whirled around and marched away, which gave me time to think. The only other clocks in the house that I could think of were the wall clock above the television in the living room and the alarm clock next to the bed. Neither showed day nor date. I let the question go unanswered because I didn’t know which clock she was referring to. Maybe I’d forgotten one and, clearly, asking again would probably lead to a divorce.
I thought about her question and wondered why she didn’t simply offer a location for the clock she was asking about. It would have been simple, quick and not at all memorable. That led me to analyze previous contentious conversations when I would press her for more details, just so I could develop an understanding of whatever it was she happened to be talking about. Some of those conversations were important but most were as inane as the exchange I’ve described here. I usually just give up after a couple of shots at getting additional details, nod stupidly and go back to what I was doing.
And then I remembered how often she’ll toss out tidbits of information about one of those conversations days or even weeks later. Of course I’ll deny awareness of it because it usually leaves my mind in a matter of seconds afterward. Her responses are always fairly consistent. They go something like these: “We just talked about that last week,” or “I told you about it yesterday,” or “You never listen to anything I say, do you?”
It occurred to me like a lightning bolt, that she is reserving spin potential for later conversations or arguments, or plausible deniability, because she can later take anything she says and spin it if necessary to win a later argument because she will never button down a statement or question with irrefutable facts. Pretty smart, I’d say. She should have been a politician.
I need to ask her someday if that conversational style is intentional or just a happy accident. But, that’s an argument for another day.