Men — especially the one I’m married to — get a certain look on their faces when they’re trying to give you a compliment. You can see the struggle, the sheer earnestness on their features.
So, I knew my husband, whose face was screwed up in the effort of it all, had good intentions. What he said, though, was this: “You should have been there for the conversation. Those other women were just like you. Their minds were a jumble of gossip. You would have loved it.”
My mind is a jumble of gossip? I stared back at him. He looked happy and relieved, the way he always does when he thinks he’s delivered a flattering statement to me.
“What do you mean by that?” I snapped.
“You know what I mean,” he said. “You like to talk about other people.”
“You mean, I am interested in the human condition,” I said. “Deep, reflective, concerned, compassionate.”
“Yeah, whatever,” he said, sensing the conversation was taking a darker turn.
” But you make me sound like an audio version of People magazine,” I said. “A jumble of gossip?”
He bent over his Iphone and pretended to be busy. That’s what he always does these days when he wants to escape.
Well, isn’t that typical? Here I am, deeply interested in the human condition, in the ebb and flow and minutiae of daily life, struggling to make sense of it all. If I don’t zero in on the finer details of other people’s lives, then who will?
Not my husband. He is capable of coming home from work and making a casual, completely unsatisfactory remark, such as, “Well, April had her baby last night.”
“Oh, really?” I’ll say, waiting for a little more elaboration. Such as: How long was April in labor? Was it a vaginal delivery or a C-section? Did she get an epidural? Was she at a hospital? Was the baby a boy or a girl? How much did it weigh? What’s its name? Who’s the father?
“Oh, I don’t know,” my husband will mutter, turning to the wretched IPhone again. Fifty years ago, men had to stare at their fingernails or gaze out the window when women pressed them for highly significant details about the stuff of life. These days, they use technology as a prop, an escape mechanism. It’s sick.
Inter-sex communication does not take place when you’re surfing the Internet and the person at the other end of the phone line can hear your tell-tale computer-key clicks. It doesn’t happen when you’re staring desperately at the TV, with the remote control in a death grip. It doesn’t occur when you act like life as we know it will end if you don’t get your stupid email in the next five seconds.
You want to know when successful inter-sex communication happens? It’s when your husband says, “Oh, I wish you could have been there. With your brilliant, comprehensive knowledge of human relationships and your thirst for details about life and love and the vast array of human experience, you could have added so much to the conversation.”
Got that? I don’t see the words jumble of gossip anywhere.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)