Last Saturday I called my mom and told her I wanted to go to the beach to finish some writing projects.
She said, “Oh, that sounds fun. I want to come!”
“I could probably make that happen,” I told her.
She hung up and called my brother and said, “I won’t be surprised if she calls me in five minutes with plans for me to fly to Washington.”
She knows me well.
I cobbled together some frequent flyer miles and booked her on a flight for the following day.
On Monday morning we packed up and got ready to head to the Outer Banks.
Before we left, I whipped up a protein shake for the road.
“Sorry about the noise,” I warned her in advance. “Doug hates it when I turn on my blender.”
With just a few sips left to drink, I said, “Mom, I’m warning you that I’m going to slurp up this last bit of shake with my straw. Doug hates when I slurp up this last little bit. And he really hates it when I leave the dirty cup in the car. I always take it into the house as soon as possible and wash it. But he can’t stand having the dirty cup in the car for even a few minutes.”
Later as we discussed stopping for lunch, I said, “I try not to drink too much water when I go with Doug to the beach because he hates stopping for bathroom breaks.”
We decided to listen to a book on tape I had on my iPhone. I asked Mom to get my phone out of my purse.
“Doug hates getting things out of my purse. He always complains and says, ‘I hate women’s purses! Why do women carry all this stuff anyway? It’s impossible to find anything in here!”
After telling my mom about how Doug hates women’s purses, I remembered another one of his purse-related pet peeves.
One of the things he really hates is when he’s standing behind a woman at the grocery store and she waits until the very last-minute to start digging in her junky purse for her wallet.
He complains, “Then, she takes her time getting out her debit card, cash or check book. She never does this while her groceries are being scanned. She waits until the last-minute when everybody is lined up behind her. Then, she decides to rifle through her purse. And of course after she pays, she has to find her sunglasses, her car keys or whatever before she even moves her cart out of the way!”
Finally my mom says, “Well aren’t you quite a pair! I think you sound like a persnickety old couple!”
I never realized our persnickety-ness.
As the week went on, I lost count of how many times I commented on Doug’s likes and dislikes.
My mom was thoroughly amused.
I told her he does things that make me crazy too like wear his shoes in the house.
If I suggest he take them off, he wears them longer.
Really, he does.
He’s stubborn like that.
She just smiled and said we were like old an old fuddy-duddy married couple.
One night Mom and I decided to watch a movie on television.
I said, “It’s fun to be able to choose a movie we both want to watch. If Doug were here he would be switching every two minutes between the History channel, Funniest Home Videos, National Geographic TV, and some weird cop show that follows policeman around as they arrest drunk people.”
After Mom pointed out the frequency of my comments about Doug’s idiosyncrasies, I started wondering about the meaning behind them.
Am I a critical wife? Or is he a critical husband?
Or are we just acutely aware of each other’s odd little preferences because we are so comfortable with each other?
I asked Doug these questions and he just gave me a quizzical look and kept watching the National Geographic channel and eating his popcorn.
A few seconds later he said, “Maybe we just love each other so we’ve made it our business to be aware of each other’s ways.”
I was thinking along the same lines.
It’s not a bad thing to be aware of each other’s oddities.
It’s only bad if we let them become negatives.
If I lose my ability to be amused by the silly little things like him hating my purse, then we have a problem.
When I let his TV choices matter more than just being with him in the same room, we probably need to reassess what really matters to us.
Since I know he hates the sound of my hair dryer, I try to close the bathroom door to muffle the noise.
Since he knows I hate to come home to a cluttered house when I’ve been away, he tidies it up.
These are the small accommodations in life that add up to making a marriage work.
We can’t let the petty things carry too much weight in our relationship.
If we do, we lose sight of what is most important.
The “us” is what’s important, not the noisy blender or wearing shoes in the house.
If we start noticing who puts up with more or who is more nitpicky in the relationship, we both lose.
Our marriage becomes a Trivial Pursuit game with tiny, unimportant bits of behavior scoring big, negative points.
A healthy, successful marriage often lives in a bastion of imperfect humanity where there is a wide zone of tolerance.
If I let Doug’s complaints about my protein shakes become personal or if I assign deep meaning to his criticism about my purse, I create a problem that more than likely doesn’t exist.
If we let the small, insignificant things define our relationship, the fun is over and our day-to-day lives become ridiculous contests over who is more inconsiderate, thoughtless or intolerant.
As an “empty nest” couple without kids between and around us all the time, we probably notice more about each other than we did before.
The family buffer is gone and now we’re face-to-face with each other in new, probably more personal ways.
My approach is to smile at Doug’s funny “ways.”
I hope he can continue to smile and be amused by mine.
We have too much going for us to let the little things become the big things that can ruin a good marriage.
But I still wish Doug would take off his shoes in the house…