Monday, February 09, 2009

Tell her what she doesn't know you know

In all conversations, I confess, I am addicted to listening for-'what's missing.' Not so much what's being said as what's not being said. "We have a good marriage," a woman recently told me and then went on to offer a kind of unsolicited qualification. "Of course we have our struggles," she added and I listened.

"Bob likes to offer solutions," she went on, "and sometimes I find that tiring. Of course I'm not perfect either..." I wondered what she needed at that moment. I met her in Starbucks and we started out chatting about the rain, the planet's stingy gift in Southern California.

I offered something lame I think, "well men do like to solve problems." She only looked at me. Didn't respond but went on, perhaps believing that by educating me, a man, she would in some way potentially be educating Bob.

"You know sometimes a solution is not what you want to hear." I nodded, starting to realize that I was, to her, more of an audience than a participant in a conversation. "I suppose all marriages have their challenges, and, you know, he's a good man." I didn't know but I was willing to take her word for it.

I then started wondering how my wife would describe me to a stranger in a coffee shop. Or how I would describe her if I had occassion to. Perhaps I'd start out "my wife likes living with me. Of course I'm a pain in the neck but I appreciate that she likes me." Then when my 'audience' said something mundane back to me as I did to the lady in the coffee shop, I'd add "she's unpredictable. To me at least. I never know what she's going to say or when she's going to say it. What I enjoy most, I think, is her unpredictability."

Couples know a lot about their partners but perhaps conversations could be expanded if they told each other what each other doesn't know they know. Or see. Or experience. Or believe. My wife might like knowing that I enjoy her unpredictability - I think she thinks it's a problem for me. Maybe I'll tell her. Tonight.

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