My husband and I have a sweet saying about communication: “It’s not about the &!@#$% toilet brush.”
This marital aphorism originated pre-proposal during a weekend Target trip with my then-roommate, when our most pressing anxieties involved aloof menfolk and efficient, thorough hair removal. (Luckily, I landed myself a partner who could befriend a cucumber, but I am still on the hunt for a dependable remedy for hirsutism. Ladies, hit me up.)
What began as mutual admiration of the latest Mossimo ribbed Henley collection quickly devolved into a heated and sharp-tongued disagreement over which type of toilet brush to purchase for our shared bathroom. Bleach or baking soda? Disposable? With rim extension? These are the things breakups are made of.
Thirty minutes and two Baja Fresh veggie burritos later, Janani and I rationally acknowledged that there was no substantive reason for our spat. We were tired. My upcoming Contracts exam was provoking an earnest appraisal of one-way tickets to the DR. And our slowly rising blood sugar levels affirmed that any joint decision-making venture, however trifling, should always be initiated post-burrito. “I’m sorry,” we both sighed. “It’s not about the &!@#$% toilet brush.”
It almost never is, which is why successful marriages are predicated upon mind-reading and divination. (Kidding! …kind of.) Renowned couples therapist John Gottman contends that knowing the seemingly little things about your partner’s life creates a strong foundation for friendship and intimacy, two of the pillars of happily-ever-after. (This is the same Gottman who can famously predict with up to 94% accuracy whether new couples will be happily together several years later.) He uses the cheesy but constructive metaphor of a “love map“: a detailed understanding of the peaks and valleys of your spouse’s life. By taking a genuine interest in the person who takes up
too much of exactly her share of the queen size bed, you become readily fluent in her experiences, goals, fears, and documentary TV series obsessions–and better equipped, the theory goes, to tolerate and manage conflict and change. Update that love map frequently and with intention, and it’s even more likely that you’ll end up tottering off into the sunset in matching Dr. Scholl’s loafers.
Last weekend, I glanced across the 30-foot length of our apartment to see my handsome co-cartographer eating Annie’s Organic Shells and Cheese out of a saucepan. I felt a wave of puppy love and a concurrent twitch of incredulity: who was this man, and why was he hovering over my stove wearing Sugar Daddy pajama pants? This is not uncommon, this sudden feeling of looking at my best friend as if for the very first time. I suppose it is nature’s way of stoking the embers of that aforementioned puppy love, now in its decidedly less-frisky ninth year.
I thought about what makes us work (commercial pressure during the month of February will do that to you), and I easily came up with a long list far too mushy to document here. Reflected in that list, however, was the friendship that Gottman talks about. Luckily, I like to listen to Kenny cite political campaign data from The Economist. Thankfully, we are both boring enough to prefer talking to each other over watching a movie–but if we choose the movie, he supports my predilection for sports dramas.
That the Venn diagram of our interests forms an intersection at all is nothing short of miraculous. College Kenny (so I’m told) was everything my judgmental brand of teenage dating principles filed under “red flag”: Business major. Frat guy. Owner of not one but two fake IDs. Fast-forward to our first date, when he wore wooden sunglasses and a velvet Fat Albert t-shirt with a hole in it. He was Hollywood-charming, smart, and obviously nervous. I was smitten. And I remain smitten because, for a man who cuts his hair with a vacuum cleaner, he is nothing if not stalwart–tenderly holding my hand through death, familial struggle, pregnancy depression, and now protracted unemployment. And it is during these periods of extreme stress when mind-reading becomes that much more critical.
To be clear, I am talking about reading between the lines of my own mind. On my less charitable days, it is not difficult to find myself standing in the bathroom, a toilet brush in one unmanicured hand and a mildewed sponge in the other, audibly cursing the man who is surely complicit in this grand plot to shackle me to the washing machine. That’s when I have to dig down deep to remember two things: (1) I’m not really upset about household hygiene–I’m frustrated with my current reality. And that reality is situational, not imposed by my partner, and will one day be comedic relief in my otherwise riveting and audacious memoir. And (2) even if he was able to physically and professionally oppress me and the whole of my gender, Kenny weeps at IKEA commercials–he just doesn’t have it in him.
How do I know? The color-coded legend on our intricately painted topographical love map told me so.