Sunday, September 9, 2012

Marital strife

Driving to work this morning, I heard on the radio that money is the number one topic couples argue about. A quick Google search yields assorted articles on the internets that confirm this claim, including some that say fights about money are a decent predictor for divorce. Sitting in my car, I thought: S and I are not a typical couple.

We rarely fight about money. In fact, neither of us can think of a time in the 24 years we've been in love that we've fought about money. We didn't fight about money when we were freshly-married graduate students relatively strapped for funds, nor when we had real grown-up jobs and started making major life-altering decisions about expensive things like raising a baby and buying a house. We've been lucky: our parents and jobs got us through our undergrad degrees, and jobs and assistantships got us through grad school. We've been lucky never to have had to make tough choices about whether to eat or pay bills.

We're also lucky that after 24 years together, we still make each other laugh, we still share fundamental values and goals, and he's still ravishingly gorgeous (his crows feet still make me swoon, and his delicately greying sideburn tips are ooh la la). We've negotiated a reasonably healthy balance between work, family, and household chores. He works a regular 24/7 academic job; I have a flexible mix of part-time and freelance gigs. He covers kidcare when I'm at work evenings and weekends; I cover kidcare during the week. He loads the dishwasher; I unload it. He tunes up my bike once a year and inflates the tires as needed; I organize every aspect of our socials lives. He loves his family by making snazzy breakfasts; I love my family by making snazzy dinners and angel food cake. He takes out the trash; I generate it. He dances with the vacuum cleaner; I take the cats to the vet. We're a Myers-Briggs match made in heaven.

Nonetheless, we do fight. Early on, we had relationship-threatening difficulties with time. Given our backgrounds, that came as a surprise to both of us. He's German, yet he defies all stereotypes about German punctuality. (He might explain that punctuality is a Prussian virtue, and he's not Prussian, he's Bavarian.) I'm U.S. American and grew up with a mathematician dad who back-calculated, based on traffic density and wind speed, precisely when we needed to leave the house in order to reach our destinations on time. My inherited obsession with punctuality and S's lack thereof almost broke us up on multiple occasions, until I realized he was operating on European Metric Time (100 seconds per minute, 100 minutes per hour) and I was operating on American Standard Time (60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour). I put together a conversion table and made copies for both of us, and it's been mostly smooth sailing since then.

Our challenges are different now, so many more years into our lives together. The most frequent cause of our most turbulent arguments these days? Antecedentless pronouns.

S is a wonderful man who comes from a long line of wonderful men who are genetically predisposed to have conversations inside their heads while thinking outsiders can follow along. He knows exactly what he means when he talks about it, them, and that, while I'm usually clueless. I realize I sound like I'm blaming S for our strife, but I have evidence that it's us, not him: our son carries on the patrilineal tradition, and he and S can have five-word conversations consisting almost entirely of antecedentless pronouns, conversations of which I understand virtually nothing, while they clearly understand everything and take action accordingly.

Consequently, S and I often fight about that. Literally, that. Not whatever that refers to, since that as often as not has no clear antecedent, but that itself. Presented with an antecedentless pronoun, I'll bristle and ask, chillingly, "What's that supposed to mean?" And S hears not "beloved, to what antecedent did you intend the pronoun that to refer, and did you perhaps forget to state that word out loud?" but rather "how could you possibly say such a thing?" We're usually well into a heated argument before the lightbulbs go on and we realize we're yet again fighting about a missing antecedent, at which point I usually say something rude like "[S.I.G.H.] If you're going to f*ing use pronouns, you need to give them f*ing antecedents."

To my knowledge, no studies have been conducted that indicate arguments about antecedentless pronouns are predictors for divorce, so I think our relationship will probably survive this (as well as this).

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