This morning from the bedroom closet where she was dressing for work, my wife called out to me, “Can you pick up the dry cleaning today?” An innocent enough request that benign or not, reasonable or not, intruded on my combination newspaper reading and internal scheduling activity, which despite or perhaps because it is so loose, pleases me to dwell on. I gave an affirmative if not cheerful response and of course she noticed it. “Is it an imposition?” “No, no imposition.” And, although the tone was no better, she let it go.
Now, had she followed up, pursuing an understanding of my discomfort, depending upon our indifference to or infatuation with the psychological nostrums of our day the ensuing conversation might have gone like this. Indifferent to psychology: She: “What’s wrong with you, why don’t you ever want to do what I ask you to do?” He: “You never really ask, you just expect me to be ready to do whatever you want me to do, whenever you want me to do it; but that’s o.k. I’ll do it, now please get off my case.” On the other hand, if we were enamored of psychology, it might go more like this: She, “You sound bothered, does it bother you to do household chores?” He: “You sound like your mother; you’re getting to be the kind of a nag you swore you never would be.” She:” I’m not my mother and I’m certainly not yours. If you would ever get yourself past being a pre-adolescent I wouldn’t have to remind you that we are in this life together, and that life includes maintenance issues; not just your issues.”
Fortunately, we’ve been around that block more than once and have no need to walk it again. But I would like to offer another way of thinking about the exchange. We were each alone on our inner stage getting ready for the day. The clothes cued my wife to the need to pick up the laundry, and since the interpersonal reality was that we were in the same room, she saw me as a part of her morning drama. The script required her to call out to me. On the other hand, I was on my own inner stage busily arranging the furniture to suit my agenda for the day. My script was a solitary one and the voice from the closet had no business intruding itself into my scene. And yet I too live in the reality of our interpersonal life together and so felt myself snatched suddenly from the center of my stage and thrust into a supporting role onto her stage. And of course, her stage then became our stage and where, as best we can, we try to live our lives collaboratively. Earlier in our life together I know I would have gone from reverie to “revolt” and in fact, played out the role of the put upon adolescent.
Now, my writing role is over for the morning. My internal role manager is calling for me to pick up the script of the “chore master” and I am eager to do it well. The audience is small, but very appreciative.