Text to me baby, or maybe not.

textingThe Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy (yes, there is such a thing) recently published a study on the impact of texting on relationships. They studied 300 married/engaged/serious couples aged 18-25 who frequently text their mate. The upshot? Unless you’re conveying neutral info, talk to the hand, then keep it away from the phone.

The study says women tend to be happy overcommunicators, as long as they’re in it alone. The more men text, the more unhappy both parties are with the relationship. In simple terms, more men text, the more likely they are to say something that pisses their partners off. I could have told you that years ago.

I used to call my husband at work to say hi. Our conversations went something like this.

Hello?

Hi! What’s up?

Working

So you’re busy?

What do you want?

Nothing. Just saying hi.

Hi. Are we done now?

This conversation would be even less engaging in text-ese

RU There?

RU There?

RU There?

Yes.

Hi! 🙂

Hi. Are we done now?

RU There?

If I long for human connection, I log into Twitter.

I do recognize that compared to the study subjects, I am one step into my grave. My son texts constantly and tells me that not having grown up with the technology, I can’t appreciate its power. I’ve gotten texts from my son, however. Let’s just say I’m not convinced his generation is so different.

This sux! I’m so screwed!

What?

Dude?

Just tell me that you’re okay?

If you don’t text me in the next five minutes, I’m coming over there. Do you hear me?

Sorry. Talking to Nick. NVM.

How would this play out if he had a girlfriend?

Did U get my txt?

??

Which one?

All of them.

Yes.

RU There? (Interpretation : So you have nothing to say? I pour my heart out to you, and you don’t even respond? It’s the exact reflection of our relationship. I pursue, and you maintain a safe emotional distance. You never share with me. I feel so alone.)

Sorry; Talking to Nick. (Interpretation : Sorry, I had to tell my Mom not to come over.  I can share my emotions. I ran out of donuts this morning. I was bummed. Are we done now?)

I know I exaggerate. I used too many vowels along with case and punctuation. All that aside, I know that texting is just one more channel through which to be misunderstood. Sexting is even more fraught with danger. Sex is a big enough source of anxiety in a relationship. Combining it with complex communication and the ability for widespread dissemination is a recipe for disaster.

My advice to my son is to use face to face communication whenever possible. That way he can get to the apology quicker.

As for me. I still don’t call my husband at work unless it’s something important, which generally involves large sums of money or a hospital visit. We reserve texting for specific purposes. Chatting via text is permitted when one of us is stuck on a plane post-boarding , at a school/sports event, or when we’re in our respective offices at opposite ends of the house and don’t feel like getting up to discuss what to order for dinner. We used to email each other. Texting is much faster.  Who says technology can’t bring people together?

Photograph – “Texting” by Ed Brownson © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

Advertisements

Happy Effing New Year

shot glassI’ll confess, I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve.  It feels too much like New Year’s Eve! ® to me, like if you aren’t having the best time ever, you’re a total loser. I thought I was alone in my lack of Auld Lang Syne enthusiasm, but it turns out, I’m wasn’t.

My first real New Year’s Eve with my now-husband was the usual–a frat guy style bash where I spent most of the evening getting beer spilled on me while drunk women invaded my personal space to tell me how amazing my date was. He’s soooooooo niiiiiiiiice. Thank you. Your inebriated assessment is reassuring. Women traditionally show sound character judgment when they’re three sheets to the wind.

Our second New Year’s Eve we went out for dinner, where he informed me that his two best friends had a bet going about whether we’d get engaged this year or next.  He thought it would be funny to propose at midnight to ensure they’d argue the technicalities for the remainder of their lives. Knowing the two guys involved, they would. I was primed, ready for the ring. I couldn’t wait to say yes.

I opened my fortune cookie at the end of the meal.

You will be getting married soon.

It wasn’t midnight, but I guess he was excited. This is it, I thought.

“Who’s the lucky guy,” he said, without a trace of irony in his voice. His face was was blank. It’s a look I’ve seen our son wear on countless occasions. Apple, meet tree.

I know he is oblivious to what has just transpired. I thought he was going to propose any second, and instead he was asking the waiter for the check. I shouldn’t have been pissed off, but I was.

Senior Dude actually proposed a week later. I told him that I thought he was going to propose on New Year’s Eve. He said he didn’t want to be cliché. I told him that he was almost single. Then he explained that he hated New Year’s Eve, the forced joviality, the crowds and the noise, and I knew we were meant to be together.

In the years since we’ve tried a few times to change our New Year’s Eve malaise, but have learned that our best Eves have been the ones we spent at home, whether it was putting plastic insulation over our drafty sliding door, or binge watching episodes of The West Wing.

The other night, I was reading on the loveseat while the Dude sprawled across the sofa. He turned on a Modern Family marathon, and I put the book away, popped some popcorn and joined him. Very soon, Senior Dude wandered in, ousted the Dude from his seat after much wrestling and laughter, and we watched the television family grouse that all they did on New Year’s Eve was watch television and fall asleep.

My husband and I turned to each other and smiled. We’re normal enough to be a television family, except I don’t look like Sophia Vergara.

I looked over at the Dude and saw that blank look I love so much.

“You don’t have plans for New Year’s.” It wasn’t a question. I already know the answer.

“I’m stuck with you losers.” Strangely enough, he didn’t look too upset. I guess that apple really didn’t fall far from the tree.

I smile, and take a handful of popcorn. “Right back at you, Dude.”

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “World Through a Shot Glass,” by Lisa Bunchofpants © 2006 Creative Commons

A Thousand Mile Markers

mile markerMy marriage almost collapsed during my honeymoon, and it was all because of Mille Bornes. My newly-minted husband and I played a quick game before dinner one evening. He is competitive. I am not. He whupped my ass. I didn’t take it well.

I find competition stressful, not fun. This has always been the case. When I was young, I didn’t play sports and since they don’t hold cage matches for orchestras, I was pretty safe. Now, I still don’t play team sports, and for the most part orchestras are still on the sedate side. I do, however, white-knuckle my way through my son’s games. See? I don’t even like watching other people compete.

The Fitbit has changed everything. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Fitbit is like a pedometer that tracks your activity level. My husband and I both got them for Christmas. You have a dashboard where you can view your progress, and they give you fun little badges as you accrue miles and flights of stairs. It’s great for grade mongers like me who need gold stars.

As a writer, much of my day is sedentary. My break is playing music or reading–not exactly calorie-burners. The Fitbit reminds me that I need to get up and move every so often. Sure, I could go to the gym or run because it’s good for me. Not going to happen. I’ll do it because it’s an easy way to get my 10,000 steps. Running is the optimum choice because our neighborhood has hills–I get credit for both steps and stairs.

The  dashboard not only gives you an overview of your performance, it allows you to connect with friends and see each others’ progress. They say it’s a way to support each other. For some reason, however, it’s not working that way for me. I’m determined to best my husband. Life is good as long as I’m ahead.

He went skiing last week. I was doing a clean food detox. He was all over the place. I was huddled with the cats on the sofa. When he got home he kept taunting me. “I’m 2000 steps ahead. Oh look! Now I’m 3500 steps ahead!”

I wasn’t amused. “You were eating protein and carbohydrates,” I countered.

“Yes, but I was at elevation. It’s more difficult. You know elevation? Oh right, you stayed horizontal the whole weekend.”

It was so on.

Friday, while ironing, I made myself run each shirt upstairs individually, and I was disappointed that we had to do so many squats in weight class. They don’t trigger the Fitbit to register a step. For a class that makes me sweat so much, it should be worth more. No dice. I was still behind. So yesterday, I ran in the cold. Normally, I don’t even leave the house if it’s below 30 degrees out. I put on long underwear and did a chilly, four-mile trek. Take that.

My husband was more than a little amused. “What happened to my non-competitive wife?” he asked. “Want to play some Mille Bornes?”

“Go right ahead. Say whatever you want,” I told him. He can laugh all he wants–I’m 12,226 steps ahead.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Mike McCollough © 2008 Creative Commons

For whom the bell tolls

bellWhen I was a kid, I had a replica of the Liberty Bell. When I was sick, my Mom would set me up with cinnamon toast and tea, and tell me to ring the bell if I needed anything. She’d wheel in an old black and white portable television and I would lounge in bed, draw pictures and watch UHF (for those of you that even remember UHF). After a while, however, I’d get bored and lonely. There is only so much Mr. Ed one can sit through. So I’d ring the bell. I didn’t need anything in particular. I just wanted company.

I rang that bell as if I was London Tower. Every fifteen minutes. My mother was less than appreciative. Apparently she had other things to do. Imagine that.

This is where I would say how I’ve matured, and now understand the stress and exhaustion my constant requests created. I would, if I had.

I’ve concluded that there are two kinds of sick people on the planet, pillow-fluffers and wounded animals.

I am a pillow fluffer. I like to be cared for. Bring me ginger ale, a warm blanket, some soup, and I’ll be the happiest woman on the planet. When I was consulting, I traveled to Boston for a series of meetings when I was quite ill. I must have looked awful when checked in because five minutes later a bellman arrived with chicken soup and tea compliments of the front desk. This happened twenty years ago, yet I still get misty eyed when I talk about it.

The wounded animals just want to be left alone to die. Their plan? Go to bed and wake up when it’s over. Approach them at your own risk. They are likely to confuse caretakers for predators and act accordingly.

Because the universe is perverse, pillow fluffers almost aways marry wounded animals.

When my husband is sick, he sends out a curt telegram. He makes a cup of tea, puts on some fleece and retires to his computer. He rarely calls in sick.  He naps on the sofa if he is tired, and isn’t hungry, thirsty or in need of ibuprofen. He already took it 20 minutes ago. I can’t fluff his pillow. He doesn’t have one. If he did, he probably throw it at me.

When I am sick he does exactly what he would want someone to do when he’s under the weather. Absolutely nothing. Maybe not absolutely nothing. He gets takeout for dinner and will go to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to get any medicine I ask for, especially if it keeps me from snoring. He’ll do whatever he can from a safe distance. A five foot germ perimeter is an absolute minimum. He will hug me once I get a doctor’s note and shower in Purell.

My son is a fellow fluffer. He lets me make him soup and cocoa and asks for me to take his temperature at least once every two hours. He wants me to watch television with him (one year all we watched an entire SuperNanny marathon) so he can snuggle up and put his head on my shoulder. He lets me mother him the way I’d love to all of the time but his teenage rep can’t sustain.

Oddly enough, I don’t get sick any more than my husband does. You’d think with all of that pillow fluffing the germs would all be headed in my direction. Apparently they find me annoying when I’m sick too.

My son happens to be sick at the moment. I’ve just finished making him some hot cocoa and a noodle dish that he said sounded good to him. I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients and brought home some ice cream and goldfish. As I put the warm food on the table he said I was a great Mom. “No one else would do all this for someone who is sick.”  He hugged me and he didn’t let go in 3 seconds like usual. He put his head on my shoulder and I rubbed his back like I did when he was little.

“Of course they would,” I said. At least if they are a fellow fluffer.

He lifted his head from my shoulder and sat down to eat. “Dad wouldn’t.”

“Not without surgical gloves,” I said as I rubbed my son’s back. I’m not giving him a bell, though. I know how that game plays out.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by John Harke © 2010 Creative Commons

Winter Break

This story was written for the Wordsmith Studios December Fiction Fest

Emma could have gone to her parent’s house for Christmas Eve, but there is nothing more pathetic than a 33-year-old woman standing next to her mother wearing a matching holiday sweater. She could hear her mother’s voice, explaining to the neighbors in a loud whisper, “She’s getting divorced. A least there are no children.” Like that made her feel any better.

Instead, she sat on the sofa watching old movies while drinking heavily spiked eggnog. Season’s Effing Greetings, she thought. She wondered what Grant was doing, if he was busy assembling bikes for Kristin’s kids—Kristin, Grant’s coworker with two kids just like the ones Grant insisted he wasn’t ready for. “I’m such an idiot,” she said out loud then downed the rest of her drink.

The television cast its cold light across the darkened room. She’d turned the sound down to a low murmur. The happy dialogue didn’t match her mood. Wrapped in her blanket, she could still feel the cold seep through the sliding glass door. She’d have to put plastic over it. Good. It would give her something to do tomorrow.

She was finding lots of tasks to keep her busy with the new apartment. Putting up a Christmas tree, however, hadn’t been one of them. In the great divvying of belongings, she’d taken possession of the lights and ornaments, but they were in one of the many unpacked boxes stacked along her walls. She’d moved in two weeks ago, but was in no hurry to get settled. It would only make the break feel more real.

holiday lights 2With the snow swirling outside her window, it was like being inside a snow globe. Greetings from Divorce Village! Instead of a tree and presents, however, hers had a sofa, a television and a half-empty bottle of red wine, which she’d get to that once the carton of eggnog was empty. It might take a while. She had a couple of pints in the fridge. It helped her sleep, or maybe it was the bourbon.

Baxter raised his head from his place on Emma’s lap, his bushy eyebrows forming a curious V. Emma chuckled, and rubbed the terrier’s ears. Baxter was their child; she and Grant would joke to their friends. He was as destructive and costly, with the same propensity to drool and chew. Grant magnanimously offered to let her have the dog, as Kristin’s oldest was allergic.

Baxter whined. It was an axiom of nature, Emma mused. The worse the weather, the more the dog wants to go outside. She stood and looked out the window. It would only get worse as the evening went on. The lamp lit snowflakes cast a sharp edge of between light and dark, ending in bright pools on Main Street.

Baxter knew once Emma stood, they’d be going out, and padded towards the door. She sighed, went to the closet and pulled out her boots. She’d need full gear tonight. Baxter sat, tail whipping back and forth while Emma pulled on her coat and hat, then fastened the leash on to his collar. “Let’s go,” she said, and the dog happily obeyed.

Emma expected the cold to hit her like a slap, but she was surprised that the air felt almost soft. What struck her more was the quiet—the sense that the whole world had stopped to watch the snow fall. Baxter tugged on his leash and Emma began to walk. She started up the street, past the church, then cut over towards the park. Baxter loved the park, the one remaining piece of home he had since Emma and Grant sold the condo. She probably could have stayed, but thought that moving on would be easier without the memories chained to her ankles. Now she wasn’t so sure.

There is no Christmas for single people. Not after thirty. She walked faster. She was relieved to cross over Lee. The park had no decorations, thank God, but she couldn’t help herself and looked over at the gingerbread houses iced with snow, electric icicles dangling from their eaves. All except for one—a dark unlit space among the line of tastefully decorated homes. One of these things is not like the others.

When Emma looked away, it was worse. All she could see was the snow covered play structure. She breathed in the cold, took it deep into her lungs, closing her eyes against the sting. Baxter tugged, but Emma’s feet wouldn’t move. A sob caught in her throat.

“It’s too bad dogs can’t tell time. Or maybe they can, and just have a perverse sense of humor.” Emma whipped around to see who spoke to her. The man was elderly, dressed in a dark wool coat and checkered cap, a plaid scarf around his neck. He was smiling. He looked harmless enough. If he was planning on attacking her, he would have done it already.

“It’s payback for making them wear little sweaters and do tricks for food,” she said.

He knelt down and Baxter began to jump. “Aren’t you a friendly little fella,” the man said as he scratched behind her ears.

“He’s rather indiscriminate with his affections,” Emma said, “although I’m sure you’re very special. At least that’s what he’ll tell you.”

He chuckled and stood up. “It sure looks like Christmas out here. Even the houses are joyous.”

He must have seen her admiring the houses. Emma watched the lights blinking, winking at her, in on the joke. “I’m very happy for them,” she snapped, then felt guilty for being rude.

“I’ve had years like that,” he said. “It gets better.”

“God, I hope so,” she laughed, shaking her head. “I’m Emma,” she extended her hand. “I’m getting divorced. At least that’s how my mother would introduce me.” She pointed to the dog. “This is Baxter.”

“I’m Thomas. My wife died six years ago. That’s how the women in my church would introduce me.”

Emma felt her cheeks burn despite the cold. “I’m so sorry.”

“Me too, Emma. Me too.” She didn’t know what to say. Luckily, Thomas continued. “The first year is the hardest. That’s what I thought until the second year, anyway.”

She laughed despite his depressing assessment. “Then I have something to look forward to.”

He chuckled. “Holidays are never the same, but they can still be happy.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” She took a deep inhale. “I’m barely going through the motions.”

“Family far away?” he asked.

“Not really, not that it matters. I really wasn’t up for hanging with Don and Trish while drinking crème de menthe and watching It’s a Wonderful Life in reindeer sweaters.”

“Too holly-jolly for you?” he asked.

Emma shrugged. “Instead, I was sitting in my apartment drinking eggnog watching White Christmas. No reindeer sweater though. I have my standards, just no Christmas tree.” She shuffled her feet and Baxter ran around her in circles, wrapping his leash around her legs. “I thought it would be easier, but I’m regretting it.” She coaxed Baxter to run in the other direction before she was totally bound and helpless.

“Well then,” Thomas replied while laughing at Baxter’s antics, “we are going to go get one.”

“You’re joking,” she said. Thomas smiled. He was serious.

“How will we get it home?”

Thomas brushed off her excuse like a pesky gnat. “We’ll carry it, but I’m an old man, so think small, Emma.”

She didn’t even have her purse with her—just keys and emergency coffee money. “I only have ten dollars in my pocket,” she countered.

“Then you’d better think really small,” he said.

“This is insane.” Baxter started to tug at the leash. He’d tired of sniffing, and Thomas was no longer petting him.

“This, Emma, is Christmas Eve.”

Emma thought about refusing outright, but decided that maybe, just maybe, he was right.

They passed by several churches on their way to one of the tree lots that sprung up every December, much to their neighbors’ dismay. Churches were even more prevalent than Starbucks around here, Emma mused. In a college town surely there are far more coffee drinkers than faithful. Perhaps she was getting cynical. She didn’t used to be. But then again, she was walking the streets of Evanston to buy a Christmas tree with a man she didn’t even know.

They reached the lot, but looking at the selection Emma’s face fell. The trees were mostly sold—after all, it was Christmas Eve. All that was left were the stragglers that no one wanted—lopsided, with broken branches and loose needles. They were getting ready to load them up and shut down until next year. She felt at home among them.

Thomas, seeing her expression, said, “You have to look at them with kind-heartedness.” Emma raised a brow.

“It won’t kill you,” he chided her. “Isn’t that what we all need? To be seen through loving eyes?”

Emma closed her eyes and thought about how the night had begun, the snow, the quiet of the night, the warmth of Baxter’s weight on her lap, the surprise of friendship. She was alone, yet, unexpectedly, not. She had married Grant on her happiest day, but at the same time her saddest. They coexisted; it all depended upon what she chose to focus on. She opened her eyes, and saw the little tree, stunted and lopsided, like the one in the Charlie Brown cartoon, and she smiled. “That one,” she said.

Thomas looked at the tree. “I said kind-heartedness, not pity,” but her smile showed him her mind was made up, and his showed her that he agreed with her choice.

The manager of the lot was incredulous that she chose the scraggly little tree. He told Emma to put her money away, saying he couldn’t possibly sell it to anyone else. No one would be that desperate, not even on Christmas Eve.

Thomas helped her carry it home, each one holding an end, Baxter trotting alongside, his leash looped around the trunk. A car passed by and honked at them as they walked, opening their windows to shout “Merry Christmas.” With every step, she felt the jagged edges soften, the broken pieces finding their place. She wasn’t healed, but it was the most whole Emma had felt in months.

By the time they reached her apartment, Emma was tired, hot, sweaty and at peace. They loaded the tree into the elevator, leaving a trail of pine needles behind them, along with a small pile in front of her door where the branches brushed the frame on the way through. She located the box with the decorations and pulled out the stand. Thomas helped her set the tree up in the corner.

They untangled the lights and strung them around the tree. One by one, they hung the ornaments while Baxter ran in circles around the trunk. When they were done, she wouldn’t have recognized it as the tree they carried through town. Emma squinted, and the tree looked larger, perhaps even dazzling. To be seen through loving eyes–the gift she needed most, yet never expected.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

“Do you have any eggnog?” Tom answered.

Emma smiled. She might get to that red wine after all. “As a matter of fact, I do. Bourbon?“

“Is there any other way to drink it?” Emma brought out their drinks, and they stood back to admire their work. “Once they’re dressed with lights and baubles,” Tom said, “you don’t notice the imperfections.”

Emma agreed. “Because compassion gives joy the space to grow.” She raised her glass in a toast. “Merry Christmas,” she said, “To the beauty of the imperfect.”

“Merry Christmas Emma,” he replied. “Maybe next year we can get matching holiday sweaters.”

“Bring the crème de menthe and you’ve got a deal.” Baxter turned in circles under the tree, then settled in for a nap. He’d found a place to rest, and so had she.