I met my wife in 2003, the week the Iraq War began while I was on spring break in Lake Havasu, Arizona. With authority you can say that this is an inauspicious beginning. Why? Because Lake Havasu is the inspiration for the lake in the movie “Piranha,” the plot of which is: you’re introduced to a bunch of people who deserve to be eaten by prehistoric fish–and then for the next 90 minutes prehistoric fish eat them. And the Iraq War is pretty much everyone’s least favorite war.
I met my wife at the end of the week, when a friend of mine threw water balloons at her and her friends, then invited me to meet the girls they threw water balloons at later that night. We bonded over Jack Handey quotes which we traded back and forth for hours.
In 2005, we started dating. I told her I loved country songs, she informed me she was a huge Red Sox fan. Meanwhile, to this day I know 5 country songs by name, and she has no idea who Bobby Valentine is. It’s all part of a process. When you meet someone on a lake filled with douche bags, the day after a war starts, you tend overcompensate by bullshitting small stuff about yourself, in the same way that spackle can be considered bullshit for drywall.
Then comes the long process of letting all that stuff fall away. Now that you’re in love, it’s best to let the other person know you did not donate a kidney to a dying orphan. It was actually a case of Campbell’s Soup you donated to a hungry orphan. At least for now it was. A few months from now, that Campbell’s Soup will become a pair of old shoes your mom donated once in the 80’s to some kid who probably still had their parents. But it was your mom and they were your shoes.
As that spackle is removed, you like what’s left much more–it’s genuine, stronger and it’s true character. You’re yourself.
But once all that inward bullshit is gone… it then starts to redirect outward in the form of reckless consideration of the other person’s feelings. I once bought my wife tulips, proudly boasting “Look at what a good boyfriend I am. I got you your favorite flowers.” She smiled, hugged me, kissed and thanked me, telling me how considerate and caring I was to make the effort to get her favorite flowers in the entire world. She assured me I was a rare find. Few men are like me.
Then five minutes later I remembered it was daffodils that were her favorite, not tulips. “Were you pretending?”
“Sweetie, they’re both yellow. I can see how that was confusing to you.”
The most common occurrence of this happens because I do most of the cooking. My wife will come home from work, greeted with dinner. When she says: “This is such an interesting flavor,” it’s really her euphemism for “There’s so much salt in here I’m worried my kidneys are about to shutdown.”
To her credit, she will call me out on a lot of things–I apparently load the dish washer like a moron who has never played Tetris–but I’ll never be criticized if I’ve done something nice. Which is sweet of her, but typically that’s how you treat children. Oh, you made me a sandwich with eggshells and shotgun casings? Yummy! Sure, be nice now, but sooner or later you’re going to have to eat that kid’s sandwich or put him up for adoption.
For her sanity, my wife needed to drop the act. Besides, I am a huge believer in getting the crap criticized out of me in order to get better. No pain, no gain.
Then the other day I was making her favorite food, salmon. But wanting to do something special, I made a lemon glaze with, among other spices, cumin. By itself cumin smells like an unbathed hippy. And my wife’s palate is such that she’s very sensitive to some flavors, hippy armpit being one of them. So when she came home, smelled salmon, and found me singing “You’re only cumin, born to make me taste…” to the tune of Human League’s song Human, she froze up.
And in that moment I remembered, she doesn’t like cumin, I’ve probably just ruined salmon, her favorite food. How is this going to play out? Will she smile at me, say I’m an epicurean mastermind–a palate pioneer, never wanting to seem ungrateful that I cooked for her?
Needless to say, it takes a long time to be exactly who you are in a relationship. It was Jack Handey doing the talking when we first met. It was my wife talking when she finally said “I’d prefer not to have that flavor combo on salmon again.”