Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Curbing My Enthusiasm, Part One
Pretty much I’m a quiet guy, shy in social situations. But every once in a while, who knows why, out pops Jack-the-Chatterbox, not listening to, or simply talking over others, including my wife, in my eagerness to blurt out my next bon mot. Could be a quip. Could be something better left unsaid.
There’s that baggy-pants guy with the squirting selzer bottle again, high-stepping across the stage through the spotlight. Get the hook.
My wife has seen this act many times before. She may boot me in the shins under the table at the time, or rebuke me later in the car. She may let it pass.
I’m not as incorrigible as I used to be, Lord knows. Over the years I’ve tried to keep a lid on what Alan Greenspan (in another context) termed “irrational exuberance.” Way back in elementary school, I was one of those first-one-with-the-answer kids, like the “grade-grubbing,” precocious girl “Summer” in the movie School of Rock.
But, clearly, I can still act like that attention-seeking second-grader.
Wife worship—serious wife worship, the kind that evolves into a committed wife-led marriage—offers me a chance to finally outgrow this juvenile behavior.
In fact, on the various wife-worship and female-led message boards and forums, you will find many husbands struggling with this kind of conversational boorishness, in order to show greater respect for their leading wives. Here is an example of a guy sharing some New Year’s Resolves:
“I will not back talk to my wife. I will not interrupt. I will not comment on everything. I will listen carefully so she does not have to repeat things. When she says to stop something that is annoying her, I will stop immediately, no whining, no moping, no bad attitude. I will not disagree with her in public.”
As I wrote in my book (Chapter 6,
"Being Known by Her": “I mean, really, how can you worship your wife if you won’t even stop and listen to her? If you can’t turn down the volume of your own thoughts and preoccupations long enough for her voice to get through to you?”
Another husband offers a few conversational specifics: “Yes, we need to watch what we say. In private, it is best to listen more and speak less. Consider her feelings, answer her questions directly and honestly, be open about your emotions and pay attention to her verbal and non-verbal clues. In public, show deference to her ideas and views, do not interrupt or use foul language. She will love it if you stand up for her opinions.”
“I make it a practice to sit and listen with total focus to whatever my wife is saying,” recommends another husband.
I came up with almost identical advice in my book: “Now when my wife speaks, even offhandedly, a little bell rings, reminding me, ‘This is not background noise, this is the woman you love and adore.’ Especially if she speaks in a tone that signals she really need my attention, I stop—whatever I’m doing. If I’m standing, I often sit down, to concentrate on what she’s saying.”
But I especially like this prescription for husbandly comportment posted on the old Spouseclub message board by a “Mr. Louise,” describing his matriarchal home:
“My greatest thrill in our social life is when we have a few friends over and the wives all talk openly to each other and the men are finally lulled by Ms. Louise's dominance and their own wives into quiet, sensible submission. The sound of male quiet during female conversation is the music of a matriarchal home. If I excitedly offer my opinion Ms. Louise often returns me to my place with a loving chide: ‘Honey, please, the women are speaking now.’ And that is the motto of our matriarchy: the women are speaking now; men, you've had your chance, and please be silent.”
Curbing one’s conversational excesses is obviously more difficult lacking a no-nonsense wife like Ms. Louise, or this authoritarian wife: “In my home, my husband is forbidden to interrupt the feminine talk, nor to command any conversation, except with my explicit consent.”
At our house, I have to do the self-scolding, or self-reminding: Don't give her the benefit of your opinions on everything, don't sound off or weigh in before she has a chance to speak. Find out what she thinks.
And don’t, for heaven’s sake, interrupt her. No matter how much you feel compelled to share some cosmic thought. Don’t interrupt if she’s on the phone, or chatting with someone, including our kids, or reading a book, or watching TV. Unless the sky is genuinely falling.
In other words, respect what she’s doing. Let your urgency wait. And don’t just stand there, silently importuning. Back out of the room, go away, try again later.
As this wife counsels, “My hubby learned that when he got ‘the look’ while I was working on a project that it was best for him not to interrupt but to find something else to do—fast.”
So, what I do with my conversational enthusiasm these days is—blog! And I’ve got a bit more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for Part Two.