It’s all in how you (don’t) say it
We know couples who contend they can talk to each other about “anything.” My husband Olof agrees that’s the way relationships ought to be, so long as you never actually do it.
Olof is strictly a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of guy, although it has nothing to do with the military. As far as he’s concerned, a lot of those “anything” conversations could quickly careen into the dreaded to-be-avoided-at-all-costs category of Too Much Information.
I won a Press Club award, for example, for a previous column about Olof’s massive aversion to feminine hygiene commercials on TV, which he maintains have gangrenously pervaded channels that could formerly be counted on to be guy-friendly. When shouting at the TV fails to work, he is forced to retreat to the kitchen for a snack until it’s safe to return. He maintains he’s put on eight pounds on the Seasonique birth control ads alone.
As far as Olof is concerned, my TMI filter was broken at birth. But actually, it just runs in completely different directions than his. I can’t watch violence or gore of any kind. My former movie group used to end up seeing a lot of three-hour black-and-white dubbed-from-the-Hungarian documentary-style prison camp movies since we couldn’t see anything any of us had already seen or had promised to a spouse. I usually had my jacket over my head and my hands in my ears muttering lalalalala, to the annoyance of the people behind me (never mind my movie group). During the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” (which we watched at home on DVD for precisely that reason), I was on far side of the house with a pillow over my head.
Olof has a hard time seeing this aversion to video violence as actual TMI. An engineer and a former Air Force pilot, most of his areas of TMI tend to exist in the murky underworld of “feelings.” If it’s an engineering or aviation issue, Olof is all guts and glory, no detail too difficult to confront openly and with full disclosure. But a sentence that starts with “I feel” is not going to come out of this man’s mouth. Ever.
Now, keep in mind that Olof is hardly a curmudgeonly undemonstrative kind of guy. He’s out-going, universally liked (which I find very annoying), incredibly kind, and has a great sense of humor. Actions, he maintains, speak louder than words. OK, but as I’ve pointed out to him on more than a few occasions, sometimes words would come in really handy.
Whole industries involved with the world of psychology completely baffle him. It’s not that he is against psychotherapy per se; he’s just puzzled why anyone would do it. In his personal view, if one has a problem, one mulls. One ponders. One might even create a flow chart. No, one especially creates a flow chart. One certainly doesn’t pay after-tax dollars to some charlatan with a pseudo degree in what he refers to as the squishy sciences to engage in – we’ve come full circle now – sharing of Too Much Information.
After we had a devastating encounter with a drunk driver on I-5 a few years ago and I recovered from injuries enough to begin driving in my replacement car, I could barely bring myself to drive down the street. It didn’t help that seconds into my first actual foray around town, some jerk coming the other way on La Jolla Boulevard made a sudden U-turn in front of me barely avoiding a major collision. (Where is one’s 9-millimeter Glock when one needs it?) Some people, when they fall off a horse, climb right back on. Others of us develop a life-long fear of equines.
So I did the only reasonable thing. I hired a cognitive therapist who actually drove around with me in spite of my absolute 100 percent conviction that we were both going to die. Now, Olof was certainly aware of my difficulties driving. I got a lot of extra hugs in that era. But in Olof Land, one looks fear in the face and refuses to be defeated by it. And one certainly STOPS TALKING ABOUT IT. I had landed firmly on the wrong side of Olof’s TMI line.
I didn’t mention my new driving companion to Olof although he must have known. (See “after-tax dollars,” above.) If he had asked, I certainly would have been happy to discuss it. Which, of course, is exactly what he was trying to avoid at all costs. I know he wouldn’t have begrudged me any help that the quacks could mysteriously provide although I am sure that he thought if I would just get in the damn car and drive, we could cut the witch doctor out of the equation.
As far as he was concerned, we absolutely adhered to the “we can talk about anything” philosophy. But he’s just really glad we didn’t. Sometimes illusion is everything.
* Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life in The La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org