Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spouse Sign Language

I like to talk. And and I come from a family of mostly women that like to talk too. So, naturally, when Rand and I first met, I was a loud talker as that's what happens when 4 chatty females live together. Once we were married and on our own, Rand started to try to lower my max volume. It almost ended our marriage. (Well, not really, but it did seriously piss me off at first.)

I'd be relaying some story to him while in the car and he would suddenly tell me to lower my voice. Although this annoyed me, it was when he did it in public that really set me off. It was condescending and embarrassing in front of others (and generally made me inclined to raise my voice!) even if I did have an excessive appreciation for the decibel scale. Before having to resort to marriage counseling, however, we came up with a signal, something that he could do that only I would understand to let me know I was getting loud. He started gently tugging his ear, as if checking for an earring. It worked great! So great that even now, 15 years later, sometimes he'll scratch his ear and I think he's telling my volume is rising when, in fact, he's just got a scratchy ear.

In the last few years, this idea has morphed into a mini sign language between us. However, it is not for communicating privately in public; rather, it's for defusing the minor yet inevitable marital spat which usually involves one of us not listening to or agreeing with the other. It started with Concede. Rand and I are both assertive, say-when-we-think-we're-right type of people so when a topic comes up that we disagree about, we tend to discuss it, google it, and generally go on about it until one of us ultimately concedes the point. The thing is, often times, once the Convincer gets on a roll, he/she has a hard time stopping even when the Conceder agrees. So we came up with using the sign language 'C' (where you curve your fingers and thumb as if looking into an invisible glass.) to signal to the Convincer that the Conceder agrees and they may cease and desist all debate. Immediately.

Next came Don't Know, signaled with a 'D' (where you close your fingers in a small circle to meet your thumb but leave your index finger pointed straight up.) I tend to ask Rand about things and he'll respond "I don't know" when I know if he would just listen to the rest of what I have to tell him, the answer might actually be, "I do know." I get annoyed that he denies knowledge without hearing me out while he gets annoyed that I insist on giving him the Long Version. Amazingly, the nonverbal "Don't know" seems to short-circuit nearly all of the annoyance. (Score!)

The latest addition is 'B' (palm out, fingers up, thumb tucked in) for Believe Me. Increasingly, Rand has taken to questioning my factual knowledge as a force of habit. He will ask me a question anywhere from "What are the dates for the Renaissance Faire?" to "What street is Moonshine on?" and then immediately dismiss my answer on the premise that I don't know what I'm talking about. This is highly irritating for two reasons. First, why does he even ask me if he's going to discount my answer? And secondly, why is my informed opinion always in question? (Once I consciously realized what was happening, I brought it to Rand's attention; he sheepishly acknowledged that it's probably due to his job where he has to repeatedly confirm factual information given to him by coworkers. This made me feel better except for the fact that he still has a tendency to do it.) Now I forcefully flash him the 'B' in a very convincing imitation of Fran Drescher's Talk-to-the-Hand gesture. He usually believes me. Of course, that's because I'm usually right. (Or rather, when I don't know, I say I don't know.)

It occurred to me recently that all three of these, in essence, are saying the same two words simply with varied tones, hues, and flavors to disguise the essential meaning: Shut up.

Shut up, I said I agree.
Shut up, I said I don't know.
Shut up and just believe me.

It's nice to know after 15 years of marriage, even if we don't listen to one another as well as we'd like, we can still be polite to one another.

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