24 hours in twenty years: marriage, discovery, and a matter of time

Do we ever really know another person? How long might that take? Twenty years can’t possibly be enough if my example is any indication of the scope of the discovery.

My husband took note recently of the fact that I opt to have the time displayed in 24 hour format when possible. He noticed this as the evening grew dark and visiting friends wondered about the prudence of getting their kids home to bed. I woke up my phone first as it was sitting rather rudely before me on the dining room table.

“20:12?” DH asked. “Your phone is set to military time?

Keep in mind that we’ve known each other for almost 20 years, and been married for most of those.

This becomes rather more amusing if you’ve ever visited my home, ridden in my car, or viewed any of my electronics. All of these conditions have been met by my husband, with most of them occurring on a daily basis.

Both of my children have had noisy arguments with me within DH’s earshot about my insistence that they learn to read a 24-hour clock and an analog one before I will buy them the digital watches they oddly covet.

In our kitchen, the microwave oven and a digital clock give the time in 24 hour format. Come to think of it, DH has always complained about being unable to find the time in our new house. Perhaps he thought those were kitchen timers in constant use?

time 24 hr clock face - 1

In the communal study the kids and I call the “workroom,” there is a digital clock set to 24 hour time displayed prominently on DS’s desk. You can’t walk through the room—which DH must do to reach his own office—without seeing its face.

The clock in my minivan displays 24 hour time and it has since I set it on the day I drove it home.

The sunrise clock on my side of our shared marital bed shows military time, too. To be fair, though, DH has his own clock on his side so he needn’t read mine with any regularity.

Are you sensing the pattern? I don’t think this is a subtle one.

I prefer the efficient notation of written time in fewer characters. I like the frequent tiny mental math problem of subtracting twelve. I don’t like the look of the abbreviations for ante- and post meridiem unless they are in small caps, and those can be annoying to implement (in WordPress, for example.)

None of these reasons matter in the least, of course, though it’s amusing that the same husband who teases me for clinging to the archaic Imperial system of measurement seems to have a similarly irrational preference for a less concise system for measuring time.

I pronounce the time in the standard twelve hour format, so, without his ears to help with the heavy lifting of comprehension, DH can be excused for never noticing what was right before his eyes.

It’s easy, after a decade and a half, to assume we know it all about a partner and a constant presence. It is very often true that I can predict exactly what DH will say, or choose, or prefer.

But, then again, human beings are awesome in their complexity, and my mate is no exception. Every day, each of us goes out into the world, changes it, and is changed by it. We grow. We evolve. Hopefully, we learn a little, too.

We aren’t the same young people who met online, like proper nerds, dated, and fell in love. We’re older, saggier, and otherwise more time-worn.

One of us prefers miles and military time; one of us is all metric, but goes to bed at 8 o’clock instead of 20:00.

The joy of it is being tickled by discovery this far in. The wonder is that we still have so much to discover, and so much desire to do so.

A cold shoulder was my shorthand for “I hate it when you leave”

We all have behaviors that we’ve not so much chosen as assumed. One of mine was pointed out to me years ago by my beloved spouse.

DH observed:

“You always pick a fight with me before I travel.”

He was completely right.

Once this behavior was drawn to my attention, I gained a measure of control over it. Now, on the evening before DH leaves for a business trip, I don’t pick a fight about how one ought to load the dishwasher or the correct position for the lid of a toilet not in use.

Instead, I cling to him almost desperately, and whisper sadly:

“I hate when you go. I want to punch you. I love you.”

Note: These are just words of frustration. Families should not hit each other.*  If your family hits you, please get help. Call the police.

Even wallowing in awareness of my reluctance to part, and fully cognizant of my tendency toward easing the transition through verbal aggression, I still need to express it.

At least now, this expression has joined the ranks of our commonly understood, odd, humor-filled scripted interactions.

“I’ll miss you, too,” DH says. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

He hugs me tight and gives me the reassurance I’m tacitly requesting.

DH doesn’t always speak my language, but he’s gotten pretty good at interpreting it.

Someday, perhaps I will evolve even further. I may yet grow into a kinder, gentler person who doesn’t feel angry—and find a need to express that anger through nitpicking fights or unpleasant words—when confronted by the temporary loss of my love.

He’s my best friend. I hate it when he goes away for even one night.

That’s probably what I should learn to say instead.



*There is some physical contact that is perhaps best described as martial arts practice in our family. That requires the explicit, stated participation of all parties, and is only supposed to occur in our exercise room. None of the men in the household seem capable of confining their wrestling to the gym, but it is the rule, for the benefit of the furniture as well as the safety of the combatants.

My husband buys me flowers, even when he doesn’t: a reflection on generosity within a marriage

Spring struggled to arrive in New England this year. We’d had only about half the usual inches of snowfall until mid-February, then caught up over a matter of days and had snow on the ground into April. The late burst of wintry weather left me yearning for signs of spring late in a gloomy March.

On my way into Trader Joe’s to do the grocery shopping, I paused by the cheerful floral display and gave in to temptation. I bought a small bouquet. Arranging them in a vase at home, I caught the thought flitting through my mind:

“I wish DH had bought these flowers for me.”

And then I stopped, took stock, and realized that he had.

My husband makes this kind of little effort all the time. He’s not a born romantic, but a self-made one. He knows that romantic flourishes make me feel loved, so he adds them to his agenda and perhaps ticks them off a to do list. But he does them. He makes the gestures. He prioritizes my happiness. He shows his love for me in this and other ways all the time.

I have friends who sigh that their husbands consider cut flowers a waste of money; they would complain if they came home and saw these sunflowers on the table. My husband says, “Ah, good, here’s something to make you happy, and I didn’t even have to stop by a store.”

So when my husband made his way home that evening, the first thing I said to him was:

“Thank you for the flowers!”

His face read froze into half-pleased puzzlement. I’m guessing his thoughts were something like, “Did I do something I’ve forgotten?” or “Is this some kind of trick I can’t yet figure out?”

He works too hard and he comes home tired, but more often than not his welcome is a list of complaints, demands, and urgent declarations. I’m as guilty of this as the kids are. The boys want their dad’s approval; I want an adult ear and the support of my partner. We all clamor for his attention because his time at home is too scarce and so precious.

“I bought myself flowers,” I explained to him, “and then I realized that they’re from you. I know that you would have bought me flowers if you’d been at the store. I know that you would buy me flowers every day if you could. You make it so obvious that you love me, I couldn’t miss it if I tried. So you bought me these flowers. Thank you.”

Generous love means meeting the needs of your partner in the way your partner requires. I ask for occasional flowers, a hand with the dishes, validation for my work in the home; he wants to be fed something he likes, to be appreciated for his hard work, to be given some time and space to unfurl his public stresses before fully engaging with the family in the evening.

This was my turn to be generous. Here was a loving gesture from me that DH could happily receive. His efforts are appreciated. His gestures have been noticed. His love has been accepted, and reciprocated.