The Soapbox

This page written circa 21 May, 1999.

The Cordelia Effect

I gather, without specific detail, that some readers of this column feel that I might be undervaluing my wife. I assure you this is not so. To anyone listening, I think she is the sanest, sexiest, sweetest person I know. I would not trade her for anyone past or present, I know she is working very hard on the Meri Project, and I appreciate how much other stuff she gets done, much of it single-handed, and I mean that literally.

Now you might have formed this sad impression on account of the warmth of my attitude to some past loves. Let me make it quite clear that this is an unfounded inference of comparison! If you read, into any payment of due credit, the idea that I do not value the present or that I prefer the past, this is your problem. Likewise, it would be wrong not to acknowledge good things from the past.

When I write the soapboxes, in particular when I wrote the one about excitement not being Kay's forte, I did my best to point out that I appreciate all the good bits. Of course people take "thrill is not a word likely to find itself used in context with Kay" to heart more than "I love Kay and I am enjoying living with her", or more than noticing the whole sentence in which the phrase is embedded: "Next, for all her good points, thrill is not a word likely to find itself used in context with Kay. (Of course, I am always open to correction.)"---an invitation to challenge me if I ever saw one.

However, saying that I intended no harm, and making a case for the trivial nature of the comment, do not lessen the hurt. I am trying to make up for it. I do value Kay, and I never wanted to hurt her. If my saying those things, even with good intention, has caused distress, I apologise.

Finally, to put this sort of stuff into perspective, I include below a well-worn tale that has done the rounds of the internet, and is humorous into the bargain. If you've not seen it before, you will enjoy it.

Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: ''Do you realize that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly six months?'' And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't want, or isn't sure of. And Roger is thinking: Gosh....Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is that means it was...let's see...February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer's, which means... lemme check the odometer... Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Elaine is thinking: He's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed -- even before I sensed it that I was feeling some reservations. Yes,I bet that's it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He's afraid of being rejected.

And Roger is thinking: And I'm gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don't care what those morons say, it's still not shifting right.

And Elaine is thinking: He's angry. And I don't blame him. I'd be angry, too. Gosh, I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can't help the way I feel. I'm just not sure. I never should have mentioned it. Now he probably feels cornered, like I'm being too aggressive and now he wants out. But hey, maybe I want out too? I need to think.

And Roger is thinking: They'll probably say it's only a 90-day warranty... that's exactly what they're gonna say, the scumballs.

And Elaine is thinking: Maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I'll give them a !@#$%^&* warranty. I'll take their warranty and stick it right up their....

''Roger,'' Elaine says aloud.
''What?'' says Roger, startled.
''Please don't torture yourself like this,'' she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. ''Maybe I should never have...Oh, I feel so...'' (She breaks down, sobbing.)
''What?'' says Roger.
''I'm such a fool,'' Elaine sobs. ''I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly. There's no knight, and there's no horse.''
''There's no horse?'' says Roger.
''You think I'm a fool, don't you?'' Elaine says.
''No!'' says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.
''It's just that...It's that I...I need some time,'' Elaine says.
(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.) ''Yes,'' he says.
(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.) ''Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?'' she says.
''What way?'' says Roger.
''That way about time,'' says Elaine.
''Oh,'' says Roger. ''Yes.''
(Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.) ''Thank you, Roger,'' she says.
''Thank you,'' says Roger.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he cooks some popcorn, turns on the TV and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it's better if he doesn't think about it. (This is also Roger's policy regarding world hunger.) The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either. Meanwhile, Roger, while playing golf one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine's, will pause just before putting, frown, and say: ''Mike, did Elaine ever own a horse?''

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