Tag Archives: pathetic

Revival of the Fittest: Marriage and the common cold

evolution-of-manI’m about to make a highly inflammatory, clearly sexist, certainly offensive generalization. Readers will undoubtedly gasp at my insensitivity, and offer a myriad of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

But deep down in the recesses of our hearts and minds, in the spaces not corrupted by contrived societal notions of “equality” and “fairness,” we all secretly know these words to be true: Men are total wimps when they get sick.

Several years after getting married, I began to notice a recurring behavioral pattern every time my husband caught a cold. Unnecessary sniffling, dramatic coughing, flamboyant sneezing – each occurrence followed by a moan, groan or whimper, along with a pitiable declaration such as “I don’t feel so good.”

My husband’s pathetic actions while sick did not appear to be natural and spontaneous, but seemed intended to garner the maximum amount of attention (also known as “milking it.”) Additionally, when he got sick my husband would never simply approach me directly and say, “Honey, I think I’m coming down with something, and would appreciate you making me some chicken soup while I take it easy for the next couple days.” Instead, my husband would put on a dramatic display in hopes of indirectly compelling us all to run and get him a blankie and a fudgesicle.

“Why would my otherwise responsible, straightforward, masculine military husband resort to such childish passive aggressive tactics?” I wondered.

At first, I thought his germ-induced plea for attention might have something to do with him having grown up in a big family. One of five siblings, my husband was flanked by the smartest kid and the funniest kid in the family, so he had to do whatever he could to get his parent’s attention.

Occurrences which might otherwise seem unfortunate to a child were savored in my husband’s large family. For example, normally a kid would hate going with their mother to get orthopedic shoes, a tonsillectomy, allergy testing, and speech therapy; however, these were precious moments in my husband’s childhood when mom showed him special attention and bought him ice cream.

My “big family” theory seemed to explain my husband’s theatrical reaction to the common cold, but then I started talking to other wives. Apparently, my husband isn’t the only one — every man on the planet exhibits pathetic, overly dramatic, attention seeking behaviors when ill.

Ironically, just as otherwise strong husbands become groveling weaklings when stricken with the sniffles, their otherwise nurturing wives universally roll their eyes and find it impossible to muster sympathy.

We wives feel guilt and wonder why we find our husbands’ childish ploys for attention so patently unattractive. We wish our natural nurturing instincts would kick in, but instead of making soup, we find ourselves muttering insensitive remarks under our breath such as, “He should get an Oscar for that sneeze” or “Building the groundwork for another afternoon nap, are we?” or “Grow a pair, would ya?”

sick-husband

But perhaps all this irony and marital discourse during illness serves a higher purpose. Consider this: if sick males were babied by their female companions, the males might find it so enjoyable, there would be no reason to get back to the work of hunting, gathering, and mating to keep the tribe strong.

So, nature has built in an automatic trigger — men who get sick become so pathetic, their women find them repulsive and cannot produce sympathy. This motivates the men to recover quickly so that they will become attractive to women again and can thereby resume their main goal in life: mating.

So when my husband recently came down with a case of bronchitis, I decided that it was my wifely duty to be repulsed, to show no sympathy and to roll my eyes as much as humanly possible. It wasn’t easy to completely ignore my husband’s childish pleas for attention. But, I figured — it’s the least I could do.

sick husband

 

Sharing Happiness

My phone rang this week, and for once, it wasn’t my kids or my husband or my mother or my carpool partner or my in laws or one of those pre-recorded doctor’s appointment confirmation messages.

“Hey Lisa, what have you been up to?” she asked. I was dumbfounded. I had not received a purely social call in months — it was as if I had forgotten what to do. My mind raced as I tried to remember how to engage in idle chit chat.

Why on earth is she calling me? I thought. I mean, we only know each other because our husbands work together, and besides, I’m new here, but  she’s lived here for years. She has plenty of other friends to call . . . there must be some problem.

“Oh, you know, the usual . . . busy, busy, busy!” I lied, waiting for her to ask to borrow money, or give her a ride to the airport, or buy overpriced candles for her son’s baseball team fundraiser.  

“Well, listen, I really need some exercise… would you like to go on a power walk or something?”

You’d have thought I was a double winner on the Price is Right Showcase Showdown by the way I reacted.

“Really?! Yes! I would love to! What time?! Where do you want me to meet you?! I’ll go anywhere! I already have work out clothes on, so I am ready to go whenever you are, so just say the word and…”

“Nine-fifteen at the Park and Ride lot on Wonderwood Drive,” she interrupted my pathetic ramble.

“You got it!”

I arrived twenty minutes early, and sat desperately waiting to spot her mini van. When she arrived, I bolted from my car as if it had burst into flames.

“Hi!” I yelled and waved across the parking lot, startling her out of her morning haze. For the next hour, we did what housewives do so well – analyzed, pondered, proclaimed, opined, pontificated, empathized, chastised, gossiped and even listened a little bit, all under the guise of exercise. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Back in the parking lot, my new friend suggested that we make the outing our new Thursday routine. I eagerly agreed, and nearly skipped back to my car with a goofy grin.

On the drive home, I thought, Finally, a real friend. I can’t wait for next Thursday. Boy, I wish we could meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. But maybe that’s too much. I don’t want to scare her away. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I did come on too strong. I don’t remember listening all that much, actually. I think I did most of the talking. Why do I always do that? She was probably wondering whether I’d ever shut up. I’ll bet she will call and cancel next week because she thinks I’m an annoying blabbermouth….

I pulled into my driveway, put the car in park, and looked at myself in the rear view mirror. Not only did I realize that, on the walk, my bangs had fallen into that unflattering middle part that made my face look like a full moon, it also occurred to me that this had all happened before.

Suddenly overwhelmed with that bizarre déjà vu sensation, I tried to recollect the past. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the internal conversation I just had with myself was the same one I had in 2008, 1998, 1996, 1994 and 1993 – basically, every time the military has ordered us to move.

After every move, I busy myself with setting up our new life – new house, new schools, new doctors, new dentists, new music teachers, new gym, new church, new pizza place, new routines — a daunting task which keeps me occupied for several months. But once the new routines are in place, there’s nothing left to do except live.

I don’t care whether you live in Poughkeepsie or Prague, boredom eventually sets in. You find yourself dawdling on the internet, throwing dinner together last minute, ignoring housework, and eating too much. You put on work out clothes every day, but never make it to the gym. You call your husband at work even though you know he can’t chat. You write long e-mails to friends from the past who are too preoccupied to write back. Even your own mother tries to get off the phone when you call, and your last resort, the family dog, has no good gossip to share.

You are bored out of your mind.

As I fixed my bangs in the rear view mirror, I remembered the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who disappeared “Into the Wild” (the name of the book by Jon Krakauer) to live free from obligations and relationships. After spending over three months utterly alone, he finally realized that he had been wrong about life all along. Days before he died of starvation trying to make it back out of the wild, he wrote “Happiness is only real if shared.”

Remembering the quote helped me understand why I always get a little pathetic every time we move, and although I’m in no danger of starving anytime soon (quite the contrary in fact,) I realized that everyone needs a good friend or two to nourish the soul.

The Stalkers Among Us

 

Beware: A menace currently prowls in our otherwise idyllic neighborhoods, threatening to infiltrate our lives and disrupt the social structure in our communities. Once these prowlers take up residence in our localities, we cannot avoid them. They emerge like swarming termites in search of fresh pulp to sink their pincers into.

These vermin are relentless. They follow us to school, they approach us in the commissary, they ring our doorbells.

Who exactly are these pests, you might ask? No two are the same, but they all have something in common: They just PCS’ed here and are desperately looking for new friends. Yup, it’s true. The Newcomers are here.

Every summer, military families pack up, vacate housing, and move on to their new duty stations. The rest of us wave good-bye to our friends and resolve to sadly but persistently plod along without them. Just when we think we are managing just fine in our established social circles, it happens: Throngs of new people move in, unpack a few boxes, then creep out into our neighborhoods to trespass on our social territory.

Truth be told, I was one of these pestering new people just a couple years ago. After saying good-bye to family and friends back home, we plunked down into Germany without so much as a familiar face to greet us.

Our first few weeks in the base hotel waiting for housing were surprisingly enjoyable. Like a little girl playing house, I challenged myself to come up with creative ways to make a family dinner in the room’s tiny microwave. I proudly served up canned soup and egg salad sandwiches made from the hard-boiled eggs and bread we had pilfered from the hotel breakfast buffet. I reconfigured the furniture to create a place the kids could make a fort. I memorized the unfamiliar TV channels while ironing all of our shirts, pants, and underwear.

By the third week, the novelty of our life at the hotel had worn off. I found myself chatting with the hotel clerk, the commissary baggers and anyone who got in an elevator with me, to combat the solitude of spending days with my suitcases and AFN.

After five weeks, we finally moved into base housing. I scanned the neighborhood for potential friends while walking the dog, taking the trash out, and schlepping the kids to school. I would make eye contact with those who looked approachable, and offer a friendly smile in an effort to initiate an interaction.

But for some reason, nothing seemed to work. In fact, I started to get the feeling that people were avoiding me. Women seemed to avert their eyes when I glanced at them. Moms pushed their strollers a little quicker when they noticed I was behind them. As I walked by the stairwell patios, groups of chatting ladies got a little quieter.

As desperation set in, I made some rash choices. Despite the fact that I have never really enjoyed the sport, I joined the Ladies Bowling League and paid for a full year commitment. I made a pledge to volunteer every week in my daughter’s third grade classroom without considering my general exasperation with other people’s kids. I promised to sub for a bunco group that was affectionately referred to as “The Screamers,” due to their habit of emitting blood-curdling squeals after landing any mildly-beneficial roll of the dice.

In the end, it was my dog, Dinghy, that saved me from total social ambiguity. A 110-pound “labradoodle” with an explosion of dirty blonde hair, he was far more popular than I was. Kids and their mothers stopped to pet Dinghy, which required some interaction with me. In due course, people realized that I wasn’t as nerdy and pathetic as I appeared, and I made a few friends.

Now, in the third year of our tour with more friends than I need, I see “The Newcomers” skulking around with that same pitiable look in their eyes that I once had. But do not despair, you throngs of pathetic loners, your time will come. Like the circle of life, these cyclical social stages are inevitable. For now, use whatever skills you possess – your kids, delicious baked goods, your irresistible dog – and one day you will be the one running from the stalkers among us. 

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I Put the Ooze in Loozer

Why did I go over to Al’s apartment that night? It was the spring of 1992 and I was still single. His roommate had already gone to bed, and Al started speaking in a creepy soft tone as he got up from the couch and started turning off lights in their living room. With the flip of each switch, I got more and more tense. He was going to kiss me and I knew it.

The night before I had been 100 miles away in Cleveland. My old college roommate and her fiancée invited me to their “couples wedding shower.” Such events had just come into fashion in the early 90s, so I had no idea what to expect, other than everyone having a date except me.

I followed the directions to the hosts’ house in Shaker Heights, and with a deep breath, I rang the doorbell. Sure enough, I entered a room filled with hip young couples, comfortable and secure in their relationships.

The rest of the evening was like a Turning Leaf commercial full of good-looking people under soft lighting, infused with the sounds of trendy music, laughter and clanking glasses. I tried all night to fit in but I knew I looked like the bride’s loser roommate who she had to invite. At the end of the night, everyone retired to his or her rooms with their respective mates, and I slept on the couch. I stared at the ceiling for hours and couldn’t wait for morning to come. 

The next day I plastered the same goofy smile on my face and said my good-byes to my old roommate, her fiancée, and their hip good-looking friends. I rolled the window down, waved, and drove off.

I wasn’t on the interstate for more than a minute when the tears came. Like a baby, I wailed for 50 miles or more. Cars passed, their passengers curious about the apparent mad woman in the Mazda sobbing uncontrollably.

I had always had trouble getting anyone to ask me out on a date, much less commit to an actual relationship. I just didn’t get it. I had fair looks, a decent build, a keen sense of humor, nice hair, a great job and good hygiene. Why wasn’t that enough?

Over the years, I believed that my time would eventually come, but it was getting a bit ridiculous at age 26. I had to face the distinct possibility: I might be a loser

Back at my Mount Washington apartment, I decided that self-punishment was in order. I layered myself in sweats and went on a long run. Making my way down the windy back alleys and staircases of my old Pittsburgh neighborhood, I pushed myself to feel pain. At the base of Mount Washington, I stared up the mile-long parkway that would take me back to my street. Halfway up, I started getting dizzy, but I didn’t deserve to stop so I pushed on.

Finally at the top, some passers-by noticed my woozy appearance and beet-red face. “Hey, are you OK?” But I ignored their concern and staggered back to my apartment.

I turned on the 14 inch TV that was perched atop an old wooden wire spool and plopped onto my second-hand couch. “The Ten Commandments” was on, but I stared off blindly.

The phone’s ring startled me from my trance, and I hopped up to answer it.

“Hey Lisa, we are having some neighbors over for a cook out tonight — wanna come?”

It was Al. He was a consultant who worked on some cases at our law firm, and he was a big giant geek. I could never date that guy. I politely declined the invitation and moped my way into the shower.

As the hot water pelted my sore body, I started to think. I must ooze desperation. When boys see me, they don’t see a potential date, they see a blinking neon sign that says, “I WANT A BOYFRIEND!” No wonder they run for their lives. I need to stop trying so hard and let things happen naturally for once. I shouldn’t have turned Al down; a barbecue might be fun and I could use a good time.

I finished my shower and called Al back to get directions. I arrived an hour later, hopeful for a fun evening. But when Al opened the door, all I saw was his roommate watching TV. I knew something wasn’t right.

In an attempt to be hospitable, they offered me a seat on the couch between them, and we watched an episode of “Married with Children” while eating unwrapped processed cheese slices and saltines.

I kept waiting for the other guests, but none arrived. Unusually early, Al’s roommate said his goodnight and went to bed. I started getting suspicious. Was this all a rouse by Al to get me over here alone? Does he like me? I figured I would chat for another 15 minutes or so to be polite and then get the heck outta there. 

After he turned out all but one light, Al returned to his seat beside me on the couch and resumed his creepy soft tone of speech. Oh no. What am I going to do when he tries to kiss me. I’ll probably let  him do it because I am such a wimp, but what if he wants more? Oh crap, I need to get out of here.

Just then, Al says, “Hey Lisa, listen, I’ve got to get up really early tomorrow, so you are welcome to crash on the couch, but I’ve got to get to bed.”

I thought I had hit rock bottom somewhere at the base of Mt. Washington earlier that day, but I was wrong. This was it. I realized that, while I was in the shower, they must’ve cancelled the barbecue and didn’t have the heart to tell me when I called them back. And here, I thought that Al had implemented an elaborate scheme to get me alone, when all along, he was just being polite. 

Based on my crying fit that morning, I thought I might go off the deep end with this new turn of events, but strangely, I couldn’t deny the obvious humor in the situation and laughed out loud on my way back to my car.

I learned that my life certainly had its ups and downs, and rather than pushing myself so hard to find love and companionship, I needed to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Two months later, I met my husband. He hates it when I tell this story because it implies that he married a desperate loser who couldn’t find a date to save her life, when he insists, he married the love of his.

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