Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tiny bags of pretzels for the soul

Last week, I accidentally attended marriage counseling. With our fourth anniversary behind us, my wife Kara and I are actually doing quite well, despite the fact that she won’t let us get the orange juice with the pulp in it. But on a flight that connected home from Atlanta, I found myself sitting beside the happiest couple that had ever coupled, and the conversation that ensued was the most personal I’d ever had on an airplane, meaning that we covered topics other than complaints about the airline that was delivering us safely to our destinations.

Engaging in conversation with the person sitting next to you on a plane is risky. If you get done talking before they do, there’s no way out that doesn’t involve an altimeter, the exit row and a parachute. You can’t just say, “Well, it was nice talking to you. I’m going to turn the other way and stare out the window now. We can still play elbowsies on the armrest if you’d like. Bye!”

But the folks next to me this time were quite pleasant, still basking in the glow of ditching their four kids with the grandparents for a week, and after we’d talked long enough for me to name-drop Kara, the man turned sideways in his seat and said, “So, how do you like married life?”, staring at me intently to signify that he wanted a real answer.

Before simply blurting out, “Oh, it’s great,” I thought about all the things that Kara and I argue about, and realized the great coincidence that our arguments seem largely based on actions that tend to originate with, and emanate from, me: knuckle cracking, fidgeting with the battery caps on our remote controls until the plastic tabs snap off, chewing cereal like a moose chews floating clumps of grass, refusing to blow my nose on the grounds hthat sniffling is far less disgusting, etc.

The great thing about nearly all of these personal flaws is that they are what the insurance industry calls preexisting conditions. If your spouse knows about your preexisting conditions but chooses to marry you anyway, that’s their fault, not yours. You are only responsible for the annoying things you started doing postnuptially.

“Oh, it’s great,” I said, and that was the truth. If a couple’s worst marital strife centers in any way around the manner in which one of them consumes Cracklin’ Oat Bran, things can’t be all that bad.

The man went on to explain that he was interested because he was a marriage counselor. “There are five languages people use to express love: physical touch, servitude, words of affirmation, gifts and French.”

Actually, French wasn’t one of them, but I thought I was doing pretty good to remember four out of five when I still can’t dial Kara’s cell phone from memory.

“Rarely do two people get married who send and receive love using the same language,” he said. “Most marital problems come from people not understanding how their partner wants to receive love, or how they’re trying to send love.”

I’d never heard love described like a FedEx package before, but overall he was the least kooky stranger who’d ever offered me free advice.

His services might have been better applied to the couple one row forward. When the plane landed, the woman directly in front of me stood up quickly, cracking her head with gusto on the bottom of the luggage bins.

Without pause, her husband said, “Hey, watch your head when you stand up.”

He looked around to see if anyone else thought his wife’s near-concussion was funny, completely oblivious to the fact that she was rubbing her head and giving him a look that could have destroyed the One Ring much faster than the Fires of Mordor.

You can put Mike Todd’s tray table into its upright and locked position at


  1. Maybe the fifth language people use to express love is paying attention to what people are telling you? I think my wife told me about that once. Or maybe not. Can't really remember, I was probably too busy cracking my knuckles.

  2. My husband says the fifth language is beer. Or, wait, he didn't actually say it... he just drank it.

  3. The couple in fornt of you was probably Gary and I.... it sounds like something he would say to me.

    So.... inquiring minds want to know.... did the counseler say you guys need help? lol

  4. Mike, I wish I could get stuck on a plane from Atlanta with you! :)

  5. JL -- Paying attention? To who now? That's a good guess, and probably better than the real ones. The fifth one is actually quality time. Boooor-ing.

    Miss Ann -- Ha! That's much better than the real ones.

    Sheri -- I'm sure he thought I was nuts, but he was nice enough not to say anything about it. Probably because that would have cost me $200.

    Sergey -- Dude, flying with me is the coolest. Did you know that if you ask for a second bag of pretzels, they HAVE to give it to you? I don't know if that's true, but otherwise I got nothin'.

  6. If we were that couple in front of you, my husband would have said, "I didn't feel a thing".

  7. Carmel -- Ha, that line is better. Might your husband be a dentist?

  8. Mike... I though of you and your video games when I saw this Freakin' hilarious!

  9. crap/// I'm such a moron.... let me give you the address a little easier to copy

    there... that's better... you've got to watch it.

  10. Sheri -- That was off the hizzle. Kara dug it, too. I tried to get Youtube to let me embed it as a regular post, but it's being a wiener right now. I shall try again soon. You rule -- thanks!