Otherwise Entitled: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways — and grab a pizza on the way home please!”
I sat down to write my husband a love letter. I thought it would be a romantic gesture. Images of Elizabeth Barrett Browning floating in my head, I wanted to renew my love for my best friend and lover in writing. After 21 years, I thought, it would be a sweet way to keep our fling alive. I started to think about the great lovers of history and how they always wrote these romantic notes and a lamented a little our current times and technology and how we don’t write really anymore.
And then I checked my Facebook. A message dinged at me. It was my husband.
“What do you want for dinner?” he wrote.
It dawned on me. Writing hasn’t gone away…it’s simply become a part of the fabric of our living. As I thought about it more, I realized that my husband and I have been writing to each other our entire lives together. It started way back in 1997. There was no texting then. Cell phones weren’t really even a thing. But email worked and we wrote to each other. Sometimes the email letters were lengthy and romantic. More often, they were short and sweet — a quick schedule change. A link to an article.
When we both had office jobs, he discovered Pidgin and we “IM’d” (instant message) each other covertly at work. We would type at each other all day long.
Sometimes the IM’s would be matter-of-fact: “Matt’s game is at 6. Dinner before or after?”
Sometimes they were sexy: “Where can we go away from the kids…?” OK, well, that’s the mother of 8’s version of sexy.
Sometimes they were angry. We have had many a fight via IM, or Facebook messenger. Something like, “what the hell? I am so done.” And he’ll answer, “Fuck you.” I’ll reply with something cunning like, “Right back at ya.”
And then I close the IM window for like two hours. Thinking that my ignoring him is somehow making him sad. Like a kid who holds their breath for a long time hoping to pass out or a child who refuses to eat deciding that the hunger is worth the attention — or lack thereof. The problem with intertwining your life with someone else, however, is that often, even if you are so pissed at them you can’t see straight, you still have to sort out the little details of day to day life.
So another message reads: “OK. I know you’re pissed at me. I’m sorry for that (although I’m not sorry for what I said), but one of us has to get Matt to his game and one of us needs to get Lydia to dance class. So yeah. And then there’s dinner for the kids.”
His reply: “Fine. Whatever. I’ll go to the game. Pizza?”
And we move on. Later, in bed, we might apologize or not. But the conflict is resolved and life has moved on, even if we have not agreed on who was right and was not. Which really, we never agree on anyway.
Looking through our messages as they have evolved over the years from IM’s and emails to Yahoo! And Gmail chats and now Facebook Messenger and texts, we have been able to use these methods as a way to chat about things that are sometimes uncomfortable.
“When you say things like that — that I’m a bitch or whatever — that really cuts me to the core. And I know you’re just saying it out of anger or whatever, but it’s hard for me to get past,” I write. He might reply right away. He might not. He might write me a litany of reasons why he said what he said. What I do know is that sometimes these conversations are hard to have face to face and that texting has allowed us to communicate, sometimes on very deep levels, sometimes on fun sexy levels (without children listening in), without a fear of saying the wrong thing.
I look back on some of our messages and they are pretty humorous. I recently had a job interview and John and the kids drove me because there was a beach nearby and I thought we could all go when I was done.
Me: “Where are you?”
J.: “We’re at the van
“Beach is right across the road”
Me: “K. On Ali’i.”
J.: “We’re in the parking lot on likana
“Right behind Banyan Court”
Me: “Where is that? Im at the wall”
Me: “By the boats”
J.: “Yeah, we’ll come down
“Let them change, you come up?”
“But where are you?”
He sends me a map. It makes no sense. It is literally a dot in the middle of what must be a building.
J.: “Come right through the Banyan Court Mall
“Big giant gnarly tree on Ali’i, by the jeweler”
Me: “Through the hotel?”
J.: “No, up the street”
Note — there is little punctuation and no periods. I am reading these now, cringing.
J.: “Look down the coast…See a big gray building with a red roof?”
J.: “Gold trim”
J.: “We’ll come down”
“We’re standing next to the wall”
I waved and found them. Other messages are clearly from a trip to Safeway.
J.: “Where are you?”
Me: “Where are you? We are in magazines.”
The next day…”Where did you go?”
J.: “Kea’au. Waiting. He’s in.”
Me.: “Oh good.”
And I don’t need a long explanation to know that this was the day that Liam went to Urgent Care for a headache that wouldn’t go away.
What does this all say? That marriage is sometimes — no — it is often mundane, boring, and goofy. It is interspersed with funny little situations that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. In another day, another era, these conversations would have happened over the phone and be lost. Or not at all. And maybe they should be lost. Who cares, after all, that I was in Safeway on Thursday, trying to entertain children in the magazine aisle while John went to pay. But it’s there. It’s part of our history together. I believe you could tell the story of our marriage from the details of our texts and messages.
I almost feel as though we have somehow gotten back to more original correspondence through our messages and texts. Abigail and John Adams, for example, wrote to each other all the time and spent many periods in their marriage apart. Some of their letters were long and in depth. But others were like this:
“Saturday afternoon Boston Octobr. 13, 1764.
When I wrote you by the Doctor I was in hopes that I should have been out the next day, but my disorder did not leave me as I expected and I am still confind extreemly weak, and I believe low spirited. The Doctor encourages me, tells me I shall be better in a few days. I hope to find his words true, but at present I feel, I dont know how, hardly myself. I would not have the Cart come a tuesday but should be extreemly glad to see you a Monday.
This is right up there with John and I texting each other while Liam’s at the doctor — or the mundane, “grab pizza. Don’t forget ice” texts that fly by a thousand times a week. But, if you are married, or partnered, in some way as we are, perhaps you understand. John, you see, is the voice in my head. When he is not around, or we are not texting, I talk to him and hear his answers…while I’m shopping or driving or whatever.
Somehow, the mundane becomes romantic when looked at over a period of 20 years. The fact that after all of these years — and all of those snippy little comments — or arguments — we still look to each other to text a funny, random thing or send a quote or even bother to help one another navigate an unfamiliar city is comforting. And thrilling.
Someday, I think, I would like to print our collected “works,” and read them from top to bottom, as it were. Of course, most of them are much too naughty to post here, but I’ll bet they make a great story.