My wife and I have a funny (funny-strange, not funny-ha ha) game that we play. Whenever I seem distant, distracted or irritable, she’ll come by and say, “I love you.” It sounds like a statement, but it’s really a question. She’s not expressing tender feelings so much as she’s trying to find out where I’m at emotionally. Her question is intended to elicit an echoing response, much like the children’s game of “Marco Polo” that celebrates the famous Venetian’s worldwide travels. “I love you…” asks, “Where are you?” “Do you still love me?” “How are you feeling about us?”
If, as so often is the case, my response doesn’t echo hers but comes back surly and impatient, she realizes that I’m far away. At this point, the game changes to “Twenty Questions” as she tries to figure out what’s wrong. Unfortunately, her sincere attempts to close the distance between us are usually met with more surliness and impatience. The truth is, when I’m in a bad place, I don’t usually want to be found. I prefer the isolation of my cave, where I can grunt and draw stick figures on the walls.
Because I don’t want her to find my hiding place, I send back responses to throw her off my trail, often lying to prevent discovery. “Nothing’s wrong.” “I’m fine.” “I’m just tired.” She doesn’t buy it. Twenty years of reading my body language and tone of voice have given her a sincerity sensor. If she continues to come after me, I feel like a cornered animal and sometimes say things we both regret later.
While I’m dealing with my issues, it’s hard for her to wait for me to come out of my cave. She worries. She assumes I’m in the cave because of her. She imagines all the things I could be upset about. She’s frustrated waiting for me to come back so that I can reveal the mystery of what led me into my Neanderthal period.
Meanwhile, I may have emerged from the cave, having dealt with the problem and my feelings in my isolation (or just stuffed them in one of the cave’s many hiding places). Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of a shadow in my wife’s mood to send me running back into my cave, and then we’ve got six more weeks of winter.
I’ve found that the best solution is actually a combination of our approaches. My isolation serves a purpose. It gives me time to process my emotions and thoughts. By the time I share them, they are often more considered and considerate. Many times, I realize in my cave that I’m over-reacting or that I was the one in the wrong. It’s not always necessary to rehearse the thought process out loud with my wife, and some things are better left unsaid.
However, my wife’s game of “Marco-Polo” is important, too. It keeps me from isolating too much. Even though I don’t always want to be found, I need to be found. She initiates to heal the relationship. If she allows me some time to process without allowing me to wander too far, she helps me to find my way back.
What can I say…it ain’t pretty, but it’s me.