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words like a song

game of the week

words like a song

I know this couple. They have been married long enough to have accumulated children and a complete set of china. They met in college, brought together by the politics and heirarchy of fraternal university life.

I hear them on the phone sometimes. Rather, I hear him. I watch him. He talks into the phone when she is on the other end, but he looks elsewhere. He looks at papers, at the computer while she talks. He looks at his watch and the television and at the stain on the cuff of his shirt. Sometimes he sees me looking and he rolls his eyes as if the person on the other end of the phone was a telemarketer, not his wife. When he ends the phone calls, it's always with a declaration of love, but without the motions of his hands or his eyes or his distraction, his wife can not really know what exactly he is declaring to her.

She doesn't seem to read his voice well. I know, after all this time, the difference in his tones. Sometimes he just says "love you" and hangs up and the words are like machine gun fire, short and sharp. She hears "I love you today more than I did yesterday" because that is what she wants, expects to hear. I hear only the requisite answer to her words, to the "I love you" that she uttered to him with her heart. His words only serve to end a conversation he was bored of having.

Sometimes he says "I love you too," and she hears "I still feel the same about you that you do about me," and my fine tuned ear hears only reciprocal words that are thrown out to close a deal. He is saying "will you shut up already" but she won't hear that. Her heart is not so jaded as one that can hear that frequency. It's a signal only the once-bitten can hear.

He talks about her often, but he never has anything good to say. I wonder what he says to her in the privacy of their own home. I wonder if he tells her to her face that he thinks she is dumb and naive and a bad mother. I wonder if she knows that he thinks she is a nuisance. I wonder if she knows all this and hears all this and chooses to put it somewhere else, where she can't see it or take it out and examine it too closely.

She is a beautiful woman. Not supermodel beautiful or that beautiful that causes a man to whistle at her as she walks by. It's a different kind of beauty. She is pretty like an Ivory Soap commercial. She is crisp and clean and perfect skin and hair and teeth. Looking at her makes you think of mountains and clean air and running through fields of flowers. She could make a man's heart ache just by looking at him, just flashing a sincere warm smile at him.

I look at the pictures that line their walls, pictures of them together from college and the years beyond, down the hallways and up the stairs in timeline order. In every picture, she clings to him like a security blanket. Her hands grip his shoulders. They encircle his waist. She gazes at him with puppy dog eyes, never looking at the camera, just him. There are no pictures of her alone, no framed portrait of her, no snapshot where she is just laughing or playing or not attached in some way to him.

He didn't want to marry, that much is obvious. But his position in his firm was one where a wife and children were a natural extension of your job description. I'm sure that somewhere in the fine print of his employment contract, it says "family man" under requirements. Because family men are good in his field of work. Family men get promotions. Family men get raises. Family men come to the company picnics with their beautiful wives and Stepford children and they get the bonuses.

Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think of her. I think of her being home all day with her young children, doing her best to keep them in line and make them beautiful and smart like trophies. I think of her wasted degree because the wife a family man doesn't work. She doesn't need to. Her brains serve no purpose outside of the home. She keeps her house clean and tidy and the yard green and filled with flowers, and she can bake and sew and go to mommy-and-me and be class mom. She can voice her opinion, but it's usually wrong. She can complain about the way her life is going, about the boredom and sameness of it all, about her loneliness and that place in her soul that is going unfulfilled, but he will only remind her of her stunning waterfront home and her expensive car and she really has no right to complain about anything at all. What more could a woman want besides the perfect family and the perfect home?

She calls me sometimes and she cries because deep down she knows. She says she doesn't know why she is sad, she doesn't know why she is crying. But I think she does, she just doesn't want to know the reasons. She is not a dumb woman. She just thinks she is because she is treated as such. She has let herself become what he thinks of her. She calls him fifteen, twenty times a day. About the car, the school, the plants, the water heater. It's as if she can't make a decision without him. Or she doesn't want to.

And he sits at his desk and marks off his calendar with dinner meetings and weekend golf and holiday brunches, anything to keep from going home, to keep from facing the life he has there that he doesn't want, but has to have. He has sacrificed the heart and soul of his wife for his place in the company. For a few more dollar bills in his pocket, the dollars that go to hookers and drink, he has turned a once shining star of a woman into a cardboard cutout.

He sits at his desk and she calls him and she tells him anything, just to talk to him. She asks him questions that she already knows the answers to, just to get him to talk to her. Just so at the end of the conversation, she can say "I love you," and she can hear him say it back, and it doesn't matter to her what he is really saying because she won't hear it on that level.

I only thought about this so much today because someone said to me "When do the words I love you become meaningless? When can you say them so often that they lose their definition?"

They never do, do they? Those words never lose their ability to throw your heart into high gear and make you smile or shake loose those butterflies, as long as they are true. I just wonder how someone can not know when the words are false. Or how someone can hear the words, know they are false, but accept them as if they were truth anyhow.


I used to be the master of convincing myself that they were true, even when I knew better. Thank goodness I finally snapped out of it and broke the cycle. I've been totally Insignificant Other free since Sept. 2001!

i love you.

and yes, that was quite a damn brilliant post.

That was fantastic.

You know, if you keep it up I think you're going to save me some money on books, because I don't have enough time to read both.

Interestingly, I met a woman at a cocktail party recently for whom September 2001 changed her life in that she realized life was too short for empty "i love you"s and spontaneously ended her "looks healthy on the outside" marriage.

On one hand i think shes so lucky to have someone tell her those 3 magic words but then again............

"I love you" lasts about as long as cheap perfume.

i hope the couple in this passare are fiction, or at least very far from you. my world is so different from this land of insipid floating you describe.

make happy today.

Wow! You have eloquently expressed the direction most of our relationships would tend to if we were to stop trying.

I think those of us in long term relationships can all be guilty of some aspects of your story from time to time. Especially, of saying or hearing "I love you" without thinking about the meaning. From time to time after I have said "I love you" to my fiancée or heard her say it, I stop and think. I think that, Yes, I really do love her. But how do we express that we really do love someone, when we use the words so often?

The couple is mostly real. It's a combination of a couple I currently know and a couple I used to be.

I love you never loses its meaning, Simon. When you say the words, you express your love with just the tone or inflection of your voice. There are a million ways to express your love, a million ways to say I love you. And they are different for every person.

Wow! I read stuff like this and I wonder why I even bother to blog.

I'm not worthy...I'm not worthy....

This is one of the best blog entries I've seen since I started... It makes your heart break.

You should always find the time to tell your partner at least once a day that you love them, even if it's while they're sleeping silently next to you in the dark.

You'll forget to say it one day, or you'll just plain stop - and they'll be gone - then you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you'd said it to them one last time.

Thanks for this incredible piece, Michele. I think those words become meaningless as soon as they are uttered, at least that has been my experience. I was just listing last night all the reasons I am glad and proud to be single. Your post is a timely, comforting reminder.

I think that a lasting love is built on sacrifice. This is what remains after you run out of passion. But they are happy. It is a mild-secure feeling.
It it brilliantly ok.

That was an incredible post, Michele. I'm so glad that you linked to it today. Thank you.

That brought tears to my eyes!
I've known those people & have been those people, or close to them anyway.
I've been in four LTRs, the first three lasted 4-5 years and those three words often replaced real sentiment over time, they become nearly obligatory if you let them, when you have nothing else to say to the person your with or you can't really say what your thinking to them you say those words as if it magically makes it all alright. When I ventured into my current relationship I said right up front that I wanted to keep those words special & true, that I wouldn't say them habitually and that when I did say them I didn't expect them to be repeated back to me. Love to me is better represented by what is done than by what is said. I can honestly say that in our sixth year together I feel more love as well as more loved than I ever have before. Thank you for writing so brilliantly and reminding me that those words haven't always meant so much!

I was born because it was a habit in those days, people didn't know
anything else ... I was not a Child Prodigy, because a Child Prodigy is
a child who knows as much when it is a child as it does when it grows
-- Will Rogers
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Commitment, n.:
Commitment can be illustrated by a breakfast of ham and eggs.
The chicken was involved, the pig was committed.
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