On a Short Leash
Did you hear about that Buddhist couple who're never more than 15 feet apart? Well, we tried it.
Posted Wednesday, June 6, 2012, at 5:00 PM
David: First thing in the morning, Hanna gets up and goes to the bathroom. As couples go, we're not big on privacy, but there are limits. You'll be relieved to hear there is no Love Toilet action at the Rosinplotzes. The rope is plenty long. I pace impatiently outside the door.
This is usually when I head downstairs to read the sports section and feed the kids breakfast, but not today. Instead I have to sit in our bedroom while Hanna gets ready. This turns out to be a revelation, but of the annoying sort. I learn that my wife has all kinds of creams and primping powders that I have never seen. She blow-dries her hair. She doesn't get dressed just once—which is all I require—she gets dressed three or four times. One shirt tried and rejected. Pair of pants scorned. Five pairs of shoes examined. And then, even though she has already blow-dried her hair once, she goes and does it again! While our kids starve downstairs!
I usually don't eat breakfast, but she does, so I glumly eat a few spoonfuls from her oatmeal. We briefly and futilely try to read the newspaper together, scanning the front page of the New York Times. I hate it.
Hanna: I never thought of myself as a "private" person or someone who keeps secrets from her husband. I do, however, want to put on makeup and fix my hair without David standing outside the bathroom tapping his foot and glaring. I have never much valued my two and a half minutes of morning mirror time. Now I feel like an angry grad student, defending sacred female space from the overbearing male gaze.
Breakfast brings a bit of unexpected peaceful togetherness. David can't sneak off to read the sports section, and I can't run around hanging up raincoats and sifting through mail. Instead we operate as a tranquil machine—one cooks the oatmeal while the other pours the milk. One brushes hair while the other puts lunchboxes in backpacks. We eat from the same small bowl, which is actually pleasant, and try to read the same section of newspaper together. Which is not.
David: Upon arrival at the Slate office, Hanna strikes up a conversation with one of my colleagues about the school our daughter and his sons attend. Since I had precisely the same conversation with him the day before, I am bored. I interrupt to tell her so. She ignores me and keeps talking. I try to leave, but Hanna won't budge. I'm not allowed to break the 15-foot barrier. It's the first moment when I actually understand the Roach-McNally project. Because I can't leave, I have no choice but to listen to the conversation: I force myself to pay attention. I force myself to suppress my interior monologue about work I have to do and e-mails I must answer. Instead, I will myself to tune into her world. This discipline brings a reward, albeit a tiny one: a sense for those few moments that we're deeply together.
Eventually, the conversation ends, and we settle into my office. She opens a laptop on the right side of my desk; I work on my computer on the left side. It's incredibly lovely, for a while. We tip-tap away on our keyboards. She sits on my lap while we compose an Evite for a party we're hosting. I need to photocopy a form, so we convoy down the hall to the photocopier and photocopy together. She has to go to the bathroom—not to complain, but she always has to go to the bathroom, like 10 times a day—and I wait, red-faced, outside the ladies' room, trying not to look like a perv. As we photocopy and work, we chat about all the stuff we usually talk about only at night, the state of the children, our work anxieties, our morale.
Pretty cute, right? But am I unbothered by her invasion of my space? No! Reader: She talks to her computer. When she types e-mail addresses, she speaks them aloud: "Peter underscore Jones at gmail dot com." And her phone voice! She spends a bunch of time on her cell phone interviewing sources for a story she is writing. Here are my notes from this dark period: "Hanna talking on the phone loudly. Loud loud loud loud loud. She talks too loud on the phone. Talk talk talk. Talk all the time. Talk talk talk. Always talking."
Hanna: When McNally told the Times she followed Roach to his work yurt in the middle of the night, any modern working girl would have winced. It merely confirms our suspicions about their student/teacher, young-hot-girl/old-rich-guy relationship and makes us wonder about who is doing most of the humbling in this saintly duo. This is what I am thinking again as I follow David into his office this morning. I am an annoying appendage, like those wives who come in to show off new infants while everyone's trying to work.
This karmic resentment I send out comes right back at me, leading to our first minor explosion of the day. Little did I know that the first thing my husband does upon arriving at work each morning is open the fridge and reach for a cold Fresca. It's not even 10 a.m., and Mr. Farmers'-Market-Cruelty-Free-Meat-I'll-Have-a-Decaf-Thanks is having his first soda of the day. Tragically, there is no cold Fresca because "who the hell forgot to put the Frescas in the fridge," and "how hard is it to remember," and I can actually feel him grow hot with anger because I am standing so close. Did I really need to know that the man I love is the office kitchen diva?
The petty toxins multiply. I engage in a conversation with one of his colleagues, a fellow dad at our school, about the latest principal flap. I keep this conversation going just a little too long. I know David is eager to get to his office, which is all the way down the hallway, and turn on his computer. But, to bring him down a notch, I make him stay and listen to this conversation. I know this is wrong. Submitting ourselves to the other's will is not supposed to resemble a tug of war, but rather a soundless, tilting seesaw of recycled bamboo, slowly erasing our egos. (Him. Me. I. Her. We. Whee! or something like that.) Nonetheless, balance is restored. For the next couple of hours, David and I work peacefully together in his office. We do not share much psychic space but we do create a collegial work environment on a cramped desk, which is not nothing. (David, by the way, will write that I make too much noise—talking loudly on my cell phone or saying e-mail addresses out loud as I type them. This first part is called "reporting," which is my job. The second part is delusional. Don't believe him. We had a lovely time, and I even sat on his lap for a bit.)
Hanna Rosin is the author of The End of Men, a co-founder of Slate's DoubleX and a senior editor at the Atlantic. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook or visit her website.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.