Buddhist partnership ends in divorce, remarriage, and now death: What happens when a couple never strays more than 15 feet from each other?

Plotz and Rosin: We Decided to Imitate the Buddhist Couple Who’re Never More Than 15 Feet Apart. Here’s What…

Plotz and Rosin: We Decided to Imitate the Buddhist Couple Who’re Never More Than 15 Feet Apart. Here’s What…

Snapshots of life at home.
June 6 2012 5:00 PM

On a Short Leash

Did you hear about that Buddhist couple who're never more than 15 feet apart? Well, we tried it.

(Continued from Page 2)

Early Afternoon

David: After lunch we walk over to Hanna's office at the Atlantic. She has to talk to her editor about the story she's writing. The editor is a good sport and allows me to come in. It's a joy to watch her at work. I see her best professional self, proposing, scheduling, clarifying, explaining—building a picture of the thrilling article to come. And my presence there contributes just what I'd hoped. I propose ideas. I bounce thoughts off her. Her editor and I agree about a major element of the story, and we change Hanna's mind. She and I are engaged, alive to the same subject. At 3:30, I have to do a conference call, and she deposits me in the cubicle next to hers. We're only 8 feet apart—way within the rules—but I can't see her. It freaks me out. I've been looking at her nonstop for nine hours: Not seeing her for five minutes makes me jittery. What's she doing over there?

Hanna: Back at my office, David gets to be the appendage. When we explain to my colleagues what we are up to, the women, especially, react with horror. "Yuck," "Creepy," "Suffocating," "I would die after two hours." One person mentions the Saturday Night Live "Love Toilet" parody commercial, which, when you watch it again, is really quite devastatingly apt, especially given how many times David has had to wait for me outside the bathroom.

Late Afternoon

Hanna: After a quick trip to the Foggy Bottom Farmers' Market, we head off to pick up the kids at ballet class. (I am intentionally skipping the half-hour I waited around for him in his office while he and a couple of Slate boys watched soccer. Because this is an outrageous thing to do in the middle of a workday, and I want to be positive.)

David: When we return to the house in the evening after picking up the kids, we have our only rule violation of the day. I stop just inside the door to check my e-mail. Hanna keeps walking through to the kitchen—25 feet away—to get food for the kids. I look up and yell at her for breaking the barrier. She barks back: "You're spaced out on your BlackBerry!" The point being, I guess, that it was my unmindfulness that caused the split. If I had been paying attention to her and to my family's needs, I would have been heading to the kitchen, too. Instead, I isolated myself in the electronic world, fleeing to my BlackBerry island. My mental separation was the real crime, not her physical one.



David: By the time we finally get the children bathed and bedded, I'm exhausted, much more than on a usual day. It is draining to be watched all the time, even by your wife. Weirdly, we have nothing to say to each other. We don't have any stories to tell each other about our day because we lived the same day. We don't have questions for each other because we know the answers. We can't lie and exaggerate and twist the day's happenings to gain sympathy—the usual evening activity for most married couples, I suspect—because the other will call foul. This is where the Buddhism may come in. We lived in the moment: Being together all the time eliminated the need for the usual daily reflection because we already spent every minute of the day reflecting.

The experiment was not nearly as disturbing as I expected it to be. I hope that's partly a tribute to the strength of our marriage—we find it easy to keep company with each other, thank God. I'm sure it's partly a tribute to the routinized banality of our lives, which ensured no melodrama. On the other hand, I don't think I could have made it another 24 hours. The next morning, as soon as I woke up, I grabbed the sports section, fled to the downstairs bathroom—one flight of stairs, 50 feet, and a psychological mile from Hanna—and locked myself in.

Hanna: At ballet, I notice that some harmony has snuck up on us. I have to admit that this day has not been creepy or yucky or suffocating. All in all, it's been quite pleasant. It's been admittedly exhausting to be watched all day, even if the witness is your beloved familiar husband. But the constant scrutiny has saved us from a layer of artifice. Many a married couple runs through the what-did-you-do-today ritual at the end of the day. This is the marriage's last vestiges of the awkward first date. It often includes elements of theater, drama, self-consciousness, self-pity, and bragging. It's often unsatisfying because it gets interrupted by the kids. Today, we got to skip this strained ritual. I know what David did today because I was there. This feels more like the happy, silent pauses at dinner after a day spent alone, together. We leave the ballet class for the car, holding hands. The next morning, I have to admit, I feel slightly disappointed when I wake up and David has already snuck away.

Correction, June 3, 2008: The piece originally described the Buddhist couple as claustrophobes. We meant, of course, that they were claustrophiles. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Correction, June 6, 2012: The editor's note on the reprint of this articleoriginally stated that Ian Thorson's death took place at Roach's Buddhist retreat. It took place in the desert near the retreat.