The conversation started out innocent enough. My husband Eric ventured that he wanted to ask me a question, but said he didn’t want his question to sound like a criticism.
HE: (to me) So how would I do that — ask a question that could go sideways?
ME: I don’t know, just go ahead and ask me. Just blurt it out and we’ll see how it goes. It can’t be that bad.
(At least I could hope.)
We were eating a late lunch in our living room in Spring. Bushels of beautiful light was pouring in everywhere — it’s a spacious room with big windows and skylights. He was sitting on the couch, with me across from him on the other side of the coffee table in an easy chair. In his left hand, he held a piece of pizza made by yours truly — pepperoni (his favorite), chicken breast, asparagus, kale, tomato, garlic, and Cheddar and Amish Pepper Jack cheese. He gestured and spoke with his right hand.
HE: OK, so here’s my question. Do you put green vegetables on the pizza because you enjoy them or for some other reason?
The question stopped my brain. It sounded like a backward question to me, a non-direct question, a “what do you really mean by that” kind of question. So it confused me for a second. But I decided to take the question at face value. In my experience, that’s a really, really good place to start. Answer his question, no matter what I think about the question itself.
So his question hung in the silence. Why do I put green vegetables on the pizza?
Huh. I thought about it. I smiled. I had my answer.
ME: I put them on the pizza because it’s pretty.
HE: (bursts out laughing) OK, well, there you go! I just wanted to know!
ME: (apparently I felt compelled to elaborate) You know, making food is an artistic thing. Food needs to be appealing to the eye. So I spread tomato sauce like a backdrop color on the pizza canvas. And then on goes the asparagus spears here and here and here — nice color, don’t you think? (I demonstrate with air art.) And then round I go with red Roma tomato slices. And bright green kale goes here and here for contrast. And I figure the bonus is that if there are many colors in the food we’re eating, we’re probably getting our vitamins and minerals as well. But it’s really important that food be pretty.
He smiled in a twinkly kind of way. (Love that about him.)
Clearly, he also thought it was humorous that I thought food should be pretty. But to his total credit, he let that idea all the way to the middle of his soul. He continued the conversation by mentioning that he picks off the vegetables first so he can really enjoy the pizza, which totally made me laugh out loud. In 16 years of being together, he had never said that to me!
I had sometimes noticed that he picks off the veggies, and occasionally wondered why, but never asked about it, and I thought it was admirable and bold of him just now to say why he does. His comment piqued my interest. This conversation was clearly very important to him — he brought it up — and it made me curious to know more. He was taking a risk to talk about it, and I was taking a risk to listen and take in the feedback. The work goes both ways, always.
HE: You know, really, I just like tomato sauce, meat and cheese on my pizza. Everything else is just extra. And not an important kind of extra. Take mushrooms for instance. To me, they don’t add or detract from the pizza. If they don’t add to my experience, why would I want them there? I’m neutral about mushrooms on pizza.
ME: (I had just taken a bite of my lunch, which was entirely different than his because he won’t eat fish, and isn’t fond of peas or mushrooms and a whole lot of other things. Sputtering through my food I blurt) Oh, that is SUCH BS that you’re neutral about mushrooms!!! That’s just not true! If you were truly neutral, you wouldn’t be bringing up the subject. It would be like, who cares, and you wouldn’t even talk about it!
I was in a positive frame of mind, but I was not going to let that kind of BS go by without a spirited and sparkly “that’s a bunch of crap” comment from me. And about this time, I had to take off my jacket ’cause I could feel my temperature a risin’. My brain was ready, I had food fuel in my tummy, my BS meter was ON, and I was ready to take on this man I adore. C’mon, give it to me! I was in the mood for some spunky fun.
(But first, a personal confession) I think Eric is a (very) picky eater (compared to me). (In my opinion) he doesn’t appreciate a variety of food (like I do, and my way is better of course), and (compared to me) he has a very limited palate (how boring.) There are all sorts of things he won’t eat (which is different than me, and did I say my way is better) and that’s truly no way to live (according to me, ’cause of course my way is better). Yep, I have an attitude. Clearly!
Then something unexpected happened.
I became magically super aware of how opinionated I was about “his BS,” but what was different was that I was vividly aware that it was fun — really fun — to be opinionated while being super aware. In that moment, my opinionated side struck me funny. I started giggling.
(You know, we’re all pretty funny if we stand outside ourselves and take a look!)
And at the same time Eric found it frigging hilarious that we were having a conversation about neutrality while neither of us were being neutral. This kind of humor is right up his alley.
So, right along with me, he started to lose it. Both of us began to unravel. Who even knew we needed it! It was like the water rose too fast, and our laughing dams broke at the same time. Pipes burst, ropes broke, pins snapped.
There is a way that Eric laughs that makes me laugh harder. The more he lets go, the more entertained I am by watching him. It usually happens when he gets surprised — something funny comes out of left field — and he’s helplessly, hopelessly humored. His voice jumps up a couple of registers, and he laughs in falsetto.
So there we were, giggling about disagreeing. (But hold on, we’ve barely begun!)
HE: Really, I don’t care one way or another, but if veggies on my pizza don’t add to my experience of enjoyment, then why would I have them there?
ME: (the pizza maker) Well, I totally get that, and I often make your half of the pizza different than mine — just don’t call yourself neutral!
Which sent him into further peels of laughter, you know, because of my lack of neutrality about his lack of neutrality.
There is no earthly reason it should have been quite that fall-down funny, but we were on a roll. And no-o-o-o-o, heavens no, I wasn’t done pontificating yet.
ME: You know, you are also SO FULL OF BS about how you’re neutral about pecans, too, no different than the darn mushrooms. Even though you SAY you’re neutral about pecans, if I put pecans in your gosh darn chocolate chip cookies, you come into the kitchen all sad and disappointed and all like ‘how could you do this to me’ waaa, waaa, waaa, so don’t even use that word neutral about pecans in chocolate chip cookies. You’re so FULL of it!!! You’re not neutral! You’re a thousand million trillion miles from neutral!
(Imagine my voice traveling the octaves here, and me gesturing extra dramatically to make my points ..)
HE: Oh, and I’m not being neutral! (He’s pretty much unable to breathe at this point. We’re really, really totally out of control.)
Two people who love each other, who are willing to be entertained by their strong opinions (rather than upset by them) can pull a whole lot of fun out of practically nothing and nowhere, and end up more in love when it’s all over.
HOW ABOUT A LITTLE SCIENTIFIC PROOF ABOUT THE VALUE OF LAUGHTER?
In India, Dr. Madan Kataria founded “Laughter Clubs” (600 in India, 800 worldwide). These clubs meet to laugh together for 15 to 20 minutes every morning. They begin with “fake” laughter, which turns into real laughter. The body can’t tell the difference between “real” laughter and “fake.” He believes in the importance of laughter to unwind the negative effects of stress and boosts the immune system.
(But I digress.)
Of course, I continue my lecture.
ME: Your words say one thing, but your vibration says another. It’s a complete disconnect. If a consulting client of mine did this, I would totally call them on it!
He was laughing even harder now.
ME: (now in complete hysterics): You know, I wish we had this on video, so I could teach my relationship clients how to argue — teach them the finer points of arguing!
Which sent us both reeling…
I plunked my plate down on the table next to me so as not to spill the whole thing on the floor, and leaned back in my chair, giving my now helplessly flailing arms more freedom to express. Eric practically dropped his plate on the coffee table, and then fell backwards on the couch, holding his stomach and laughing.
This went on for a while… quite a while…
Then when we could breathe better, we talked, exploring the whole question of eating preferences and neutrality and who knows what all. We talked about a lot of things.
After talking for a while, he said, “Wow, if I had known arguing would be so much fun, I would have brought up this food subject long ago!”
Which, of course, started the laughing all over again!
Who knew “almost arguing” could be quite so entertaining! I highly recommend it as an aerobic workout — and way more fun than a treadmill!