"How does this outfit look on me?" my wife, Dale, asked one morning as I was heading for the shower.
"It looks functionally adequate and gives you some protection from the elements," I replied. "The colors may be a bit mismatched, and the shoes are almost comically wrong, but if you tell the other women that you have a severe vision impairment, they may show you some sympathy."
At least, that's what she heard.
What I actually said was, "It looks fine."
I'd forgotten, yet again, that my wife and I have completely different interpretations of the word fine.
To me, fine is a perfectly fine word.
When I was in high school, if I said to another guy, "Man, that is one fine machine you're driving," it was considered a compliment of the highest order.
For my wife, fine is something the court imposes on people who violate a municipal ordinance, such as littering or taking a leak in public.
By the time I got out of the shower, she'd completely changed her outfit, including her earrings, purse, necklace, shoes, and perhaps even her key chain.
"You looked great in those other clothes," I protested.
But it was too late. I'd already uttered the forbidden word, and she'd banished the offending garments to the darkest corner of the closet.
I'd forgotten that when my wife asks how an outfit looks, she's really asking, "Do you still find me attractive? Do I still appeal to you? If you had the chance to do it over, would you still marry me?"
When a woman takes the emotional risk of asking her spouse to comment on her attractiveness, pity the dolt of a man who shrugs and replies, "You look fine."
Like most women, Dale thrives on affirmation and reassurance.
But because I don't think the way she does, I have to keep practicing the habit of seeing life from her perspective. Of course, that's also true for her. Because she isn't a guy, she can sometimes be oblivious to what I'm really thinking and feeling.
One day I gave Dale a big hug and said, "My love, can
I interest you in a romantic interlude beneath the sheets?"
"Well, actually, that would rank on my list somewhere between 'tax audit' and 'frostbite requiring amputation of toes,'" she replied. "Why would I want to make love with you when I could work on a craft project with one of my girlfriends?"
At least, that's what I heard.
What she actually said was, "Oh, hon, I already promised Jeanette that I'd help her tonight on the decorations for her daughter's wedding."
So wives, if you have to decline a romantic overture, we husbands need to hear more than "no." We need to hear something along the lines of, "I can't right now but how about (pick a time that will work—soon!)." Women aren't the only ones who need affirmation. Most guys just need it in a different way.
Although Dale and I have been married more than 25 years, we're still learning to communicate. We've found it helps to try to see things through the eyes of each other.
Give it a shot. If you really work at it, everything will probably work out fine.
I mean, great!
Dave Meurer, a humorist, is author of Mistake It Like a Man (Multnomah). www.davemeurer.com
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