“Let’s do 36 Questions during the flight!” I proposed to my husband, Jonathan. Long plane rides were in our immediate future, as we planned to celebrate our 60th birthdays, 29th wedding anniversary, and his impending retirement with travel to Barcelona, the Pyrenees, and the Alps.
Not being a Modern Love aficionado, Jonathan had no idea what I was talking about, but he knew me well enough to be suspicious. Therapists like me are always proposing innocuous-sounding activities designed to plumb the hearts and souls, if not the unconscious, of their loved ones.
“The 36 Questions promote love and intimacy as people answer ever-deepening questions,” I explained. “You finish by staring into one another’s eyes for four minutes.”
I don’t remember Jonathan’s exact response, but it was something like, “I would rather chop off my right arm.”
So I gave him a choice.
“If you don’t want to do the 36 Questions, why don’t we both read Being Mortal, and then discuss in detail end-of-life issues?” I suggested. “After all, ‘Shoot me if it comes to that’ is hardly a plan!” I was referring to something I’d said after a particularly depressing visit to a friend with advanced Alzheimer’s, but we’d never taken the conversation much beyond mutual dread and hand-wringing.
On a cheerier note, I added, “Besides, I don’t even know your favorite color or what music you’d want at your memorial.”
Again, I don’t remember Jonathan’s exact response, but this time it was along the lines of, “I would rather chop off my right arm but first I will chop off yours if you don’t stop asking me these things.”
This hardly seemed fair, since I had agreed to go hear some guy natter on about annuities just so we could get a free dinner, which threw me off my diet for a week.
Still, a loving spouse must not hold grudges.
A loving and determined spouse must find new methods of persuasion that may or may not involve alcohol and sexual favors.
One of my methods was to forward Jonathan a podcast featuring Dr. Arthur Aron, the psychologist whose team devised the 36 Questions. He, like Jonathan, seemed a lovely and intelligent man, not some woo-woo freak.
“The questions were actually designed to promote better working relationships among colleagues! It takes just 45 minutes!” I explained, assuming this logic would somehow melt the resistance of my wary husband. Instead, it increased his dread that he’d soon have to avoid overpaid, questionnaire-wielding consultants promoting team-building at work as well as his own wife.
“Plus,” I added triumphantly, as if I had discovered the pièce de resistance for overcoming resistance, “It works best if couples do it together! We can do it with ________ and _______.”
I provide this fill-in-the-blank format not only to protect privacy, but to illustrate that you could pretty much write in the names of anyone you know, and achieve the same outcome: The vast majority of people named in at least one (if not both) of those blanks would be more willing to chop off their right arms than to take the time to answer some VERY BASIC QUESTIONS that might, just might, improve their sorry little lives! But I digress . . .
It was back to death trumping love. Thinking to enlist the help of my mother-in-law, who routinely says, “We’re counting on you to put us out of our misery when the time comes,” I told her about my Being Mortal Couple’s Book Group Idea.
“I don’t blame Jonathan one bit,” my mother-in-law said. “Why would anyone want to read that book? “
The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, does it?
With our trip just two weeks away, I was growing desperate. God forbid I should actually plow through back issues of The New Yorker and a couple of ebooks on the plane instead of threatening strengthening my marriage!
In a last-ditch ambush attempt on a lovely, long hike, I said in my best, neutral tone, “I’m curious about why you don’t want to do the 36 Questions?” (Just a few days earlier Jonathan had answered the same question about Being Mortal by declaring that he was not “drawn to death” the way I was.)
“Fine, we can do it,” Jonathan replied in a perfectly even and affable tone, depriving me of the chance to pounce on any tell-tale defensiveness.
So now the ball’s in my court. I’ve added 36 Questions to my Trip To-Do List. Shall I print them out or download the free app? (No, I am not kidding—there’s a free 36-Questions App. Several, in fact.)
Then again, maybe I’ll just catch up on my New Yorker backlog or try to catch some shut-eye during our 16-hour flight.
That might just be the best anniversary present I could give my beleaguered and beloved husband.
Which would you choose (conversationally speaking)—love or death?