Are Too. Are Not.

11:06AM Jul 08, 2008
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I want to talk to all you married folks out there for a minute. Or those of you who could be married if you'd just give up hope and settle. You know who you are.

You may have noticed in the past few months that the two of you are arguing less. Think back. Has your home been noticeably quieter? Are dinner conversations strangely civil and consequently just a little more boring? Much of the effect is due to zombie-like children who wander around the house with permanently implanted ear buds. (Works for me.)  But there is another alarming threat to what passes for marital bliss that demands your attention.

I have been married nearly 37 years (approximately 143 "husband years”) to the same person. On purpose. In that amount of time even the slightest deviation from the routine resonates at the very core of our beings. 

For example, Kellogg's stopped making my cereal: Toasted Cinnamon Honey Sugar-Frosted Raisin Whole Grain Flakes with Almond Granola Clusters—a delicacy that honors the very milk in which it sogs. After a respectable mourning period—about 15 months or so of pouting and whining—I finally settled down and mechanically chewed through bowls of Frosted Flakes, the Budweiser of cereals.

My point, and you probably thought I had forgotten it while writing that long paragraph, is, ummm, oh yeah! Those months of grousing and whining were happy months.  We (or at least, I) had something to say, a topic to discuss.

So it becomes with arguments between spouses. Now I am NOT talking about bickering, personal attacks or even intellectual exchanges of differing points of view. I am talking about conversations as ritualized and empty of content as a Japanese tea ceremony or an interview after a professional sporting event.

The art of the argument is a helpful conversation aid to those who have pretty much covered all the informational ground betwixt them. Terminally married people know what the other person is going to say before the mouth opens. While many consider this to be a bad thing, I believe it demonstrates a depth of intimacy that reinforces for each other they are never alone. Never. Ever. For the rest of their lives, until they die. And maybe not even then.

Where was I? 

Pick your battle. Arising to fill this communication void are formalized arguments. For example: driving to a new place. This argument pits the innate directional instincts of the driver (almost always the male, in case gesturing is needed to aid other drivers) and the navigator who aids by offering her memory of the correct route or more likely today, by reading the printout from MapQuest.

Even though computer instructions have wrung much of the enjoyment from this exercise by injecting actual geographic knowledge, it was still possible to dispute where in the route the car was at any given time, how the directions were relayed and what the last sign actually said.

But alas, we now have dirt cheap GPS units that could guide a blindfolded octogenarian from a New Mexico coffee shop to a third floor flat in the Bronx flawlessly and without any hysteria. Where's the fun in that? And so we sit for miles in our vehicles, dutifully following the commands of a sweet voice who never gets flustered, angry or lost. Long, silent miles.

Plus, since we outsourced our memories to Google, we can't even argue about who sang "In the Still of the Night,” when the Berlin Wall fell or whether Eisenhower was left-handed. What used to be happy hours of wandering down sidetracks of unrelated information capped by a "Eureka!” moment (usually during "Joys and Concerns” at church) has shriveled into a five-second Internet search.

Even those delicious moments of debate anticipation when one spouse picks up the TV remote have dwindled to triviality with the onset of TiVo and DVRs. Not only does the TV know what we like to watch, it has already recorded it. No surfing (nor discussion) needed. I could cry.

We could argue about money, but darn those markets! After a certain age, your spending habits actually top out, and buying more stuff generates few thrills (honest—this happens!). Going places would involve actually leaving the house (or putting on a clean shirt), and new vehicles would just add pressure to keep it clean. Consequently, $5 corn and $13 beans only spawn half-hearted exchanges about which of your mortgages to pay down. (Yawn.)

At least we still have politics. Jan is voting for McCain. I'm voting for Captain Kirk.

John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report.” Visit for station listings. To view past columns, visit or