It was a long, long time ago, and
I was about to get married. My wise father, doing the fatherly thing,
offered his sage advice.
"Enjoy your honeymoon, my
son," he said, placing a protective arm around my shoulder, "but
always remember that marriage is a competition in suffering."
"I beg your pardon."
"The partner who suffers the
most gets treated the best," he explained. "Your mother and I
have been competing since the day we met."
I decided not to give his theory
much thought, and didnít, until I told my wife how much fun the wedding
had been. She agreed, but not without adding how much time and effort she
had put into planning the event to make certain everyone, including me,
would have fun.
Let the competition begin.
Over the years, like any couple,
we had fought thousands of battles. And there was probably a day or two
when there was no competition, although I canít think of any at the
Most of the battles are no more
than skirmishes, barely noticeable. A subtle jab here, a deflection, a
counter-punch there. Nothing more than waking up in the morning and
arguing about who had the more rotten sleep, thereby determining who would
be more tired for the remainder of the day. Things like that.
And then there are the times, like
last week, when the gloves come off. One spouse or the other goes for the
jugular. They shoot for a pulverizing victory in the competition in
suffering. In this case, it was my wife. She had a tummy ache.
Of course, thatís not what she
called it. In her mind, it was either food poisoning, a stomach flu, or
more likely, a life-threatening disease. But whatever it was, she clearly
decided she was in for some serious suffering and deserved some serious
Trust me, it was a tummy ache.
Nevertheless, I was extremely sympathetic. When she first complained that
her stomach was upset, I was the perfect nurse. I catered to her every
whim, running to the store for ginger ale, preparing some toast for her
tender digestive system, and keeping any and all kids out of her hair. But
after six or seven tortuous hours of this, enough was enough.
"Youíre still not feeling
well?" I asked incredulously when we woke up the next morning.
"Are you sure?"
That was probably not the wisest
thing to ask, but I was desperately losing the competition and had to do
She rolled over on to her side and
moaned. "I was only up about 12 times last night," she said.
"Obviously, you were sleeping so soundly you didnít even
It was decision time. I could
surrender and continue to offer genuine sympathy, but I would run the risk
that the tummy ache might last until Christmas. Or I could square my
shoulders and let her know I wasnít going down without a fight.
Naturally, I chose, as she would, to do battle.
"You got up exactly four
times," I replied, attacking her credibility, "and at least you
went back to sleep. Iíve been up practically all night."
She snorted, believing nary a word
of what I said. Of course, both of us were exaggerating mightily, but this
is how the competition is played. Somehow, I had to match her pain, and
since my tummy felt fine, Iíd have to rely on martyrdom.
This doesnít mean I no longer
took care of her while her illness ran its course. I continued to do so,
but with an added sense of exasperation that wasnít there for the first
six or seven hours. She had to know that her suffering was making me
So I let her know. It didnít
require much. A heavy sigh here, a disgruntled comment there, and it was
clear that although I would take care of her until the day we die, I wasnít
about to enjoy it. So if she cared anything about me, it would be nice if
sheíd feel better ASAP.
Two days later, she was fine. It
was a good battle, but as always, we called it a tie.