Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Being willing to play is key to an enduring marriage

When I was single (back when buffalo roam prairie), I would often ask pretty girls what they were looking for in a man. I thought of it as field research—collecting data to determine whether I fit the bill as the ideal catch. Their responses varied, but not by much. “He should be intelligent and rich,” they would say and then, as an afterthought, add, “And funny. It’d be nice if he was funny.”
            In the passing years, I have not been able to do much about my intelligence or wealth, but I have tried to refine my sense of humor. More importantly, I’m always on the lookout for others who are willing and able to be playful.
            For example, one Saturday morning, my brother picked me up in his sleek black Corvette. We had breakfast and then stopped at a convenience store to fulfill an errand. When I lifted myself out of the car, an attractive woman two or three decades younger than I said, “Nice ride.”
            “Yeah,” I joked, “we’re just cruisin’ the town to pick up some chicks.”
            And without losing a beat, the woman said with a smile, “And look how well it’s working.”
            “Oh, I like you,” I said truthfully.
            “What’s that smell?” she asked sniffing the air.
            “Whaddaya mean?”
            She nodded knowingly as if suddenly solving the odoriferous puzzle. “Oh, I’ve got it. It’s smoke.”
            “Yes, smoke. Somebody’s pants are on fire.”
            “Excuse me,” I said with pseudo-indignation.
            “You say you like me, but you never write, you never call. What’s with that?”
            That kind of quick wit and self-confidence is bee-u-ti-ful. I could have easily plunged into a long heartfelt conversation with her. In fact, if I had not been handcuffed by my brother’s need to begin his day, she and I might have become lifelong friends. That’s just how I respond to anyone who has the flair and poise to be playful.
            The epilog to this story is less coy but just as funny. When I shared this exchange with a good friend of my vintage, he said, “Hmm, when you and your brother cruise for chicks do you swing by all the nursing homes?”
            A few months back, I was entering the TRAC convention center just as a thousand women were exiting.
            As I opened the door for three women to pass, I asked, “What was your event?”
            A perky attendee with a welcoming smile said, “Women Helping Women.”
            “Oh, please tell me,” I said, “did you have any breakout sessions to discuss how women could help men because I could really use the help.”
            The three delegates laughed.
            “I’m sorry, we didn’t,” the perky woman said. “Even if we had, I’m not sure we could have helped you. I get the impression you’re beyond help.”
            Now it was I who laughed. “That’s what my wife says,” I squealed.
            “I know,” the spunky woman said. “She told me.”
            Lest you think only women are funny, here’s an example from my longtime friend, Richard. We were on a bike ride when he asked if I were absolutely fluent in French.
            “Well,” I said, “sometimes I have to make an awkward detour around a French sentence, starting and stopping just to employ the vocabulary and syntax I know.”
            “Oh,” Richard said, “then you speak French in the exact way you speak English.”
            That made me howl so loudly a flock of slumberous starlings took flight.
            These are the kind of people I like—folks with playful, inventive, and daring minds. These quick-witted jesters are able to see the warped side of things—like imagining a lampshade as a sombrero or a megaphone or a cone-shaped Elizabethan collar designed to restrain a dog from licking its wounds. They have the courage to be a little off base, which is risky when applied to those who sternly pigeonhole the proper from the improper. To them I offer this gentle counsel: Don’t feel bad, I once thought just like you, but now I take my medication.
            For those who are composing a list of virtues for their lifelong partner, keep this in mind. Intelligence and wealth are fine, but a man or woman without humor and the willingness to play—to be flirty or feisty or a little irreverent—is like a lampshade being, well, just a lampshade. Practical, maybe, but boring for certain. Readers who don’t get that will never get the humor of my brother’s parting shot to the flirty fan of his Corvette. “Don’t mind him,” he said, pointing his thumb at me. “We’re brothers pure and simple. I’m pure . . .”