The Love Dare, Day 5

THE DARE: Ask your spouse to tell you three things that cause him or her to be uncomfortable or irritated with you. You must do so without attacking them or justifying your behavior. This is from their perspective only.

My notes on this day actually had mostly to do with how hard it was for me to make it possible for Helen to do her side of the assignment…

Today’s assignment is a difficult one for me to write about. In the first place I don’t particularly want the things that annoy me about my wife to be shared with the world. In the second place it was rather difficult to think of anything that my wife does that actually annoys me — she spends most of the day making me smile and laugh. I was actually able to think of a couple of things after I thought about it fairly hard. But I think for most husbands it’s more of a challenge than it is for me. I am very, very much aware of how many things I do that are annoying, and that my wife puts up with. And she really does so very little to annoy me. Thus, on the rare occasions when she does something to annoy me, it’s very easy for me to remind myself of half a dozen things that I do that are worse, and then that helps me not be annoyed most of the time.

But I don’t think I can advise husbands, “Be sure you annoy your wife in lots more ways than she annoys you, so that when she annoys you you can say, ‘Well, I’m worse than she is,’ and not be annoyed.” That seems like bad advice to me, even though it works well for me. I think in most marriages it’s more equal than it is in mine and Helen’s. And that makes it more of a challenge.

Yet I do also know that you can be on the wrong side of a very one-sided marriage, and for that you need a whole a lot of the grace of God to stay in grace with your spouse. So I think tonight Helen and I will say a special prayer for all the people that are married to people who are far more annoying than they themselves are, confident that God will give them grace not to live in a constant state of irritation.

The Love Dare, Day 4

THE DARE: Contact your spouse sometime during the business of the day. Have no agenda other than asking how he or she is doing and if there is anything you could do for them.

Well, I got the assignment to let my note let my wife know I was thinking about her during the day on Saturday, when I spent most of the day with her anyway. So we wound up having quite a bit of fun teasing each other by saying we were missing each other while we sat next to each other. I think I texted her once at Starbucks from a seat two feet away to say that I missed her. But if this had been an ordinary workday, this would have been very difficult for me. I have a very one-track mind, and when I’m at work I usually don’t get around to eating lunch until two o’clock or even three o’clock because I don’t notice that it’s lunchtime until two o’clock or three o’clock in the afternoon. And I have a picture of Helen that I keep on my desk, and every so often I look at it and smile. But usually I’m in the middle of something and I don’t stop to text her. So we will actually have to see how well I do tomorrow, or rather on Monday. Therefore I think actually on Monday I will have two assignments: the one that is for Monday, and the one that was for Saturday that I didn’t really get tested on.

The Love Dare, Day 3

THE DARE: Along with restraining from negative comments, buy your spouse something that says, “I was thinking of you today.”

Buying a gift for my wife is very difficult for me. In the first place, buying a gift for anybody is very difficult for me because I am very bad at buying gifts, partly because I don’t care about getting gifts myself. It is even more difficult with Helen, because Helen doesn’t like for me to spend a lot of money on things we don’t need — such as, you know, frivolous gifts for her. So I needed to find something that would not cost much money but would let her know that I had actually tried to think about it. It took me actually quite a long time, but finally it occurred to me that she often asks me to help her find good music for her podcasts. So I went to a Christian bookstore looking for music for her podcasts. Now since I know that she plans to write some podcasts about the stories behind some classic hymns, I wound up picking a couple of CDs of praise songs and hymns, which CDs looked to me like they were by a good group of musicians. So we will see if she likes it. But we will really know if it was a successful gift…if she ever uses any of the music in a podcast.

The Love Dare, Day 2

THE DARE: In addition to saying nothing negative to your spouse again today, do at least one unexpected gesture as an act of kindness.

Well, I thought I had a good idea for an act of kindness. My wife wishes I would call her and talk to her more frequently during the day while I am at work. This is a much more challenging thing for most men then it is for most women, because I think most women have a part of their mind that is dedicated 100% of the time to relationships, where as we men generally can only think of one thing at a time. So when we are at work we tend to think about work. But that makes my wife feel uncared for, because she feels like I never think about her during the day, and how much can I love her if I never think about her? So I made a special point of letting her know that I was thinking about her, because I always keep a picture of her that I really like on my desk right next to my screen. And several times during the day I look over at the picture and I smile at it. But I usually just keep typing. So today, when I looked at the picture and smiled, I stopped working and took my phone and took a picture of her picture and texted her to let her know that I was thinking of her. But as soon as she got the text…she immediately knew that I was doing that in order to complete the assignment. So I don’t know how good it actually made her feel.

Then last night, my wife asked me out of the blue if I would like for her to go with me to a sports bar and watch football. And then I immediately knew that she was keeping the assignment. But I thought it was very sweet of her anyway, so I imagine it was nice for her to get my text. Then I pointed out that we could go clothes shopping, which she knows I hate to do as much as she hates to go watch football. Thus it began to appear that there would be a bit of an argument over which one of us would get to complete our assignment. I decided the nicest thing I would do for her…was to let her be the one to complete the assignment. So I was nice enough to let her go to a sports bar with me. Aren’t I a generous husband? :-)

The Love Dare, Day 1

Helen came up with a project for the (thousands of) people who read her blog and listen to her podcast. She wants to encourage them to work on improving their marriages; so she decided to lead by example. Therefore she roped me into doing The Love Dare with her, but putting our answers (well, all except the really really private ones) online to be shared with her Gentle Readers.

I figure, since I wrote ’em up for her blog, I might as well put my answers on mine. Of course she writes in Chinese, and then translates my stuff into Chinese, and then reads them in her little bedroom sound studio and adds music tracks and gets it all mixed and produced and out on the web…and then does it all again the next day. Um…you guys just get my English version. Sorry about that. You should be her Gentle Readers rather than mine, you know.

The only real problem…the book was actually written for people whose marriages were in trouble due to neglect. Helen and I have our challenges but that’s not one of them. So a lot of entries look like the one for Day One…

THE DARE: For the next day, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything. It’s better to hold your tongue than to say something you’ll regret.

And my note for Day One:

Today was an easy day for me, because my wife did nothing to make me angry, or even frustrated. So it was very easy to be patient today. I realize this is not very helpful to other people, but that is Helen’s fault, not mine.

An enjoyable conversation from sports talk radio

I was listening to a sports talk show on my way into work a couple of weeks ago and heard the following conversation…

I don’t remember what the caller originally was talking about. Whatever it was, he didn’t sound very animated. Indeed, he sounded rather depressed. So one of the hosts decided to try to cheer him up with that day’s giveaway. The problem is, that day’s giveaway was, of all things, tickets to the Nutcracker Market. (For those of you who do not live in Houston, this is an artsy-craftsy thing that happens around Christmastime every year in Houston. I’m not saying there is no overlap between “people who want to go to the Nutcracker Market” and “people who call into sports talk shows,” but it’s hard not to feel like the Nutcracker Market’s marketing division couldn’t have found more effective places to give away their tickets.)

So the host decides to cheer him up. He therefore says:

“You know, you sound like you’re not having a very good day so far.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” answers Dave with calm stoicism, “I have my coffee.”

“Okay,” says the host, “so I’m going to give you…” And suddenly he realizes what it is that he’s supposed to be giving away this morning, and his tone of voice changes to one of open embarrassment: “…now, Dave, can you please try to sound like you actually want this? I have [you can see him wincing right through the radio] two tickets to the Nutcracker Market for you.”

Dave says, in the deepest and driest of Texas drawls, “Sure, why not?”

The host tries to think of a way to help Dave look on the bright side. “You can always give them to…do you have a wife or a girlfriend?”

Dave, with all the world-weariness in the whole wide weary world: “Well, my ex-wife is still stalking me.”

The host starts laughing with a certain amount of excitement, as he has just thought of a way to redeem the situation. “Oh, okay, I got it, here’s what you do: put the tickets in an envelope and mail them to your ex-wife, and sign the name of some random guy she works with. Then maybe she’ll start stalking him instead of you!”

Dave agrees, in his best interpretation of Eeyore, that that could work.

The co-host interjects himself into the conversation at this point. “Dave, you sound like there’s a story behind this. What happened with the crazy ex-wife?”

Dave briefly tells a story that begins with his having been raised to believe that marriage was for better or for worse, and with his trying to avoid filing for divorce, but then when his then-wife asked him to take her to the bus so she could go to North Carolina to hook up with some dude she had met on Facebook — proposing to leave her son with Dave while she was gone — “at that point,” says Dave, still with no apparent emotion other than resignation, “I decided, that’s it, I’m done.”

There is a moment’s silence. Then the host says, with the air of one who has made up his mind to a damn-the-torpedoes course of action, “Dave, there is no way I am giving you Nutcracker Market tickets. Do you want to go see some college football?”

And Dave answers, “HELL YES!” Maybe the coffee finally started working?

Helen and Kai go to their first opera

Helen and I have been going through The Love Dare recently, as an exercise for her blog — she wants to encourage Chinese husbands and wives to go through it in order to help their marriages.

A few nights ago, Helen went to the opera Manon with me, at the University of Houston. I love the opera, while she doesn’t know much about it and would never have gone on her own. So this was very definitely a case of her being nice to me, especially since it meant leaving the house at 6:00 and not getting back until almost midnight.

As it happened, we were on Day 12 of the Love Dare, and the dare was, “Do something out of the ordinary today for your spouse — something that proves (to you and to them) that your love is based on your choice and nothing else. Wash her car. Clean the kitchen. Buy his favorite dessert. Fold the laundry. Demonstrate love to them for the sheer joy of being their partner in marriage.” So obviously she won the Love Dare contest for the day, hands down, since I had had a ton of work and hit the end of the day without having had a chance to think about the Love Dare at all, with just enough time for us to scramble into the car and head for the opera.

Kai went with us as well, and we met Merry and her friend Cecelia at a restaurant near the University of Houston campus. It was our first time to meet Cecelia, who seems like a very nice young lady. Now, it is a father’s duty to embarrass his daughter whenever possible. So I called up the article I wrote almost ten years ago, when ten-year-old Merry went to her very first opera with me, and I let Cecelia read it.

Since Kai and Helen had never been to an opera, I thought I had better explain some things to them. In particular, I told them, “When you go to an opera, you’re expected to already know the story. So, here’s what happens in this opera: the main girl does some really stupid things and in the end she dies.”

Kai said something like, “Really, that’s the plot?”

“That’s pretty much the plot of ALL grand opera,” I told him. “There’s a girl, she does something bad or stupid, she dies.”

He grinned from ear to ear. “I LIKE it,” he told me. Merry looked at Cecelia and explained, “He’s still just eleven…”

“Twelve!” Kai corrected her firmly.

“Oh, really, you’re twelve?” She apologized affectionately, “I’m sorry, I thought you were still eleven.” She turned back to Cecelia. “He’s still just twelve, and he still thinks girls are gross.”

They opened the doors, and we went in and found our seats, and I took Kai down and showed him the orchestra pit. Then the opera started, and it was very well done indeed — astonishingly well for a group of college students.

But operas last a long time, and I still had not done anything unusual or special for the Love Dare. As we sat in our seats during the five-minute scenery change between the fifth and sixth scenes, I decided that if I couldn’t do anything unusually special, I could at least do something unusually silly. And there was one thing I had never done for Helen in five whole years of marriage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever wriggled my ears for you,” I said to Helen.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

So I wriggled my ears.

Some people can actually make just their ears waggle. I can’t do that, but I can slide my whole scalp backward and forward on my skull, which makes my ears move back and forth. I don’t know that it’s what you would call impressive, but if you’ve never seen it before it’s at least surprising. Helen was definitely surprised.

“WHAT??” she squeaked. The next moment, she took a deep breath, widened her eyes as far as they would open, and then actually crossed them in concentration — clearly trying to make her ears move. I started laughing as she demanded, “How did you do that?”

“Do what?” asked Kai, who was sitting next to her and hadn’t seen me the first time. I wriggled my ears again. “COOL!” exclaimed Kai, and immediately leaned forward, assumed an attitude of intense concentration, and began grimacing as if he were having severe digestive difficulties. His ears didn’t budge. By now I was helpless with laughter.

“What are you guys doing?” asked Merry, on the other side of Kai. She had been talking to Cecelia. I leaned forward and showed her, though it took me several tries, since I can’t wriggle my ears and laugh at the same time. “Whoa, that’s WEIRD!” exclaimed Merry, and at the same time Cecelia said, “Oh, I know how to do that!” She tried to demonstrate, but couldn’t stop laughing at first. Finally she managed it, to Merry’s awe.

Cecelia began explaining to Merry that you just have to move your scalp muscle. “But how do you move your scalp muscle?” asked Merry, putting her fingertips on top of head and apparently trying to push her scalp back and forth. “How do you even know which muscle IS your scalp muscle?” chimed in Helen.

As Merry and Helen continued to try to move their ears, Kai asked me, “Dad, what other tricks can you do?”

I chuckled. “Before I had a moustache, I could stick out my tongue and touch the end of my nose,” I told him. “I can’t do it now, though, because my moustache pushes my tongue out too far from my face.” I showed him.

By now Helen was paying attention to us. “What are you DOING?”

“I was just showing Kai how I used to be able to stick out my tongue and touch the tip of my nose,” I told her. “Can’t do it now because of my moustache, but I used to be able to. In fact,” I added, “when I was in junior high, I could stick out my tongue and touch my ear.”

“No way!” she said. Kai, who knew the trick because I had played it on him before, started to say, “No, Mom, wait, I know how!” So, quickly, before he could get her attention and give it away, I stuck my tongue straight out — and reached up with my index finger and touched my ear with it.

“Oh, you!” Helen snorted, half annoyed at being tricked and half laughing. Kai and I were giggling delightedly. I looked over and Merry was still, with Cecelia’s diligent tutoring, trying to wriggle her ears. It struck me that all the other people sitting around us were very sedately waiting for the next scene to start, while my entire family were wriggling their ears and making faces and sticking out their tongues. I leaned across Helen and Kai to get Cecelia’s attention.

“Cecelia,” I said with a straight face, “we are a VERY sophisticated family — as you can see from how we behave when we go to the opera.”

So, I don’t know whether I made Helen feel like I loved her by doing something unusually special. But I at least managed to make her laugh by doing something unusually silly.