Everything was as everything always is: On that otherwise ordinary Saturday morning, we were sipping coffee, turning pages of the newspaper. Jessica was reading; I was reading aloud, to her increasing irritation.
Around the third cup of coffee, we took a short break from the paper and were discussing particle physics - even 20 years into our marriage we always enjoy nothing but the most stimulating of conversations - when she said something that would have confounded both Einstein, who knew particle physics, and Don Juan, who knew women.
She said: "I'm not arguing with you."
That sentence was not the confounding part, as I had heard those words before. In married-people language, it generally translates as: "You may think I am arguing with you, but I'm not. I am just letting you know that what you consider an argument, I consider the fundamental right to free speech. Which, as far as I know, has not been repealed, even in this marriage."
But there was something about the way she said the words that gave me pause, as if … as if she actually meant them.
While I was trying to determine if I was overanalyzing her inflections, the tremor of her sentence was followed by a syntactical earthquake. "I've decided," she said, "not to argue with you all day."
My knees buckled. Never in our 151,200 hours of marriage (more, actually, because as I write this, it has been 20 years, seven months, and 21 days - but who's counting?) had I heard anything remotely close to those words.
"I just decided to try it," she said.
I know what you are thinking: Why would she do such a thing? Why would a presumably loving wife jeopardize her long-standing marriage with such a reckless act?
If we didn't argue, I wondered, could we even communicate? What would be the rejoinder to one or the other's statement? Take, for example, dinner. If I said, "I was thinking Chinese," she couldn't say, "Chinese? I was thinking Italian. Or, hey, what about that place in Cleveland Park we've been wanting to try? I mean, if you want Chinese, I guess that's okay. But what do you think of sushi?" She would have to say, "Chinese? Sounds good."
There is no possible way that a marriage could survive that kind of harmony!
So why was she doing this?
I deliberated over her motives. Was she trying to give me a heart attack to get the insurance money, like in one of those 1940s movies? Perhaps she was laying one of those cunning wife traps that husbands don't see until they're ensnared. Maybe she'd just gone plumb loco.
Or maybe, just maybe, this was a cry for help. Maybe she was just craving excitement.
I decided to throw caution to the wind and give her what she wanted.
You know the old saying about being careful what you wish for because you just might get it? Well, this wasn't that. This was bliss.
This was the fountain of youth, the garden of Eden, the $64 million lottery - all rolled into one.
But, as with the nonexistence of the fountain of youth, the apple in the garden, and the relatives in the lottery, there was a fly in the no-argument ointment. Call it, for lack of a better word, conscience.
I could take unfair advantage by saying and doing things with which I know she would not normally agree and thus enjoy my sudden good fortune to the hilt. Or I could be a decent human being.
It felt as if my shoulders had on one side the cartoon devil and on the other the cartoon angel. “Don’t be a sap. Live it up. Heck, she wants it.” And “Don’t take unfair advantage, or you will rue this day in your very soul forever and ever.”
I decided to be a decent human being, for the most part. I mean, come on. No disagreement all day? That’s a license to kill, maritally speaking. If a guy gets a license, he wants to use it. Case closed.
But I tried to help her when things got dicey because I wanted this wild fling to work. I thought maybe if she liked it, we could try it again someday.
The experiment got complicated, though, because the question arose: What is an argument? Over dinner with friends, I announced the day’s big news, and after their collective gasp, an answer was attempted.
First, there were declarations from our dinner companions that they rarely argued with one another. And then it was determined that a disagreement is something else altogether. Wouldn’t ya know? An argument ensued. Well, a disagreement, anyway.
But not from Jessica. She agreed with me that a disagreement is an argument.
“Thank you, honey,” I said.
“Of course, sweetie,” she answered.
And we both about choked.