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“What did I just say?”: The nagging question

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Reel Mama: “What did I just say?”: The nagging question

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“What did I just say?”: The nagging question

“What did I just say?”  This is the time-honored question I recently posed to my husband during a mundane conversation we were having.  This question is like a pop quiz for relationships.  At any moment, wives and girlfriends the world over can whip out the “what did I just say?” wild card like a dueling cowboy whips out his six shooter.  The objective?  To verify that the significant other’s full attention is on them, and only them, without faltering at any time.

I asked this question because I perceived that, as my husband was simultaneously checking Facebook and channel surfing while I was talking, he might not be listening.  To my surprise, it turned out that he was, and he repeated what I said back to me verbatim.  Turns out that moms aren’t the only ones good at multi-tasking.

This question really is a covert form of nagging.  The subtext is “You never listen to me!”  Nagging is a very uncomfortable topic to me.  When men accuse women of nagging, it inevitably comes off as sexist (to me at least), and something inside me bristles and conjures the image of the stereotypical frumpy, nagging housewife brandishing a rolling pin, threatening to beat her husband into submission, even if such a negative portrayal of wives is a thing of the past. 

And yet, in any marriage nagging can’t be sidestepped. When you have a life partner you love the whole package, yet those little pet peeves, that thing the other partner should or shouldn’t be doing, inevitably drives the other one so crazy it can’t be contained.  The nagging boogie monster returns, helping itself to a seat at the dinner table, or perhaps sneaking under the covers when you are snuggling late at night (“Honey, did you remember to…?”).  And here’s a dirty little secret: men nag too!

My husband and I recently watched 2012 together.  In it the main character is divorced.  When he sees his ex-wife, she bugs him about not using his computer too much while he’s with their kids.  My husband asked, “They’re divorced and she still nags him?”  And then he gave me a reassuring caress, as if to say, “I was talking about her, not you, honey!”  But of course he probably meant me too!  I know I’m guilty of nagging.  Yes, the dirty socks on the floor drive me crazy, so some of it, I believe, is justified.  But women get nagged too, because some things we do drive our partners crazy, and in this case too nagging is sometimes justified (I really shouldn’t leave everything labeled “Handwash” soaking in the bathroom sink for days at a time.)

I once nagged my husband and then as an addendum, hoping to soften the blow, said, “I’m saying this out of love.” He quickly responded, “A little less love, please!”  Maybe the marriage vows should contain a promise not to nag too much, so that spouses can give each other a break from those unwelcomed reminders of our shortcomings.  A little more forgiveness, a little more patience.  Our spouse’s pesky pet peeves are one of the things we’ll miss the most when they’re gone.

However you want to label it, nagging isn’t the enemy.  In a marriage it’s part of life.  It’s a reminder that we’re comfortable enough with our loved one to be honest, perhaps unnecessarily brutally so, and often.  We can confess our most trivial pet peeves, loudly, and too much, and our partner can still accept us and love us in spite of this.  It’s a reminder that the friendship, the foundation of the relationship, can be tested in little ways on a daily basis and still remain true.

But in the end, nagging is useless, because will we ever really stop doing the things that drive our partners crazy?  How can we change that much?  I’ll never shake my obsession with handwashing no matter how hard I try.  Hmm.  If my husband were to find his dirty socks soaking in the sink, that would REALLY drive him crazy…


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