Conversation with My Wife (51)

“No matter where you go, there you are.”

Photo by author of an old British army field compass picked up in a street market in London. Never had to use it for real, and there’s an app for it now, anyway.

So posts by Karen DeBonis and Michelle Hozey got me remembering how Deb and I discovered that we are radically different in how we process directions. Or give them.*

When I started at the company where I met my wife, the company was still too small to justify a separate HR department. Our sister company across town was several times our size and fully staffed. Deb was the executive secretary slash admin department head slash HR on-site person, so she took care of my basic paperwork, then sent me over to the “real” HR group, with a set of directions on how to get there.** When I got back I delivered the papers.

DEB: Any problems?

ME: Nope, alles gut.***

DEB: The directions were okay?

ME: (hesitating)

DEB: The directions weren’t okay.

ME: They were fine, I just do directions differently. The ones you gave me said things like, “Take 83 South to Exit 10. Follow George Street to Route 30, then go right.” It was all good, but since I don’t know the town yet, I didn’t have a feel for how far I was supposed to go.

DEB: So you prefer…?

ME: Maps. Maps tell me where a place is, not just how to get there. Once I see it on a map, I have a feel for direction, so I’m less likely to take a wrong turn or get confused when I’m driving.


Our relationship developed, as outlined elsewhere:

So one day, after we’ve started actually dating, I get to my office cube, and there’s a note from Deb telling me I need to go across town to HR again for something or other. Only the note had a note:

Yes, almost 18 years later and I kept the note and Deb’s map. Wouldn’t you?

So I walked over to Deb’s desk for the key to the code.

ME: I have a code.

DEB: (nasal voice) Oh doh! Iz id a bad head code? Dew you need a tissew? (normal voice) Sorry, honey. Yes. SHMILY. Stands for Shows How Much I Love You. Because I do, you know.

ME: Because you gave me directions?

DEB: Because I gave y —

ME: You gave me MAP DIRECTIONS! Oh, Debster, you made a map for me! You must love me very much!****

DEB: (smiling that special Deb smile) I really do, you know.

I’d already decided to marry her by that point, but if I had been on the fence, that would have knocked me over.


*I can give directions, I just can’t give directions that anyone can follow. Including me, at times. I know where something is, I just have trouble translating that knowledge into an intelligible format. Such as English.

**This was 1999, a dark time technologically, when devices called “cellular phones” were the only way to communicate when in transit. These primitive mechanisms only allowed voice communications, called “phone calls,” and even then would lose connections at the slightest provocation. Then there was battery life, measured in hours, but only if you kept the phone completely off. Turning on the phone to receive calls, or more courageously, initiate them, would drain the phone of life in short order. No Google Maps, is the point I’m awkwardly trying to get across, so directions got written on paper.

***Ours was a German-based company, so we tended to throw in phrases we vaguely recalled from our high school language classes. Our German colleagues appreciated it. At least, that’s what I assumed their pained expressions meant.

****It’s not that she can’t do maps — she’s an excellent navigator — but it’s not the way her mind works. Deb uses road names and landmarks; distances are fuzzy, fickle things to her. When Siri is giving her instructions such as, “In 150 feet, turn left,” I can hear her mutter, “Oh sure, like that is supposed to mean something to me.” The 150 feet part, not the left part. Well, sometimes the left part, too, but that comes and goes.

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