As a radio talk show host, I'm often sent a list of questions to ask my guest. Sometimes that list comes from the guest herself. More likely it comes from a publicist.
I never use it. Sometimes, just for fun, I'll glance at it after the interview, pop quiz fashion, to see if we covered what the guest and the publicist thought we should.
But that's their agenda. My agenda is to learn something, and to share that with you. So I jot down what I want to learn. I make notes for an introduction. I get a general idea of the first question I'd like to ask -- but even that gets tossed sometimes in favor of, for example, asking my guest about his unusual name.
And we're off.
I have no idea where the conversation will take us. That's what makes it fun. Prepared questions that inspire canned answers? No, thanks. Monkeys could do that. Couldn't they?
A conversation is a dance.
Let's not decide in advance where it leads.
I forgot that for the first 20 years of my marriage. What is marriage, after all, but a conversation? One long, endless conversation -- mostly fun, sometimes maddening?
I got lucky. I'm married to a guy so eager to keep things sunny he wants to know the right way to proceed when we hit a snag. Which is sweet. And impossible.
To tell you more of the truth, Darrell freezes up when I shed a few tears -- and he checks out. Which never felt particularly, oh I don't know, good. He's such a sweetheart about everything else, though, it felt greedy to hope for otherwise. But I did. I didn't think this belonged on the list of problems we couldn't do anything about. We're in the conversation business. Why couldn't he understand tears aren't his cue to disengage?
It isn't that he doesn't care. He does. It isn't that I don't believe him. I do. But I want what he told me he loves getting when he's upset -- empathy.
He allowed he could at least ask what he could do when I got emotional about something. That worked pretty well for years. I was just so touched he remembered to say anything at all.
Eventually it felt mechanical, though. It reminded me of couples who tell each other what they want for Christmas or an anniversary. They go to the trouble of wrapping those gifts, even -- as if going through the motions is proof of something.
Supplying not only my lines but Darrell's drains the meaning out of it.
It would be easier, I suppose, to have a little three-ring binder where he could look up the best responses -- like telemarketers have. And it would be worth exactly nothing.
Marriage is a conversation. Without the potential to mess up -- and, indeed, the willingness -- you just have actors reading lines.
For better or worse, we're making it up as we go.
I was wrong to think otherwise.