Anyone who has been in long-term relationship knows the trigger phrases. They are the words that, when they come out of your partner’s mouth, the world freezes. All senses go on high alert. “This is it,” you think. “Here it comes.”
In my marriage, the trigger phrase is, “Hey, so I had this kind of crazy idea…”
Occasionally, when Eric says that, it’s followed by, “Let’s have pancakes for dinner,” or “Want to go on a hot air balloon ride?” But more often that particular statement is followed by — best case — “What if I repainted my car bright yellow instead of navy?” or — worst case — “I’ve decided to quit my high-paying, secure biotech job, go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat and become a happiness coach.” My antennae have been trained to go up at, “Hey…”
So when Eric said, “Hey, I have this kind of crazy idea…” during dinner prep on a Tuesday evening in April, I put down the butcher knife and turned warily toward him. “What if, once all this health care reform stuff is settled, we took a year and went to live in Costa Rica with the kids?” Knowing my triggers as well as I do, he added three succinct sales pitches — (1) we would all become fluent in Spanish, (2) we could rent our house for more than our mortgage payment, and (3) it’s probably the last chance we have to do something like this with our kids. And then he promptly decamped to the dining room to allegedly help a child with homework.
Two days later, I outlined all my objections to him. I detailed all the problems and drawbacks in the plan, in excruciating detail. An hour later, once they were said aloud, the drawbacks could be summarized as: (1) the idea scares me, and (2) it would mess with soccer schedules. Of course, the “scary” section had approximately 1500 sub-bullet points — to quit my job, to take kids to the developing world, to put our home in the care of strangers.
But as soon as my objections boiled down to being scared, I gave in. Everyone has their phobias — of spiders, of clowns, of being alone. Mine is of letting fear rule my life. (We will leave aside for now the pretentious meta-problem of having a phobia of phobias…) So I said yes.