FD and I are getting ready to go to the bowling alley at 9:00 in the morning on New Year's Day, January 1, 2018. Monday mornings are slow times for bowling, and neither of us are working, so it is a win-win. This being a holiday, some of the best bowlers will be there, showing off their power, their best form. It is pretty fabulous.
Now, I love FD and am not afraid of telling him this, although I think he likes it better when I say, "You look amazing throwing that bowling ball." Objectifying someone isn't always objectionable. It can depend upon the context and the way a person takes the other's words. It depends upon permission.
Since bowling is a very intimate thing, or can be, FD and I relish the time together, a time to communication directly, hold back on the usual reservations. If he looks at me and asks, "What could I have done better there?" then I have to be able to say, "Well, your aim was to the lane on the left, not even our ally." That's sarcasm, but he'll laugh. It won't be much fun at all if I can't criticize what he's doing. He's bowling against himself.
An advice-giver usually likes to know that the advice is welcome, it feels good. The irony is that therapists usually advise against advice-giving. People just want to vent, not be fixed, unless they ask for it.
And yet, some of us are thinking, If you want real intimacy, let him (it's usually a him) give you advice, and listen to it. You might tell him to wait until you're finished venting, that you'll give him a sign. Because it feels really good to the person giving the advice to be able to help, especially when someone appreciates advice. It's a delicate balance, but mostly he should put a sock in it, and then, at some point when she's ready, he might be asked for his opinion.
FD and I are no different in that regard except there is no "he", no "she". With bowling, the gloves come off. In other situations we'll work on letting the other vent, be tolerant of all kinds of mistakes, hold our tongues. We would never intentionally hurt the other's feelings, even try very hard to avoid accidentally hurting the other's feelings. Even in the bowling alley, where we welcome one another's advice, we'd would never say, "Your form is terrible!"
But we have no compunction saying, "Yeah, you totally blew that one. I think with that heavy a ball, if you bring it back as far as you do, you'll lose control. Your spin won't compensate."
In bowling the empathy comes in when we just miss. We feel automatically feel the other's pain. It hurts us to feel our partner hurting, because when you get gutters, at our age, it hurts.
I feel like the more we can criticize constructively, the greater the gain.
"I want you to honestly tell me what you think of the pie," he asks, a spoon in his hand.
My mouth has been watering since that smell from the oven wafted into the family room. I know it will be amazing, this spoonful, but he wants a more discriminating answer. I taste it and say, "The crust--perfect. The filling . . . Hmm, you have nutmeg in there?!" (It is chocolate).
"Yes," he says, an exultant, hopeful look on his face. "A very small pinch."
"It helps! I like it. Would I like it without it? Yes. But I love this. I think I prefer it with nutmeg. And you know, I'm not a nutmeg person. I always thought I hated nutmeg."
"A tiny pinch," he explains.
It is a win-win, my honest opinion about his pies.
Anyway, we're getting ready to go to the bowling alley, and I am a bit slow. I lie down for a minute and say to him: "I'm so glad we took up this hobby. We've talked about it a thousand times, how silly it is, how we really don't have time, and yet, how we look forward to this one hour a week. It keeps us from going crazy. But if this were me and a girlfriend, if it wasn't with you, it wouldn't be as good."
"Sure it would," he immediately counters.
"Nope. And I'll tell you why. I wouldn't be as happy for a girlfriend who gets a strike, as I am when you get a strike. Something about seeing you get a strike makes us both so happy, which might be the same with a girlfriend but I doubt it. You would feel the same, bowling with other people."
"I guess," he concedes.
"Conversely, empathy plays into it, too. I feel badly if you feel badly, which is why when we bowl badly we just joke about it, laugh it off, say it is just a practice game.
If you get a strike, I think several things add into me being happy for you. (1) The sex roles are reinforced, (2) I don't have to feel badly about winning, (3) you might even pay. And the opposite tickles me when your ball lands in the gutter.
But honestly, we're not even thinking about any of that, it's unconscious. We play because we just love the heck out of the game.
"Let's go, already," he nags.
I roll off the bed, put on my boots. This is a dirty winter's day in Chicago. "Don't you think it is amazing that we can give each other, want each other's advice? Seriously, what couple criticizes without somebody getting all weird and sensitive about it? Only bowling couples. I'm telling you. That back and forth in bowling is probably the most intimate thing in sports."
"Ha, ha," he replies. "You like that back and forth because you're a woman, and the objective of every woman, especially Jewish women, is to marry the man to change him."
"Let us not stereotype," I say. "It isn't becoming." Then I think about all the times he's pushed me to be a better person, to get a PhD, to call someone who is lonely. And I push back more:
"And really. I mean, look who's talking."