Opinion: Focusing on inattention


My wife and I have been getting along so well during the pandemic, I don’t think we realize how unhappy we are. I don’t mean unhappy with each other; I mean antsy from being home all the time. Mary Ellen has decided that with COVID-19 cases increasing during the holidays, I should not be going anywhere. I’ll follow this advice, because of my underlying condition: I’m scared to death of her.

I’ve tried hard to make sure Mary Ellen knows I am staying involved with whatever she’s doing. For example, if she is looking at something on the computer and says, “Awww,” I’ll ask, “What’s so cute?” At that point, she asks me to scoot my chair over and look at the YouTube video. Of a kitten. And I watch it. For. Six. Endless. Minutes.

If she’s downstairs on the treadmill watching a show on her iPad and I hear her laughing, I trudge down to the lower level and ask, “What’s so funny?”

Let’s say it’s a “Grace and Frankie” episode. She’ll patiently describe to me the entire set-up — which is something no person can really ever successfully accomplish. But I giggle anyway. That’s what good husbands do.

She seldom asks about my own audible reaction to videos or something I am reading. For example, recently we were sitting next to each other on the couch while I read an amazing story. At one point, I belted out, “Wow, that is really weird.” There was no reaction, no apparent curiosity to see what had triggered that response from me. She just continued with whatever she was reading.

Minutes later, as a little experiment, I tried a different tack.

“Oh dear!” I said, looking directly at her. “This is just terrible news.”

No response. Her eyes remained focused on her own material. I tried again. This time I burst out laughing, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”

One final try. While watching a video posted on social media, I pretended to cry. Mary Ellen was sitting right next to me, still concentrating on something. When I got no response, I said, “Mary Ellen, I’ve been sobbing for two minutes. Don’t you want to ask me something?”

“I’m sorry. Do you want a tissue?”

I explained to her why her lack of interest and curiosity bothered me.

“Dick, unlike you, I am always very focused when I’m working on something,” she said. “I block out everything else. Remember, I’m the one who does our taxes, oversees our health care coverage and carefully analyzes our investments.”

I was embarrassed for being self-centered and needy.

“I’m sorry, Mary Ellen, you do handle the important household responsibilities. So, what were you doing when I was weeping for two minutes?”



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