A Lesson In Marital Free Association
10:30 AM EDT on March 30, 2023
I have been married for 20 years. If you’ve been married for that long, you know that your conversational radius can become rather limited in scope. My wife and I don’t stay up all night confessing our hopes and dreams to one another, because we already know them. She wants us to retire to Italy one day; I want to hire my own sushi chef. Been there, spilled that. As such, the bulk of our back-and-forth revolves around a finite number of proximal, expected topics: the kids, the weather, the news, food, our various nagging ailments, did you see that new fence they put up down the street?, etc.
The magic is that we have now reached a place in our union where we can talk about all of those topics simultaneously: within a single, incoherent string of discussion. The fact that we’re both looking at our phones while engaging in this linguistic tango (sometimes we're not even in the same room!) only adds to its impenetrability. I call this marital free association. If you’ve ever heard your own parents talking, you’re quite familiar with it. Allow me to give you an example:
HER: Did you hear about the Nashville thing? Awful.
ME: You know I went to Nashville once? I thought it was overhyped.
HER: What was that for?
ME: We did a live podcast there.
HER: Oh! I was listening to Brené Brown’s podcast the other week and she had Brandi Carlile on it. It was really interesting!
ME: Is her music country?
HER: Really more Americana.
ME: I fucking hate country music. But that hot chicken they have there? That was legit, although it definitely made me sick in the butt.
HER: What’s hot chicken?
ME: OK, this one lady got super mad at her husband once and spiced the fuck out of his chicken as revenge, only it turned out he loved it! It became a big thing!
HER: Well that’s a better form of revenge than pointing a gun at someone.
If you haven’t tuned this blog post out yet, you are not one of my children. Obviously, any good conversation (or podcast!) has a natural progression to it. One topic flows into another, with both parties engaged and open to seeing where this moment together will take them. Think of every great conversation you’ve had at a party, or during a long car ride, or even with a stranger sitting beside you in an airplane. Rarely do those chats zero in on a single topic and stay there. It’s life, not an episode of fucking Frontline.
But with marital free association, no topic gets explored in depth. My wife and I never stay on one thing long enough for it to register. The second I start actually talking in depth to members of my family, I’ve lost them. Like, if I get into the nuts and bolts of the Commanders’ ownership situation? THERE GOES DREW SPEWING HIS DAD FACTS AGAIN. I wanna talk about my new hearing aid? NO ONE CARES, YOU OLD FOGEY. Something big happened to Defector, a company that I literally own? WANK WANK.
And I’m no better a sounding board. Yeah yeah yeah you had an annoying day at work but listen to the dumb take that Barry Petchesky posted on our website today. And did you know that we all quit Deadspin to build this website, and that it’s doing incredibly well? Hey, where are you going? COME BACK! I’M NOT DONE TALKING ABOUT MYSELF AT YOU! That’s why my wife and I have reached this enlightened(?) state of interplay, where every topic has a shelf life of 0.2 minutes and there’s a basketball game playing on the TV in the background.
ME: Was the drive to soccer practice OK?
HER: Oh my god, everyone on the road was such an asshole. This one pickup truck nearly hit m—
ME: DUUUUUUUDE ARE YOU SHITTING ME, MARKQUIS NOWELL?! This guy kicks ass.
HER: Where are they playing that game?
ME: At the Garden.
HER: But neither team is from New York.
ME: I know! That’s what makes it cool! Now, what was that about the motorcycle hitting you again?
HER: I don’t remember.
ME: Would you ever let me buy a motorcycle?
Tell me you aren't riveted. This is marriage. This is the conjugal mind, thinking aloud. It's jazz, baby. I don’t wanna talk to people in any other form. I probably don’t know how to anymore.