For a long time now there have been rumors about a romantic relationship between Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, cohosts of Morning Joe. I never gave those stories much credence. When a man and woman spend a lot of time together for whatever reason, then if they seem to be physically suited to each other, we naturally put them together sexually in our imagination. So even if we never play cupid in deed, we often do so in thought. However, when Mika disputed a point Joe was making a couple of weeks ago, he said she was being “rude” and “snotty.” That’s when I said to myself, “I guess those rumors must be true.” As it turns out, they plan to get married.
Let me confess that I am a naïve bachelor who does not always understand all the wicked ways of the world. Not only have I never been married, but I have never lived with anyone either, save when I was growing up and living with my parents, whose screaming arguments provided at least some secondhand knowledge as to what marriage must be like. It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something about marriage that releases us from the norms of polite conversation, allowing people to say vicious things to each other that they would never dream of saying even to people they dislike.
The question that poses itself to me is this: Is it the sexual nature of a relationship that allows people to feel they can be rude to each other, or is it is the fact that they live together? I have never had a roommate, so I cannot say how simply living with someone would affect my sense of etiquette regarding him. And in any event, people rarely have the same roommate for very long. Similarly, I never had a girlfriend for more than a couple of years before she would break up with me, so I cannot be sure about the effect that sex has on polite behavior over a long period of time.
There are plenty of people that are either married or living together, but they are not likely to be completely forthcoming about any discord between them behind closed doors, even if I had the bad taste to come right out and ask them about it. One does get hints, however. When I used to go dancing, I found that it was not uncommon for a married couple to have dancing partners other than each other. Those that did not could often be seen quarreling on the dance floor. I play bridge a lot now, and there too have I found that married couples tend to have partners other than each other. Mind you, dancing partners and bridge partners will often become lovers and may even marry; but when the marriage comes first, it is less likely to lead to such partnerships.
I once had a girlfriend who decided to go back to college and get a degree. Sometimes she would have classes in the morning and then again in the afternoon, with a couple of hours to kill in between. She lived too far away from the campus to go home, but my apartment was much closer. So, I gave her a key so that she could use my place to have lunch and study while I was at work. Because she brought her own lunch, she would clean up her containers afterwards. But when she was through, she would leave a sopping wet steel wool soap pad in the bottom of the sink. The first time that happened, I simply squeezed the pad and put it back in the soap dish at the top of the sink, thinking no more about it. A couple of days later (her classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays), there was the soap pad again lying in the bottom of the sink sopping wet. When it happened a third time, I knew this was no mere oversight, but a serious character flaw.
So, did I say anything to her about it? Absolutely not. I loved her with all my heart, and our romance was nothing but sweetness and light. Why would I want to spoil the good feeling between us over a lousy soap pad? True, I probably went through soap pads a little more often than had previously been the case, but men have shelled out a lot more money than that for the sake of love, so who cares about a few extra bucks now and then? And yet, the thought occurred to me: How long would I tolerate that sopping wet soap pad in the bottom of the sink if we were married? This was a complete counterfactual, of course, but the question intrigued me nevertheless. I could not say from experience, but intuitively I suspected that eventually in this hypothetical marriage, I would have reached the point of not being able to stand it any longer. At some point I would have felt compelled to ask her not to leave the sopping wet soap pad in the bottom of the sink and would she please squeeze it out and return it to the soap dish where she found it!
All to no avail, of course, because you cannot change someone after you marry him or her. The net result would have been a source of contention and irritation between us. So, why would I have introduced this discord into our marriage when I was prudent enough not to do so when we were just lovers? If the latter would have been unwise, so too would be the former. And yet, I somehow just knew that there was no way we could stay married for twenty or thirty years without the subject of those soap pads coming up. It simply could not be endured!
Reflecting on this, I concluded that when a man and woman are not lovers, they unconsciously are aware that they might be someday, and thus they are on their best behavior, even if they never consciously intend to date each other. And even if they do become lovers, they remain for a while on their best behavior lest they foul their little love nest by quarreling. But as the passion wears off, people get to the point that they just don’t care about being nice anymore. Lovers not living together can simply break up or even just drift apart, and roommates can move out, but married couples don’t have the same easy options, and thus the pressure builds up.
I used to work at a department store that had a policy about married coworkers. If two people in a store got married, one of them had to transfer to another store. Presumably, no one wanted to have to listen to a squabbling married couple. And I understand that in gambling casinos, married couples are not allowed to play at the same poker table, probably for the same reason.
And so it is that it would probably be for the best if either Mika or Joe left Morning Joe and found employment elsewhere. Sure, they got past the “rude” and “snotty” business. Perhaps that is what led Joe to propose to Mika, as if to make up for being so hateful. But that won’t last. Morning Joe is my favorite talk show, but I shudder to think how things will unfold as the years of marriage wears them down.