Monday, May 9, 2011


"We get along wonderfully unless we try to do something together."
Linda to me, May 6

It's hard to justify a getaway holiday when you're retired and all you're getting away from is doing the bare minimum to keep the house livable. But LK combined a great e-mail travel deal with a kind-of-justify-the-trip non-essential business reason to get us away to Far North Queensland last week.

There is a downside to a week of warm, sunny weather. When LK returns from sitting by the pool she has ideas. These ideas range from the costly, offbeat and unfortunately-likely-to-happen ("I was reading about the Faroe Islands and think we should visit there") to the not-so-costly but really not likely to happen at all ("When we get back, I think we should do a liver-cleansing program")

Or, even scarier, the not-costly-at-all and probably-going-to-happen. As in, "I was thinking that, if we can figure out how to not get a divorce by the end of it all, we should consider painting the guest bedroom ourselves."

Sure, you're probably thinking, What in the world is so difficult about painting a room? And the answer is, nothing. It's something that even I can do. And believe me, when it comes to d-i-y there is mostly stuff I cannot do.

But the key phrase in LK's proposal was "if we can figure out how to not get a divorce."  It may surprise some of you because LK and I get along wonderfully when we live day-to-day, when we travel, when we cook, when we choose entertainment, in a million different things we do together.

But we don't work well together. It boils down to this. Neither of us likes to be managed, yet neither one of us can find the STOP button on our compulsion to manage.

Back when we worked, it had been easy. LK ran a very successful division, produced a top-quality set of products and made sound decisions. So I just stayed out of her way. (And to be honest, in the interest of our marriage, I probably would have done that even if she produced crap and lost the company millions.)

But in the division of labor that is our retirement, it's becoming clear that there is a burr under my saddle when I hear suggestions on how I can do something. I've pretty much trained myself to let LK move the ladle from the drawer where I put it to the drawer where she wants it. I deliberately ignore if the cushions on the couch aren't in the same place that I put them when I cleaned up.

And if I ignore her suggestions on how I could do something in a slightly better way, I don't even get upset when she mocks me when I screw it up.

These are the things you learn to do (or not do) when you love the person you live with.

But the idea of painting a room together. Oh, that is scary. As we sat in Port Douglas sipping the first drink of cocktail hour, I told LK we could easily paint the room. "We'll have to move the mattress and box springs out," I told her. She told me they could be rested against the wall while we did the ceiling.

My next suggestion was close, but needed a wee tweak. As did the next. About the only thing she happily accepted was when I said I didn't want to do the trim. We both knew that would be a disaster. But even from this discussion we could both see the future: Me starting to do something, LK suggesting a different way, Me pursing my lips, Me doing something else, LK quietly changing it just a little bit, Me pursing my lips even tighter.

It was pretty clear the room could be painted, but I might be nothing but beard from nose to chin as the week wore on. For a couple of hundred bucks we could get a professional painter to do it. We would have no stress between us. And as a bonus, my shoulders wouldn't ache after the first day.

But something made me stubborn. Perhaps it is just the retiree gene that rebels against paying money for something you can do yourself. Yet I knew that it wouldn't be worth the savings if we were to debate every paint stroke or I had to bite my tongue every time LK complained that I had tipped the paint tray over onto the carpet.

Then the solution hit me. The problem isn't that LK is a manager-by-nature. The problem is that I am not a works-for-a-manager-by-nature person, that I can't seem to get past the fact that I no longer am the muckamuck of the company. And then I saw a solution.

"We can do it," I said, "but I think we need to settle one thing if we're to avoid fighting over things." I swallowed hard and said it. "You need to be the manager. I will do whatever you tell me, however you want me to do things. If I know going in that I am working for you and you're the manager, then I won't mind it."

LK took a slow sip of Johnny Walker and thought. She put her glass down decisively and nodded. "Yep, that will work," she said. And so we have launched a new project.

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