When we began dating several months ago, my boyfriend Jean Claude and I wondered aloud what shape that tell-tale first argument might take. As the early throes of faultless infatuation begin to fade, a couple’s first skirmish can say a lot about the pair’s respective communication styles, methods of conflict resolution and maybe even provide a glimpse into the relationship’s life expectancy. Those that fight in a fair, calm, reasonable and empathetic manner may anticipate a pattern of give-and-take respect and harmony. At the other end of the spectrum, pairings that would cause former spouses Tommy and Pamela Lee to pause and shake their heads may want to consider seeking satisfaction elsewhere.
For JC and I, the inaugural squabble began with a semi-tense evening conversation, a discussion I errantly believed had reached its conclusion before bed. I awoke to start my morning routine and was greeted with a churlish, silent man where heretofore I had recoiled from a Mr. Rogers level of diurnal cheer. Something was not right but as I mentioned, I had believed the preceding evening’s tiff to be completely resolved. After repeatedly asking my boyfriend to spill his guts with no success, I decided that perhaps he was simply not looking forward to a day at the office. No big whoop.
Shortly before we boarded the local commuter train, the truth was revealed: JC had not recovered from wounds sustained the night before and was dead set upon the cold shoulder until he did. At this point, mystified, frustrated and angry anew, I uttered the following sentence which has become the stuff of legend in our brief shared history: “You know what? Why don’t I build you a cross and you can martyr yourself because that’s clearly what you want to do?”
A stunned Jean Claude replied with a simple “I don’t even know what to say.” It was evident that he was not accustomed to being spoken to this way at 7 am. What can I say folks? I shoot from the hip and as a writer, there was zero chance of ignoring such an appropriate, if obvious, analogy. His initials are JC. He was playing the victim. I told him to nail himself to the cross. Get it? Ha!
I digress. Once my sweetheart had a chance to recoup, he opted to embrace the trope of martyrdom with gusto. It quickly became an affectionate inside joke. Before long, JC would lament a bad day in a whiny tone or request some high-maintenance favor. Just as I would grow annoyed, I would whip my head around to witness him engaging in the pantomime of a forsaken man hanging from nails, wearing an impish grin. This sort of thing tends to take the wind out of my impatience.
Flash forward to this past weekend when we attended a production of the play Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether. On assignment for one of my freelance gigs as a Chicago theater critic, Jean Claude my intelligent, thoughtful and articulate partner has become my companion of choice.
We ventured to the theater on a Friday evening, straight from our respective offices. That meant that we were loaded with bags, coats and other items before I collected my press packet and essential glass of red wine. In the course of business, I thought I had turned over custody of our tickets to JC.
In a harried, sweaty state, I led us to the upstairs theater where the performance would be staged and stood in front of two elderly female ushers with my hand out. Naturally, I was waiting for Jean Claude to fork over the passes. When he calmly insisted that he didn’t have them, I grunted and may or may not have threatened to “kick his ass” for failing to produce them. I am an urban Italian woman and intimidating rhetoric is reflexive, like the way one automatically raises their arms to break a fall. By now, Jean Claude is well enough acquainted with me to ignore these peevish ejaculations, but it was immediately clear that the octogenarian ushers believed me nothing short of a monster. JC could not resist the opportunity.
As I rifled through my backpack and press packet, he played to the crowd: “Baby! Why would you speak to me in that harsh tone? Haven’t you already spilled wine on me (yes, I had)? Didn’t I offer to hold your belongings so you could get organized? I SWEAR I don’t have the tickets. Don’t hit me again!”
When I discovered the tickets (naturally) were indeed insider my folder, I was red-faced on two fronts. In the first place I had falsely accused my mate of having possession, but even worse, his Academy-Award worthy interpretation of Farrah Fawcett’s abused character from legendary TV filmThe Burning Bed drew appalled clucks of disapproval from his new usher friends. Suddenly I was the Chris Brown to his Rihanna.
And it was then I knew I had learned a valuable lesson. Singular moments of tension are fair game for my boyfriend when it comes to mining comedic material, and nothing is safe. This one’s got me on my toes. And I kind of like it.