lost opportunity of the day

Posted on: November 15, 2011

Earlier this evening, I was walking slightly ahead of two gentlemen when I overheard one ask the other “So is your wife doing a good job…”

I’m going to hold off on revealing the end of that question for just a moment to point out that this? Is a terrible way to ask anyone anything about their spouse. Certainly, it’s a perfectly valid construction when talking about a beloved family pet –¬† “So, is Oola doing a good job finding the litter box?” – or for anxious parents discussing with a teacher or principal some previous difficulty their child was having -“So, is Johnny doing a good job sharing with the other kindergartners?”

In short, it’s a fine way to phrase a question about someone who is subordinate, or perhaps junior would be a better word, to the person to whom the question is being posed. However, if the relationship between the subject and responder is one of equals, as one would assume a marriage to be, you might want to consider phrasing the question in such a way that it does not require one party to pass judgment on the other, and especially when the judgment is, as it is in this case, only a pass/fail option.

What I find most interesting about a question like this is how much you learn, regardless of the answer, about the person asking it. While you know that I hate to judge strangers, I’m going to have to say that the guy who asked this question sucks as a person. Their previous conversation – a fascinating discussion of the building temperatures at Yale and Harvard; it seems Yale recently completed renovations of ALL of their buildings, while Harvard has only begun – had ended sufficiently for there to be silence. There was no conversational rush that this guy was trying to keep up with; he had adequate time to form the question in a neutral fashion – “How’s your wife doing with,” for example – and the fact that he failed to do so, that even with time to think about it, he still poses a question where one of only two possible outcomes is for a man to say “No, my wife, who I love and with whom I chose to share the rest of my life, totally sucks at . . .”; that his natural instinct is not to avoid boxing in his friend like that? That’s a personality failure on a pretty basic level.

The full question was “So is your wife doing a good job raising the kids together?” That I was not privy to the response is one of the great regrets of my day; the blended-family situation that the husband sounds to have is just the sort of detail that makes a stranger’s conversation worth overhearing. Plus, the poorly phrased things the friend might have said about the children? Those would have have been priceless.


(And, for those of you who are curious – Oola has always done a splendid job of finding the litter box, although she could do better keeping all of the litter inside the box. On the other hand, this morning she woke me up by batting me in the face without using her claws, which is far more valuable progress as far as I’m concerned.)


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