Three Words


Just after New Year’s, the married couple is in their bedroom, getting dressed for the day, and it’s one of those moments when a person who’s lived with another person for fifteen years knows something is on the other person’s mind. The husband is oddly quiet, unresponsive, far away. Maybe the wife is being too cheerful this early in the morning. A million years ago she didn’t like anyone talking to her in the morning either. Maybe it’s annoying. Maybe it’s one of those days. But she’s gonna ask.

What’s wrong?

Imagine a pause here that could be ten seconds but feels like ten hours. Granted, the husband is a long pauser. But this feels like the longest, tensest of pauses.

I’m not happy, he says. His eyes meet hers, finally. They’re the eyes of a basset hound.

Now she’s pausing, or maybe frozen entirely. Not breathing.

Three words. Three words that have probably been said millions of times by millions of people to millions of partners since words themselves existed, three words that a year later, having been replayed in my head countless times, never fail to leave me as breathless as I am in the moment he says them. The words that follow after the long pause don’t help. I’ve more or less known he’s been unhappy for a while. I’ve been calling it disconnected. Not present. We’ve talked about that. I know, of course, that in this moment, he’s talking about the marriage. Okay. Thanks, I didn’t know how to write that in third. Now we can get on to what he says next.

I have a crush on someone.

She knows immediately who it is, feels a little sick. It takes her a while to say anything.

Do you want to go to couples therapy?

He agrees to go to couples therapy, but let’s be clear. His response is a damp Sure, or Okay, or maybe even I guess. It’s probably I guess, because that feels the worst.

The wife claps her hands together. Her best friend calls this her signature move, the one she does when she’s ready for some sort of action. They’ll go to couples therapy. They’ll work it out.

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