A new computer operating system upgrade had been widely advertised for some months, though the reviews that were coming out were equivocal. Stephen keeps up with computer technology, and I skim the tech section in a couple of newspapers, more to prolong breakfast than because I fully understand what I’m reading. Still, I ventured, “Looks like they’re saying we don’t need this upgrade.”
“That’s what I already concluded,” he said. “When I had that memory leak before, I thought this program would solve it, but it’s fine now that I . . . .” Not that his sentence trailed off, just my focus.
Our computers were indeed finally working perfectly after recent networking and high-speed internet access complications had caused us both to lose work time for many days. Now we could actually work and stop fiddling with the machinery.
Right after the new software appeared, we were shopping for groceries at the local warehouse store. While I loaded the huge cart with necessities, Stephen meandered over to the computer aisle and was nearly overcome with techno lust.
“Seeing it makes me want it,” he said to me on the checkout line. But this was no dollar-ninety-eight-chocolate-chip cookie. Rather it would cost several hundred dollars. And he’d just bought an expensive new scanning program. I reminded him of what he’d said the day before. I recalled to him how each and every upgrade took many hours of fiddling with both our computers and how that would interfere with the book he was so intensely engaged in writing, not to mention my own efforts to concentrate on my writing. I babbled about how this was like a vow of fidelity he was about to break just because he’d seen some alluring bimbo.
He managed to restrain himself that day. I was almost proud of him. That was at least a few hundred dollars we wouldn’t waste.
THE NEXT DAY
Alas, the very next day, right after breakfast, he announced he was going out to buy it. Caught by surprise, I closed my study door in his face, loudly. He said, “Wait, let’s talk about this.”
I opened the door, furious. “You’re an adult. Do what you want. You said we don’t need this. This is an obsessive-compulsive thing. Just DON’T YOU TOUCH MY COMPUTER OR INTERFERE WITH MY WORK!” Slam.
He bought the program, then settled in and began fighting with it. The next day, as soon I finished breakfast and headed for my computer–this would be the morning I’d focus and get several important bits of work done, and make calls to doctors, and respond to some important e-mail messages–I found Stephen ensconced at my desk. And there he stayed for the entire rest of my best morning work hours. For the next three days. In between running out to buy further upgrades to other programs so that this upgrade would be less buggy. Especially on my computer.
I fumed. I folded the clean laundry and put in a fresh load. I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it (his job). I tidied the living room. I took out the recycling and the trash. I tried to read. I sputtered and puttered and walked back and forth in front of my invaded workspace.
Hours later, days later, I was still frustrated, but I was beginning to realize it was time to do some reframing. Stephen was obviously obsessed and not in control of himself. It was rude and bullying during my morning work time. And yet, he wasn’t doing it with ill will toward me specifically. We’d been through this before. Computer upgrades were the one (sober) time that he lost his ability to think rationally. “I’ll just get this set up and then we’ll be back to normal.” You simply could not stop him until he got the thing working or was ready to give up (almost never).
When we were in the car later to pick up some dinner, I let him have it. I know my voice raised a couple notches. I used the word “selfish,” and this time he didn’t get mad back. He heard me and apologized profusely and eventually I’d said what I needed to say and heard what I needed to hear.
He eventually got the program working, and he’s thrilled with it. Then he asked me politely if he could do one more thing to my computer, and what would be the most convenient time for me. Now my computer (and I) felt less invaded.
What helped me to get over my annoyance was remembering that this is who he is. He gets laser beam focused on a task and forgets to be civil. It has nothing to do with how he feels about me. It would have been a big mistake to imagine he loves me less because he loves computer upgrades more. We’re talking catnip here. One midlife equivalent of sexual conquest. Mastery of man over machine, alpha primate over a powerful and recalcitrant enemy. Being nice to wifey takes a back seat when it comes to such essential struggles.
Why take it personally?
Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry