“What do you want for Valentine’s Day?” my husband Nick asked a couple of days ago.
To the untrained ear, that might sound like a simple plea for guidance. An innocent bystander would probably say Nick was just asking how I wanted to celebrate this year’s February 14.
But husbands talk in a dialect all their own, and wives spend years translating that jargon. As an expert in Nickspeak, I knew this husband of mine was really asking: “Do you actually want me to pay $100 for roses that will die in a week? And you don’t want to go out to dinner and fight the restaurant crowds, do you?”
Somewhere hidden in between the vows — For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health — is an unspoken agreement implying that to stay on the good side of marital bliss a bride must learn to listen like a wife. In the early years of my marriage, I was a quick study. Like most resilient women I discovered that I was equal to the challenge. Mastery of the lingo didn’t come overnight, but after a bit of practice, I became an expert in this offshoot of the English language I lovingly call husbandspeak. Now my practiced ear picks up the nuances necessary to translate the words Nick says into the words Nick really means.
The latest test of my translating talents was last Thursday morning. Nick, and his recently acquired an iPhone, were at the kitchen table, enjoying a cup of coffee together. Meanwhile, I was in our bedroom, getting ready for the day. Off in the distance I heard a familiar voice call out: “My cell phone is on Casablanca time.”
At first I couldn’t tell if he was bragging or complaining. Then my mind switched from what-should-I-wear-today mode into wife-figuring-out-husbandspeak mode. I realize that this innocent-sounding statement was a thinly disguised call for my help. Nick was really saying: “Help me fix this. Can you change my phone back to Pacific Standard Time?”
He was seeking assistance from me. Me, the woman who had a digital camera for a year before she opened the box. (I didn’t trust my photos to a camera that didn’t have a place to put a roll of 35mm film.) I no more know how to change a cell phone setting from Casablanca time to California time than I know how to write a symphony or set up a GoFundMe account. For a moment I thought that he confused me with our son, Seth. But, alas no. He was enlisting me, his life partner, to come to his aid. After a half-hour of banter that included — “push the thingamajig,” “scroll down to settings,” and “how do I scroll down to settings?” — this technologically impaired couple achieved victory.
It’s not so bad becoming a linguist when you love your husband. In fact, if you keep a positive attitude, you can make a game out of translating. It’s a chance to solve a mystery. The way I see it, if I was an expert at pig Latin in fifth grade I must have enough brain cells to understand my guy most of the time.
Cracking the code is key to keeping the lines of marital communication working smoothly. I think most women would agree. I know my friends do. And with all that we’ve learned about this special language over the years, we could probably teach a course for Berlitz.
Here’s my contribution to that collective brain trust, a few common phrases to jot down in your own Husbandspeak 101 primer.
Question: “Honey, what did we get Paul for his birthday?”
Translation: “I hope you remembered that it’s my brother’s birthday tomorrow and that you bought a gift and a card and it’s all wrapped up and ready to go.”
Question: “Claire, have you seen the remote?
Meaning: “Why are we watching the Hallmark Channel when there’s a playoff game on ESPN?
Comment: “I have to take the car into the mechanic.”
Request: “Can you follow me down to the repair shop, so I don’t have to wait around for them to drive me home?”
Question: Did you buy any jalepeno-stuffed olives?
Plea: I can’t find the jalepeno-stuffed olives.
Question: “What’s for dinner?
Translation: “What’s for dinner? (Occasionally husbands do say what they mean.)
Since I have a lot of in-the-marriage training, I was very careful how I answered Nick’s Valentine’s Day question. My reply was honest and direct: “Honey, you don’t have to buy me anything. I know that you love me,” I saidcheerfully, kissing his cheek. “Don’t go to any trouble.”
I’m hoping he translated my words into: “You better not come home without flowers, chocolates and a card. And if you think I’m cooking dinner, you must be out of your mind.”
Lucky for me Nick is fluent in Clairespeak.