• vzaffos

Navigating Couplehood: If It's Not Going Right, Go Left

In my phone contacts, I list my husband as "A Love of My Life". That's not quite accurate because I have only one Love. But starting with "A" instead of "The" puts him at the top of my list, literally. Which is exactly where he belongs as far as I'm concerned. Still, I must admit that after decades together (three of them), some of the things about him that made me fall in love way-back-when are precisely the same qualities that often make me want to swan-dive off a tall building now.

I had not considered this aspect of our relationship when the two of us chose Chicago for a weekend getaway. A hankering to BASE jump off a skyscraper when triggered by one's husband isn't a good thing in general -- and on this trip in particular -- because one of the most famous landmarks in The Windy City happens to be the country's second-tallest building. The 110-story Willis Tower (formerly and more popularly known as Sears Tower) for many years was the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and remains in the top 16 in the world to date. Under these circumstances, what was meant to be a romantic weekend away could have turned out to be the death of me. In the end, it breathed new life into our marriage. But first, the backstory:

My husband is an engineer and an accountant. If I had to sum him up in one word, I'd choose "concrete." I used to adore this about him. It is, after all, why we had a perfectly timed connection through ATL to ORD. And why our check-in at the Pan Pacific on iconic Michigan Avenue was quick and without incident. Once we had settled in our room and freshened up, we decided to explore the main drag, get our bearings, maybe find a charming cafe and enjoy a leisurely late-afternoon lunch. A concrete plan, so to speak.

We walked a couple of miles and found a trendy open-air bistro. The eatery overlooked a patio ringed with giant planters bursting with purple petunias and corkscrews of ivy. A light breeze rustled the leaves of a gnarly oak overhanging the entrance, muffling the sounds of traffic and tourists on the avenue. Lovely. I heard myself sigh. This is bliss!

Check, please. And we're off again. Walking. Walking. Walking. Walking. And walking some more. We've been in Chicago for several hours by this point, and all he wants to do is pound the pavement. Did I mention my husband likes concrete? I find myself gazing skyward, scanning the horizon for that Willis Tower. But I don't say anything. I like to steam silently. Well, I actually don't like it, but that's what I do. Or did.

A Love of My Life announces he would like to walk back to the hotel to rest before we decide which restaurant we will walk to for dinner. He had chosen our hotel with proximity to fine dining and Chicago nightlife. Logistics are his life's blood. An admirable quality, to be sure. After his pit stop he wanted to take yet another walk before dinner. When we exited the hotel he stepped onto Michigan Avenue, heading the same damn direction we had gone on our maiden voyage. And again we walked And walked. And walked. And walked some more. What the hell?! Still, I did not speak.

He doesn't even want to go into any stores! To amuse (restrain) myself, I stop every once in awhile to snap photos of tall building with my phone. I can dream, can't I? He announces once again his desire to retire to the hotel room to "rest" a/k/a watch reruns of NCIS, or perhaps play WWF on his iPad. Aaaaaaargh! What floor are we on anyway?

I see him engrossed with the game and he inspires me: iPad. Internet. Search Engine!!! I unclench my fists to grab my own tablet and type Things to Do in Chicago. First thing that comes up -- no joke -- walking tours. No more strolling for me. Scrolling -- that's where I'm at.

In the end, I discovered more than enough activities to fill our remaining 68 hours in Chi-Town:

Botanical Gardens, where we giggled when we wandered into an arboretum that housed "exotic tropical plants", all of which are featured in the landscaping of every yard, parking lot and highway swale in our South Florida hometown.

A guided tour of the Frank LLoyd Wright home and studio, where the docent chastised me for lagging behind to take photos (even though both structures on the tour were only two stories high).

Lincoln Park Zoo, where we had the privilege of viewing a male Silverback Gorilla. Picking his nose. And eating it. I have the video to prove it.

A comedy club which shall remain nameless was my one clunker. We laughed, but not at the comedians. They weren't funny. The funny part was we had paid a premium for a table in the first row near the stage. But when we got there, the assembled patrons did not even fill the first two rows. Joke's on us. Lol. Not.

My husband's favorite activity was (no surprise here) a walking tour. Specifically, it was a food tour of the trendy and newly gentrified Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods, featuring one-off local establishments. Of course the first stop was for a world-famous, authentic Chicago hot dog, where our guide educated us on the seven toppings that must be included to qualify for the distinction. Ketchup is not one of them. In fact if you ask for ketchup, you will likely get the stink-eye from the guy behind the lunch counter. (In case you don't feel like googling, the seven toppings are: yellow mustard, chopped onion, kosher dill pickle spear, sport peppers, neon green pickle relish, tomato slices and -- drumroll please -- celery salt.)

As much as I love Fun Facts, I learned a much deeper lesson on our walking tour. It wasn't my husband's affinity for concrete (of the walking or planning varieties) that has come to irk me so. It is my own tendency, when unhappy, to steam (not unlike a Vienna Beef hotdog prepping for its poppyseed bun).

What got us off the sidewalk and on the right path in Chicago was realizing that I had a role to play in my marriage. But I had forgotten my lines. My Love's role is Navigator. He gets us where we are going and he is brilliant at it. I am Cruise Director, in charge of what we do once we arrive. He's transit and accommodations. I'm itinerary and experiences.

I guess you could say I'm the happy little dandelion growing through the crack in my husband's . . . expertly paved sidewalk. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I know how you thought that last sentence was going to end.)

The bottom line is, we complement each other. He has what I lack, and lacks what I have. Instead of resenting him for not having the Cruise Director gene, I can express that quality of mine. And be grateful that my First Mate can navigate like a freakin' frigate.

We never did make it to Willis Tower. Somewhere along the way I lost my taste for it. My favorite part of the trip? The food walking tour. Mostly because A Love of My Life walked beside me.

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