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Jack Smith

Marital decay and the uncapped toothpaste tube syndrome: Is high tech the answer?

October 07, 1986|Jack Smith

The ingredients of a long and happy marriage are hard to catalogue.

Karen M. Murphy of Oxnard thinks a recent improvement in a common consumer product may help.

"Colgate Palmolive Co. now attaches the cap to the toothpaste tube!" she writes. "That ancient and deadly cause of friction between man and wife . . . may soon be a thing of the past.

"I'm not married myself, but my heart rejoices, knowing that so many of my fellow Americans may now know marital bliss once again."

I'm not sure that marital bliss can be attained by the removal of such minor irritations as uncapped toothpaste tubes.

It is true that hogging a bathroom, and leaving it in a state of disorder, can be a serious cause of discord in a marriage.

My wife and I raised two sons in a house with one small bathroom, and it may have been the source of more family strife than any other component of our lives together.

In the morning, when all of us were rising and getting prepared for the day at the same hour, it could be sheer anguish.

The boys took long steamy showers; my wife was usually fairly quick and tidy, though sometimes she left her hose to dry on the shower curtain rod.

When the boys left home we added a bathroom for my wife, and ever since then we have had two bathrooms for two people instead of one for four.

I have no doubt that this luxury has accounted in part for the tranquillity of our subsequent life together.

I wonder what might have been the difference if we hadn't added a bathroom. Would the tiny conflicts and tensions have mounted high enough to break us up?

I doubt it.

I think that if the essential energy, glue and devotion are there, no buildup of minor discomforts can wreck a marriage.

In fact it seems that marriage has become less stable in this country in direct ratio to our acquisition of gadgets designed to make life easier.

Our pioneer forebears struck out in the wilderness with nothing but a saw and a hammer and a spinning wheel, if they were rich, and built log cabins and raised families and stayed together in every kind of weather until death did them part.

I don't say that sounds like the good life to me.

But over the decades, as we have acquired more work-saving machines and comforts, has our marital harmony improved?

Not according to the statistics. About half of all marriages end in divorce. You might think that the vacuum sweeper alone would have saved some of them; but I have an idea that the vacuum sweeper has broken up more marriages than it has saved. With the exception of the jet airplane and the leaf blower, no modern sound has done more to disturb the domestic peace than the familiar whine of the vacuum.

Surely air conditioning should save some marriages. No longer does the husband need to go out and chop wood in winter. No longer does the wife need to swelter while she irons in summer.

Yet one of the most strident contests my wife and I have had in recent years was over her notion that if she sets the thermostat at zero degrees the house will get cool sooner.

What would be likely to have a more soothing effect on marriage than a dishwasher? Imagine a machine that ends the old argument over who is going to wash the dishes? Surely that is more likely to save a marriage than being a good dancer or even a good sport.

I wouldn't say that our dishwasher has contributed that much to our marriage. I consider it my wife's machine. I don't even know how it works. It isn't that I consider washing dishes woman's work; it's just that we got started that way, before liberation, and it's hard to change.

On the other hand, I don't expect her to know how to operate our video recorder. I don't mean to imply that she isn't intelligent enough. I had to call in an expert to show me how. It's just that any happy marriage depends on a sharing of responsibility for the household's machines. She does the dishes; I do the VCR.

If anyone thinks this is a sexist attitude, let me point out that it's just as sexist for a woman to think a videocassette recorder is man's work as it is for a man to think a dishwasher is woman's work.

I think it is our sensitivity toward each other's spheres that has kept our marriage together.

Remember "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry? His happily married couple are poor. He covets his watch. She covets her beautiful long hair. At Christmas he sells his watch to buy her jeweled combs; she sells her hair to buy him a watch chain.

We remind me of them. My wife bought me a stationary bicycle to exercise on; I didn't use it because it was too boring; she bought me a television set to watch while I was exercising. I gave the television set to her to watch while she was loading the dishwasher.

It seems to me that mutual consideration, such as that, is what secures a long marriage, not machinery in itself.

As for toothpaste tubes with attached caps, we now have his and hers aerosol toothpaste containers that dispense toothpaste at the push of a button.

We should go the route.

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