FORGET money. Forget in-laws. Forget real estate. The biggest conflict between modern mates is time. After all, you can make more money. You can move to another state to escape his or her parents. You can fix up the house. But you can't put more hours in a day.
"I think everyone has discovered that time is at a real premi um," says Marcia Lasswell, a Claremont family therapist. "Both husbands and wives have such busy schedules. It's tough to find time when they can be together."
She's telling me? "Isn't this romantic?" Duke asks as I morosely drag our shopping cart around the supermarket. Duke has just started a new job and has been working 14 hours a day. And I'm in the throes of a writing frenzy, so my schedule is equally crazed. Today is Sunday, and we've cut work back to four hours so we can share a few precious moments. "What a great deal on cantaloupes!" my husband exclaims.
This isn't my idea of meaningful conversation. But I really can't complain. Our timetables are so hectic we've been living out of takeout cartons. The cupboard is bare, the refrigerator is empty, and even if one of us actually found a few spare seconds to tackle the last two weeks' worth of laundry, we'd have to do it without soap.
Still, on the Quality Time Scale of 1 to 10, a trip to the supermarket rates a 2. Our next stop, the dry cleaners, rates a 1. And our next stop, the hardware store, gets a minus 6. There's no romance to be found amid the plumbing supplies and the dead bolts, no matter how advantageously priced.
Yet I really should count my blessings. Many mates can't even get together to run errands. "I never get to see my husband," my friend Nina says blithely. I shake my head in dismay. When I called her to lament that Duke and I were fighting the clock, I expected sympathy.
"Ed always works a minimum of 70 hours a week," Nina informs me. "And he jogs every other night. And then there's softball league. And computer club." Doesn't she mind? "I'm just grateful he's not a surfer," she says with a laugh. "They have to get up at 5 every morning and check the waves."
Whatever happened to stopping and smelling the roses? Duke bounds out of bed at 7 in the morning. "Gotta run," he says, hurriedly kissing me goodby. "I've got a breakfast meeting."
"Remember the good old days, when we used to have romantic breakfast meetings in bed?" I ask wistfully.
"I'll call you," Duke promises. And he does call. But I'm at the gym. And when I call him back, he's in a meeting. And then I'm doing an interview. And then he's got an important call on the other line. And so it goes. Love in the Time of Telephone Tag.
Some duos don't connect for days. "I get bummed out when he gets home after I'm asleep and then he wants to talk," says my friend Sabina. "But then you wake up the next morning, and you realize that you don't know what he did yesterday and he doesn't know what you did. It's a little strange."
A little strange? Lately, it seems as if the unhurried life isn't worth living. Couples aren't simply juggling marriage, careers and children anymore--they're juggling his friends, her friends, their friends, families, therapists, pets, charity functions, hobbies and sports.
"My girlfriend's schedule is such that I can work as long as I want Monday through Friday without feeling guilty," my friend Andy says. "But golf takes up at least five hours a weekend. In order to schedule golf, I've got to encourage her to do more things. She'll say, 'I'm thinking of checking out this store.' Great, I'll play golf. 'Volunteer work?' Great, I'll play golf. Of course, I get really irritated if she's not there as soon as I'm done."
Even so, "a marriage isn't going to thrive on neglect," warns Lasswell, the family therapist, who adds that "any relationship needs energy and time put into it. And not poor-quality time when you're both too pooped to do anything but just crash." I shuffle my feet guiltily. "Busy couples have to schedule togetherness time or they won't get it," says Lasswell, who recommends that husbands and wives make appointments to see each other, "a month in advance if necessary."
I can't believe that the Day Runner has become a marital aid. But Nina informs me that she and her husband book time for everything--"including sex." Whatever happened to getting carried away by the moment? "Not having spontaneous sex isn't so terrible," Nina assures me. That may be true.
But this doesn't sound like my kind of foreplay. "Whenever we set up a sex date, we always have a fight," Nina confesses. "There's no intimacy, so we have to fight first to reconnect."