That's When the Lightbulb Went On
Recently, I was talking to a woman much younger than I who was in a committed relationship. It was a Christmas party, and I was enjoying my conversation with her. How could I possibly not? A good-looking, fun, twenty-something female paying attention to me for more than thirty seconds? I was in heaven—and my wife knew it. I couldn't help noticing, though, that the twenty-something was rather agitated and that the focus of her agitation was her gentleman friend, who was talking to another very attractive younger woman.
When I innocently asked if there was a problem, with daggers in her eyes she replied, "It's been more than five minutes, and he's still talking to her!"
Her answer surprised me. "That's too long," she said. She was clearly unhappy.
"But you've been standing here talking with me for at least ten minutes," I countered. Apparently, I wasn't in the same league as the attractive twenty-something talking to her gentleman friend.
The moral of the story is this: What appears to be innocent behavior to one person in a relationship can be seen as egregious behavior by the other partner. Each couple has to make their own boundaries, and each partner needs to respect those boundaries.
A little later, I noticed that the couple was standing together. She looked happy. He smiled at me. "Eight and one half minutes," he said to me under his breath.
"All you get is five," I replied. They still need to talk.
A few weeks later, I was browsing in the self-help section of a bookstore in my hometown of Burlington, Vermont, when I was struck by a common theme running through the books. Virtually all of the advice books focused on how to recover after having screwed up your life—especially your life with your significant other.
If all the people who are buying these books in droves had tried using etiquette to help solve their relationship problems, I thought to myself, then maybe their relationships wouldn't need saving, and they wouldn't need these books.
That's when the lightbulb went on.
I knew then and there that I wanted to write a book about etiquette for couples. After all, the whole point of etiquette is to help you build better relationships by learning how to avoid or defuse situations that could become problematic. And your relationship with your SO is the most important relationship in your life. Therefore, I realized, a book about etiquette for couples makes perfect sense: Instead of fixing problems after they happen, couples can use etiquette to prevent problems from cropping up in the first place.
I can hear the protests already: "Why worry about etiquette in a relationship? We just want to relax and enjoy ourselves!" But that's exactly what etiquette lets you do: relax and enjoy yourselves. Etiquette is not about being excessively or insincerely polite with each other, or living by a set of artificial rules. It's about enhancing and enriching your relationship by:
A strong relationship doesn't just happen. It takes root and grows because each partner consciously works at making the other partner's life as pleasant, as enjoyable, and as fulfilling as possible. The success of your relationship will be directly proportional to how considerate, respectful, and honest each of you is with the other—or, to put it another way, how much etiquette you bring to your relationship.
When we become part of a couple, we trade independence for the security of having a 24/7 companion. That's great—no more having to play the dating game, no more wondering if the other person is interested, no more worrying that you're screwing up your chances with him or her if you call or don't call. The other person is simply there, a part of you and your life, seeing you at your best and at your worst, 24/7, no getting away from it...
It takes steady work to blend the lives of two individuals into the life of one couple. Some of this work is done in the privacy of your home; other work takes place when the two of you are out in public. For this reason, Essential Manners for Couples is divided into two major areas: your private life as a couple, and your public life as a couple.
The first part of the book, "The Two of You Together," looks at critical issues that affect the two of you in private, including how to communicate effectively, and what simple actions you can take to enhance your relationship. It draws a bead on why special days are special, and how you can improve your relationship by changing your approach to those red-letter dates. Your bedroom is perhaps the most vulnerable and intimate place you share in your lives together; as you'll see, a little etiquette can go a long way here. The book also examines how etiquette can improve other areas of your private life that affect your relationship significantly: children, finances, chores, disputes, even how you spend your leisure time.
What goes on behind closed doors defines who you are as a couple and how successful your relationship will be. As this section explains, if you make a practice of treating each other with consideration and respect, you can avoid a lot of potential conflicts. Even better, when there is a conflict—and there will be conflicts—this section offers strategies for resolving your issues before they grow into serious problems.
You and your partner may think you're Dick and Jane, but to your friends and the rest of the outside world you're DickandJane. That means your actions no longer affect just you. Now, they have repercussions for your Other as well. You are DickandJane when you're out running errands, when you're out on the town with friends, when you go to parties and events, when you have friends over to your house, when you go on vacation, and when you attend those special occasions that define milestones in life.
This book's second section, "The Two of You in the World," explores this new reality in depth. In this section, I discuss how your f