The invention of peace and quiet

So it's 1998, and we're getting nicely settled into our apartment on Duboce Avenue in San Francisco. The kooky kitchen across the hall was a constant frustration, and the apartment was so small that we literally bumped into each other as we crossed trails between the bed and the toilet or the TV. We soon established wordless body signals so we'd know which way to sidestep, to avoid collisions in transit. But the apartment was comfortable, the view was excellent, and we were generally happy.
Our newlywed era wasn't just a romantic comedy, though. We had moments when we frowned, especially in those first few months. Neither Stephanie nor I had ever been married, or even shacked up with someone, unless you count living with friends who split the rent and utilities. So our new life together was an intimacy neither of us had known. Bearing that in mind, it's surprising how few arguments we had.
Our biggest and noisiest argument was in that apartment on Duboce, but I can't remember what we were arguing about — money, probably, since everything in San Francisco is so expensive, and I certainly wasn't bringing home much bacon. Whatever it was, we argued about something one afternoon, and harsh words were spoken loudly, and at the climax of the quarrel Stephanie said, "I need you to leave."
For just a moment, I thought she was kicking me out, but she must have seen the surprise in my face, and she quickly clarified herself. "I need you to leave the apartment for a while. An hour or two. I need some space."
OK, that seemed like a wise idea, so I exited the premises. We were both furious, but we had the good sense to make sure "I love you" was the last thing we said, as I grabbed my jacket and traipsed out the door and down the steps.
And so, Stephanie had the apartment to herself. Excel wasn't really a thing yet, so she charted our argument with an ink pen and a spiral notebook, making a list of the aspects of whatever we'd argued about where she was right, and the aspects where she wasn't so sure. She was analytically-inclined, by nature. But she later told me she'd spent only ten or fifteen minutes analyzing our argument, before closing the notebook and turning on the TV. She spent the next hour watching Iron Chef, and then she went into the kitchen and made muffins.
Meanwhile, I strolled and sulked at Duboce Park across the street, and took a couple of round trips on the N Judah, downtown to the Ocean and back again. Like Steph, I thought about what I'd said versus what I should've said, how I could've won the argument and the exact point where I'd lost it instead. I remember worrying that maybe our marriage wasn't going to work —maybe she was packing while I was out, and maybe she'd tell me goodbye when I got home.
When I returned, though, Stephanie instantly apologized for hollering, and I apologized because I'd hollered too. We talked it through, kissed, made up, and basically lived happily ever after. And then we had fresh-baked muffins!
There were other arguments over the years, of course — that's a given, in a healthy marriage — but we never had another argument so heated. After we'd laughed a little about how furious we'd been, we agreed that one of us giving the other some space had worked out well. We talked about how little space we each had, and by 'space' I don't mean the real estate of the apartment, but that fact that we were spending absolutely all our time together.
We'd gone from both of us being single, being the absolute king or queen of our domain almost around the clock, to being a couple — nesting together, eating together, shopping, playing, sleeping, and erranding together. Unless one of us was at work, we were always together. We'd been together non-stop for months, spending all that time being a couple, but leaving no time where Steph could practice being Steph and I could practice being Doug.
So as we ate Stephanie's buttery muffins we devised a new rule: Either one of us could declare "peace & quiet" at any time, and when the declaration was made, one of us would clear out for a few hours. It didn't mean there was a problem or that one of us was angry; it was just a fact of life. "I need some peace and quiet" was not much different from "I need to go to the bathroom," and like the toilet, when you've gotta go, you've gotta go.
Peace & quiet was declared once or twice a week after that, always to our mutual benefit. PQ, we called it. It didn't matter who went out and who stayed in; what mattered was, when either of us needed some space, that space was immediately granted. One of us would go to the library, or a coffee shop, or just take a long walk, while the other stayed at home and had an empty apartment in which to think, chill, read, write, watch videos, or dance naked, all without an audience or any interruption.
There was a little diner out in the Avenues that Stephanie had discovered, and largely kept to herself. When she wanted peace and quiet, that's where she would sometimes go, with a book under her arm. She didn't keep the diner a secret — she would always point it out if we rode past the place on our way someplace else, and she took me to breakfast there a couple of times, and I liked it too. But it was mostly a Steph place.
Separately, both of us had a great time on PQ nights, so that the next day we could have a great time together. Neither of us had been aware that we needed it, but after PQ was invented, we both cherished it.
Stephanie and I would highly recommend PQ to any newlyweds, oldlyweds like us, or anyone who's head-over-heels in love and spending all their time together. To quote the wisdom of RuPaul, "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?" So start by loving yourself — give yourself the time and space you need.
* * * * * * * * * *
That first big argument was a real argument —we were definitely disagreed about something, even if I can't remember what. But most of our arguments were just misunderstandings. We didn't argue often, which is amazing in itself — how could two solitary life-long introverts mesh so well together? But when we did argue, it usually boiled down to one of us misspeaking, or one of us misunderstanding what the other said. We never had a strong disagreement about any philosophical question, any decision to be made, or anything that matters.
What did Stephanie and I disagree about? Not much, but I'll scratch my head and make a list.
Steph was proud of her first home town, Racine, and she would bristle a bit if I referred to it as a suburb of Milwaukee. "It's not a suburb of Milwaukee. Racine is its own place, with its own daily newspaper and two-time champions of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League." Well, that's true, I would counter, but folks in Racine watch TV stations out of Milwaukee and root for the Brewers in baseball. Then again, Racine is just 25 miles from Milwaukee. Yeah, but there's no direct freeway access so people commuting to Milwaukee would probably settle elsewhere. After a few rounds, we agreed that it's debatable whether Racine is a suburb or a city unto itself.
Rice — we disagreed about rice. Steph liked it and frequently ate it. Long grain, medium grain, short grain — she could tell the difference, by taste and texture. White rice, brown rice, basmati, jasmine, and Minute Rice were all on the shelf, and frequently on the plate. To me, they're all just calories and carbs without much flavor. If I'm yearning for serious carbs, I'd rather have potatoes.
We disagreed about the best route for driving downtown from our home on Madison's east side. She always wanted to go via East Washington Avenue (East Wash, in local parlance) — the speed limit is 35, and there are three lanes in each direction. I preferred Johnson Street — the speed limit is 25 mph, and there are only two lanes most of the way, but on East Wash the sluggish traffic lights seemed to negate any advantage from the higher speed limits. At least, that's what I thought. So when Steph was driving we went via East Wash, and I sighed, and when I was driving we went via Johnson, and Stephanie sighed.
Early on, we had some political differences — Stephanie was a progressive, and I was just exasperated with the whole political system. My cliché was that Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt, and voting for either side is a guaranteed disappointment. But as the Republican Party moved farther and farther toward just plain nuttiness, denying that climate change or racism even exist, I came to Stephanie's side of that squabble.
I've always worn seat belts by habit. Driving or riding, soon as I'm in the car I'm buckling up. But Stephanie didn't like wearing a seat belt, and would only wear one when we went onto the freeway.
She had more patience for NPR news/talk and commercial television than I could generally muster, and she hated the college music station that was my usual choice on the car radio.
We disagreed about Alfred Hitchcock. I'm a fan, and a few of his movies are among my all-time favorites. Steph had seen most of Hitchcock's stuff and respected him as a filmmaker, but she found his treatment of women hostile and problematic. And she never much cared for scary movies, in general. She liked The Shining and Cabin in the Woods, but not enough that she'd watch them a second time, and for the most part it's a genre she avoided. We talked about her aversion to scary movies once, as her health issues were mounting, and she said, "I watch movies to escape from the worries of my real world, not to add to them."
The Beatles. Steph liked to say that the Beatles were the most overrated band in history. "They might also be the best band in history, but they're so vastly overrated and idolized it's almost funny." Or, "The Beatles were the best but I don't care." Still, she would tap her toes to any Beatles tune that came on the radio, enjoying it until the disc-jockey or her husband reminded her that she was listening to the Beatles. Honestly, I think she about half-meant what she said about the Beatles being overrated, and the other half was just to needle me.
And she poured milk into the bowl, before adding cereal. Sorry, I absolutely can't endorse that.