In a couple of weeks, my wife and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary. We've been married for five years, but the time has whizzed by. I could swear we only got married a few months ago. No matter how long you date or stay engaged or prepare yourself, I don't think anybody really knows what to expect once they're married. But I'm happy to say that we really haven't had any unpleasant surprises with each other so far. (Well, maybe I shouldn't speak for her, but I
haven't had any unpleasant surprises.) I think that part of me was secretly expecting that somehow, some way, the other shoe was going to drop eventually: I would find out that she drove me crazy when she revealed some previously hidden irksome habit, or she would get unreasonably irritated by my perfectly delightful personality quirks. The truth is, she's almost impossible to get mad at. She's too content, too understanding, too nice. In fact, there's really only one thing she does that ever raises my hackles. It's really my issue more than hers. But when she does it — when anybody does it — I get disproportionately irritated.
The way to get my goat is this: ignore me when I ask you a direct question.
It can be any question, any situation, any topic. It could be "what should we have for dinner?" or "can you pass me that wrench?" or "how did the meeting go?" I don't mind a reply of "just a second" or "can we talk about it later" or even a brusque "not now." Answer in detail, answer tersely, answer intensely, answer absentmindedly: just answer.
I understand that the world doesn't stop when I ask it a question. Sometimes people are distracted, or something more important is going on, or maybe even my question seems merely rhetorical (how does anyone really know when a question is rhetorical, anyway?). I admit I'm kind of unreasonable on this point. But when the question just sits there, unrequited, unremarked, it sets me on edge.
The worst example of this phenomenon is the non-reply to an invitation. I'm not really much of a stickler for formality in most cases. We live in a very informal world, and I'm okay with that. But I do think that if someone invites me to something — whether it's via an elegant printed invitation to a wedding, or a less formal evite to a party, or a quick e-mail asking me to attend an impromptu meeting tomorrow — I should give them the courtesy of a response. I think a lot of people assume that not responding is equivalent to "I will not attend," but I take it differently. I take it not as "I am unable to attend" but as "your invitation is so unimportant to me that I couldn't even be bothered to reply."
I should admit, I don't think I'm perfect at practicing what I preach. I think there have been evites and Facebook invitations and e-mails that I've neglected. And I know there are people who are a lot busier than I am and who might find it nearly impossible to keep up with all of the requests for their attention. It can be hard to make sure you reply to every single thing that comes your way. But I'm trying to get better about responding. And I invite everyone to do the same.