Did I Do That? First and Foremost…A Sense of Humor!

Choosing the right mate can make or break your life.  How do I know that?  I’m married over four decades, I’m a practicing psychotherapist for 36 years, and I know what I’m talking about.  Here are my observations I tell every woman I know: Pick a mate with a humorous disposition and you’ll be blessed whatever the fates allow.  But, pick a mate without a sense of humor and you’ll pray daily for a sudden death by lightning sailing in the middle of Lake Mille Lacs, MN or Barnegat Bay, NJ.

I picked a humorous mate.

My husband and I met while riding together in a crowded elevator.  Being in our early 20’s we immediately fell under the spell of hormones.  Without hesitation, I seized his manly hands and blurted out, “Wow, you have really cold hands!”  (You see, I’m a great believer in breaking every rule of elevator propriety - be silent, stare straight ahead, and keep your hands to yourself.)  That very afternoon, leaning on the office coffee machine, he smiled a sexy grin and told me he thought I was fast.  Ha ha! on him.

Sometime after the elevator and coffee machine flirtations we drove to the Jersey Shore for a day of sailing. That breezy, glorious afternoon was the start of a great day with my date, Dick. After sailing several beautiful hours on the open bay, we docked and headed to the Surf City Hotel bar.  Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass’ “This Guy’s in Love with You” was playing on the jukebox and Dick joined Herb “karaoke style” while singing to me.  After much enthusiastic applause from the flip-flop and baseball cap-wearing sailing crowd, I smiled to myself and thought: he’s really cute but does this man’s charming side qualify him for a place on “The Potential Husband List?” 

Four years and two kids later, hearing Dick sing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” became my aphrodisiac.  Yes, my old-boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-father was not only cute; he was clever, encouraging me nightly to keep nursing our infant because “mother’s milk is so good for a baby!”  Yea, yea I would nod and smile as he fell back to sleep.

But is it enough to sustain a marriage when a man is a hoot or clever or looks like Matthew McConaughey?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but humor sure helps when a couple encounters rough tides with those typical struggles most relationships deal with sooner or later.  Sudden squalls don’t only occur in open water, they surface in marriages, all marriages.

When our own power and control issues rocked our little dinghy we sailed away from our safe harbor right into a counselor’s office.  It was a good decision. Why let our marriage topple over into a knockdown?  Weren’t we were better sailors than that? 

After the third session I realized we’d chosen Captain Calamity for a skipper, a counselor who knew jack about rough currents in a marriage of two strong equals.  That’s when I shot my husband “the eye,” then pushed the landlubber therapist overboard. “Doc, we’re cutting this last session short.” 

As I motioned my head toward the door, my husband and I stood up and exited.  That spontaneous gesture was like CPR to a drowning man – my husband’s humor returned before we even reached our parked car.  “Mare, wonderful executive decision!  I didn’t want to go to counseling in the first place and I didn’t like Doctor McClueless in the second place; besides, you’re my favorite therapist.”  There was that sexy grin again and with that smile an outpouring of looking back reflections.

“Mary Jane, remember when we were dating?”

Now he had my attention.

“How we used to play more?” 

Now I’m really paying attention.

“How we loved sailing?” 

I saw where this reverie was going.

“Remember buying that Sailfish sailboat when the kids were little?”

(What I remembered – and was smart enough to keep to myself - was him almost slicing his finger off while cutting a cork to plug some hole somewhere and his blood spilling all over the sail!)

In the enthusiastic voice of a newlywed he literally shouted, “Mare, what do you say we buy another sailboat?   Something bigger and flashier like an O’day 20!  Wouldn’t that be awesome fun?” 

A week later we were back sailing on the tranquil Jersey Bay like the days of yore.  Being surrounded by swooping gulls and brilliant sunshine in a nice clean O’day 20 on a perfectly fabulous July day gave me a splendid opportunity to practice the dreaded sport men hate and women love – “talking about our feelings and our relationship.”  But, guys, what man wouldn’t choose sailing under a gorgeous open sky with tuna salad on a Kaiser roll and a cold six pack no matter what the conversation was, versus being trapped in a closed car with a wife with a “this is what you didn’t do right” agenda?  Have I not found a universal man secret here?  And, as we women are occasionally inclined to do, I took advantage of the situation and threw my handsome skipper a compliment about what a tremendous sailor he was.  How he was right up there with the Irish navigator, St. Brendan, patron saint of boatmen, mariners and whales! 

These seductive sentiments barely splashed off my tongue when a fierce gust from nowhere whipped up causing the bay to whitecap wildly.  Because my husband wanted to immediately lower the sails before we swamped, I sprung into action and grabbed the tiller - how hard could that little job be?

“Mary Jane!” my husband’s voice shouted out over what were becoming gale force gusts, “Point the boat into the eye of the wind!”

Huh?  Like the French Lieutenant’s Woman I stared straight ahead searching frantically for some “crazy eye” blowing in the wind.  Again he shouted “eye of the wind!”  I stood frozen, paralyzed and like woman in shock knowing she was about to die.  That was not the response my husband was hoping for.

Before my eyes Dick had mysteriously morphed into Charlie, the savant brother of Raymond from the movie Rain Man - “Into the wind, into the wind, into the wind.” Now Dick’s voice constricted and he sounded shrill as he yelled to his lame crew – me. “Mary Jane, I can’t lower the sails unless the boat’s pointed into the eye of the wind!”  But, what I needed him to tell me was how to actually point the vessel because I couldn’t see the wind so how the hell could he?   Besides, turning a little wooden stick in the direction I wanted that dumbass sailboat to go didn’t work because ‘pushing the tiller right, the boat went left; pushing the tiller left, the boat went right’ made absolutely no sense.  

“Mary Jane, are you listening to me?” he roared.  Like a circus act our boat went around-and-around in a circle with our sails and mouths flapping like aggressive Canadian geese. That’s when I looked up and realized we were being observed from a nearby dock like dolphins had just been spotted, the free entertainment de jour.   And that’s when my husband yelled loud enough to have been heard in Atlantic City “Are you doing this just to tick me off?”  

I snapped out of my coma with that outrageous accusation and glared at him.  My jaw clenched and I let my rage fly, “You work the tiller and I’ll work those blankety-blank O’Malley, O’Shay, O’day sails!”  

Eventually we docked and walked in silence to a welcoming local pub.  After two icy Buds and a bowl of peanuts, we smiled at each other then started laughing at our “regressed behavior.”  “Don’t worry, Raymond,” I said, “You’re still the funniest and cutest man I know.  And you can be sure we’ll do a better job next time with the Sloop John B; because now we’ve learned you’re a tiller man and I’m a sail girl.”

We clinked our mugs.  I batted my eyes. I grabbed his manly hands all over again.


Published in Fall Issue Cruising Post Magazine Fall 2016