A recent British study found that the longer couples are married, the less they have to say to each other over the course of an hour-long meal. In other words, the social scientists assigned data to one of my greatest fears: that my husband and I will become the couple in the restaurant eating together, but not saying a word to each other except, "Pass the salt."
How bad does it get? Listen to these numbers: Couples who are dating chat for 50 minutes out of the hour. Presumably, breathing, eating and imbibing take up the remaining 10 minutes. Immediately after marriage, the downward trend kicks in, with the time spent talking dropping to 40 minutes per hour. Twenty years into marriage, the average couple talks for 21 minutes of the hour; 30 years in, conversation takes up 16 minutes. And by 50 years of marital bliss, the average couple converses for three minutes in an hour! That's 150 words or less in an entire meal! I'm guessing "Are you still breathing?" takes up most of the conversation time.
No wonder Al and Tipper Gore are going their separate ways after 40 years; they only have about five minutes of conversation a day! Who wouldn't want to go back to the chatty days of dating? And, to do that, apparently, you have to be dating, so time to ditch the spouse.
I, on the other hand, would like to stay married—but not in silence. After absorbing the findings in the British study, I took a long look at how much conversation my husband of 17 years and I engage in during a typical weeknight dinner, on the rare night when we have dinner together. If you take away the discussion about youth sports logistics, homework plans, trips to the vet and what to add to the grocery list, we are pretty much down to "Pass the salt." Yes, we are the couple in the restaurant even when we are sitting in our home.
Time to reverse the trend, I've decided. I've made a list of interests to cultivate over the next 20 years, so my husband and I don't run out of the little conversation we have left when the kids leave the house and we are stuck with each other.
I picked sports over politics because it still has the same intrigue and passion but not the potential to lead to fights and hurt feelings. And, there are so many sports and only two real political parties, so the variety of topics is greater. I'm researching esoteric sports like archery and skeeball to throw into the mix during the NFL off-season.
I have resisted becoming one of those annoying foodies who question the "origin" of their vegetables at every meal, but now I am rethinking my position. If talking about field greens will save my marriage, I'm willing to indulge.
We had a house guest last year that participated in historical reenactments of Civil War battles. Seriously, this lovely man never stopped talking the entire weekend about his alter ego, a Union foot soldier. I'm not really that into the Civil War, but again, if assuming the identity of a battlefield nurse in 1862 will keep my husband and I conversing, I'll give it a go.
What do you and your spouse talk about over dinner?
Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, ChaosChronicles.com, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.
Published on July 07, 2010