Column: Is your spouse making the grade?
A writer in the Wall Street Journal with no irony whatsoever suggested recently giving your spouse a performance review. The writer admitted that the review started as a joke but has since (begin strikethru) spiraled out of control and she doesn’t know how to make it stop (end strikethru) become a fixture in her life. Thanks to last year’s performance review of the writer’s mother, her family now has infinite meatballs!
Clearly, this is worth trying. The article urged you to structure your review like a hamburger — soft bun of compliments, meat of real criticism, lettuce of areas for improvement (this point in the analogy somewhat lost me) and further bun of more compliments. With this in mind:
“Do you know what time of year it is?” Susan asked, breathlessly.
Jim looked alarmed. “Happy anniversary!” he shouted, pulling a small jewel box out of his pocket. (He kept that box there all the time for occasions like this.)
Susan looked puzzled. “No,” she said. “It’s time for our Annual Performance Reviews!”
“Oh,” Jim said. He put the small box back into his pocket and cleared his throat a few times before looking at the folder that Susan had handed him. It seemed awfully thick. “Right,” he said. “Performance review.”
At the top he read, “Spouse Name: Jim Krobusian.”
“Heh,” Jim said. “Good thing you cleared up which spouse I was.”
Susan did not smile.
“Performance Goal: Be Excellent Husband,” Jim read. “Subcategories: Arrive at Events in a Timely Fashion: Fair. Raise Children Correctly: See Section Two. Take Part in Conversation at Dinner Table: Poor.”
“This will come up further in the PowerPoint,” Susan said.
“PowerPoint, huh?” Jim swallowed. “Spousal Duties: Good. Complete Household Chores in a Timely Fashion: Fair.” He glanced around the room. “I think I might need a drink for this.”
“Please consult Subcategory Seven,” Susan said, pointing.
“Have Relationship Chats Without Use of Social Lubricants,” Jim read. “Poor.”
He reached into his pocket for a flask that he had cleverly disguised as a flask that might have water in it by writing WATER FLASK on the side. “I’ll just have some water,” he said.
Susan sighed. “Please, if you could turn your attention to the PowerPoint screen,” she said.
Jim took a long swig and looked.
“Dinner Conversation Topics,” read a large pie chart. “Your Job. Things Going On At Work. That One Co-Worker (Angela). How Much Fun You Had Drinking In College. How Upset You Are With Your Parents For Doing Something That Doesn’t Seem That Bad So Either You’re Explaining It Poorly Or You’re Wrong. How Much You Regret Drinking This Weekend. Things Angela Said That Seemed Insightful To You. How Excited You Are For Vacation. Bold Blanket Statements Based on Reading Only The Headlines Of News Stories, Not The Actual Stories. Wrong Opinions. Long Pointless Story About Item You Bought That Has A Problem With It. Dull Thing You Read On The Internet. Dull Thing You Said Earlier To Someone And Thought Was Insightful. Joke That Isn’t Funny. Long Boring Vaguely Condescending Explanation Of Topic That I Know More About Than You. Comment On Food. Vague Fears About People With Different Political Opinions ‘Screwing Everything Up.’ “
“This,” Susan said, gesturing at the pie, “could stand to be improved.”
“Are you angry?” Jim asked. “This chart sounds kind of angry.”
“No,” Susan said. “Not angry. Just specific. I’ve just had a year to aggregate data.”
Jim took another swig. “I say interesting things.”
Susan made a face that Jim had always thought was her affectionate face. “Sure you do, sweetie,” she said.
“I do,” Jim said. “They’re interesting. I read the other day that the universe might be a big hologram.”
“Did you?” Susan said.
“Isn’t that crazy?” Jim said. “I think that’s crazy. Imagine the whole universe being just a big hologram.” He took another swig.
“What else did the article say?”
“Well,” Jim prevaricated, “it got a little technical.” He glanced at his folder again. “Pick Up Children From Events in Timely Fashion: Fair. Read to Children: Good. Use Appropriate Language Around Children: Poor. Maintain United Front in Arguments: Poor. Complete Sensitivity Training and Compliance: Fair.”
“This is really weird,” Jim said. “I don’t like this. If you’re angry, just tell me.”
“I’m not angry,” Susan said. “The Wall Street Journal said we should do this.” Susan gave a stiff, short nod. “We do what the Wall Street Journal says in this household.” She smoothed her tailored suit and nodded meaningfully to their dog, who understood her now after she had learned from the Journal how to communicate with him. “Well, Jim, do you have a folder for me? What are your thoughts on my performance?”
Jim finished his flask. “I think,” he said, “just because the Wall Street Journal says a thing doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post.