When Couples Argue

I just came back from lunch at Interlude.

Beside me were a couple, apparently from New York but temporarily resident on the Island. They were having an argument. A persistent, complex-sounding argument that went on and on and on. And at voice levels such that it was impossible for me to not get dragged into it, yet quiet enough so that I had no real idea of the substance. There were lots of exasperated statements like “I try to communicate, but you never listen.”

All of this was made more disturbing by the antagonists dropping out of inward-argue mode and into outward “cold enough for you?” mode as their friends and aquaintances walked by. For some reason, seeing this public, private, public, private flip was quite stressful for me (let alone them, I assume): it was as if I suddenly came to realize that everyone has an inward an outward facing personality.

It’s amazing, too, how unimportant and insubstantial other people’s arguments sound when you have no personal involvement with them or their subject matter. I came halfway towards slamming down my chopsticks, turning to them, and shouting “why can’t we just all get along.” But I didn’t.

I’m left thinking that everyone should argue in the public arena. Or that we should take great pains to never do so.

In any case, Interlude temporarily ceased to be an urban oasis for at least this afternoon.


oliver's picture
oliver on December 20, 2004 - 19:36 Permalink

In your equivocation I think I hear your inner Japanese arguing with your inner Israeli. Or your inner proletarian slum dweller with your inner artistocratic noble. I’m not sure which I prefer myself.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 20, 2004 - 22:22 Permalink

I just realized the metaphor or connotations of the word “coarse” are really apt here. e.g. I think it would be typical to characterize the behavior of those New Yorkers as “coarse” and likewise to characterize the potential effect of your exposure to this behavior, Peter, as a “coarsening” of your own behavior or sensibilities. You described being insensitive to the particulars of your table neighbors’ dispute. In analogy to physical coarseness, it’s as if you were receiving input through a mental camera whose pixels or grains of emulsion were too coarse to resolve details and so only recorded the grosser features. “Coarseness” also seems apt in that your coarsening came about from dining in a city restaurant where families get packed together and, in particular, yours ended up beside a couple that learned their manners in the densely populated environment of New York (and tying this in to what I posted above, the low-rent, high-density proletariat tend toward what gets called coarseness by the high-rent, highly private aristocrats who call themselves “refined” or “keenly sensitive.” This makes it seem like we back up with our emotional cameras to take in however many lives are in front of us at the expense of making out the faces.

Ken's picture
Ken on December 21, 2004 - 01:03 Permalink

Forget about it.