When Tom and I were young and dating, we’d sometimes notice an older couple sitting in a restaurant in total silence. We wondered if perhaps they were mad at each other and using the silent treatment. But their facial expressions didn’t hint at an argument.
Were they mute? No, that couldn’t be it because they’d occasionally ask for refills on their iced tea.
So if they weren’t mute and they weren’t mad, then why weren’t they talking? We finally decided it must be boredom. Maybe they’d been together so long that there was nothing left to say. “So sad,” we’d say. Then we’d stare into each other’s lovey-dovey eyes and feel privately smug because we knew that would never happen to us. Because we were young and in love and endlessly fascinating.
Then we got married. And had kids. And years went by. And now we know exactly why those older couples in restaurants aren’t talking. And it’s not because they’re dull. And it’s not because they’re bored. It’s because they don’t have to.
An interesting thing happens when you’ve been married for a while. Betrothed brains begin to operate on the same frequency. They become so finely tuned to each other that thoughts from one brain can jump — invisibly and wordlessly — into the other brain.
During the past few years, it has happened to me and Tom more times than we can count. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s downright creepy, as if someone has tunneled into your brain and can pluck your thoughts like grapes off a vine.
Skeptics might dismiss it as mere coincidence or a predictable thing that happens when two people’s daily lives intersect in so many ways. But married people can tell you it’s not just coincidence or familiarity. Because sometimes the randomness of the thought and the timing convince us there’s something else going on.
Our theory? It’s “marital mind meld” — when two married brains join forces and instinctively know what the other one is thinking. I’m not sure if it means the couple is now using a combined super-brain or that, over time, each spouse ends up with half a regular brain that functions best when it’s in close proximity to their spouse’s half-brain. The jury is still out on that one.
But I can tell you that marital mind meld is often convenient –— like when one spouse knows the other one is ready to leave a party and helps out by telling the host that they need to get home and pay the babysitter. Or when, during a long car trip, one spouse wishes out loud for a Dairy Queen dip cone and the other person was — just at that very second — craving a dip cone, too.
This brain-sharing phenomenon isn’t foolproof, however. There are lots of times when Tom says the very thing I was just thinking, but sometimes our wires get crossed and we end up in a tense faceoff yelling things like, “What were you thinking?”
But after nearly 20 years of marriage, he’s still the person who makes me feel the most joy and the one who makes me the most furious, too. He makes me laugh and cry. He knows the best and worst of me.
So if you see us in a restaurant one day and we’re not talking much, don’t feel bad for the quiet middle-aged couple in the next booth. There’s actually plenty of conversation going on, but you can’t hear it. It’s just between his brain and mine.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. This column was originally published in 2012. Her book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” is available on Amazon.