We were having dinner with another couple the other night, and the wife was telling a story, a story that her husband probably didn't want her to tell. She would start to tell part of it and then he would insert something, and she would look at him with some frustration and on it would go. Eventually, he started to interrupt her again, but she talked over and, during a pause, leaned in to him and whispered, "S.T.F.U."
As in, "Shut the f%&k up!" if you don't travel in those linguistic circles. I was the only one who heard it.
I was taken a little aback, not because I'm all that prudish, but because it surprised me coming from her. Although I don't know her all that well, she has the reputation of a conservative, church-going, strait-laced, FOX-watching woman, and so, I didn't expect that to be a part of her vocabulary.
But I was more shocked that she said it all. "Shut the f#*k up." Quietly, mercilessly. As an outside observer, I didn't think that he had done anything to merit that, but I don't know everything of the history of their day, or, that much, their marriage.
I just don't think that is something that one person in a cohabiting relationship of any kind says. For the record, and I'm not trying trying to seize moral high ground here, I'm just letting you know where I'm coming from, I have never said that to my wife, never said, "f&^k you," never have called her a "bitch" or the more notorious "c-word."
That doesn't mean that I haven't thought it or that I have a pure mouth (those who know me know that I don't) or that I haven't said far more hurtful things. But it does mean that I think we should draw a line. It means I think we have an obligation to our spouse or significant other to show some restraint with the magic words that can cause things to escalate quickly and irrationally.
The things that we say that are intended to hurt and dismiss do not, in my experience, ever go away. Instead, they chip away at the protections and civilities that we establish between us in order to carry on the difficult, never-the-same-day-twice work of a long term relationship. Once we have told someone to "shut the f@$k up," there's a crack there that can't be repaired.
You can't tell someone to "S.T.F.U." and then retreat to a position of "Oh, I didn't really mean that" or "I don't know why I said that." You said because that is exactly what you wanted to happen. Stop interrupting, stop giving input, stop thinking that we're teasing here, stop thinking that I am at all interested in anything that you have to say.
And in public. I'm sure she doesn't know that I heard it. He didn't wince. She said it in a level tone that implied that she found it perfectly acceptable to say. As I recall, she even achieved the desired effect. He didn't look at me to see if I'd heard, so we could make knowing eye contact. No, everything just went on. The story got told. He was the "bad guy" in it. Etc.
Maybe the problem is nothing to do with their relationship at all. Maybe it is my perception. Because I'm the one who can't shake it. I'm the one who has that as the main memory of them now--of a man a little less strong than I thought he was, of a woman who is a little less nice. And maybe I needed to be rocked a bit in my gender understanding of those two preconceptions. But I am convinced that he would never have said it to her.