When you live with someone for a long time, you adopt their bad habits … because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a divorce or coronary. It’s a form of compromise. You tell yourself, “I don’t like that, but I can’t change it, so I’ll do it, too!”
For example, my wife used to go nuts when she found my dirty socks under the bed, but now she puts hers there, too and feels a lot better. (Just kidding.) The truth is Sandy carefully monitors my behavior so I don’t slip into a vortex of bad habits. I am blessed.
Last week, we were approaching the stop light when it turned yellow, so I pushed down on the accelerator and she started screaming, “You’re gonna get us killed!!!” Honestly, my intention wasn’t to kill anyone. It was only to get my daughter to the train on time because she and my wife have another bad habit — they’re always late.
With her encouragement, I no longer run lights or at least try not to. And because of her habit-monitoring program, I no longer eat candy bars when my energy is flagging. Instead, I have some apple slices because it’s better for my health. After the apple, my energy isn’t flagging anymore so I can sprint out to my car, where I’ll hide in the backseat and devour a Snickers.
These are a few examples of how any couple that has lived together in marital bliss can change each other … for better or for worse, as they say when you stand before God and man in holy matrimony.
During the past year, I’ve adopted one of her habits and I can’t break it!!! No matter how hard I try!!! She uses exclamation points whenever she text-messages me. I guess she wants to make her point, or maybe she thinks she has to emphasize it to get me to listen.
I could be driving around town, minding my own business and looking for an opportunity to spend money I don’t have at the bookstore or Starbucks, when suddenly I get a text-message: “We need milk! Be sure to buy lactose free! No fat!! Not two percent!”
She probably thinks the more exclamation points she uses, the more likely I am to get it right!!! So I pull out of the Starbucks drive thru and head for ShopRite, at which point I receive another text-message: “And don’t forget to pick up your shirts at the cleaners!”
Exclamation points make me nervous. They cause anxiety and high blood pressure. They remind me of when I was a kid and my mother was always yelling at me: “CLEAN YOUR ROOM!” “BRING OUT THE GARBAGE!” “PICK YOUR CLOTHES UP OFF THE FLOOR!”
I don’t think I ever knew a person who used exclamation points until I met my wife … and then my daughters came along and I saw messages like BFF!!!! XOXOX!!! GO GAELS!!! PAUL ASKED ME OUT!!!
Even though I’m Italian and prone to excitability, I’ve tried to maintain a peaceful demeanor, and one of the ways I’ve done that has been through the restrained and judicious use of the exclamation point, which after years of teaching grammar I concluded was a virtually useless mark of punctuation that should never have been invented! But now I’m hooked!
There are 14 punctuation marks: the period, question mark, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, apostrophe, quotation marks, ellipsis and exclamation point. (I think we could easily get rid of five of them, even though they tend to be the ones I use in this column.)
Now, when Sandy text-messages me and says, “You need to come home soon! We have dinner with the Cincottas tonight!” I text-message her back: “I’m on my way!!! Be sure you’re ready!!!” If she uses one, I’ll use three. It’s like the nuclear arms race between Russia and America.
It’s reached a point where we’re suffering from exclamation point overload. Even though I’m using more of them, it’s not having the same effect. One doesn’t satisfy the urge! So I resort to three!!! I’m trying to control my habit, and I’m trying to cut down to one exclamation point per sentence! But I just can’t!!!!
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.