Mark Sherman: Too close for comfort

Mark-Sherman SQUAREMany years ago, when e-mail began replacing genuine human contact even between close friends, I received one from a friend who lived some 260 miles away, in which, among other things, he mentioned a woman he’d met — professionally — who was quite attractive. He followed this up with sending me an article containing her picture.

I agreed with his assessment and said so in an e-mail reply.

I heard back from him quickly.

“My wife was not too happy to see what you’d written,” he wrote.


Huh? I thought to myself. How could his wife know what I’d written to him? And then I realized, looking more carefully at his e-mail address, which contained the first initials of his and his wife’s name: They shared the address. This was my first experience with spouses sharing an e-mail, and at first I felt kind of guilty. But then my next thought was, Hey, listen, if you’re going to share an e-mail address, things like this are going to happen.

Since then I’ve found that many couples use one e-mail. What are you saying? That you don’t trust each other enough to have separate e-mails? Or that you are just so close, so wrapped up in each other’s lives, that you have taken that old adage about marriage making two people into one just a bit too seriously?

Are you essentially saying, I have no secrets from my spouse?

Come on, get a life! I love my wife incredibly much, but I do have secrets. Nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing illegal, but just stuff that I don’t wish to share with her. If you have no life of your own, who are you?

(I realize, as I write this, that I am not being open-minded enough, but I’m tired of being open-minded. It really is exhausting. I just turned 72, and if I’m not going to be straightforward about my feelings now, then when will I be?)

Couples do vary widely in how close they are. But I think the modern record for closeness has to be Michael Roach and Christie McNally, who, according to a New York Times story in May 2008, had “vowed to never (be) apart by more than 15 feet or so.”

Here are some examples of their togetherness: They lived in a 22-foot wide yurt in the middle of the Arizona desert, and, according to that Times story, “they (ate) the same foods from the same plate and often read the same book, waiting until one or the other finishe(d) the page before continuing.” And in what really seemed to be taking this togetherness stuff just a little too far, in their little yurt their commode was right next to their double bed, “elegantly disguised as a wood side table.”

If he was “inspired by an idea in the middle of the night, she (rose) from their bed and follow(ed) him to their office 100 yards down the road, so he (could) work.”

Finally, on top of all this, they vowed to be celibate. Apparently, they kept up this relationship for about ten years, though — no surprise to me — it ended in divorce. The story is not a simple one, since both were on a particular spiritual path, but still, think about never being more than 15 feet away from your partner — and not even sharing the usual marital intimacies.

Another couple, one of whom is a journalist, tried this themselves as an experiment. But they only did it for 24 hours. The husband wrote in Slate, “The experiment was not nearly as disturbing as I expected it to be. I hope that’s partly a tribute to the strength of our marriage — we find it easy to keep company with each other, thank God. I’m sure it’s partly a tribute to the routinized banality of our lives, which ensured no melodrama. On the other hand, I don’t think I could have made it another 24 hours. The next morning, as soon as I woke up, I grabbed the sports section, fled to the downstairs bathroom — one flight of stairs, 50 feet and a psychological mile from Hanna — and locked myself in.”

His wife seemed a little happier with it, feeling that it brought them a new closeness. She wrote of the morning which ended their 24-hour experiment: “The next morning, I have to admit, I feel slightly disappointed when I wake up and David has already snuck away.”

The couple was Hanna Rosin and David Plotz, and the fact that a few years later she wrote the article, and then the book, titled The End of Men, may reflect at least partly her disappointment with her husband’s feelings about their 24 hours of never-apartness. But whether men are ending or not, Hanna and David are still together. Maybe it’s living in a house rather than a yurt and having bathrooms — with doors. And even two e-mails.