Relationships

The Action-Taker and the Second-Guesser

Every time we fight, we’re replaying an old argument that started when we were teenagers in 1961.

An older couple sitting in rocking chairs at sunset, mildly arguing as two lovebirds kiss overhead.
Doris Liou

Every couple has one core fight that replays over and over again, in different disguises, over the course of their relationship. In this series, couples analyze the origin and mechanics of their One Fight. To pitch your own One Fight (we’ll also accept pseudonyms, if necessary), email humaninterest@slate.com.

Ron and Linda Gee have been married for 55 years and have four children and 17 grandchildren. They live in Santaquin, Utah. This conversation was moderated by their grandson Anders Swenson.

Linda: Almost two decades ago, I was closing up the restaurant I worked in and counting money at the end of the night. And then I heard someone say “Linda!” I turned around and there was someone with a gun, and a pillowcase over their head: “Give me the money.” They grabbed the bag, and I, of course, because I’m stubborn, wouldn’t let go. I ended up pulling on the pillowcase. Once I got it off her, I pulled her by her ponytail and shook the shit out of her and jerked her all over hell. I realized she was a dishwasher that had worked the day shift! It was crazy. Once the cops were there, I called you to come pick me up. When you got there and I told you what happened, you were furious that I had fought back. You told me I shouldn’t have. That I should’ve just given them the money.

Ron: I was so worried. And so I told you that was so stupid. I said, “Don’t ever resist!” Was it worth it to risk everything to save one night’s worth of money? You just reacted without thinking. I couldn’t believe you did that. I still can’t.

Linda: That time you were right. That was stupid! You don’t fight somebody who’s got a gun! But this is a fight we have a lot. Sure, sometimes I just react and don’t think about it. But you’re always skeptical. You just think hard and don’t act, and then you question me when I do.

I remember times when we were going to go somewhere and you would never commit until right when we were leaving, and then you decided and then you were supposed to be up and ready to go. But I take action and get the things done. You second-guess me. That’s been our big fight.

Ron: You’re a hard head. One time you said, “I’m not going to argue with you anymore because you always think you’re right.” And I said, “Well, isn’t that why you argue? Because you think you’re right?” And you said, “Well, no. Sometimes I just argue with you because I know goddamn well you’re wrong.”

Linda: You think I’m stubborn, and I think you’re too skeptical.

Ron: I think you’ve gotten more forceful as you’ve gotten older. You’re just half-pissy sometimes.

Linda: We have plenty of little fights, like over your losing things. The flipper. [Editor’s note: That’s the remote control.] Or the nail clippers. I always had to be in charge of where everything went, because you couldn’t find it. “Linda! What have you done with the—”

Well, we both forget everything now. We can’t even remember enough to finish a sentence. You forgot our anniversary. But that’s no big deal.

Ron: You gave me some guff about that, but I don’t think you ever felt really bad about it.

Linda: You came home one time, and I handed you an invitation. You started swearing, “Now who the hell’s getting married now?” And you open it up, and it’s our invitation to our wedding with the date on it. That was my reminder that it was our anniversary.

Or, sometimes you’ll be on the computer and I’m in the washroom, and I’m supposed to be able to hear what you’re saying. And then you get frustrated when I keep saying, “What?! What are you saying?”

Ron: That’s not the truth.

Linda: That is the truth.

Ron: You just ignore me as long as you can get away with it. And I scream because I know you can hear me. But as soon as I get up from the chair to come talk to you, you start running toward me to see what I was saying.

Linda: No. You’ll sit next to me, and even then I don’t know what you’re saying. Because you don’t even use words. You’ll use a grandkid’s version of a word, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just out of the clear blue, you’ll hear a grandkid say something funny and then say it to me like I know.

Ron: [Laughs.] I heard our grandson McKais say “a shoke” instead of a shark. So I’ll say that. You’ll say, “What?” And I’ll just say, “A shoke.”

Linda: And I remember when we first got married, you’d never put the lid back on the toothpaste.

Ron: What? No. I don’t think so.

Linda: It’s true. Never put the lid on. Used to drive me crazy.

Ron: Oh, that’s not true.

Linda: You correct me all the time. I never remember things right. But you always do.

Ron: I was never wrong before. No sense in starting now. [Laughs.] But really I think I get a little bit like my dad used to, telling you the way it ought to be done, and then you get kinda irritated. “Now turn the water on this way.”

Linda: I’m in charge of all the cooking and meal planning, but you have always complained about meal time. “When are we eating? Don’t you think that’s too late?” Your dad did that to your mom too. I remember her saying “Oh, Les!” in the kitchen, so he would lay off.

Ron: It goes all the way back to the very first time we met. My buddy Jim Peterson came and picked me up and wanted to go for a ride. And these girls in a ’53 Ford truck kept honking at us, because we wouldn’t let them pass and go by. Finally we pulled up alongside you and asked what your names were. And Jim remembered he’d been introduced to you before. I said, what’s your name? You said “Tammy Miller.” And I said “Bullshit, it’s Linda Miller.”

Linda: I couldn’t change my last name, because it said “Miller Plumbing and Heating” on the door. I always lied about my name back then if I didn’t like who it was who was asking.

Ron: You were almost 17. I was 19.

Linda: That was April 2, 1961. But you thought it was just silly that I lied. You weren’t mad then.

Ron: It’s just that you have your version of the truth and I have to correct it sometimes, just like that day.

Linda: The thing is we don’t really argue. We state what we think and that’s it. We can both be stubborn. Well, like decorating. The living room. I’m not allowed to rearrange anything in there.

Ron: That’s because with the windows, there’s only one way for it to be.

Linda: That’s not true! The living room I can’t touch. It has to stay exactly that way.

Ron: How would you do it?

Linda: I’d put the couch across this way and the two chairs right—

Ron: Out in the middle of the room? Jesus Christ.

[Laughs.] The truth is I guess we kind of just got along from the start. We always were compatible for some reason.

Linda: We had some ups and downs but nothing too bad.

Ron: You were always easy to argue with.

Linda: We mostly do get along for some reason. We hold each other all night long. I have to twist and turn now with my knees and my hip … you know they get hurting. We sleep tangled up all night, except when I’ve had problems with my knee or my hip.

Ron: Right, then it’s harder for you to stay comfortable in one position.

Linda: Except now I have a CPAP, and it blows air into your face.

Ron: That doesn’t bother me at all. You’ll always say, “Oh, I’m sorry this is blowing air on you.” And I say, “Listen, Christ, if it blows air on me, I’ll move.”

Read other entries in Slate’s Our One Fight series:

Live a Little vs. Rainy Day

The Worrywart vs. the Zen Master

Stability vs. Adventure