I have a question about handling something that is both great and annoying. My husband is a big believer in “only touch it once” (known to some as OTIO). His baseline philosophy is that he tries to solve problems or deal with papers immediately. So, if he is opening mail to deal with bills he has his checkbook next to him, he writes the check, stuffs and seals the envelope, stamps the envelope, and sets the envelope aside before he opens the next piece of mail. Then, when he’s done with mail, half the time he’ll walk the bills down to the mailbox on the corner. If we are talking after dinner about how we really need to check in with, say, Aunt Tina about dinner next week he will whip out his phone and send the email to Aunt Tina right then. Or, if I am spitballing about, say, the cost of a trip to Florida during the kids’ spring break out comes the computer to “replace speculation with data.”
Now, I understand why he does this because it started when we were already married. When he was a first-year medical resident (emergency medicine) he got into very hot water with an attending physician who came after him for dropping the ball on some task. We later learned that this attending is a known jerk but it obviously spooked my husband. His super-human ability to manage a billion tasks in his head got him through medical school but his previous system was not working in a busy ER. After talking to some other young doctors, he learned about OTIO and it really worked for him.
Now, most of the time this is great! Stuff gets done! Bills are paid on time, we hear back from Aunt Tina, and things get pushed from vague ideas to actual activities. The problem is that it sometimes makes conversation and interactions less smooth. It’s like he takes everything literally: If I say we should check in with Aunt Tina, I don’t necessarily mean we need to talk to her, maybe I’m just saying I’m thinking about her. And, there are times when I wish he would finish paying bills sooner so we can go ahead and start the movie on TV. It’s like a bunch of little micro-interruptions and delays in the course of a conversation. And if I’m talking about prices, I’m just assessing his (and my) interest in Florida as a destination. He can’t quite read the room sometimes.
In the mix here is that I feel a little self-conscious about complaining about his “get it done now” attitude. A few years ago we were going to fly to an adults-only reunion weekend and the main event was a costume party. I was going to wear these really fun large-dot pantyhose as the centerpiece of my costume because they were a play on my name and the theme of the event. My husband was going to the store a few days before and asked, “Do you want me to buy you the stockings for your costume?” I said “No, I’ll get them,” he said, “OK”, and then we both forgot about it. (In his mind he had only touched it once!) When it was time to go, I had of course not purchased the stockings, there was not enough time to buy them in my home city before the flight, and none of the stockings at the local stores near our destination had the right size dots to make the joke work. Let’s just say that I did not handle my disappointment well and his “I wish you had just let me buy them for you” was pretty painful to hear even if he was really nice about it. (He really is a nice man.)
So, I am grateful for a responsible husband but would appreciate help managing this low-level friction that comes from his OTIO obsession!
—Why, Oh Why OTIO?
Joel Anderson: Let’s start here. “I actually got excited and a little jealous reading about your husband’s behavior.” Do we have a problem that I need to know about?
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Calm down! I’m jealous that I’M not like this. That said, if you ever wanted to touch your snobby private high school alumni magazine just once or twice before tossing it instead of letting it sit on the kitchen counter for months I wouldn’t object.
Joel: I resent the characterization of my all-boys Catholic school in Houston as “snobby,” especially in comparison to your lovely alma mater, which is nestled on a hill in the most expensive county in the country. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ll do better. All that said: Homeboy needs to settle down.
He’s found an approach that works for him, and that’s great. He’s unfortunately not being considerate enough about how that might affect his wife and he’s going to need to back up a little (actually, a lot).
Jenée: *Annoying Twitter Former Debate Team Person Voice* But let me play Devil’s advocate. What if he said she’s messing things up—like she did when she procrastinated and forgot to buy her stockings? That affects their relationship, too. He doesn’t want their lives to be in disarray. Can he count on her to get stuff done if he doesn’t do it right away?
Joel: That’s fair. And I’d like to know more about how she handled her disappointment about the stockings because I could absolutely see him not being able to resist “I told you so” if she was taking it out on him or implying that he had some obligation to clean up her mistake here.
I don’t know how often this happens, or how meaningful the stakes are in those instances. So yeah, it’s possible he adopted “OTIO” to compensate for her failure to get shit done. Like, maybe this is a silly question but: Have they ever talked about their respective approaches here? Like, maybe he sometimes can’t read the room because she left it so damn messy. But they don’t appear to have had any conflict, let alone a conversation, about how their respective behaviors grate on each other.
Jenée: Yeah that’s why I think, whatever she suggests needs to avoid leaving him with a long list of things that may or may not get done. In my mind, “Just focus on me for this block of time every day [or week]” is a reasonable request that doesn’t ask him to abandon his approach. I bet not having stuff accomplished gives him anxiety. And managing that matters.
Joel: You love this guy so much. Maybe you should marry him.
Jenée: LOL I’m not gonna lie. As I said, I love the idea of not having anything hanging over my head! Let me enjoy a healthy fantasy life!
Joel: Oh, that can be accommodated as long as what’s good for the goose is good for the gander—someone who immediately cleans their own cups in the sink, for instance.
Jenée: Wow. They are soaking.
Joel: But anyway, and more seriously: I do think he should do his best to limit this to his own life. It’s obviously working for him, professionally and personally. The problem is thoughtlessly coercing his wife into adopting OTIO, like immediately forcing her to make a decision about hanging out with Aunt Tina when she doesn’t have all of the information needed to do so. It’s hard for people to mind their own business (ahem) in a marriage, but to the extent that he can, he should consider it. And maybe limit his “I told you so” to once or twice a year because then they’ll have more impact but will seem a little fairer in a crisis.
Jenée: Yeah, there’s a big difference between LW not having tights and like, not doing what she needs to do so they can get their taxes done. He can let some stuff go.
Joel: And she should aspire to not consign him into her harried, messy life. Like, don’t make his life hard and then blame him for it. Sounds easy but who knows if it really is here?
Jenée: Who knows … just like who knows if your husband is secretly seething about coffee cups (wasn’t there some big article about a divorce that happened because of this) in the sink? [Editor’s note: There is.]
Joel: All I’m saying is a dirty cup left in the sink essentially demands a simple question: Who’s supposed to handle this? Let me enjoy a healthy fantasy life!
Jenée: OK we’ve now entered into the couple’s therapy portion of the chat. We’ll take it offline. Thanks … I think.