“It is not what I know about my wife that interests me but what I don’t know.” A friend said these words to me as we were sucking down smoothies at Juice it Up in Carlsbad or Encinitas (it’s on the border so I’m not sure which). He went on to say that after seeing the new Star Trek his wife told him about the first time she saw the old TV show, who she was with, what they thought and said. He went on to say that, suddenly he saw a different woman from the one he thought he knew sooo well. She became a new person and he found himself interested in her all over again—even a bit flirtatious.
My friend led me to thinking about curiosity as the spice of relationships not just the killer of cats. Famous writer and knower of human complexities, Honore de Balzac said, “Marriage must incessantly contend with a monster that devours everything, familiarity.” OK, so you didn’t know I could be so literary. That is just one of the parts of me that may be unfamiliar to my spouse. Hmmmmmm.
Dinner at the Beach House in Cardiff afforded the opportunity to ask a long married couple friend of ours, Michael and Sara, how they stay curious, a question they thought bazaar until I offered an explanation. Oh, another research project, they muttered then answered the question. Michael told us about a game he played with his son, from another relationship, on the days they met for “Dad’s Day.” “The Questions Game” arose from the blacktop of Magnolia Elementary School in Carlsbad and continues to this day from the boardroom of a busy Del Mar investment firm where the son now works.
The rules require that one party ask the second party a question that and this is the really important part, they, the first party, does not know the answer to. This can be a bit tough for a dad to ask his 6-year old but it is the foundation of trust, which is the protective playing field, needed for honesty. Then, of course, the tables are turned and the kid gets to ask Dad anything. Although “the game” often started with playful subjects like where you would most like to travel or what would you do with a million dollars, it created a foundation of trust for when scarier subjects (you know the ones—drugs, sex, grades, etc.) needed discussing.
“The Questions Game” morphed from a kid-centered relationship building experience to a gizmo Michael and Sara often used just to fill the time. They talked about spicing up a quiet coffee hour at Starbucks in the Encinitas Lumberyard with questions like: What was your high school prom like? What is your fondest food memory? Did your mom or dad actually write checks out for the bills? Etc. Just one of these questions led to conversations that brought new and interesting information to the table. While watching Coast Highway traffic trickle by, this couple found a way out of familiarity and into curiosity. They have a 25-year marriage that has been through enormous challenges and still serves them like a warm quilt cocooning them on a blustery day on the beach in La Jolla.
So, I’m curious, can I ask you a question?