Old married couples: Sitting quietly without speaking




You’ve heard the stories about old married couples. How they grow to look alike. And how they can sit quietly without speaking, enjoying the silence together.


Well, the first one is true. Old married couples look the same because all old people look alike. You may be taller, shorter, rounder, or skinnier than your spouse; and you may dye your hair, exercise, eat right, and use expensive creams, but sooner or later both of you will have to put on a wrinkled coat of skin, large ears, and a droopy nose, so you are properly dressed for the party called old age.


Of course, you can attend the party wearing a mask created by a plastic surgeon. But you can only wear it for a while before you need a new one. Keep doing that and eventually your mouth will be stretched so close to your ears that you can hear yourself drool. Did I mention drool? Well, lots of people at the party do. Not the mentioning, the drooling.


About that second idea: I believe half of it. Old couples often sit quietly without speaking, but not because they are enjoying the silence together. Something else is going on, something called “mamihlapinatapai.” (Note to reader: Impress your friends by casually using this word in a conversation. I’ve developed an easy pronunciation guide to help you in your impressiveness. Repeat after me: mommy – la piñata – pie.)


In the Yaphan language of Tierra del Fuego, it means “two people looking at each other without speaking, each hoping that the other will offer to do something which both parties desire but neither is willing to do.”


When old couples sit together in silence, both are hoping the other person will do what needs to be done, like washing the dishes, taking out the trash, buying more Depends, or remembering the names of the children. They may look as if they are resting in their love, but both of them are secretly willing the other to action: one silently repeats in his mind, “Make some dinner, make some dinner,” while the other one says over and over in her mind, “Fix us something to eat, fix us something to eat.” If they been together long enough, they’ll sense what the other person is trying to communicate, especially if they have their glasses on and can see what time it is. Then after one asks, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” the other one will nod, wipe the drool from the corner of her mouth, and order Chinese.




(Photo:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326])

28 thoughts on “Old married couples: Sitting quietly without speaking

  1. When telepathy fails, all a person needs to do is *sigh*. It is sure to jump start the conversation with a reply comment, such as “Really? You have to bring that up again? I told you I was sorry!” Then the silence will be broken. At least for a minute or two. Until the Chinese food arrives.

  2. What a lovely image you used to illustrate this post. I am very glad to hear old age is a party! My GP (doctor) has a sign in his surgery saying ‘old age is not for wimps’. It may not be PC but it always makes me smile when I look at it.

  3. Forgive me … E kala mai i’au ( Hawaiian for same )

    I really couldn’t believe “Mamihlapinatapai” … and your whimsical pronunciation … were actual representations of the truth. Surely you had taken some artistic license to create this extraordinary word.

    I should NEVER have doubted you! All your links and references in your delightful articles have ALWAYS checked out. And led me into new venues and enlightened me with new ideas.

    I should never have doubted you. मुझे माफ करना ( Hindi for same)

    • Thank you for your multi-lingual apology. But you were right to verify. Доверяй, но проверяй (Russian for “Trust but verify.”) I do like my facts pretty, so I’m not above dressing them up a bit. 🙂

    • The silence is nice because you can talk to one another if you want to, but you don’t have to. There’s always the chance that my husband will prepare dinner. He’s been doing that more and more these last few years. It’s quite a gift.

  4. My wife and I have only been married five years, so we don’t have this form of communication down yet. We are still at the point where we have to actively attempt to manipulate one another. Can’t wait for those restful years ahead.

  5. We have been married just two years, and mommy – la piñata – pie is already a well-established way of life…. Thanks so much for putting a word on our behavior!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s