Forms of revenge between married partners used to involve old-fashioned passive aggression warfare. My father was very comfortable with the aggressive part of that technique. Ergo, my mother honed her skills in the passive arena. Paternal ying to Maternal yang or some such. My parents have been married 65 years, so something must be working. Passive aggressive tactics have been the weapon of choice in my family for decades. Passive aggression is maddening beyond reckoning to the recipient. Alternatively, it’s very satisfying for the conflict-averse.
Boomers aren’t called the Silent Generation for nothing. When my mother was pissed at my father she cooked chicken and green vegetables for dinner. If she was feeling magnanimous and heard, she’d serve meat and potatoes, plus ice cream for dessert. Baked fish? Dad must have done something really bad this time. When my mother served salad, my sister and I wondered if the end of their marriage was near. Healthy food equated to an unaddressed marital dysfunction in my house. A stocked pantry bursting with potato chips and sugared-cereal signaled “We are fine! Our family is fine!”
Passive aggression does have its charms
Those who swallow passive aggression full throated have some things going for them. For instance, passive aggressive tactics give the other person another chance to read your fucking mind. My father should have totally known my mother wanted him to change the lightbulb by leaving a new bulb on the counter. Why should she have to, you know, say it out loud? Speak her mind? Does my father expect her to always state in clear terms what she wants or needs? Where’s the sport in that? Doesn’t a lightbulb speak for itself? He should have known after the first three decades what my mother wasn’t saying. After all, changing a burned-out lightbulb without being asked is the only way she will know he loves her.
Passive Aggressives have come a long way in their quest for equality to be regarded as irritating as their counterparts. Their spousal arsenals aren’t singularly fortified with revenge meals. Cooking and domesticity isn’t the only place passive aggressive people can excel. Case in point, behold Netflix. Netflix is the ideal weapon of choice for people who throw down and expect others to pick up their shit telepathically.
The last time my husband infuriated me, I took a ploy out of the midwestern passive playbook. I spite watched the first episode of House of Cards without him. Violation of this actual spoken rule to watch certain shows as a couple satisfies my sense of fairness. When you don’t do what you agreed to do ten days ago and I suddenly remember you didn’t do it, watch out. I’ve got this passive aggressive technique down so well, it is unknowable. I’m not sure how that helps my cause but somehow it works in my head.
passive aggression checkmate
What’s more, I can watch the second episode to really vex my husband without his knowledge. And when I’m mad as a hornet, I can binge watch an entire season of one of our shows. I can pretend I haven’t seen what happened to Zoe in the subway. Or when I’m at the optimal apex of irritation, I can wield that information like a knife. Without warning, I say simply: “By the way, Francis pushes her.”