I came home late Thursday with a bottle of merlot from Chile, rosé all day from Italy (both on precipitous sale at Ralphs), two pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and a bouquet of rustic flowers. There was no box of condoms, as this was an apology package. I didn’t sleep with the nanny, which would have required a minimum of Veuve and Häagen-Dazs.
Here’s what happened. My parents, brother, wife and I are on a text thread. I try my best to keep up a steady stream of baby pictures because a) my mom aggressively requests them, even going as far as stalking my wife on WhatsApp when her SIM card didn’t work overseas and b) I’ve never seen my parents show more outward affection.
On Thursday morning I sent a close-up of the baby’s face, selecting the picture from the tile view in iOS. I had forgotten in the bottom left corner was a perfectly isolated shot of my wife’s nipple, protruding like a Himalayan peak on a clear day. This was taken while the creature had peeled off her breast during feeding.
Immediately I received a FaceTime call from her that ended abruptly in tears. The flowers and ice cream were mandated shortly thereafter via text. I gladly obeyed and accepted full responsibility for the careless mistake.
However, the next night I made a flippant remark to her sister about it not being a big deal, betraying my feeling that we were talking too much about a nipple. This angered my wife, and following the blueprint of some of our largest fights, I got mad at her for getting mad.
Really mad. I could barely get words out, but enough to convey a deep dissatisfaction with how my life got to this state. I wanted to chuck the computer at the wall, but instead I started writing this when she went upstairs. Excellent, productive, cost-efficient choice.
I think that’s a reflection of why I lost my temper in the first place. For better and worse, I see life through opportunity costs. I don’t like to spend dwindling time and energy on things that don’t make sense to me.
At that point in my 35 years, on a Friday night in our rented townhouse in Orange County, dazed from cumulative sleep deprivation, one-quarter of the way through a Stone IPA, 10 minutes after coaxing our bratty 4-month-old to sleep, I just really, really did not want to continue the flagellation over a nipple.
I overreacted. My wife and I made up that same night (not in the way that requires condoms, but more like the three-years-married, one-kid-deep way: Netflix and spooning with no leeway for progression).
My parents were credited with an assist on the reconciliation stat sheet. They FaceTimed during Netflix and put on a dazzling display of awkwardness when asked about the nipple. My mom tried to take the lead, still unsure of where the camera lens is on an iPhone, and started meandering through an explanation of how she can’t get text messages during their vacation in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, my dad was mumbling in the background that come on, we’re family, and she’s his daughter, and not to feel embarrassed. So guys, did you see the picture or not? They weren’t prepared for the quiz.
The net effect though was endearing and made my wife feel better. So we should be in the clear to analyze with clear heads. It might piss her off to read this, but she ought to know by now not to engage in conflict during the last week of the month when I’m in need of a blog topic if privacy is a concern.
There are two basic tiers of empathy. Tier 1 is being able to imagine how you would feel if something happened to you, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I’m good at this. I have a vivid imagination.
Tier 2 is imagining how that person feels, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and looking through her eyes, personality, preferences, upbringing, etc. This is challenging for me.
I can easily imagine how I would feel if my wife accidentally sent a picture of the crown of my penis to her parents and sister. Outwardly, I would diffuse the non-issue with humor, and inwardly, I would harbor a sense of oh well, you’re effing welcome.
Truly, I would not be fazed in the least if just the tip were unintentionally shared. I’ve sent the whole thing purposefully to people whose last names I didn’t even know. Kristin from Vegas, are you out there? Can we make sure that’s not in the cloud?
Without sexual context, I generally find nudity harmless and hilarious.
I also did this classic father-son pose with both of us belly-up, but my wife either wouldn’t take the picture, or took it but wouldn’t give it to me. Can’t remember which.
It’s not like I was trying to put that up on my LinkedIn profile. But if it had been accidentally shared with my in-laws... whatever. There is a difference between a fun moment with my infant son and an angry purple hard-on, just like an errant nipple during breastfeeding doesn’t have the same connotations as googling Kate Upton.
I’m not saying my wife didn’t have the right to feel embarrassed. It’s not fair for me to impose my mindset when we’re talking about her body. However, we also can’t completely suspend efforts to objectively judge severity just because everyone is entitled to feelings.
Suppose I cared deeply if my car were scratched, and you couldn’t care less if your car were scratched. If you accidentally scratched my car, of course I would expect an apology and maybe an offer to make amends.
But I would not probe the depth behind your apology and expect you to Tier 2 empathize with how I personally view scratches on cars. When it comes to accidents, in the absence of any ill intent whatsoever, feelings should be tempered by a grand-scheme-of-things assessment of the damage done.
This was a nipple, not Chernobyl. These were my post-Viagra parents and testosterone-bereft brother, not Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly. Janet Jackson had a slightly larger audience, and I’m sure she still invites J.T. over for tea, crumpets and Dance Dance Revolution.
I’m sorry the nipple was seen. But sorry I'm not sorry that I don’t see it the same way.
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