His study, where he sits in front of the desk-top computer, is at one end of the second floor. My study, where I sit on the desk chair or on the single bed with the laptop on my thighs, is at the other end. Between us a hallway leads past guest rooms and bathroom to our bedroom and his study. Just before you reach the bedroom, you have to step over Wolfie, who parks himself in the one spot from which he can keep track of human and canine activity on both floors of the house.
It's not like crossing the Alps, I know. So why is it that my spouse and I, alone together in the daytime for the first time since 1967, e-mail each other from room to room? He sends me stuff he thinks might make me laugh. I send him pictures of furniture that would improve the looks and comfort of our house, messages from family and friends that he may have missed, and medical alerts designed to keep us alive forever.
I could of course unplug my laptop, step over Wolfie, walk into his study, sweep aside the catalogs and promotions on the guest chair, sit down and say, "look at this!" Or--and this would be the sustainable, low-tech approach--I could memorize and deliver the messages, describe the furniture, and summarize the medical advice while standing in front of him and looking him in the eye.
Instead, I copy the links, cut-and-paste the messages, hit "send." Is this the new conjugal telepathy? It used to be that long-married spouses not only grew to look alike, but could read each other's thoughts, finish each other's sentences. And we still do that sometimes, when we're not staring at our respective computer screens, or at the TV screen, or listening to endless news of far-off disasters on our kitchen or car radio.
A mere generation ago, what was web-less retirement like for long-married couples? Did they chatter all day at each other, or did they observe a monastic silence? My father died young, so I have no model for being married into one's sixties. But even if my parents had both lived, their experience would have held few lessons for us, in this super-connected age.
But that's all right. My husband and I are inventing ourselves now as we did as a two-career, child-rearing couple in the 1970s. I'm o.k. with room-to-room e-mails. If we ever find ourselves eating dinner in front of our respective computers, however, I'll start worrying.