The Periodic Table
Of the Couples
A friend of mine who's ostensibly a writer is now either writing or not writing a novel, depending on which of countless, indecipherable moods (ranging from dreary to sullen) one finds him in, whether it's before or after one of his frequent doses of chemical relief, and whether or not his girlfriend is happy with him that day (or hour). I know dozens of writers strictly adhering to this exact regimen.

Anyway, my writer friend, preternaturally gifted in the fine art of procrastination, recently called me during one of his breaks. He had a chapter deadline bearing down on him, so he'd spent much of the day playing a game of his own invention, solo. Now that evening was approaching along with the black dog (and, per a strict accord with his girlfriend, it was too early for another helping of chemical relief), he wanted me to join him in the game. I had a daunting amount of work to do, so I said, "Sure, I'll play. How does it go?"

"It's a contest: You come up with as many types of couples as you possibly can. For example, there's the we're not like other couples couple; the we tell it like it is couple; the we're a couple of cut-ups couple; the no-nonsense couple; the we're just trying to help couple; the we've really got everything figured out couple; the we don't have a clue couple, and ..."

"You've been giving this some thought, haven't you?" I interrupted. "Don't forget the we're so in hate couple. They're ubiquitous. Also, occasionally a we're serious about working on our relationship couple goes through some kind of catharsis by attending counseling, joining a group or taking a workshop and morphs into a seriously insufferable we've really got everything figured out couple. Then there's the life is so disappointing couple; the life's a cabaret couple; the we're the most well-read couple on planet earth couple..."

"You're doing excellent," he told me. "You're going to kick my butt at this. Got any more?"

I was doing pretty well. Sure, I had a few more. You don't spend several decades roaming this orb without coming across most of the species and sub-species of human coupledom. "Well, there's also the we can't do anything right couple; the we just can't stop succeeding couple; the life just keeps knockin' us down couple; the Nick'n'Nora we're so urbane and sophisticated we can't get over ourselves couple; the wild bohemian we'll try anything couple; the barely hanging on couple; the we're more artistic than Frida & Diego couple; the falling down drunk couple; the clean'n'sober and you should be too couple; the we're still Goth even though Goth is passť couple; the we never do it anymore couple; the we still do it all the time and we want everybody to know it couple; the Jesus is our co-pilot couple; the our dogs are our children couple; the been there done that couple; the been to hell and back couple; the our cat thinks it's a person couple; the finish each others' sentences couple; the finish each others' food couple; the show tunes sing-along couple; the read aloud every single road sign we pass couple; the oh you should have turned back there couple; the for once can I just finish what I was saying couple; the must rephrase each other's sentences couple; the I can never please you couple; the our life is our art couple; the we're going to hell and taking our friends with us couple; and the (extremely rare, though always refreshing to encounter) well adjusted and deeply in love with each other, but also not so smug about it that you want to strangle them couple."

"You finished?"

"I think I might have missed a few."

"And there was some overlap," he said, "but I'm not going to quibble."

"What exactly is the point of this game?"

"You know my novel? I'm calling it The Periodic Table of the Couples."

"Good title. How much have you written?"

"Don't worry about that, the point is I want to do a scene where the couple -- the protagonist and his girlfriend -- is trying to name all the different types of couples. I thought it would be amusing if they just went on and on, but I ran out of ideas and then it was time to watch 'Matlock.' "

"So you're going to use the conversation we just had, which was, like, 90 percent me?"


"That's not writing, it's transcribing."


"If you want an exhaustive list, and you're fine with appropriating other people's ideas, why not place one of those ads in a book review: 'For an important new novel in which a couple is talking about the different types of couples, I would appreciate hearing from anyone (or any couple) who has given any thought to the different types of couples there are and who can describe one or more types of couples.' You'll get dozens, probably hundreds, of responses."

There was a long silence followed by the sound of liquid pouring into a glass. "I don't think so," my friend grunted. "That sounds like a lot of trouble."

--- Douglas Cruickshank
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