How long did you spend with our spouse yesterday? Waking hours only. No cheating.
Was it six hours? Two? The last 15 minutes before you fell asleep? Not at all?
While most married couples practice a "kiss-and-ride" arrangement in which the partners separate half, and sometimes all day, some Washingtonians choose to live and work with their spouses. Full time.
Some people, of course, find such constant togetherness unbearable. Like the downtown secretary whose marriage is "headed for the rocks" because, as she puts it, "There's just so much exposure to any man you can stand -- and driving, eating and working in the same building with my husband has definitely been an overdoes for me."
Many couples, on the other hand, find the work experience strengthens their marriage.
Here are vignettes of five. The Boorstins
"I guess you could call us a Mom and Pop literary shop," says Daniel Boorstin, historian, writer, and Librarian of Congress, looking at his wife and editor of 39 years.
Ruth Frankel Boostin, writer, poet and editor, calls their relationship "handy. It's quite useful to have your writer living right in the same house."
The Boorstins do their literary work weekends, mornings and during "Interstitial time," as Daniel Boorstin puts it, on airplanes and between appointments. But they rarely work at night, leaving that time for entertaining and relaxing.
They kept this routine through their baby-raising days. ("Children are so wonderful," says Ruth, "but when you have them, you're that much more anxious to use your intellectual skills.") They say that their work, like their marriage, grows closer each year.
Editor Ruth puts it this way: "The most important job an editor has is to keep the writer's style, and what is style but the expression of the man himself? The more I get to know Dan, the easier it is for me to help maintain that style in his writing."
Doesn't she ever feel rankled when his name appears on the cover of a book and hers doesn't? "No, I can honestly say I don't. First of all, it's Dan I want to please, and he's so appreciative and has generous and new ways of showing his appreciation."
He: "Without Ruth, I don't know if I could have finished a major work like 'The Americans.' The three volumes took 25 years to complete -- you have to have someone to believe in you and the project with that kind of long-range job."
She: "It think we're very lucky to have a field we can share. I have friends married to doctors and lawyers, and they can't share as couples the way we do."
"He: "But that doesn't mean that every writer should go out and marry his editor. I very much believe in the power of the unreasonable and unnecessary. It's completely unnecessary to get married . . ."
She: ". . . or to write a book . . ."
He: ". . . and you should never do it because it's the reasonable thing to do. I married Ruth because I love her, not because of her magnificent editing skills . . . But they've been very handy." Collaboration How nice it is to have a mate And intimately collaborate -- With the editorial "we" To make an "us" of "he" and "she" -- Ruth Frankel Boorstin The Moores
"Being married to Carole is like some kind of magic," sayd Dennis Moore. "When I met her, I realized that dreams can come true."
"Dennis told me his dream," says his wife, "and I decided to make it a reality."
"I just love snakes," says Dennis. "I've been studying them for almost 30 years. Before I met Carole, I used to give a lecture on the reptiles to Boy Scouts, libraries, wherever. People fell asleep."
They don't fall asleep anymore. Dennis, with a V-necked shirt and a white suit that would make John Travolta blush, runs a razzle-dazzle snake show on weekends, everywhere from Wolf Trap to shopping malls. He wraps us in boa constrictors, milks the poison out of copperheads, and puts his finger into a rattlesnake's mouth.
Assisted by his feather-bedecked wife, he stretches out their favorite pet -- a 16-foot python -- and shows off a select few of their 50 snakes, prodding them out of picnic baskets and black-lace pillowcases.
On weekdays, Carole and Dennis become mild-mannered civil servants; together they have put in 22 years at the Government Printing Office. They met on the job.
She: "People get sick of seeing us together, I think."
He: "I don't feel uncomfortable without Carole."
They eat all meals and drive to work together from their Manassas home.
She: "We like to share -- the snakes, the housework . . ."
He: "I love interior decorating . . . the shopping, everything. We balance each other. Take money -- I'm an impulse buyer, and I like silly stuff -- fancy trucks, swimming pools, big expensive items. Carole makes me put off the purchase until I've had a chance to think about it. The she lets me buy it if I still want it."
She: "And he makes me buy things for myself, things for fun. I could never do that before. Dennis keeps me young."
He: "And Carole keeps me young -- she makes me do shows I never would have had the nerve to do before. We did the Renaissance Festival in Columbia this fall, and when she first told me about it . . ."
"I didn't want to wear rights. Me in tights?"
"But I made him do it. We have to try anything, as far as the show's concerned."
The "Snakes Alive" show is their major goal; they hope to eventually make their living with the reptiles.
"In the summer time," says Carole as the python creeps up her blue jeans, "we'll probably put a few of the snakes in the swimming pool."
She: "He worries about the snakes, especially if one is sick. Then he gets really upset."
He: "Carole never gets upset. She's about the calmest person I know."
He pulls the python out of his pants leg. "It's a dream come true." Myra and David Sadker
When Myra Sadker became dean of education at American University (a job that includes supervising her education-professor husband), David Sadker reacted calmly and reasonably. "I went out and got myself a $700,000 grant to administer -- on another part of the campus."
"We're pretty competitive," admits Myra, "and that's part of the problem." The other parts include two children, two full-time jobs, and extensive writing and speaking assignments.
"Our life is exhausting. For one thing, the sheer mechanics of raising two kids when both parents have career-level jobs are real torture. Who drops the crucial meeting to go pick up the kid with the cold? Which one has the strength left to put them to bed at night?"
"Then, once the kids are in bed," says David, "the really hard work begins."
The Sadkers have written three books and 40 articles in the last seven years, most of them about sex equity. They split the writing between them: David is the faster writer, she says, and Myra the better editor, he says.
She: "But when we began writing together, we had a real problem. I read David's first chapter, and all the professional courtesy I would normally extend to a co-author flew out the window."
He: "She told me I couldn't write in a particular room, I had to turn the TV off, my writing wasn't up to professional standards."
They still critique each other, and urge each other into more writing projects.
He: "We went on vacation last summer to the beach. The day was split. We each spent a half-day taking the kids to the beach, and a half-day writing. Then we both wrote at night. We turned out 70 pages in one week . . . This is a vacation?"
"She: "We fell we've made an impact nationally with the issue of sex equity, but the price has been 'Tension' with a capital T. And we're burning out."
Will they stop?
"We can't," says Myra. "We're too competitive." The Pettits
"I want to say this, because I gave it a lot of thought," says Shirley Pettit. "I could have gone back to nursing five years ago. I had to make a big decision. I decided to stay here and work for Joe . . . I made the decision like I've made all my decisions -- based on what's best for the family . . . Plus, I'd rather work with my husband."
Her husband, a dentist in the Westover district of Arlington for the last 24 years, has made dentistry a family business.
Ten years ago, Shirley filled in for one of their six children as a part-time receptionist, going home in the afternoon "about the time the kids started getting into the refrigerator." She now works a full three days at the office, and does the books at home.
"I know I have a first-class person on the desk," says Joseph Pettit. "Not that we haven't had good people there -- we've had wonderful help -- but Shirley is family. In a way, it's like having me run the desk."
The disadvantages of this arrangement? "She talks too much," he says.
And the advantages? "She talks too much. Shirley can get insights into people. She really understands -- she covers the sympathy end for me."
Says Shirley: "I don't know much about what goes on in the dental chair -- deliberately.We have different temperments. I'm sort of impulsive. I make quick decisions on things. Now, Joe -- he's real conservative, slow, methodical. It used to drive me crazy to see him work like that around the house. But now that I've watched him as a dentist, and seen some of the things that can happen if you work too fast, I can see that he's right and I'm wrong . . . On this point, anyway.
"I've never asked him to do housework or anything, but he wallpapers and paints, and he always changed the babies."
He: "We 'double in brass.' We pick up the slack for each other."
She: "Yes, but you got to treat him right. You can put an apron on a man, or a baby in his arms, but you better not forget that he's a male and treat him like one."
He: "We don't argue anymore. After 31 years you're past arguing a lot of things. Kids, especially . . . We wanted to make a decent living, raise a lot of kids, and go to heaven when we die. Two out of three ain't bad."
She: "The farmer and his wife always worked together. I think young people are giving up a lot of closeness when they choose to work apart. Besides, it makes you more understanding." Susan and Phil Beauchert
"I'm 225 percent more understanding when my husband's had a bad day," says Susan Beauchert. Married to an Arlington policeman for seven years, Susan became a police officer two years ago.
"We have a lot more in common now, a ot more to share."
Says husband Phil, "We understand each other's frustrations, and can help each other more."
He welcomed his wife onto the Arlington force, with certain reservations. "There's always infighting among police, and criticism of any mishandling. All new officers make mistakes, and they all get criticized -- especially the women.
"So I kept a very low profile when Susan first started."
Phil initially suggested she join up. "Arlington started recruiting women in the early '70s, and I thought it would be a tremendous opportunity for someone like Susan."
Despite her initial "No way!" reaction, five years of a police husband, police friends and police talk finally helped persuade her. "In a way, I was better prepared than most for this job -- I'd heard the terms they use and had some idea how they handled problems. Even with this background, though, and even with rookie school, I wasn't prepared for my first mangled body, my first teen-age hooker, my first child abuse case.
"Phil really supported me in this -- he understood what I was facing, and could answer all my questions."
"A tremendous review for me," says Phil. But other aspects of having a police officer for a wife were harder to manage.
"They took this sweet girl I'd been leading about by the hand, and transformed her into an authoritative, decision-making police officer.
"Fortunately, it happened slowly enough for me to adjust to it. It's not like she came home one day with a leather jacket, boots and a whip. Still, I had to learn to treat her as an equal."
She: "He's a big boy; he can take care of himself. I can hear all the calls, so I know when he's out and what he's facing, but I don't worry about him."
He: "I trust her capabilities as a cop, a fellow police officer," but refuses to go out on the road with her. "I'm afraid of what would happen if she were seriously assaulted -- I might lose control of my emotions."
She: "I don't want to mix personality and profession -- it would be hard to separate the two."