Who needs a book? Let's just ask our own questions

January 28, 2001|By Susan Reimer

Valentine's Day approaches, and there are the requisite love-theme books for sale.

Many of them are the size of a matchbox and contain about that much information. Most of them read as if they took 10 minutes to write.

I am still waiting for the Valentine's Day pocket book that says something like, "Look, I know we are barely speaking, but I don't want to make an issue of it by not acknowledging this holiday."

Anyway, among this year's offerings is "Intimate Questions: 459 Ways to Bring You Closer," written (and I use the term loosely) by Gregory J.P. Godek.

To begin, the number "459" baffled me. Apparently the author ran out of steam after writing "1001 Ways to be Romantic."

But why 459? Why not 365? Why not 460?

That concern aside, Godek's book of questions raised some questions for me. Such as: Who is his intended audience? New lovers? Just-marrieds? Or the couples who really need help getting closer: the ones who are always heading in opposite directions, each with a child or a briefcase.

But the questions those couples would ask don't begin with "What is your favorite ...?" Their questions begin with "Why aren't you ...?" and "Why can't you ...?"

The author opens his random list of idiotic inquiries by suggesting that questions are powerful and that they lead to answers.

Questions like "What are the three best things about your partner?" might help any relationship, because we don't often say the nice things we sometimes think.

And a question like "What made you fall in love?" could actually lead to intimacy.

But those questions don't make a book. They make a pamphlet. So Godek pumped this idea full of hot air.

I realized what literary neighborhood I was in when I spotted question No. 189: "Did you read 'The Bridges of Madison County'? Did Francesca do the right thing?"

And while "Should handguns be licensed?" is not a question to inspire intimacy, it is certainly one to ask before the wedding, along with "How many hours of TV do you watch in an average day?" and "Do you experience PMS?" or "Ideally, how often would you like to have sex?"

But if intimacy is the goal, "What is your favorite color?" isn't going to get it done.

"If you could be a comic strip character, who would you be?" That's reminiscent of the memorable question Barbara Walters once asked her interview subjects: "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

But there are a number of questions that might inspire an episode of "Once and Again," before they inspire intimacy: "How do you balance the needs of your relationship with each of your individual needs?"

I have concluded that actually talking things out and probing each other's innermost thoughts might not promote intimacy the way this book suggests.

There are questions that irritate: "Honey, where is the ...?" And questions that can blow a relationship apart: "If it was so innocent, why didn't you tell me about it?"

And there are simple ones that will get the job done much better: "Italian or Chinese?" "Rent a movie or go out?"

Whether we feel like we are in a dream with our mate or in a harness, it helps to know what they are thinking. And that changes over time, so we must ask more than once. My friend Diana, for instance, thought for the longest time that her husband was still a Democrat.

But my guess is that it is not really the answers to the questions that warm us to each other. It is that someone took the time to ask.

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