you can’t teach passion

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I have moments every day where I’m excited. In love with the way Abigail says orange (or-shan-ge), hamburger (hamma-g-burger), and vanilla (bella). Love the way Lucas waits to hear me tell him I love him, then he SIGHS every time and says, “Aww, Mama, I love you, too. This much!” I love cooking for them, hearing their stories, playing trains with Lucas, being bossed around by Abigail. And the topper is the unexpected joy that comes from correcting Abigail’s behavior.

“Abigail, don’t pick your nose at the table!”

“On the sofa?” she responds, with her finger lodged up her nose.

If there were a video camera, I’d break the fourth wall and flash the camera a look. It’s wonderful that I get to share these joys with Phil, that he gets it and delights in these small moments, too.

Beyond our tater tots, though, I’m pressed to find anything that truly excites the man. I tried coming up with a list, wanting to do things that would make him happy, cook a special something, plan a trip, put together an experience, buy tickets to a show, something. Nada. Weeks ago I asked Phil to try to keep a list for me, "Just jot down anything that makes you giddy."


My list could go on for days. I love the life out of life. Aside from matchy bedroom and living room sets, I adore anything themed or schemed. If I were hosting Majhong, I’d decorate brownies in the shapes of the tiles. A color scheme to a party or to a platter of iced cookies, and I want to dance. I adore harmony. What I love most are the small details: a thin velvet bow, hand soaps that match the balloons, cupcakes and clothes to match. I realize, of course, that you can love the idea of decorating Valentine’s Day cookies, that you can spend a stitch of time choosing a color palette, researching how to drape with frostings, and in the actual participation, it’s too gummy and thick, and your kids just fed a handful of Redhots to the dog. There’s frosting in hair, on the carpet, in a belly button, and quite frankly, they would really rather just watch TV.

But, I have to say, the planning is the fun part. It’s more than half the enjoyment for me. I come alive thinking of possibilities, brainstorming small touches, making lists of all our options. Ooh, I love the idea of planning a camping trip. Tailgating foods. Superbowl dishes. Oscar party menus, complete with swag gag bags. All of it makes me animated. I come alive in the possibilities.

Phil, on the other hand, wants no part of any of it and gets irritated even hearing about the idea, never mind the actual planning. So I turned to him and reminded him of the list I’d asked him to keep. “What do you get excited about?”

He just kinda stared at me.

“You know, like what would make you over-the-moon beside yourself excited?”

Nothing. Not a dish I could cook, a party I could plan, a trip I could surprise on him—nothing.

“But how is that possible? You’re intense and animated about everything, have such strong opinions, can be so aggressive, and yet NOTHING excites you?”

“I’m just not vocal that way.”

“Still, we’ll see an amazing film, and you’ll say, ‘eh’ even when you like it!”

The only times I ever see Phil abuzz with excitement, where he seems truly ready to wet himself, is when he’s discussing a business plan. A second close is when he thinks we might be taking a trip to Lockhart, TX for some barbecue. I wish more things in the world excited him the way they excite me. I wish he raved on and on about a film, about a meal, about a dish he wanted us to recreate, about a project he wanted to undertake. The irony, of course, is that he constantly complains that I’m negative.

"Holy backstabbing balls, it’s damn cold out!" I’ll say.

And he’ll respond, "Can you go a day without complaining about something? I’m outside, and all I think is, ‘Wow, look at that sun, what a beautiful day.’"

This is the part where I roll my eyes, or tell him that the sun might be beautiful, but it also causes cancer, makes me squint, and isn’t doing its job because it’s still gelid as all get out. We’re a mess.

I think I get to the point where I don’t want to go through a lot of trouble to do something when it’s only going to be met with an “eh,” or a “This is great. Thank you. Now can we move on?” No! I want him to be beside himself happy, but I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to get him there. I have to believe that he gets just as excited about certain things, has just as much passion, but just doesn’t wear it the same way I do. But if that’s the case, why then would it be so hard for him to make a list?

Meanwhile, I can only focus on what makes me happy, and making lists of what makes me happy actually makes me happy. I love lists!



  1. I have some friends like you (I am more like Phil) and it is super important that their significant others have the same zest. So why’d you marry the guy? It sounds like you are already classifying him as boring. And earlier you called him a pig. So whats the deal here?

    1. Author

      Neeever called the man boring! That’s one thing this relationship is never: boring. Ever.
      I’m not asking him to be me. I get that he doesn’t need to be giddy over everything. But once in a while? A little something?

      I adore seeing my children giddy, so excited they can’t sit still! What’s wrong with wanting to see that joy in the people you love? I just don’t know how to bring it to his surface, and I worry I’ll always be disappointed that everything is just eh for him.

    2. I can’t help but feel the same frustration that you do. I understand the feeling of wanting to please your man by seeing him light up in joy, the way you do when he does something for you. I dated a guy somewhat similar, I would suppose. I’m very colorful, like you are. And he was very black and white, like Phil is. When we talked about how different we were from each other in that sense, he told me that I just had to accept that he was hard to please, yet the one thing that did please him was me. I find it veeeeerrrrry difficult to believe or understand that my presence alone was what made him giddy or jump up and down with joy. I didn’t want to be one of those couples that just sat around soaking up the awesomeness. I wanted to be out, doing things, being active, LIVING LIFE. Needless to say, he and I are no longer, but what I can tell you is to never stop being the vibrant and vivacious person you are. The world needs more of us!

  2. I just love the idea of mah jong brownies! Take him to Lockhart more often, I don’t know.

  3. I think many men are just wired differently, and don’t express passion or zeal the same way we do. And if they do – they are often kind of scary (hence the word zealot). It would be exhausting to me to be with someone who is wildly passionate about too many things.

    My suggestion? Turn that incredible energy and passion and delight to a charity of your choice. Volunteering is one way to be adored, appreciated, lauded and applauded, and will satisfy those cravings.

    When I was married (to a turd), I started volunteering for a non-profit, and was swept up in the incredible power of possibility. Suddenly, no idea was absurd or un-doable…I was in charge of making a difference and every success didn’t just help me – it helped thousands of people. It was so addictive, in fact, that here I am – now a paid professional in a non-profit…and loving every day.

  4. I’m lucky. My husband is a list maker. It’s a more purposeful list, not a giddy list. But still, it’s a list! LOL. I consider myself lucky–my husband can get giddy over a goodd foreign film, or a home-cooked gourmet dish, or good French champagne (which is our Val. Day rule, it’s gotta be the GOOD stuff!). Since I work Sundays, I get Fridays off and he loves it when I declare date night and spend the afternoon shopping and cooking so that when he gets home, there’s a great meal waiting, with flowers and placemats, and the good china. He doesn’t always like the “decor” side I enjoy, but he can get into it on occasion. I must say, hubby can get giddy over business stuff, too.

    Even if Phil doesn’t get into lists and planning stuff, the one time I talked to him with the beans in their double stroller at a book signing, you could just see the love and delight in them when he looked at Abigail and Lucas, and talked about them. I love that!

    So keep enjoying the lists and planning and get giddy. Lucas will grow up knowing it’s okay to feel giddy about something, as will Abigail. I had a childhood friend whose mom was creative much like you. I always wanted to hang out at her house. LOL.

  5. Sounds like you are needy. You are looking for joy and you have it in the immense fun and fulfillment you get in planning and beautifully executing surprises and events. Sounds like you can stop there – get your fulfillment from the doing, not the reaction. You don’t need anybody else’s reaction or validation, yours is enough.

    In a healthy relationship, if you accept who you are with, instead of insisting he be like you, then life is much easier. Doesn’t every single piece of marital advice say you can’t change somebody. You want him to make a list of his future reactions? you already know the answer, he gets excited about his business successes. That’s it. So what? It doesn’t take away anything from you – because as low key as he is, he does acknowledge your efforts, too bad it isn’t in the way you want. Maybe you should re-read the antiquated “men are from Mars” and acquaint yourself with the differences in men and women. Phil sounds totally typical and you sound, well, needy.

    Maybe you will edge out of this type of issue that you create. Because I think your life sounds pretty amazing. I rarely agree with Phil and especially don’t like the way he frames his responses, but I agree with him about how much good is in your lives. But always fun to know what you are thinking.

  6. Made me question what would be on my hubby’s giddy list. Football for sure, especially if it involves his friends and gambling and fantasy league. He is now in a country band as the keyboardist. He loves it even though he has never liked country music, ever, and often made fun of me because I sometimes let my hillbilly out. Both of those things really don’t involve me so much as his friends. When we turned 30, he went out and bought a hot tub. Loves it and loves making our backyard like a vacation. Shopping at Best Buy gets him off. I can buy anything I want in that store and he is happy to buy it. If only he felt that way about Banana Republic or Pier One. I’m signing up our son for T-ball tomorrow. That will make my hubby smile for weeks. My latest personal giddy is gardening. I bought seeds today and can’t wait for Spring! Last year I grew bell peppers and they really got me excited to cook with them. My friend in Austin grew Pomegranates last year. I thought that was cool. Maybe Phil would like to start cooking his own barbecue or smoking meat or something like that. Sounds nice and manly and fun to me! You do live in Texas! There’s got to be something out there that lights him up?? Has he picked up his camera in a while?

  7. Dearest Stephanie,

    You must love him in the way that he needs to be loved. So load the man up with BBQ.

    W/r/t you and your lists. He likely gets a ton of joy seeing you accomplishing your lists and the excitement it brings to you when things are perfect.

    With all that you’ve been through – a move to Austin, babies, toddlers, 2 books, traveling, Phil’s health – if things were really that bad you’d know it. I don’t think there nearly as bad (nor is Phil as bad) as everyone is pointing to. He’s just a low key guy who looks to experience joy through others. So focus on bringing him joy through what you’ve already identified, support him in finding new things that excite him, and focus on what makes YOU happy.

    Kind regards,

    Mrs. Simon

  8. Granted, you have to accept him as he is, but I see the flip side of this coin and it possibly could be passive aggression.

  9. My Brad is the same. His list includes: business plans (mostly opening bars), Pitt basketball, the Philadelphia Eagles, that time where we secretly watched some skateboard kids plot to cut through our crazy scary neighbor’s yard and she came out and went bezerker. I mean that WAS funny, but really. That’s the only times he gets excited. Me, I’m obnoxiously in love with the world. I literally shake him sometimes. He’s all “meh”. He told me he WANTS to be passionate about something but he hasn’t found it yet. I find that pretty depressing.

  10. I have to wonder how much of this is simple contrari-ness–that it isn’t that he doesn’t get enthused about these things, he just gets irritated that they aren’t his idea and then doesn’t want to “give in” and admit that an idea that wasn’t his own was fun. I wonder this because I encounter it with my own husband.

    For example: My husband loves aviation history and has books upon books about the subject and when we first moved up to Portland we HAD to go out to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose and he acted like a little boy on Christmas morning getting to see it up close. A year later, when we were searching for something to do I mentioned that the air museum in McMinnville had a new exhibit and suggested that we go out to see it and to look at the Spruce Goose again because he had enjoyed it so much the first time. His response? “Meh. It isn’t like I’m that into aviation and the Spruce Goose wasn’t all that interesting.” Two weeks later when his dad was visiting guess what was the FIRST thing he wanted to do with his dad?

    Basically–I have no advice but I can commisserate. It gets really frickin’ irritating sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that you have to stop having fun. Just stop asking him his opinion of things and have fun with your own joy. :)

  11. Someone has to be the rock. That’s what I was told one time. “Why aren’t you crazy when I’m crazy? Why don’t you fall apart when I fall apart?” “Because then where would we be? Someone has to be the rock.”

    1. And that is the flat-out truth. My husband and I take turns being the rock, depending on situation. But both can’t be emotional wrecks at the same time, whether it be for joy or anger or whatever, otherwise the relationship would crumble.

      1. Author

        It’s not funny, but I was about to write, “The funny thing is…” that Phil and I have been through our share of “shit come down” moments. You know how people say, you never really know someone until the shit comes down? We know each other all too well. And amazingly enough, during a crises (and we have absolutely had our share between moving to a place where we knew no one, miscarriage, NICU twins, emergency brain surgery of our son, then Phil’s heart operations and scares) we come together. Neither one of us is “the rock.” During emotional crisis, I don’t crumble. Phil softens. I take more charge. And we work.

        I don’t write about his lack of excitement as a complaint. I genuinely wanted to know what made the man excited so I could replicate it, give him some more. The way I KNOW baking cookies thrills my children, I wanted to be able to give him that, but honestly, he can’t come up with anything that thrills him. Even when it comes to photography, got him a new lens. “Eh, how much did it cost?” And with Valentine’s approaching, I wanted to give him something special, something for him, an experience, a vacation. But nothing seems to thrill the man. Yet. I haven’t completely given up.

  12. I get this. I definitely connect best with people who are passionate about something. I’m a YA writer and my husband is a playwright/reporter. My friends are into books, theatre, computer games, art, kids in the juvenile justice system…whatever it is, I find it fascinating because they are so passionate. It’s the most attractive thing to me in people.

  13. I was married for over 20 years to a great guy who I still love. Unfortunately he didn’t like to have fun and that eventually killed our relationship. I ended up feeling lonely in my marriage. Mediocrity was eating my spirit and he seemed to thrive on it.

    It wasn’t always that way, we used to have a blast together doing all sorts of things, but slowly he became content to send me off with my friends and family, awaiting my return to hear about it. Although he may have had great fun doing something, he didn’t seem to retain a memory that he enjoyed it, it was back to “uuuuhhh it was okay” afterward.

    I think we will always care for each other and at times I’m very sad for it, but I don’t miss living with him every day. He sort of turned into a “joy stealer” and that is really an intolerable thing for me.

  14. Have you ever wondered that if Phil was as full on enthusiastic as you so wonderfully are about so many things the balance would not work so well.? We are, I have found , unconsciously attracted to souls who are complementary to our patterns, not identical, and this creates a filling of thin spaces. See it as a magic, not a lack necessarily. Love Px

  15. It seems to me that you guys work well together. Phil probably wanted someone in his life who was emotional…who would get excited about things. It’s lets him “act out” through you. I’m the same way…I’m all “yeah, whatever” on the outside, but on the inside I’m jumping up and down. I’d love to be with someone who can express the excitement, the glee and the joy that I feel sometimes but don’t express.

  16. Funny. I found this post as a way for you to improve your relationship, because you want to understand Phil more, not as a way to change him to be more like you. I guess it’s all about perception. My boyfriend is pretty meh on a lot of things, so when I find something he can be excited about I definitely make a mental note so that I can try to give him some happiness when he least expects it at times.

    I wonder if like throwing a Superbowl party where he got to hangout with all his buddies and watch some football might make him grin with happiness? hmmm

    I find that I think you’re lucky in the sense that you know what makes you giddy and can be giddy at any given time, because your list is so long. Good luck trying to find his giddy. – I would think maybe his has to do with how he was raised not to show emotion like that?

  17. It just seems like your constant need to create moments, plan moments, force moments and capture moments can take the real fun out of just about anything.

    1. I have friends who do this and it really does take the life and energy out of a day together when everything has to be recorded on a camera, written down, or photographed. I cringe when I see a camera come out because it’s like “Here we go, faking the moments because the reality isn’t good enough.”

  18. hey. so i just found out a friend of mine is separating from her husband. they’re lovely friends of ours, two incredible individuals and I’m so, so, so saddened by this. 1. Because we adore them but 2. also because it makes me fearful for us. if these two can’t make it, I wonder if we will.

    when you describe how you two are maddeningly different, do you wonder will we make it? I guess what I realized last night when our friends broke the news to us is that that question is always hovering in the background. and some of us chose to acknowledge while others ignore it.

    not sure why I’m posting… just sort of discombobulated by this news and thought I would come here as maybe i find comfort in the fact that you two fight so damn hard for your marriage despite your differences…

  19. Have you ever read Harriet Lerner’s “The Dance of Anger”? It discusses productive and unproductive fighting and styles of relating, and your remark, “I want him to be beside himself happy, but I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to get him there” reminded me of a really central theme in the book how we give up self to others or ask them to give up self when we feel anxious instead of looking at the deeper issue. Why does it bother you so much that he’s not as enthusiastic as you? I can see how it’s be annoying sometimes, but I get the feeling that you feel criticized or critiqued almost in your way of relating to the world by the way he does. Or maybe something else–whatever, this seems like another “who burnt the toast?!” argument, one that obscures the real deal.

  20. I can relate. I could’ve bought my ex a Rolls Royce full of hookers and he’d have the same response as if I’d given him a Hot Wheels toy. “Oh, nice…”

  21. Do you feel emotionally connected to Phil in any way? This post reads to me as a crying out for one. I think the “he’s not giddy about anything” isn’t the real issue. If you felt connected to him in a major way, and emotionally safe in your relationship, you probably wouldn’t be so worried that he doesn’t have a “giddy list.” You can work on things all you want, but if you don’t have a foundation based on trust, emotional support, and truly liking each other, it will always feel like something is missing. Hopefully you’re facing some of the bigger issues together, privately, in counseling.

  22. Stephanie, you need to be careful what you wish for. Like you, my husband is wildly passionate about food and cooking, and can spend entire days in the kitchen making fantastic concoctions, especially when we are having guests for dinner. However this means I spend the entire day looking after the kids, tidying the house, setting the table etc. To me, it seems that he is having all the fun while I am stuck with the drudgery, and by the time the food appears I’m over it! Perhaps Phil feels this way sometimes? Passions take up A LOT of time – if Phil is passionate about the tater tots and happy to give that time to them – you’re a lucky lady! I know my husband loves our children, but he will never spend the hours focusing on them that he would happily spend making a veal jus from scratch!

  23. I had the same. Sad Sack. I started calling him a Jabut.
    Every time I enthused about something, he’d say “Ja, but …. ” and come up with some negative thing. But he was an arsehole. Phil isn’t. Cut him some slack fergawdsake.

  24. I suspect that Phil doesn’t get ‘giddy’ becaus, he prefers barbeques, to musical broadway.

    That’s a fucking good thing,

    -Martha Stewart

  25. I know exactly what you mean and where you’re coming from. I was married to someone like that (coincidentally with the same name!), and it always made me feel a little deflated and defeated when he couldn’t muster any enthusiasm over anything. In his lack of response, I ended up feeling that I was overexcited, over-reacting. Eventually I learned that it wasn’t me, it was just the way he was wired. But it didn’t make it any less frustrating when I would get so excited over something, and his response would just be “eh”.

  26. It’s a personality thing. He’ll never be passionate like you. I am like you, and my mom is like Phil. She visits me in D.C. and I drive past the historic architecture, take her to restaurants for new culinary experiences . . always prodding her for some reaction, but it’s always “not bad” or “pretty good” at best. She prefers acts of service more than any sight or food or experience it seems . . and that just so happens to not come so easily for me, but I try when I’m home to clean up her kitchen, wash the dishes, or something else she will beam about. There are many positives to her even keel personality, and I know I need her in my life to bring some perspective and keep me grounded while I’m flying from one thing to the next.

  27. I agree with that.
    My boyfriend doesn’t get excited and animated in the way I do. It used to bother me that he thought I was being frivolous and silly, or that he just didn’t appreciate that I was getting excited about planning something that I hoped he would love.
    Now I’ve accepted that he just doesn’t get excited about the planning, the anticipation. BUT he enjoys himself in a quiet way once we’re actually there. He told me that he wasn’t bothered what we did or where we went as long as he had time together.
    I imagine Phil’s philosophy is similar – he’s hard pushed to imagine what would make him fizz with excitement, but he gets a quiet satisfaction from seeing his family happy and together regardless of what you’re doing.

  28. As much as I love to hate you sometimes (i.e. when you´re letting hang out that shallow/materialistic side of yours) I LOVED this post and the genuine passion that is radiating – no, sparkling! – off the page.
    And I love the pic – so much lust for life! You´re gorgeous… and this kind of joy/passion/excitement suits you incredibly well!

  29. You guys live in different “elements”…Phil is wood and is all about planning and decisions and noticing injustices and wood feeds fire, which is you…Miss fire. So all those lists which are a woody thing to do (planning and deciding) is adding wood to your fire… It gets you going. But what feeds wood is water (sleep and rest). When Phil sleeps and rests, he is able to plan and decide and see injustices in the world clearly and take action. This is his home and where he is comfortable in the world. Your comfort is joy and excitement…and where u like being most of the time. So while he can get excited, he will never get as elated as a firey person in their element… Just like you cannot see the injustices and plan and decide as well as Phil might. You each have your own nature. Remember it’s the differences that make the world a beautiful place;)

  30. Btw, you’re sticking out your tongue and showing the world
    your heart… Remember that Phil doesn’t stick his out in the same way? That just shows you that people have different areas of comfort. You express from the heart and small intestine (being all perverted and inappropriate) where Phil expresses from the gall bladder and liver… Running the smooth flow of things and being able to see injustices… Taking care of business. So, accept your differences and recognize eachother strengths.

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