Some time ago, Nick and I went to Archie McPhee and got the usual sort of stuff one gets there: tiny plastic lizards, pens shaped and scented like strips of bacon, action figures based on famous philosophers, etc. Goofy novelty stuff. Cheap, silly trinkets.
I don’t remember everything we got on this particular trip, but one purchase ended up being unexpectedly life-changing. One handful’s worth of bee finger puppets, their injection-molded faces set in eternal, happy smiles.
As we wandered around Seattle on that sunny summer day, we made a decision: Any attempt at a breakup must be performed via these bee puppets. Why? Mostly because it sounded funny at the time. Condemning our future selves to the punishment of having to waggle finger puppets at each other when they were angry was an absurd image.
The bees ended up on my bookshelf after that. Sitting in a line in front of books. In sight, but out of conscious thought. When we left Seattle for New Orleans, they came along; not long after I had bookshelves, the breakup bees were hanging out on one shelf again. The magic books this time. Which seems appropriate because they kind of turned into a little bit of relationship magic; it turns out that they work pretty damn well at defusing a lot of the tension that’s been built up by whatever’s driving one of us to threaten the other with the Breakup Bees.
We now have this way to unambiguously say, this thing you are doing is going to ruin this relationship if nothing changes. And that’s valuable. And it’s also a really silly way. We’re waving a bright yellow smiling finger puppet at each other to do it; while things can remain surprisingly tense for a bit, the bee still brings a powerful note of comedy to the whole affair, even before we get to the point of expressing our displeasure in the high-pitched buzzy voice appropriate to speaking through the puppet.
And we have a way to measure our displeasure. There’s five of them; obviously all five only come out for a serious, full “we are breaking up right now” moment. There’s a big jump from no bees to one bee, but there’s also a good way from one bee to five. So far we have never had to deploy more than one bee at a time. I really can’t imagine what it would take for us to have two or three out, let alone the whole five.
We have expressed the seriousness of our desires for each other to change some behavior as “one bee’s worth”. I have been lectured on doing an unpleasant financial matter I was avoiding through the medium of a plastic bee breakdancing and singing a song. If something’s stressing one of us out while the other’s gone, we can take a bee and leave it in each others’ work areas, with the option of putting it back on the shelf before it’s seen. This impulsive joke has turned out to be surprisingly effective.
They don’t have to be bees – find something that works for your sense of humor and your significant others’ – but I heartily recommend this as a way to keep your relationship healthy. 3-10 absurdly cheerful-looking tokens of we need to talk.