A Year of Marriage: Slowing Down Time

by Elison Alcovendaz

I started writing this blog at:

 

Back to that later.

Patty and I are different people. Those of you who know us well know this. But this is good, I think. In order for a relationship to work, the people can't be too similar. At least that has been my experience with all the couples I'd consider happy and successful, including my parents. They share common interests, sure, but common personalities? No.

One of our biggest differences is the way we perceive (and like to perceive) time. When shopping, she loves to go in, pick something out, maybe try it on real quick, and buy it. I like to meander, flipping through racks, people watching, calculating clearance rack deductions in my head. I like to try on clothes I know don't fit me, especially since this stupid Slim Fit craze is in full-force (what happened to clothes for regular people?). When driving, she's in the fast lane, going, well, fast. The GPS is an important tool. Let's get to where we're going and let's get there early. When I'm in the fast lane, kind of just looking at the passing scenery, singing very loud, trying to kind of just find my way to our destination, wondering where the journey will take us, I usually don't realize I'm going fifty-five until I see that old lady in the old, battered car storming past me. I tend to be late to things. I know this is bad, but it's just never changed. It's something we've accepted. Unless we're holding hands, I'll tend to drift behind while we're walking, caught by a nearby conversation.

A month ago, Patty and I recently celebrated one year of marriage (thank you, yes, it has been great!) and we of course were told by someone who'd attended our wedding: "I can't believe it has been a year! It seems like just the other day I was watching you walk down the aisle."

Patty concurred. Time had moved very fast. After all, this is what happens when you're having fun. 

And then I did something wrong. I said the first year seemed like it had taken five years. All the women in the room looked at me, eyes slightly wide, not sure whether my tone of voice was sarcasm or just the tone of a new husband who hadn't yet learned what and what not to say. I tried to explain, but with each word the hole below my feet grew deeper and deeper until I was completely submerged below the wooden floor, saying, "Five years? I meant five months! No, five weeks!"

Why the difference? When you experience an event or a series of events, countless neural processes in several different parts of the brain all work together to create a story that makes cohesive sense to you. Things may not be "filed" in the linear order in which they occurred, and  in most cases details not considered important for the story won't even be filed at all. This makes time appear "fast." David Eagleman, a best-selling author and director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, has spent much time researching the way the brain perceives time. In his article "Brain Time", Eagleman provides a simple exercise that demonstrates how time appears to move quickly:

Try this exercise: Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you're looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here's the kicker: you never see your eyes move. What is happening to the time gaps during which your eyes are moving? Why do you feel as though there is no break in time while you're changing your eye position? (Remember that it's easy to detect someone else's eyes moving, so the answer cannot be that eye movements are too fast to see.)

Much like this experiment, we live much of our lives moving from event to event, the destination the goal. I once had a professor who tried to rally his students against living this type of life. He also used to say that he could slow down time. He never mentioned any specific "trick," but if you listened to his other stories, which often seemed tangential to what we were studying - the art of writing - you learned that his stories often had one major point - time is a gift that we can give ourselves. By committing to being in class to improve our writing, we were giving ourselves that gift of time. 

Sitting in those classrooms dissecting stories and discussing literary theory made time go very slow. It's one of the things I miss most about grad school. Since then, life has certainly picked up. There is a mortgage and student loans and other bills and responsibilities. It's one life step to the next, the in between phases all about planning that next step, wondering if should make this big purchase or save, sell the house and make use of our equity, get this job or not, have a child now or later. Life is moving very, very fast. 

To combat this, I just try to be more aware. One thing that works for me is, whenever I catch myself looking at at clock, I spend some time attuning myself to my body and my surroundings. For example, it's now:

and since I started writing this blog, I've felt or noticed: the heat of the laptop, a tightness in my calf, the cool air of the ceiling fan, Catherine Zeta-Jones' weird accent in The Legend of Zorro, the way Patty's bangs curl off the side of her face as she naps on the other end of the couch, the dry annoyance in my throat as I fail again to beat level 341 of Candy Crush, the light resistance of the letters on the keyboard, the faint glare of the kitchen lights on my computer screen, the tight comfort of the wedding ring around my finger, the satisfaction of a few spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy Ice Cream, the deeper satisfaction of seeing this blog progress into something that might actually be readable. 

I guess you could call it "mindfulness." If you Google "slowing down time," the first article you'll see will tell you about research that demonstrates the speed of time is controlled by us. Even those of us with "faster" personalities can slow time and lessen the anxiety of moving from event to event by consciously adding details to your memories simply by noticing things. It's a thing writers probably do automatically, but try it. Next time, instead of just moving through an event, choose to pay extra attention to the details. When you're at a new restaurant, don't just sit down and look at the menu and order your wine. Notice the color and scratchiness of the seats. Notice the shine or dullness of the forks. Notice the hair of your server. Notice the music playing. Notice the chatter of people around you. And of course notice the person you're with. I don't mean just sit there and talk, I mean really notice them. Notice how their glasses lean on their nose. Notice the way their face contorts when they talk about work. Notice the way they sit at the table. Notice their clothes, their eyes, the way they use a utensil when they eat. Basically, notice things. Make yourself do it. You probably do it already, anyway, but as our brains get used to more and more quick in-and-out inputs (like a Facebook news feed, or scrolling Twitter updates, or a million TV channels to change to when you hit a commercial), it's likely that you notice these things but just let them pass in-and-out of your brain.

So when I said the first year of marriage seemed like it took five years, I meant this as a compliment. It meant that I wanted to capture every detail of every moment of our marriage as much as I could. But this is why I believe Patty and I work well. She helps me get to things on time, keeps me on my toes, makes sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, like actually writing instead of just talking about writing. And hopefully, I help her stop for a moment and take a look around.