Of Birds and Bids

Way before I got together with Marcus, I came across this Atlantic article about the key to a successful relationship. The short answer is kindness and generosity.

So far, so blah.

This was based on a study in 1990, where the American psychologist John Gottman observed 130 couples to see whether people would meet their partners’ requests for connection, or ‘bids’. The relationships that were still intact six years later saw couples taking up their partners’ bid 87 per cent of the time; those that divorced were seen to only do so three out of 10 times.

I tell a lot of people about this, whether they are in a romantic relationship or not, because we’re all selfish people and we could all do with some good advice. But the reason this seemingly obvious counsel sticks out is its quaint example of a bid:

Say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” … People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

In 2014, when I stumbled across this article, I had no way of knowing that I would literally have to learn to take up my future husband’s bird-watching bids.

In fact, I wonder why any couple living in the States would have problems feigning showing interest in the fauna of the sky. At least the weather is somewhat enjoyable half the time.

Try looking at birds in Singapore. If you’re not roasting to death, then you’re getting eaten alive by mosquitoes (one reason I’m documenting this is so that I stop scratching last week’s bites).

Of course, I jest.

Sure, Marcus bamboozles me about how he throws his safety — and mine — out of the window whenever he drives, and suddenly jabs the windshield to point out the Brahminy kite spreading its wings in the distance. (Marcus, if you’re reading this: is it really worth it if I die because you were trying to identify whether your feathered friend was truly a kite or the white-bellied sea eagle?)

But I must admit I have had some enjoyable moments after dragging myself out into the sweaty underbelly that is Singapore’s forests/jungles/fields.

I’ve seen a hawk cuckoo’s butt, chirpy sunbirds, a striated heron tip-toeing in a canal trying to get its next meal. I’ve seen monitor lizard frolicking in the dirt, mudskippers skipping, a super hard-to-spot colugo taking a nap. All this, somehow, in our uber-urban country!

My favourite thing about bird-watching / other animals-watching, however, is Marcus’ enthralled face when he sees the natural world in action.

It makes the sweat a little more worth it, the bid-taking more of a delight and less of a chore.

Anyway I’m writing this at 3.30am in the morning because I have to psych myself up for a bird-watching session at Bukit Timah tomorrow. I’m sorry if you were expecting advice on how to take up your partner’s bid, even if you’re not a huge fan of it and he never seems to get the hint that one of these days all you really want to do is listen to the Hamilton soundtrack together, instead of venturing out to some far-flung corner to crane and strain to look at birds.

I don’t really have anything to offer. Except that maybe, just maybe, it might be worth seeing the smile on his face once you’re out there.

Just try to shut out the sneaking feelings of insecurity that he finds birds more enchanting than you. Then you’ll be fine!

Featured photo taken at Bidadari; photo of Marcus taken at Bukit Timah’s Hindhede Nature Park. 

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