Kirby: When a marriage runs hot and cold

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Mine is a typical marriage. It involves one man, one woman and one thermostat. Our entire relationship revolves around control of a small electrical box on the wall near the laundry room.

As in most traditional marriages, it's actually a "her-mostat." Not only does it regulate the temperature of our home, it also controls the general mood and tone of our shared life.

For nearly 40 years my wife has zealously guarded the thermostat, claiming her motives are both financial and biological.

She's right. Were it left up to me, our power bill in the summer would rival the national debt, and in the winter she would freeze to death.

The normal male/female temperature differences are at play here, but so is geography.

My wife was born far to the north where even with a 0.31 blood-alcohol content a moose can freeze solid on a relatively balmy day.

Meanwhile I was born in Southern California and raised largely in desert climes, including places where people sometimes spontaneously combusted in swimming pools and meat lockers.

We're proud of our weather hardiness. My wife likes to tell our daughters that she waited for the school bus in a dress when the wind chill was minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit in northern Ontario.

Indoors our positions on temperature are reversed. She prefers the house warmer. I like it colder. We compromise by me keeping my mouth shut about it.

You would think being born and raised in Canada would make my wife more tolerant of the cold. If such was ever the case, she's long since lost the ability to withstand anything below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius).

I'm still relatively OK up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 Fahrenheit). It's true. When I was 14, my family lived less than 25 miles south of Death Valley. We played outside when it was 120 degrees. Our skulls steamed like baked potatoes when we came inside.

In the early years of marriage, I sometimes cheated. I would sneak into the hallway and ease the thermostat down a few degrees to stave off heat exhaustion. My wife, who possesses paranormal skills when it comes to climate control, would instantly know.

Her: "Did you touch that?"

Me: "C'mon! My eyeballs are melting."

The debate never goes any further than this because of the "1976 Heat Accord," a post-nuptial agreement that makes her the sole operator of the thermostat.

The first summer we were married caused it. She moved from Alberta, Canada, to live with me in a Salt Lake valley fourplex that had no [evil background music] air conditioning. There was an evaporative cooler. It was called "sweat." And it didn't work.

That summer our marriage was very nearly annulled. I would come home from framing houses in the sun and expect some sympathy. I didn't get it because temperatures in our apartment reached 115 degrees during the day.

My wife, who was pregnant, would take cold showers fully clothed to keep from dying of the heat in the apartment. By the end of that summer, the Heat Accord had been signed.

In lieu of divorcing me, we would never be without air conditioning again. And she would be in sole charge of the thermostat.

I can live with that. I don't have any choice. Mercifully, nothing was said about windows.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or