By David Schel
Like so many other mobile aficionados, I office out of a Starbucks location. It’s a great set-up. Nice working atmosphere, great music, and a full coffee bar. Best of all, free rent! I still get the full breadth of office chatter too. My landlord Howard actually stirred up some of the office banter recently encouraging baristas and customers to discuss race relations. It didn’t go over so well, but I applaud the effort. It’s an important topic and Starbucks, at least on paper, seems like it could be a place that could foster respectful dialogue that leads to improvement in the lives of people on all sides of the issue.
I’ve got another idea for Mr. Shultz that might go over better. Tackle an issue that’s already being discussed in your stores: the state of marriage in our country. Indeed, that topic plays itself out at your locations all day every day.
I see the affairs first-hand. Now I’m a romantic. And yet I still know what it means when a middle-aged man and woman pull up in separate cars and hug and kiss in the parking lot. Like my girlfriend and I in the back of my car in high school, they’re probably not going on 40 years of marriage. Thankfully, I can also spot the couple who probably are going on 40 years of marriage oozing intimacy in their just being together. I also see people who met on-line having their first get together and discovering how much each lied on their profile. I see the divorced parents exchanging the kids at a neutral location barely making eye contact with each other. I hear one divorce story more astonishingly horrific then the next. And the divorcee who’s dating? Well that’s a whole other story.
What I see more than anything, however, is the pain and suffering of spouses discussing marital problems with a friend or relative. I can find those blindfolded. Even with the blender going full speed, I can hear a husband or wife tearing apart their spouse like beans going through a grinder, much of the time not saying one syllable about their role in the problem. And then there are the discussions which have gone beyond that. Ex-spouses are even more brazen speaking of each other, again, much of the time ignoring their role in the situation. Every so often, thankfully there is someone actually helping save a marriage or even turning a divorce into a reconciliation. For the most part though, the advice, while well meaning, makes Lucy’s counsel to Charlie Brown seem insightful and sophisticated.
And the rationalizations coming from the advisee and the advisor? Let’s just say some defy gravity. Believe me, I understand rationalizing behavior – I’m not eavesdropping on these conversations, rather, I’m doing research. Through my investigations though, I have discovered one key to solving our nation’s tragic divorce problem.
Ladies and Gentleman, the fight to save marriages isn’t being won or lost at the marriage counselor’s office or the church or in the bookstore. It’s at your local Starbucks where spouses sit with amateur psychologists and therapists, aka a friend or relative, and get advice ranging from the relevant to the absurd to the ridiculous.
Just how much are the coffee counselors influencing the suffering spouses? Starbucks serves on average 500 people per store each day in the USA. Let’s say 250 of those are a single customer not involved in a multi-person conversation. Of the remaining 250 people, let’s say, 100 conversations occur. Actual statistics aren’t known for this but let’s continue on and say at least 10% of those are about marital problems. Starbucks has 12,200 locations in the USA, which means, based on my personal estimations, there are probably around 45 million marital problem discussions being held at Starbucks each year. Add in other coffeehouses, cafés, restaurants and bars, and we’re in the hundreds of millions of conversations.
While authors, counselors and educators may believe they’re on the front line in the battle to save marriages, in reality they are back at HQ designing brilliant battle plans that don’t survive the first shot fired. Not in any way to knock their efforts, but could there be new, untried and better ways of influencing those 45 million conversations? If so, we’ll change the course of marriage!
My advice to Howard Schultz, my gracious landlord: hire the best marriage professionals in the country to set up booths in your locations and throw a jolt of caffeine into saving marriages!
Okay, that might be unrealistic, however, maybe a good start would be for Howard Shultz to contact professor Bill Doherty at The University of Minnesota, widely regarded as one of the country’s foremost experts on marriage and family relations and a pioneer of new ideas such as Marital First Responders. He might want to also give Michele Weiner-Davis a call. She founded and runs Divorce Busting and is another widely regarded expert in helping to repair marriages.
One more thing: my favorite Starbucks moment. Picture this, a true story: a couple wheeled in, each in their own wheelchair, and reached over to give each other the sweetest kiss you ever saw. When I told them how beautiful the sight was, she told me they’d been married 45 years and can’t understand what everyone married was fighting about?