The last time my wife shot me that special look, we were at happy hour. She was standing in one of those awkward circles of that form at company-sponsored events; I was grabbing another half-priced beer from the bar. She locked eyes with me, winked, and slowly mouthed a phrase I know well: “Festive Mango.”
I left my longneck at the bar, wandered over, apologized to her co-workers, and tapped her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry sweetie,” I said, halting the conversation. “I need to steal you for a minute.”
When we are far enough away, she pulled me close and whispered: “Thanks, that guy is the worst.”
It pays to be on the same page with your other half. And one of the best ways to immediately flip to said page is by deploying a code word. No, this isn’t a hey-say-this-phrase-if-you-feel-uncomfortable-in-the-handcuffs sex thing. Those are great, too. But this is not that. This is a special phrase we both use to alert the other when we need to sync up and immediately recognize the other’s frame of mind. It’s an essential weapon in any couple’s arsenal and it helps with far more than annoying co-workers at happy hours.
Festive Mango was part of the randomly generated Wi-Fi password at the apartment my wife rented when we began dating. She and her roommates enjoyed the weirdness of the phrase and the imagery it conjured so much that it became a stupid running joke: What could this mango be wearing that makes it so festive? What holiday is it celebrating? She and I bonded over it as well, in the way two people falling in love tend to bond over seemingly meaningless ephemera by ascribe meaning to it. The festive mango simply made it’s way into our lexicon.
When we moved into an apartment together, it morphed into our way of saying “heads up!” We’re both tall and have these IKEA built-ins that lift and fold upwards, accordion-style, right at our faces. Whenever one is about to be opened, we yell “festive mango!” to make sure no one gets bashed in the head. From there, it quickly and organically evolved into an all-inclusive phrase that’s texted, mouthed, or casually worked into conversation.
Sent via text, Festive Mango is a signal for the other to come over and salvage a situation or provide a smoke screen so the other can duck out without concern. Dropped in a conversation, it’s a request for an excuse to step away. Dealing with a high-stakes situation where you both are having trouble agreeing? Festive mango is the nuclear option that says, “Hey, I need you to trust me on this.”
It also works as an in-joke in low-stakes, boring situations. When we’re stuck somewhere, we, sometimes recklessly, try to deploy the phrase.
Example A: “Hey, has anyone heard of that new band Festive Mango?”
Example B: “Did you guys hear about that new sandwich shop, Festive Mango? I hear their ciabatta is spectacular.”
I could go on, but you get the idea. Is it silly and childish? Absolutely. That’s part of the appeal. What marriage can exist without an infusion of nonsensical inside jokes? Not mine. But the real worth of a code word is in the way it acts as a symbol of shared understanding. It’s a conversation starter, a conversation ender, a cry for help, and sometimes a cry for companionship. In short, it’s intimacy.
A few months ago my wife and I were out shopping when I suffered a severe bout of anxiety. Sweaty palms. Lightheadedness. Crushing fear. All that fun stuff. My wife knows that it happens to me, that it’s something I can regulate but never truly eradicate. She also knows that I’m unbearably hard headed and that I would much rather power through it than take a quick step outside and recover.
“Festive Mango?” she asked. I looked at her and nodded, not needing to say anything else.