“You love your audio more than you love me!”

The blowout happened as I climbed the stairs from the basement, where I’d just spent two hours listening to musi on my hi-fi. Standing rigidly in the archway, a wet sheen of hurt trembling in her eyes, my wife shouted: “You love your audio more than you love me!”

It erupted with such raw emotional force that I knew exactly what she meant, and that she was right: I spent more quality time with my audio than I did with her—or, for that matter, with either of my two homebound teenagers. It was nothing personal; my listening room is my private safe place, conceived and realized in my own image. It’s where I regularly go to escape everything—my routine away from my routine. It may not seem like much to the untrained outsider, but my listening room is about as close to an earthly paradise as I’ve got. It just so happens that it’s a paradise whose optimized vantage point is a sweet spot reserved for one: me.

This didn’t mean that I love my audio more than I love my wife and kids. It did mean that, in absolute terms, I felt more in my natural element around it than around them—a fact of life I decided not to use in my own defense during my wife’s blowout.

Yet, as depressing and debilitating as were the days following that episode—forget my being able to listen to my hi-fi without guilt for a week—it did start me down a path of self-reflection: Was I too much into audio? Was my relationship with audio impinging on my other relationships—on my marriage? More to the point: Was I an addict?

I checked the Internet for the telltale signs of addiction, and recognized a few:

I was sneaky. Behind my wife’s back, I smuggled newly bought audio goods into my house, or had them delivered to my office address. It’s why I liked ordering gear in small packages: easier to fit into the back of my pants, or bolt down the stairs undetected into my listening room.

I was paranoid. If anyone, including someone I’d risk my life for, came within three inches of my stereo, I would, like a mama bird protecting her nest, let loose a barrage of menacing shrieks, arms flapping wildly until the stunned trespasser had fully exited the Forbidden Zone. I would examine the dust on my speaker cabinets for signs of human passage, such as a fingerprint.

I spent money on audio gear that should have been spent on necessities. Audio can be an expensive pursuit. This was why, at the turn of most seasons, and with brazen insistence, I would reject my kids’ pleas for new clothes with the most implausible excuses. A recent one: Like a sociopath, I unblinkingly assured them that The Pee-wee Herman look of too-short shirtsleeves and pant legs is in. “It’s retro-cool!”

It’s not cool, retro or otherwise. Telling my kids such things is wrong. It’s something an addict might do.

Which was why, following the blowout, I sought the expert advice of Dr. Alyson, the bandana’d, straight-shooting bartender who works the afternoon shift at one of my favorite Montreal pubs. While Dr. Alyson isn’t a real doctor, such is the quality of the wisdom she serves up with drinks that, among regulars, she’s earned the designation Honorary Shrink.

After I’d apprised her of my situation, Dr. Alyson said, as she stuck lime wedges on the rims of two shots of tequila, “You’re not addicted to your audio. You just need to invite your loved ones into your world more.”

I took a swig of my beer. “They’re lost causes,” I told her.

“Is that so?” she asked.

I raised one finger “One minute. That’s how long they can listen to my system before they start yapping over the music,” I said. “They don’t care about my hi-fi.”

She chuckled hoarsely. “This isn’t about your hi-fi. It’s about creating family moments around your hi-fi. To do so, you have to follow three rules.”

She slid the tequila shots toward a giggling couple at the far end of the bar.

“The first rule: You do not talk about the sound. Second rule: You let your family decide what music to play. Third rule: You let them do and say whatever they want while they’re there. If any of it is meant to take root and flourish, it will.”

I followed the Three Rules of Dr. Alyson and things did flourish, both inside and outside my listening room. I washed LPs with my daughter. I took my son to record shops on Record Store Day. I danced with my wife to 1990s pop recordings, as we used to do when we paid more attention to each other. Amid all this, I find I’m acting less like an addict. I’ve also become more sharing.

Which was another point Dr. Alyson made that fateful afternoon: My main audio rig may be sheltered in a private safe place in the basement, but music itself is too universal and powerful to be restrained—it’s meant to be shared. To that, I’ll add only that music is best shared when the quality of reproduced sound is high.

After all, what better way to show how much we care for someone than by sharing with that person those things we love?—Robert Schryer

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