Even I had to refill my water and take a snack break while I re-read this post.
But bear with me, because this is about marriage and there is a lot to say about that, if, like me, you've been married since Madonna first crawled around on a stage in fishnet stockings and messy hair.
In the seventies, Carly Simon produced a song called, "That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be" about a woman (actually about Carly) who is contemplating marriage (probably to James Taylor) but worries that she'll wind up like her father, smoking in the dark living room, or her mother, reading magazines alone in bed, or her friends from college (they're all married now) who are clinging and clawing and drowning in love's debris. Like these people.
She likens marriage to being caged on James Taylor's shelf. And yet, in the end she wraps up with this:
You want to marry. We'll marry.
Even as a kinda dumb and kinda smart teenager, I was puzzled by this.
Next March, I will have been married for twenty-eight years. I am thinking about marriage today for a few reasons:
First, our children are gone. We have time to nurture our communication now, and fill in the divets. We notice each other again. We know each other again. If we remember the history we don't want to repeat, we cherish the history that has kept us together. We love more of the same things than we realized, and we have a kitten that we talk to like we talked to Courtney when she was small enough to be held like a football.
Second, football baby Courtney will be married next year and will begin a journey over and around roads I've already traveled; the nice, just-paved ones, and the ones with detours all over the place, manned by cranky workers who tell you to slow the hell down at one end, and speed the hell up at the other.
I can talk about some of those construction sites.
First, a disclaimer: I can't speak for men, so I'll speak for myself and possibly many other women. Second, two observations: one is that men are thoughtless, and unkind and stupid sometimes. The other is that women are thoughtless and unkind and stupid sometimes.
We project. Disagreements escalate fast and become ferocious when one, and not the other, is grappling with a larger worry at the core; usually something to do with respect or intelligence or power. Self-respecting, intelligent women who have opted to stay home and raise children for example, are not really fighting over who left the garage door open so that all the leaves could blow in, and they don't really care who notices, but ignores the full trash can. They do care - a lot - about disappearing.
We fight to keep, and fight hardest when we think we're losing, respect for how we think. Strangely, I didn't struggle with self-respect issues when I was driving the kids to school in a bathrobe and sunglasses. But I did struggle - a lot - when I was sure my husband believed, as I did, that I was withering intellectually. Today, of course, I know that if I lost my mind, Larry would miss it too.
We worry about losing who we were, sure. But we worry - a lot - about who we still are and could be. Powerful still? Beautiful? Compelling? I can say, with all my heart, that anyone I know who has stayed married past twenty years, unless they have been impersonating whole, thinking people, has had to figure this out: how to grow in the marriage and still be, in some way, the person they always were.
| Courtney, with her |
and every-cat Daisy
What a downer song.
But sometime in the eighties, Carly Simon produced another song called "Coming Around Again" . It's about a woman who is struggling with the demands of marriage and love and children. The lyrics are so romantic but also, so bewildering - there is the breaking of windows and the burning of soufflés and the (creepy) screaming of lullabyes - but the tone is hopeful and in the end she wraps up with this:
But what else can I do? I'm so in love with you.
The lovely thing about time is that it doesn't leave you behind, it brings you with it. Things get easier. You stop delegating the responsibility for your happiness and put it back in your own hands where it belongs. You stop asking your spouse to change into you so that you can get along. You're stunned to realize that if he's done a million things to bug you, he hasn't - ever - asked you to be someone else.
Finally, one day, you'll go for Mimosas and Christmas Tree shopping and you'll be making wry jokes about things that were not always funny. It will strike you that the things you don't like about each other are no longer grounds, but forgettable details. And what you do like about each other will seem familiar and precious because it is. It's the all-grown-up version of what made you fall in love and marry in the first place.