Monday, October 8, 2012

The way it really should be

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:

Football Gus
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.

I also know that as resilient and enduring as our marriage turned out to be, it wasn't free. We've been challenged by different parenting styles, separation, and differences in opinion over everything from how to keep a house clean (answer: hire a housekeeper) to how to spend money (answer: take control of the finances and when the subject of money comes up, point at the window and say, "What the hell was that?").  Distance is inevitable and so is the fact that one will address it first and possibly have to describe/explain it to the other who doesn't want to talk about it. It can be lonely at the front, and there will always be someone who (in your imagination, where you are mesmerizing) would respect you more. There will always be someone who, (in his imagination where he is mesmerizing) would appreciate him more. There are indeed, silent noons, tearful nights and angry dawns, no matter how much you drink and laugh, close the wound and hide the scars.

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
Before I understood the sum-of-the-parts Gestalt of relationships, I wondered how it was possible to compromise, and negotiate, and give in, and sacrifice and take the high road and not feel you'd traveled too far from the home base to ever return? Today, I understand that one brings the self concept into a marriage they way they bring the cat they adopted before there was even a first date with James Taylor. It's easier to  keep and nurture self-concept than it is to go looking for it once it's slipped out through the door that James Taylor left open. (Maybe if Carly's friends from college had saved room in their lives for themselves, they wouldn't have been crowded out by their children who only wound up hating them for what they weren't.)

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 souffl├ęs 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.

Happily, the only things Courtney and John have in common with Carly and James are their initials. Should they ever see themselves in one of Carly's songs, they will need to have faith, that as Carly discovered, although probably not with James Taylor, if they're willing to play the game, it will come around again. I know. 


  1. Loved it. No one else writes about these topics. thank you for sharing it with all!

  2. Thank you. It was from the heart. Also, I had fun looking up Bobby Goldsboro.