Sometimes, you are going to feel bad (badly?)

I’m not sure whether it’s ironic, appropriate or disturbing that I’m writing my first “marriage” post less than twenty-four hours after S. and I had one of our rare balls-to-the-walls fights, the kind of dramatic fight that can only occur when one’s husband refuses to accept the obvious double standard reserved for wives of sons in this world, and thinks it is utterly acceptable for women too – oh, wait.

I am not, in the words of my husband, supposed to “get all meta” during our arguments. While S. is a calm and focused arguer, able to zone in only on the issue at hand, I am the kind of arguer who likes to fit whatever our subject of contention happens to be into the grander scheme of things, not only in our relationship but the unfairness of the world at large, so, say, a small argument over what I perceive as sexist behavior can easily turn into an argument on the twenty other times S. exhibited similar behavior over the course of our marriage, and how this is all symptomatic of the patriarchal society we live in where men still think they rule women EVEN IF they don’t admit it, and God, life really sucks horribly, and wbere do you think you are going, you are NOT going for a drive and returning when I am reasonable, I am TOTALLY FUCKING reasonable right now!

A-hem. So. Poor S. You can see why I am not allowed to meta-argue.

So, before I continue this discussion, here are my disclaimers for the upcoming week’s worth of marriage posts: I do not, in any sort of tangible way, understand what it is like to be single, as I have been married for seven years and was engaged when I was twenty-one.  Since I have been called out on this before, I am admitting here and now that I am utterly incapable of understanding things from a single person’s point of view. Moreover, I have not been married so terribly long, only seven years, and so, I am sure, what I know about marriage can fit on the head of the proverbial pin. Later in the week I will talk about the way we define successful marriages, because I do think it needs to be reconsidered, but for now I will accept that the jury is still out on whether or not my marriage will be considered successful, by measurable standards.  If you still feel like reading along, wonderful – if not, I don’t blame you a bit.  Oh! Also. I am childless, and so can’t comment on the way a child impacts marriage. I simply don’t know.

If you are still with me, then, here we go – Courtney’s know-it-all-guide to marriage (at least the first seven years).

1. Falling in love and getting married doesn’t mean you are going to be happy for the rest of your life.  A couple of days before S. and I married, my dad and I were having cocktails on the Sparty, his old salmon-fishing boat that hasn’t seen the water in a decade but does serve admirably for pre-dinner drinks in the backyard. My parents alternated between extreme trepidation about my upcoming marriage and archaic relief that I had someone to take care of me.  After making sure I still wanted to marry S., my dad told me this: Marriage is really hard. I think the goal for any marriage should be to share more good days than bad , overall. I was appalled by this statement. More good days than bad? Was he kidding? I knew myself and I seriously doubted my marriage would ever see many bad days, because if it did I would, quite simply, leave. Twenty-three year old me believed life is too short to go around feeling badly, or making those you love feel badly, and I KNEW S. and I were mature enough to recognize if our marriage took a downturn, and to part amicably.

Well, what I didn’t know then, but I do know now, is that bad days – bad weeks or even bad months, aren’t always obvious – they aren’t always caused by strife in the relationship, either. No,  bad periods creep around the edges of your relationship, beginning perhaps with strained finances, then adding a dash of in-law strife, a handful of difficult work or school loads, finally finished off with a car you can’t afford to break down doing so anyway, and suddenly you realize not only are you unequivocally NOT happy now, you haven’t been for  quite some time. You recognize, too, that this waterfall of unhappiness doesn’t look like it will abate anytime soon – your finances will remained strained, your work load will remain heavy and now, to top everything off, your spouse has begun suffering from some seasonal affective disorder or you catch a virus you can’t shake and, holy mother, you want OUT. Out of this relationship, out of this life altogether – you want to run away to Key West or Montreal and wait tables in some little sidewalk cafe, taking home leftovers for your dinner and being, blessedly, alone.

If you are lucky, like I admittedly am, at some point during the escapist fantasy you realize how, no matter the appeal of escape, much you would miss the one you love.  And maybe you scale back your budget, start going into work earlier, buy some St. John’s Wart – and you stay, and wait for the bad days to pass.

But, in marriage, just as in any other kind of life, sometimes, you are going to feel bad. Also, sometimes you are going to say things you can’t even believe came out of your own mouth, and at some point your spouse is going to say things to you that you swore when you were eighteen nobody would EVER get away with, and sometimes, inadvertantly, you are going to make each other feel rotten.

S. and I sometimes laugh over the celebrity marriages we’ve outlasted – marriages that end one, two or three years.  “That’s not even enough time to merge your book and c.d. collections,” I told S. once, and he agreed. It takes, I would think, at least three years just to get used to listening to someone else’s music. Now, though, we are beginning to outlast friends and family who’ve been married in the last decade, and that’s a little disconcerting. I don’t presume to know about the marriages of other people…I don’t know what’s survivable or not and I would never advocate for anyone suffering from long-term unhappiness to remain in their marriage. But I do think anymore, from the people I know, happiness is expected, all of the time – in fact, people start feeling badly BECAUSE they aren’t feeling as happy as they think they should be, given their circumstances. It’s almost like people assume getting married means automatic happiness, and so to have a bad day or week with the one you love seems like betrayal.  Even though I had the whole big wedding, with the white dress and the cake and the food, I’m not sure I would do it that way again. Anymore, I see the very way we begin married lives together as dangerous. So much emphasis is put on the perfect ceremony, the perfect reception, the perfect dress – and all of this is supposed to lead to perfect lives. When our lives become real, and the fantasty of what we thought marriage would be slips away, there needs to be something to hold onto – somebody you love more than you love yourself.

I’m not saying I know the secrets to marriage, but I do believe this: I think one of the reasons S. and I are still together, when anymore the odds are against it, is our willingness to feel sad sometimes – to understand that infinite happiness isn’t a right. We treat each other with utmost care, but sometimes, no matter what, not only do we feel bad, we make each other feel that way. We try not to but it is inevitable. But we accept that sometimes, we are just going to feel bad, and that would occur whether we were married or not, and it is not, (however much I sometimes make it out to be), a reflection on our relationship but rather the very result of moving through this one life we’ve been given.

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9 Responses to Sometimes, you are going to feel bad (badly?)

  1. Sarah says:

    It’s something I’ve been battling in grad school as well: the perception that because I’m married I have it easier–built in support group, added money, etc. What people don’t always realize (at least, those people who assume this) is that there are downsides. Living apart from my husband for the first year of my ph.d. program essentially meant that I was emotionally torn up every day (and I ended up leaving the program to be with him). It also means that if I’m having a bad day, I still have to be able to pull it together for him when he’s having a worse day. I can’t just get up and travel, I can’t make decisions without considering him… That said, I do appreciate the support I get from him–but it’s hard work, and I think you’re right about the happiness factor. Great post!

  2. Andi says:

    I think I’m going to print these and make a notebook of them. Can totally relate to this post. Haven’t been married, but I’ve been with B. for a very long time now, and this post should be mandatory for each and every person in a long relationship or marriage to read.

  3. You are so right about how the “perfect” wedding sets up expectations for the marriage. I also think people expect their partners to completely fulfill them (that “you complete me” thing), when really we should be able to fulfill ourselves and then enjoy the company of another fulfilled adult. I think a lot of people, men and women, expect to be babied in a marriage, or a longterm relationship, and then experience shock and horror when they realise that can’t be sustained. We all have to grow up.

    I like your Dad’s advice. It’s tough but true. (I also like the idea of cocktails on a boat in the garden – a bit surreal, but rather fabulous.)

  4. Sarah – I lived apart from S. for a year and it was HORRIBLE. I know just what you mean about being torn up emotionally, every day you are apart. And you are absolutely right…if your spouse is having a worse day than you, even if you want to curl up and cry on the couch, you instead need to rally for him, and that can really be draining.

    Andi, well, wait and see if I pull through with the other four posts, LOL. Seriously, thank you for the kind words. And I think this post especially works when discussing a long term relationship, as well. Hopefully the others will also translate.

    Charlotte – maybe we will have our cross-continental blog meet up on his boat :-). Seriously, I think more and more we set couples up to fail – we give them things instead of community, we give them money, instead of tools for sustainability…

  5. LK says:

    I am a coward, for I’ve never even had the guts to take on a full-time relationship. So, hats off to you for even taking one on.

    You know, being single, maybe my expecations are more limited, by society and, ipso facto, by myself. I don’t expect happiness the way couples are expected to have. I’m just an old maid. And a rather content old maid, at that. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Or maybe society, and ipso facto, couples, could adjust their expectations. Why should marriage be a panacea, any more than singlehood be unhappy?

  6. Kerryn says:

    Wonderful post. There is so much here that I relate to. I’m going to have D read this post. Or maybe just your father’s advice.

    D and I brought very different ideas about marriage to our partnership. Both our parents have been married for over 35 years, both sets have struggled with illness, with financial strain and with life, basically. Yet we had totally different viewpoints. D expected the rainbow and I expected a few storms between the rainbows. It was our first real, straying from specifics, argument that forced us to look at those ideas and which, I believe, has helped us through a very tough few months. Whether the days be good or bad, we always remember why we decided to marry — there is no-one else on earth, or in our imaginings, that we can envisage loving more or wanting to make our way through life with.

  7. Dorothy W. says:

    I like your point about weddings too — ours was quite simple and inexpensive, and I felt like it was a better beginning for our lives than a huge event would have been (and we didn’t have much choice, having no money).

  8. Pingback: What I wish she’d told me « White Thoughts

  9. auntjone says:

    WOW. Great post and comments. I agree with everything you said, especially about weddings. When husband #2 and I decided to take the plunge I told him I wanted a simple wedding that celebrated our love and concentrated on the ceremony, not a 3 ring circus that put us in the poor house just because BRIDES magazine said I have to have a Vera Wang dress, exotic orchids and 14 carat gold wedding favors for all 500 guests. Weddings should be about the MARRIAGE and a couple starting their life together.

    We talked about what we expected from the marriage, and from each other. That’s something I didn’t do with my first husband and we only lasted 7 years. We had 1 child so I naturally assumed that he’d agree to have a second. He didn’t. We didn’t agree on money, household issues, you name it. I expected everything to be wonderful and perfect and fall into place and instead, it all fell apart. It still hurts to know that I failed, but the consolation prize is my new, fabulous husband who helps with the housework, doesn’t spend every time he earns and who can’t wait to have a baby with me.

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