Maybe there are some things that shouldn’t be admitted out loud – secret indulgences and vices better left unmentioned than discussed in polite society. I have to admit, I was nervous when, over a proper Lenten lunch of mussels and frites (oh, the deprivation) last Friday, I admitted to a co-worker how much I found myself enjoying the new television series “The Marriage Ref.”
“Oh, me, too!” M. said, dragging a frite through the buttery mussel broth. “I’ve never laughed as hard in my life as I did at the episode with Martha Stewart and Cedric The Entertainer.”
“What’s it about?” SS, another colleague, asked, looking up briefly from her blackberry. SS is over a decade younger than M. and I, in charge of social media. She has a boyfriend, and a love of karaoke because it is old school and ironic.
M. and I stumbled over ourselves trying to explain how, in the words of host Tom Papa, “real life” couples bring their (mostly) inconsequential marriage problems to a panel of celebrity judges like Alec Baldwin, Ricky Gervais and Madonna for discussion and ultimately, judgment.
“Jerry Seinfeld created it and, like Seinfeld, basically it’s about nothing,” M. finally said. “It’s about all the little nothings that happen in marriage that pile up and make you feel homicidal.”
“But with laughter,” I added.
“And antics,” said M.
“Oh,” said SS, returning to her blackberry.
I don’t know if “The Marriage Ref” has a significant number of non-married followers but I do know I’ve been gleaning a terrible amount of enjoyment from it, the kind of enjoyment generally reserved for Denis LeHane novels and vodka martinis. It’s sort of embarrassing, really – like a soon-to-be bride having “Bridezilla” marathons before her wedding or college roommates watching MTV’s “The Real World” together…why watch t.v. when you live the real thing, day to day?
Some of my enjoyment comes from the celebrity panels, of course. Jerry Seinfeld knows funny and he picks celebrity panels you would never anticipate yourself – seriously, Martha Stewart, Cedric the Entertainer and Jason Alexander? Tina Fey and Eva Longoria Parker? NBC gives these celebrities a much-longer reign than you would think and their comments range from poking fun to truly off-color, with an occasionally sincere and compassionate thought sneaking in from time to time. The guests who willingly put forth their marriage troubles for a television viewing audience are often hilarious as well, offering universal marital problems for evaluation, from a wife’s disturbing attachment to the family pet to mother-in-law issues.
The panels don’t tackle marriage-shattering issues like infidelity or other forms of lying – it wouldn’t be funny if it did- but in some ways I think its incredibly honest in that way. I’ve told more than one person (but probably not more than ten) that while my love and adoration for S. is wide and true like a river, the issue most likely to break us up is his allegiance to 2-liter bottles of soda and my allegiance to serving-size cans or bottles. For the record, I cannot stand 2-liter bottles of soda. I believe, whether or not it is scientifically true, that they go flat much more quickly than serving-size cans and, above and beyond the quality issue, they take up a ton of room in the fridge and are impossible in terms of portion control. S. likes them, as far as I can tell, because they are cheap. For ten years, people, I have had these ungainly bottles rolling around in my fridge and for ten years I have felt my blood pressure rise every single time I see them. Once in a while I ask S. to pick up diet coke for me and each time I do I hope he implicitly understands I want cans, but he never does and I am stuck with these stupid bottles and what feels like an obligation to finish them before they go bad. Which is as soon as they are opened. So.
It’s the little things, really, that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Another, ongoing, mostly silent war between S. and I involves the front porch light. S. likes to keep it on all of the time – for consistency, for safety, to prevent criminals from noticing a recognizable “front porch light” pattern. I like to turn it on before I go to bed and turn it off when I awake in the morning, because that is what we did in my house, growing up. And so it is turned on (by S.) and turned off (by me) not in accordance with any schedule but whenever one of us notices our direct desires aren’t being adhered to. No amount of marriage counseling, I don’t think, could put us on the same page with this. (to be fair, S. would certainly have similar complaints about me, beginning with the fact I don’t pick up my towels after I shower. Yes, I know.)
This is why I love “The Marriage Ref” – it tackles issues like these but lets Madonna decide who’s right. One of the things my minister said when he married S. and me has always remained with me, and that is this: marriage is a community act, and as such they need to be supported by and engaged with the community. One of the worst fights I ever had with my mom was when she found out I told my best friend about a fight S. and I had. The fight was inconsequential but my best friend, who has known me since I was ten, and who is married as well, listened, identified, understood. In my mom’s world, you don’t talk about marital fights – you bury them deep and keep your trap shut. Really, though, that doesn’t benefit you or me or the kitchen sink. I am not arguing for sharing every private grievance with your friends (and your blog readers) but I do think an open conversation with those you love about certain difficulties is healthy and beneficial to the community as a whole. Celebrities and tabloid coverage make marriage out to be a temporary state – something one can easily divorce oneself from the moment a glimmer of unhappiness or difficulty is detected – instead of a state that should be, ideally, permanent – a commitment to be seen through, a long-term love. Ultimately this is why, in my opinion, you should be able to look at your husband or wife or potential life partner and declare them your absolute favorite person, the number one person on your team of two. After all, when times get tough in this day and age you can always go on a reality television show and have Tina Fey settle your fight and I, for one, will thank you.