Every once in a while, I play around with the idea of writing a book on marriage. I would call it something like “The First Ten Years” or “Compromise Tacos Are Better Than Spite Pork Chops” or perhaps something with both gravitas and whimsy. When I contemplate it, I envision a combination of memoir (mine) and interviews with all sorts of married and divorced and otherwise-committed couples. I realize Elizabeth Gilbert has done something similar with Committed but it is my understanding (I haven’t read it yet) that she comes from a very trepidatious and concerned place whereas my book would be for (a.) people who have already taken the big leap and can’t believe where they’ve ended up or (b.) people who are discouraged after seeing so many high-profile marriages break up (I’m looking at you, AL GORE) and aren’t sure they ever want to get married or (c.) anyone else who thought marriage would be one way and has found out it’s another.
The book wouldn’t be a self-help book, although it might perhaps provide some help for some people, but it would make the general assumption that many marriages- not all, by any means, and none that have elements of physical or emotional abuse or infidelity, are positive endeavors and worth working through difficulty. One of the arguments would be that marriage – both homosexual and heterosexual marriage – is a positive institution in this day and age. Probably you wouldn’t want to read it if you find marriage patriarchal or soul-crushing or something that distinguishes autonomy.
I think about writing this book not because I fancy myself a marriage expert (quite the opposite, in fact) but because there are so many things about marriage that nobody ever seems to talk about, as newlyweds or as those a decade or more into marriage. I remember my best friend M and me discussing this a couple years after both of our respective weddings…”It’s like they throw you in a white dress and send you down the aisle with no idea what to expect!” I remember her exclaiming. I think at the time she was referring to our mothers but the sentence could pertain to any number of people, really – the facade often put forth is so often dramatically different than the truth of what marriage is like. For instance, I don’t care how blissful your marriage is and how determined you are to spread that bliss far and wide – at one point, without a doubt, the two of you have argued over what to have for dinner. And you can’t believe that this is your life, suddenly – having the most boring argument in the world.
I’ve mentioned to S. on more than one occasion that for the last eleven years I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover it’s rare for us to argue about the “big things,” like money or where to live or family issues. Instead, I find myself more often than not
confounded by marveling at the fact that I married a man totally in love with air-conditioning, whereas I am from the “leave the windows open at night” variety. It is, of course, in the grand scheme of life and death, such a small personality difference but I could happily leave our bedroom window open at least a crack most, if not all, of the year whereas S. likes to be toasty warm in the winter and cucumber-cool in the summer and what our preferences mean, of course, is that at least one of us is unhappy with the temperature of our house nearly all the time. (sidenote – I told S. about this graph of the blog post last night and he said “Yes, that’s so true. I would sleep in sound-proof cocoon with a loud white noise machine if allowed, whereas you fall asleep to the sound of city busses. In that same vein, what about the fact that you leave things on the counter while I like NOTHING on the counter? You drive me crazy with that. Readers, this is true. I like to leave the ingredients out for dinners I am going to cook, and open containers of cereal and chips, and E’s teething rings, on the counter – all the easier to reach while feeding E or playing with her or whatnot. S. has taken on the sisyphian task of cleaing up whatever things I leave on the counter, every day, and yet I am always surprised when the sour cream and onion potato chips end up on the top shelf of the pantry)
I’ve been thinking about this book more often lately – I think perhaps because S. and I have been in the middle of a rather big Compromise (yes, with a capital c) – the kind of compromise where both parties are entirely amenable and entirely disatisfied, at the same time. The kind of “what is the best thing to do long-term” compromise – open vs. shut windows on a grand scale, and even though we’ve loved each other and been kind to one another through it, it has been harrowing nonetheless.
The truth is it can be difficult to put the collective good ahead of personal satisfaction, but if it’s something we can practice within our family life, I think we are more likely to practice it in the public sphere as well.
I rarely ask questions in order to solicit comments on this blog, but I am curious – if you are in a committed relationshiop, what do you find difficult about it? I promise – I am not actually writing this book, so this is just for discussion here. I won’t reuse your comments in a book proposal. I definitely think there should be a chapter called “Oh My God, What did your Mother DO to you?” Half the chapter could be written by women, the other half by men…or maybe we would break it up into quarters to allow same-sex couples a chance to vent as well!