Compromise Tacos Are Better Than Spite Pork Chops

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!

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12 Responses to Compromise Tacos Are Better Than Spite Pork Chops

  1. katy says:

    you know what shocked me that’s been difficult for us? circumcision. We are both from different faith backgrounds (C is Jewish, I grew up Lutheran) but feel rather ambivalent about most rituals. I couldn’t believe circumcision became the big to-do it did in our marriage. I secretly pray our next baby is a girl just so we don’t have to discuss this ever again.

    We also have differing ideas about windows open and air conditioning, counter mess and heaps of possessions on the dining room table. And the appropriate holding tank for dirty underwear (Hint: I don’t think it’s the floor while someone else in my marriage does).

  2. Amy says:

    Funny that you post this 6 months to the day till my wedding. Love you!

  3. litlove says:

    I don’t know where to begin! I suppose the big thing that makes most problems in my relationship is a rather nebulous concept – emotional responsibility. Who sorts things out when they go wrong emotionally? This can be between my husband and me, or between either of us and our son. I have always done the sorting out, but I hate it; I just do it because any jobs left lying around that need doing end up being mine. It’s probably not so much of an issue until children come along, and then suddenly it’s huge. But other than that, oh yeah, tidiness and sleeping can be problematic. My husband will sleep through everything and once he’s put an object down it becomes invisible to him…..

    You’d better write that book, Courtney! 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    I’d read that book, especially with that title. (Though I feel like I’d be reading it in the same light that I read my mother’s parenting magazines as a kid. Not my immediate life, maybe never will be, but interested nonetheless.)

  5. Regina says:

    I’m no longer married (it ended 12 years ago after 18 years of wedded whatever) but I remember in our first year of marriage, the major surprising disagreement was whether to put white or colored lights on the Christmas tree. We agreed to purchase both and every other year got our choice. They were amicably split up as part of the divorce.

  6. Amanda says:

    Things I find difficult? Negotiation and compromise get exhausting- sometimes I’d like to just make decisions unilaterally. We are both strong willed and when we are in sync we are a good team but sometimes when we are not everything is a fight and it gets very tiresome. Also, some of the “small” things make me STABBY. Small things in and of themselves but over the years they mount up. What sort of person repeatedly refuses to use baking paper on a baking tray?!? And then when, as it inevitably does, gunk gets baked on leaves it lying on the counter waiting for it to magically get clean. Stuffy left lying around and the fact I am the only person who takes responsibility for finding storage for anything or for overall home maintenance drives me mad. Also, I freakin’ hate the Fleet Foxes especially their one jangly discordant song and I do NOT want to hear it, ever really, and especially not loudly when I’m just home from a long day at work when I just want some quiet.

  7. AnneCamille says:

    #1) Compromise Tacos are Better than Spite Pork Chops DOES have both wit & gravitas. Keep it as your working title, baby!

    #2) Wow, I could go on & on & on about this topic! When my spouse & I were first married, I remember kvetching to someone about how he always turned off the lights when I wanted them on. If I entered a room and he had just turned off the lights, he’d say “But I just turned that off”. Amazing how many arguments this spawned. But, the wise listener said to me: “I don’t know what that’s about, but it isn’t about the lights”. So true — every argument or disagreement in a marriage is like that: it isn’t the specific thing, it is the giving up of the self; it is about compromise. Now, “giving up oneself” sounds like a bad thing — and if done too much, or only by one party, you don’t have compromise, you don’t have a marriage, you have a dictatorship and it is a bad thing. But, as hokey as it sounds, marriage really in some ways is about two becoming one yet maintaining themselves as individuals. That balance is so difficult to find and maintain over the course of many years. I really don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how I do it. I think being married and staying married is a commitment that you make every single day, whether you specifically think about it or not. You decide to stick with it and figure out the countertop clutter, and the bills, and vacation spots, and who is going to discipline the kids this time, and a zillion other things, and compromise tacos.

    #3) Write that book. Who cares that E. Gilbert did something similar. It isn’t like we can only have one book on a particular topic!

  8. Stefanie says:

    If you write the book you totally have to use the Compromise Tacos title! The thing that never fails to spark an argument is when we need to make home repairs or we are working on a house project that involves power tools or getting dirty. My husband suddenly turns into a “this is a man’s job” kind of man, the kind of man he so totally is not at any other time. He knows it makes me mad but yet he does it every time.

  9. Emily Barton says:

    Oh, you’ll just have to wait for my response. Soul sisters that we are, I have been writing a blog post in my head entitled, “Things THIS Wife Hopes Never to Hear Her Husband Say Again (knowing full well the hope is, well, hopeless), which I’ll be posting soon. It’s so, so true: no one tells us anything about marriage before we blindly take the leap. BTW, I’ve read the Gilbert book, and what you’re describing isn’t at all the same thing. You’ve got a winner, I’m sure.

  10. Melis says:

    It’s hard when everyone assumes you are such a happy couple and so lucky and asks you for the secret of your success. But there’s no success.

  11. Katy – circumcision! That’s so interesting, actually (nothing we had to deal with this time around, obviously) – I would definitely be interested in hearing more about this someday!

    Amy – you and F already know compromise beef stroganoff is better than spite spinach!

    Litlove…well, we’ll see about writing the book. Right now I think I’m just going to try tackling an article! You make a very interesting point about serving as the emotional housekeeper in a relationship – that definitely falls to me as well – I wonder how many women would say the same?

  12. Amy, oh I think you’ll find yourself hitched at some point. I just see it for some reason…

    Moe! Christmas lights! Yes! An ongoing argument in our house…S is a white light guy, while I like color lights – I can’t believe I forgot about that!

    Amanda – Stabby is the PERFECT word for the small things piling up the way they do. PERFECT.

    Anne – I really like what you have to say about “two becoming one” while maintaining individuality. It seems so counterinutitive but in the best marriages I believe it is possible.

    Stefanie – Oh! Yes! Men suddenly becoming all caveman-like when power tools are involved is such a thing! It would definitely have to be addressed in the book!

    Emily – seriously, this soul sister business is getting ridiculous.

    Melis – welcome! I look forward to getting to know you through your blog!

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