Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Offense of Marriage

Let me say right off the bat that I'm not very good at marriage.

Now, at first glance the facts don't appear to support that statement.  I am married, right now, and have been for 20 years.  I'm married to my first husband, and I have no doubt that he is my last and only husband.  Should he go before I do, I won't remarry.  I'm not being devoted and romantic; I'm saying flat out that I am not doing this shit a second time.  I may as well climb in the box with my Beloved Spouse when he goes, because having to be married again will kill me.

When I was a little girl, I had many dreams.  I dreamed of being a famous writer, a singer, an actress.  I dreamed of having my own variety show, like Donny and Marie.  Of course, I dreamed of finding true love, preferably with Parker Stevenson from "The Hardy Boys."  Kirstie Alley actually got to live that dream for me, although she clearly was not worthy of Parker's love and/or didn't read every single article about him in Tiger Beat, the way I did.  Sorry, Parker.  I would have saved you from heartbreak if I could.  You could have helped by answering my letters, but no, let's not dwell on what might have been.

Shhh...no regrets.
The point is, none of those childhood dreams came true.  This may come as a shock to Justin Bieber, but most of the things most kids fantasize about don't actually happen (although I have a hard time believing that even you figured that haircut into your master plan, Justin).  What happens instead is that we get older, develop our interests, take a few chances, turn down a few more, and one day find ourselves with strange dust on our shoes from the path we didn't realize we had chosen.  And typically we look up and down the path and decide that even if it's not pointing in exactly the direction we once had in mind, the odds are that we can get to we're going by staying on it, with a few unexpected detours and dangerous crossings along the way, of course.  And so we march resignedly toward death.

No, no!  I jest!  And so we travel toward a fulfilling life, rich in memories and experiences.  So I didn't wind up on the Famous Actress path.  I have no regrets, especially since I clearly remember the day in high school when I decided I was not going to spend the rest of my life taking stage direction from passive-aggressive gay men who thought they were Bob Fosse because they wore a sweater knotted around their neck.  I believe they call that an "a-ha" moment.  Life is full of them.

Another A-ha moment.
On the flip side of all that, I don't recall ever specifically dreaming about being an office manager.  I did spend a lot of time playing with my grandmother's typewriter and pretending to fill out important forms and arguing with stupid people, however, so maybe my future career path was more hard-wired into me than I thought.  And - and this is important - I never dreamed of being married.

True love, sure.  Who doesn't dream of true love?  Nobody, that's who, which is why a) everybody loves The Princess Bride and b) they never made a sequel called Westley and Buttercup Apply for a Mortgage. But I never planned a wedding in my head, or imagined living with someone forever.  I used to design beautiful imaginary houses that were exactly perfect for me...because I was going to live in them alone.  Or maybe with a roommate, like Laverne and Shirley or Janet and Chrissy.  But not with, you know, a husband when I got married.   It just never occurred to me.

And so I grew up and fell ass-over-teapot in love with the man my readers know as Beloved Spouse.  Except when I met him, he was just That Dopey Guy with the '78 Thunderbird.  Then, to quote Frau Blucher, he vas...my...boyfriend!  After a while I realized that I really didn't want this guy to ever go away.  He must have felt the same way, because one day after we had a big fight and were about to break up, he asked me to marry him.  And then I started to think about being married (good thing, too, because we had been talking about buying furniture and having kids for about a year at that point - see, it just never occurred to me).

We got married by a justice of the peace - no white dress, no fancy reception.  No guests, unless you count my parents and my grandma (who were our witnesses) and the moose head hanging in the JP's chambers.  No registry, no honeymoon, no good china...sometimes when I think of how bad I am at marriage, I think it must have something to do with our humble start, until I remember all the former couples I know who had big fancy weddings and barely got that shit paid off before they decided that the shared debt was the only thing keeping them together.  Then I get all warm and tingly realizing that I don't need a big expensive wedding album to be a bad wife.

So why exactly do I keep saying I'm bad at marriage?  Well, I have to work really, really hard at it, for one thing.  After all these years, it should be easier, shouldn't it?  I make a lot of mistakes; for example, BelSpouse finds it extremely upsetting if I tell him he should just leave, the way his dad left him.  I probably never should have said that more than once.  Yet I have.  I don't know if I forget or what, but sometimes it comes out in anger.  Big mistake.

Speaking of anger, it can't be a good thing for a marriage to get as angry as I do.  If two people love each other, they shouldn't need to lash out, or yell, or say things they may regret later.  Surely happy couples are, I don't know, happy.  But I do get mad sometimes.  I'm quite accomplished at apologizing afterward, I must say.  Still, I can't help believing that I wouldn't need to be apologetic if I knew what I was doing. 

I guess what I'm saying is that when it comes right down to it, I'm not a huge fan of marriage simply because it makes me feel incompetent.  If there were any other way to be with BelSpouse forever, share our Precocious Daughter equally, have the legal right to make decisions that affect both of us, take care of him and be taken care of by him, pool our resources, own property together, and profess our commitment before God and the world - any other way - I would seriously consider it.  But this is what I'm stuck with.  I love the man, so I put up with the institution.  For better or for worse.


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