About 20 years ago I had a friend who told me that if I stayed with my partner we’d have to go to couples therapy for the rest of our lives.
She wasn’t exactly a big fan of the relationship.
So as our 26th anniversary approaches, and I revisit, well, everything because the over-examined life is…well, worth living though it could be suggested that I might give myself a break once in a while (note to self: get off my back!), I remember what she said and the extreme emphasis she put on every syllable.
Now anyone who has read this blog knows that my partner and I go through couples therapists like toilet paper (sorry, couldn’t think of a better comparison). In fact, we have just fired The Stork for the 2nd time. We don’t exactly like couples therapy. My partner even begged me to not even look for a new therapist for a while. (This is new, since I’m usually the anti-therapy advocate.)
So, we can’t be in couples therapy for the rest of our lives.
Nor can we be like that ad for E-Harmony saying, “My wife is a blessing to me,” or “I finally found a man of quality.” We more closely resemble Ben Affleck’s Oscar remarks to Jennifer Garner. “We’ve worked really hard on this marriage and marriage is hard, and it’s the best work there is. Thank you for working with me.”
Add to the above statement the following: “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and completely whacked out.” (Me.) “Because I know I am an unbelievable pain in the ass and that my neurotic monologues about details drive you crazy.” (Her.)
So, to get to my point. Closeness is hard! I mean, yes, of course, it feels good, maybe better than just about anything else, but then you get really scared and you start to freak out, so you have to distance a little (or a lot) just to not freak out in super unskillful ways and then your partner senses you distancing and starts to freak out and gets all clingy, and then you freak out that she’s getting all clingy just when you need space and then you have a massive fight and have to work on admitting all your own bullshit so you don’t get a divorce.
I exaggerate. But only slightly.
26 years. That means we’ve known each other for 30. The other day I woke up and said, “How come I married such a goofball?” And she said, “I don’t know. Why do you think?” And I said, “I guess I couldn’t find anyone better.” And she said, “I’m taking that as a compliment.” And then she hugged me for a really long time as if I’d said the best thing ever.
The truth is, I’ve never found anyone I liked more even if she is incredibly neurotic and can’t make a decision to save her life and buys every pair of pants in her size on her Gap credit card and then brings it all home so she’s have MORE time to decide and then loses the receipt and has to keep 12 pairs of pants from the Gap.
However, right now, this week, I bought her two pieces of furniture for her birthday, because believe it or not, that’s what she likes, but the colors were just a shade off and she’s like, “I want to do something small for my birthday so we can save our money and you can go to New York and be an actor.”
Like I said, I couldn’t find anyone better.
Of course, three weeks ago she yelled at me and I felt really hurt and she was appalled at herself, and I had to admit I’d raised my voice first….it was an exception to our usual, but there have been years where that kind of fighting was our usual, though thank whatever/whoever it is now some 15 years in the past (1998 was a suck year in this marriage).
Anyhow. It upsets me that romance is idealized so much, because wanting the fairy tale, believing it’s the thing, led me to stay in my first real relationship, which was romantic, and passionate, and eventually destructive. It upsets me that we understand so little about intimacy. How much forgiveness it requires, how much being in reality. I can only know my partner if I am willing to see her, as she is, and I can only see her as she is if I set aside illusions about what it means to be human, as well as all my illusions of how love will save me. Then I can know the sum of her.
My partner is incredibly unbelievably loving, and she loves to take care of me, and she can be generous, and connected, and grounded and so inside her own goodness…and she can be mean, and passive aggressive and wanting her own way no matter what, and sometimes she tries to change me and sometimes she’s just plain grouchy. Besides the daily neurosis which is alternately my entertainment and my frustration. Is she a blessing, a moment of grace? Yes. But sometimes grace is kicking me to change where I really don’t want to, and sometimes grace is turning and telling her (or her telling me) that I’m me, and this thing that bothers her isn’t changing because I don’t want it to.
What I love about marriage is the attention. Both the attention she gives me and the attention I get to pay, the way my consciousness rests and wrestles and battles its way to more light, all the time, as I fall into shadow with my partner, as I work my way out, or as we do it together. There may be periods of pure light, but the shadows will fall, again and again, because that’s what marriage is…continuing to pull yourself, each other, the coupleship, into growth, into closeness, into the kind of knowing that comes from admitting all of who you are–insecure, gifted, warm, distracted, loving, passionate, moral, broken.
I have never known anyone as well as I know my partner, and so I have never loved anyone as much. I am humbled by knowing my partner, and frustrated, and enlightened, and brought down into my own failings and then made better by how much I love her, which causes me to work on those very failings, or at least on more honesty, all the time.
It’s not ideal. Or maybe it is. Maybe this private, wonderful, irritating life is the ideal. Only Jesus, can someone besides Ben Affleck admit how irritating it is? How difficult? He had it right. It’s such hard work. And the best work there is. Marriage is a human making experience. I am made human by the struggle, by the forgiveness, by the sheer fun and ridiculousness, by seeing how I want to get even when I’m hurt, by seeing how hard I’ll try to stop hurting the person I love most.
26 years. My narcoleptic genius of the mundane will read this on her Facebook page and then she’ll say, “How about a little more on your faults?”
PS–I could have written more about marriage equality. Metta for the Supreme Court. May they have the sanity to know that making second class citizens hurts all of us.