Looking back after sixteen years of marriage to the same woman, I see now that love has gotten me to where I am today. I am a much stronger man than I was before, because of love—love-the word, love-the feeling, love-the idea, love-the romantic notion…love is the Styrofoam peanut of our existence. Without it the contents of our independent lives would bang together mercilessly. With it we are well-packed.
Clearly I am not the man I was a decade and a half ago. We use less words and we mean more, my spouse and I. We choose our words wisely so as not to push the other’s buttons involuntarily. The Eskimos may have had hundreds of variations for the word ‘snow’. We’re the opposite. We have one word and we paste it everywhere. ‘Love’ is the common denominator.
“I love you.” (Translation: You have meaning for me, even if I don’t always love you.)
“I love YOU.” (Translation: I rarely love you, but thanks for being nice to me. So few are. I’m glad there’s someone who has to be or else.)
* * *
“Thank you for making my lunch this morning. I love that you stick notes in my sandwiches with toothpicks.” (But I don’t always get what they mean. For instance yesterday you punctured my bologna with “Consider alternate route”.)
“I love writing you notes that you don’t read until you’re at work.” (I’m watching you, pal. Don’t even think of looking twice at that new intern. I know you too well.)
* * *
“I love you.” (Thank you for taking the dog out.)
“I love YOU.” (It wasn’t my turn, but I respect the fact that whenever he has diarrhea, it’s automatically my turn.)
“You’re the best.” (Please wash your hands.)
* * *
“You’re the best.” (I’m glad we both work, because sometimes it’s easier to be in love with you from 30 miles distance than it is in person.)
“Thanks honey, you too.” (I agree. Sometimes when we’re home together, I’d prefer to get on the phone with you, because at least then you carry on one conversation instead of ignoring me in favor of tablecloths.)
“Can I get you breakfast?” (The table cloths are always dirty because you eat breakfast on them and have not yet figured out how to pour your milk without spilling it.)
“Thanks. I’d love some.” (That’s our seven-year-old, I pour milk perfectly well, thank you very much. Do you ever just break down and actually wash the damn thing?)
“Don’t give me that look.”
* * *
“You look cute today.” (Is there sex in our future?)
“Thanks hon.” (Do you have your kneed pads?)
“I like your hair.” (I strained my left knee, could we try the bed for once?)
“Sure, thanks. You’re sweet.” (If you make the bed first, get me a towel, find my pajamas, light a candle, warm the massage oil, put some music on, feed the dog, put the kids to sleep, help me print this out, fix my website and put insulation tape on the windows first.)
“I’ll be right back.”
* * *
“You’re my lover.” (I like what you do.)
“You’re my woman. We were meant to be. (No one else would put up with your shit.)
“Sweetheart.” (That’s funny, I was thinking the same thing.)
“Your smile turns me on.”
“You’re the single most important person in my life.” (Despite the fact that I don’t always love you.)
* * *
It is daily work simply understanding each other using so few words but somehow we’ve accomplished it. When nerves are unraveling we slap a sloppy coat of love on them and they ravel back up.
In addition to using love peanuts to pack away our problems, we’re currently deep at work on the cardboard box itself. One of the biggest surprises of our marriage is that the great 70s philosopher Billy Joel was right. He said, “Blame it all on yourself, ’cause she’s always a woman to me.” This is truth.
We used to have enough cardboard construction between the two of us to start a small moving company. Now we have managed to lessen the number of walls we put up between us, down to one. Ourselves. We used to encounter it constantly and think smugly, “Oh my God, what a jerk he/she is.” The Blame Game was simply too much fun and too easy to play. Ahhhhh, there were some great blames in the old days. Record blames. Infamous blames. Blames of note. Not any more. Counter-intuitive though it might be, it turns out that what I see in her actually are MY shortcomings, and vice-versa.
Now when we come up against it, though it SEEMS to be the other person, we recognize it as our own karmic wall shaped EXACTLY like our spouse. Our response therefore has also changed. We no longer run at it fiercely with spears, throw bodies against it in a smack-down, or even, frankly, scale it. Sometimes we still run away screaming, but then with the full knowledge of 16 years of marriage, we creep back coweringly; wonderingly –“Could that really be me? It sure looks like her.”
And yet, as we look at the sorry state of some of the marriages around us, so many spouses are either still running head-long at a wall they think is the other person, or have not yet been able to develop our “crawl-back” ability. No wonder. It’s downright humiliating. Where divorce is rampant, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. On the other hand, those couples don’t have to wear knee pads 24/7.
The frisson of marriage is not acceptance of who she is, it’s acceptance of who you are. Once that’s done, Rumi is right, “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Our marriage is safe in a sturdy brown box with lots of bubble wrap for joy, peanuts for love, stamped, certified and addressed to the future. And here are the packing instructions…
– When she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, turn the mattress over.
– Never engage in a conversation that she begins with “You should…” (Simply smile and nod and make yourself a nice ham sandwich, you’ll need it.)
– Eschew prepared statements. Better to sincerely open your heart and just talk to her.
– Don’t cry. You’re supposed to be the strong one.
– Don’t whine, you’re not ten anymore. (Unless of course whining still works in which case, whine away, they deserve it.)
– Never let a computer come between you and your spouse. All computers are mirrors of human inadequacy. If we were meant to be that logical, we wouldn’t drink beer.
– Learn to listen, whether you’re listening or not.
– There is no substitute for Date Night; no matter how good your Netflix subscription is or what game is on TV.
*This article has been approved by HRH, my wife, the Love Queen.