With The Husband-Type Man as the husband in the equation, marriage – our “realistic” marriage – turned out to be something light years away from anything I could have planned for or practiced or anticipated, something so far beyond the scope of clipped magazine articles and bad pop-psych books that it’s akin to a plastic Play-Doh “burger factory” preparing you for the experience of a Kobe beef steakhouse in Tokyo.
So, after all this time, the singular events, the overarching feelings, have turned into the collage of our relationship where the whole is as important as the parts and all flow together: the fun we have in the kitchen together, fixing a themed Thanksgiving dinner or fondue for a party, or a weird concoction of ice cream and candy and syrups... the way he carefully reads my finished papers and conference presentations, asking questions, making notes, genuinely interested... him laughing until he’s in tears over Zelda trying to attack the water coming out of the shower nozzle... the days and nights this last summer that he spent spoon-feeding me crushed ice and helping me empty drainage tubes and just sitting next to me holding my hand because I was sore and scared after my surgery..... the grin on his face when he’s surprised me with something, be it fresh tamales from the Farmer’s Market on Melrose for Sunday brunch, a Lost Weekend at the St. Regis in NYC, a weird knick-knack store he discovered on Vermont Ave. to take me to, the designs and plans for our house remodel that included a library rotunda for me, a cup of European-style drinking chocolate for breakfast, a quiet night at home watching something he’s TiVo’d for me because he thought I’d be interested in it, a kidnapping-trip to Florence, or a second honeymoon.... the terror in his eyes as he held my hand tightly, his chest covered with heart monitors in the Emergency Room, through a long, sleepless night of testing what turned out to be a common arrhythmia... the admiration I have for him when I listen to him intelligently talk about a book at my Book Club or see him handle a situation with a co-worker or an issue with the contractor, or see him in the kitchen cooking a batch of hypoglycemic-recipe beef stew or chicken breasts to take down to his mom, so she won’t have to cook meals for herself that week... how anal-retentive he is about lining up his wallet and keys, or putting papers on his desk... the times he reads out loud to me, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books... the evenings we set aside to just talk about stuff, like what we both thought about various nuances of character upon re-reading The Great Gatsby or an article on the Vatican... his quest to find the weirdest flavored soda, the strangest candy, the most-farthest-away-from-Mexico Mexican food... the way he rests his chin on the top of my head when I wrap my arms around him, or scrunches up his face in mock-agony when I wonky up his hair, or squeezes his fingers around mine and whispers “Fingers cuddlin’!” when we’re holding hands... the calm way he responds if I have a now-rare panic attack... him teasing me about my teen poo music, me teasing him about his early 80s breakin’ music... the way we can respectfully debate different sides of an issue and think the other is the most brilliant person ever... the dorky nicknames and silly games and sick-making lovey rituals we have together... how it felt then, how it still feels now, when he looks at me and I can see that he loves me as much as I love him, that “love” and “respect” and “cherish,” for both of us, aren’t words you say in a wedding service or because that’s how everyone describes their relationship, but are tangible and everyday aspects of our relationship.
To try to fully explain, though, is... like trying to explain, exactly, the specific feel and texture of your favorite blanket when you wrap up in it after a trying day... like trying to explain how it feels to float in warm, tropical ocean water with little wavelets splashing your sun-hot shoulders with cool caresses ... like trying to explain the flavors of the amazing cheese soufflé, all light yet rich, laced with crisp edges, smothered in decadent cream sauce flavored delicately with fresh herbs, that you had at that one restaurant.... Words can’t begin to do it justice, and the more you try to explain it, the more pretentious and twatty you sound. And the more you fucking annoy everyone else who you’re trying to explain it to.
Suffice to say, for ten years of marriage, and for the three years before, I’ve had a constant “pinch myself!” feeling. This... this is really real? Still?
That doesn’t mean things are perfect. No real-life marriage is. Obviously we disagree on things. Sometimes we get sick of each other and just need a little alone-time. One of us is horny, the other is absorbed with work and not interested in the least. Each of us insists the other loads the dishwasher incorrectly. He always runs late for everything, which drives me nuts. My toiletries creep over onto his side of the vanity sink, which drives him nuts. We’ve experienced financial problems and family dramas and health issues. We’ve moved all over the place for his work or my school. There are all of the day-to-day, totally non-magykally-romantical elements of sharing a home, a bathroom, a kitchen with someone. But those aren’t the things that define us or our relationship. In the big picture, without having to resort to rationalizations of “it’s not THAT bad!” my leaving yesterday’s clothes piled on the bedroom floor or him leaving dirty dishes in the sink is less significant than what brand toothpaste he picks up from the market or if I drop the dry-cleaning off today or tomorrow. But by “not perfect,” I don’t mean that either of us have to put up with explosive temper tantrums, moody reclusiveness, smoking or drugs or alcohol, disrespectful behavior, dishonesty, stupidity, uncontrollable spending, ignoring important issues, or any of the other ten-billion things that are accepted by many (and were accepted by me back in the day) as “a normal part of a relationship.” And the few times one of us inadvertently hurts the other’s feelings or if something comes out wrong, it’s very easy to say “That sounded worse than I know you meant it” and receive a genuine apology with no argument or defensiveness or “you’re just too sensitive!” If there’s a problem, we can talk about it without fears of recriminations or “ruining everything!”
With THTH, I’ve learned what compromise really means. You compromise on things like what cupboard you put the glasses in, if you’re going out for Italian or Mexican food tonight. You trade off on things like having Christmas at one set of parents’ house this year, and another’s next year, or sucking it up and going to the other’s work-related function when you’d rather stay home. You don’t compromise on anything that makes you feel loved or secure. You don’t ever ever ever no matter what the reason compromise your self.
I also learned how important it was to be a whole individual, rather than looking for someone else to “complete me.” So when I met THTM, there was none of this “I was nothing without you!” or “You’re the half that makes me whole!” crap. We were both individuals connecting because of who we were, not because of what we were missing or what we weren’t.
That, I think, is why I wanted to write about all of this here, despite the sick-making smoofiness... because I wanted to emphasize what it took me so long to learn, and what so many women – so many people – never learn: don’t ever settle.
I certainly don’t mean make all sorts of High Maintenance Diva/Cocky Bastard demands about how much money someone spends on you or how hot someone looks or what kind of car someone drives. I mean the important stuff. The real stuff.
Don’t accept less in a relationship than what makes you feel whole and happy and secure and loved, no matter how much you’ve already dated, no matter what your friends or relatives have done, no matter that you wanted to get married and have children by such-and-such age, no matter what the character in that book did or that celebrity did. I don’t care if you’re lonely or (in the words of one cousin) “just want someone to watch TV with at night” or (in the words of an old friend) “hate to sleep alone” or (in the words of my brother) “just want someone to come home to” or (in the words of my mother) “don’t want to grow old alone” or (in the words of 14-year-old Dwanollah) “just want someone to love me!” No. From experience, all of that – being alone, being single, not making certain self-imposed “deadlines” for having babies, whatever – is far, far preferable to settling for an “oh, this isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly good enough” partner (or anything else, for that matter).
Don’t ever settle for someone who wants you to be something other than who you are. Don’t ever settle for someone who is less than a whole partner. Don’t ever settle for someone who makes you feel like you’re doing most of the work, most of the loving, are the most emotionally invested in the relationship. Don’t settle for someone who lacks values or traits that are important to you. Don’t settle for someone who asks you to do something dishonest or unethical. Don’t settle for someone who makes you want to change your values, morals, interests, essence, your self, in the name of “compromise.” Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t treat you with the whole, true, and open love and respect that every human being deserves. (And if you don’t believe you deserve this, get some counseling until you do!)
Set the bar high. It’s worth it. And it’s very realistic, by the way.
(And if all this wasn’t grody enough, next time, I’m gonna share all the fun details of Wedding Remix 2007! But hey, you’ll get to see La Casita post-remodel as a bonus!)