You married the wrong person. Now what?

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 8.56.33 AMBy now you have all read (or ignored) Alain De Botton’s (ADB’s- if I can call him that) NYTimes opinion piece…”Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”

If you chose to ignore it you should read it.

This is not my first blog post. I know that very few of you clicked that link, so I will boil down De Botton’s beautifully reasoned piece with less lyricism and more lyrics.

  1. Fields of Gold. People used to marry to get more fields (or gold, or titles or whatever.) That was the marriage of reason.
  2. More than a Feeling. Now people marry because of feeling. The more reckless (you are 18 year old) or dangerous (you are going to be the one to heal someone bitter and broken) it feels the more it stands in contrast to reason. We think this is good. Reason was old school, like in olden days before there was even school to be old. So feeling is new school.
  3. Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places. We tell ourselves that the magical feeling we seek is happiness. We believe that happiness comes from love. De Botton calls bullshit on that. Our first experience of love comes from our childhood. Each of us, in our own special way, had a fucked up childhood. So for us, love is familiar, and familiarly fucked up.  We seek people who recreate old patterns of abandonment, or who need fixing, like many of our family members did. According to ADB   “We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.” Double bummer.
  4. Crazy for Feeling so Lonely. For those of us that don’t seek or can’t find partners with whom to lug around the heavy baggage of our youth there are other ways to choose poorly. Far less elusive than happiness is lust and excitement. Particularly on the heels of the loneliness of single life we can feel meaningfully drawn to someone who we just meet. Someone who in a moment makes us forget pain and experience pleasure. Sadly, as anyone who has been in a long term relationship knows, that feeling of pleasure is fleeting. Marriage doesn’t play itself out in a single moment of passion. It deals with shit, literal and figurative, and even worse than that it deals with the monotony of every day life. We were drawn towards a dramatic solution to a problem we never articulated. And now we drive screaming kids in mini vans.
  5. Got to take it on the Otherside.  ADB says none of this matters. He says we all have this problem…and because of this we would have this problem with any other partner as well. We should be content with our discontent. He tells us to stay married to the wrong person. Except he tells us in a more lyrical way.

    We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning. We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

Now. What.   ?
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Lets grieve together. If you are single you can grieve the loss of any sort of romantic idealism. There is no one out there to make whole, or to make you whole. There will not be musical montages of trying on funny hats and dabbing each other’s noses with ice cream.

Or (and this is where the partnered up people and the single people can join in their grief together),  maybe there will be musical montages but they will be much longer and be scored by Phillip Glass rather than Wilson Phillips. The melody will be lost as you sit at the table feeling bored by both your partner and your dinner. Its like you married the goddamned chicken breast and broccoli for all of the inspiration your partner offers you. Or maybe it is Meatloaf (here let’s continue both the music and the food analogies) where this both inscrutable mix of meat and his crazy excited sing-screaming is confusing. Meatloaf is supremely unhelpful as you just try to get yourself, your kids, and your dog through another damn day.

This is how the grieving sounded in my head:

This article is not about me. I had a happy childhood and sought someone stable and loving. (Not that first guy…obviously I married the wrong person first, but THIS time…this time.) Who is ADB to say that WE ALL picked the wrong partner. That ONLY someone who is comfortable being single and waiting half a lifetime can find true love. What an arrogant ass. What is the work around if he is right… I have an idea… I could ditch Steve and be super choosy about the next one. When I picked Steve I was looking for someone who was left handed, had curly hair, could make an explosion noise, and had a job. I settled for two of those characteristics. I could hold out for all four. Or even a different four, perhaps one of them could be about generosity, or like civic mindedness. I don’t have half a lifetime left to wait…but I could give it a few years. I’m happy with Steve. I mean no one is happy, but I have a high approximation of happiness with Steve. So what if I keep him. What if I keep him but totally change our lifestyle (after the kids are grown of course) we could, like, live a life of migrant volunteerism. Steve’d be good at that…he rarely complains I could find the places that need us and he could do the water hauling. I know that wouldn’t work. I am way too lazy. And I never leave bed. It is terrible that I lead so much of my life from bed. I am writing this, the first thing I have written in four days, FROM BED. You know why? Because I always thought someone would come along and get my ass out of bed (after, of course, we enjoyed some bed together.) That person would want the best for me, and beyond wanting, would actually teach me how to want the best for myself. I feel it now. There is only one person who can get me out of bed…and that is me…and I married the wrong man. So now I have to worry about my weight, my work, and my waning romanticism.

Fine. So we have accepted the death of romanticism. We have married the wrong person. I ask again.

Now. What?

If you are single you are a step ahead. You can figure out what particular kind of crazy brings out less of your own crazy. Then pick that person. If you are prepared for less perfection, and less poetry you can probably come out OK. Simple.

For those of us married (to the wrong person) lets huddle up.  I am thinking that we try a few things.

  1. Spend a week and noticing some things about your behavior and your expectations. Take note of times that you feel you are being charming and quirky. Quirky is a codeword for crazy. Pay attention when your voice rises above normal speaking level. Anger is a big clue for the proximity of crazy. Now you might think it is your partner’s crazy that made you yell. Give it a moment. Write it down. Come back to it. Could it have been YOUR crazy? Possibly? I thought so. Do you have a scorecard? The one where you wrote thank you notes +1 (like you ALWAYS do +1,000) ,you made the doctor’s appointment +1 and frankly were the only one to WORRY about the MD at all +25, and…and…  Take a look at that card. How does it make you feel? Bitter? Self- righteous? Does it energize you or deflate you? Just go ahead and notice. Are you muttering under your breathe? What are you muttering? Say it slowly out loud. Let your laments be spoken in a full voice. Listen to yourself. Don’t change anything.
  2. Have your partner do all that stuff too. Don’t change anything.
  3. After a week come together. Look at all of the evidence you have collected “against” your partner, the stories you can tell about yourself. You are both crazy. You are both hard to live with. Neither of you is pulling your weight in the areas of expertise of the other. Don’t change anything.
  4. Don’t change anything. Don’t change yourself, your partner, your marital status. We are all fucking crazy. If you left for a do-over you will bring your crazy with you, and meet up with fresh new crazy. Doesn’t that sound tiring?

Only Steven Stills (of Nash & Young) wrote the chorus that should be the refrain of our relationships.  Yet they still got it wrong. In their song they tell us that “if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” But we know the truth about “the one you love” He is most certainly a disappointment. She is most certainly out of her mind. So maybe we should propose a re-write. Something about having to settle to be able to settle down. It may not be lyrical but it could be lyrics. ADB tells us “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

Love the One You’re With.

 

 

 

Tiny transgressions that erode an excellent marriage

Maintaining a happy marriage requires communication, team work, flexibilityin the bedroom and in the world outside of it. This post is about none of that. It is about the little things. The tiny transgressions that work so slowly to undermine the foundation of your marriage that you don’t even know that they are eroding things. If you look out for these little things you might just avoid the way the upset can upset your relationship.

When you choose share your life, bed, car, and dishwasher with someone else there are four eyes, four hands and two ways to do everything. Here are the steps to take to make sure the most irritating irritants don’t derail you.

  1. couple fighting over transgressionsFigure out what is happening most frequently, let go of the outliers. The list of things that we do that irritate each other is pretty long. When things are going well we let almost all of them drift away. Here is a sampling of what we do to annoy each other. How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, which beer glasses can be on the open shelf, how we load the car for travel, which route we drive to the airport, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes…and so many more. The first step we took it cease our squabbling was to ignore the things that aren’t regular problems. The route to the airport, the beer glasses, and loading the car for travel got shelved (along with the beer glasses with black font only.)  What’s left on the list? How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, which beer glasses can be on the open shelf, how we load the car for travel, which route we drive to the airport, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes.
  2. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.52.37 AMBack off the other person’s territory. In our case my laptop (Steve hates the tabs) and his bedside table (it really is his space) get cut from the list. In a co-joined life we really need to be able to carve out and control some things. Laptops and bedside tables are two of them. What’s left on the list? How we load the dishwasher, which screen is displayed on the car dashboard, where we put our keys on the counter, whether we yell for each other’s attention, how many tabs are open on my laptop, how long we take at the grocery store, how much crap is on our bedside table, which way to fold the shirts, whether we buy scented trash bags, leaving lights on, where the mail goes.
  3. toilet transgressionsUse the toilet seat test. At first glance it seems anti-feminist that the default toilet seat position is the one that favors the woman. Why should the ladies have all the love in the lav? A deeper dive reveals the toilet seat test…the cost to one party (sitting in cold pee) is much greater than the other (lifting the seat with a single finger). In the case of yelling for each other’s attention (or the kids’) it is Steve that suffers more. I sit on my butt and scream. If he is closer than I think I hurt his already damaged hearing. In this case a blow to his health seriously trumps the cost of me standing up and finding my family.
  4. Keys.Understand where the other person is coming from. Celebrate the way the quirks improve your life.  The fact that he wanders the aisles of the grocery store as if he is seeing each item for the first time drives me batty. I am impatient. He is fastidious. Yet, since Steve does 70% of the shopping and 90% of the cooking in our house I have decided to let him camp out in the grocery store as long as he likes. It may mean I have to bide my time, but at least I have great food to eat while I am waiting. Steve likes to drop his sunglasses and keys on the end of the kitchen counter as he walks in. It is simple. I spend a lot of time making our kitchen look good (after all I manage the beer glasses carefully). After 200 or so times I asked him if he would drop his stuff somewhere else because a clean counter is particularly important to my mental health. Because he loves me, and secretly loves a clean counter, his keys land on the shelf near the side door.
  5. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.55.24 AMWhat works for the world, or the household. Sometimes a greater issue can break a stalemate. I like it light at night. Steve likes it dark. Our feelings on the issue are about equal. So the planet wins. As for the mail…I like to stash it in the office out of sight (remember the clean counters…) However, the bills sometimes went unpaid and the piles began to look like Pisa. So the mail stays out and gets dealt with… As for the dishes it is a case of fast versus fastidious again. I like to cram things in and run it. Steve likes to solve the dishwasher like a puzzle. After having to handwash plates post wash cycle I have pretty much seen the benefit of Steve’s method. Plus I like puzzles.
  6. Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.58.42 AMGive in to the passion. If one person cares a whole hell of a lot for no reason and the other person cares only a little bit the crazy person should win. There will be NO scented trash bags in our house. They make me sick.
  7. Listen to reason. Steve folds the shirts in half…then deals with the arms then in half again. I deal with both arms then make a square shape. After years of arguing for the aesthetics of my way…and both of us folding his shirts one way and mine the other I finally admitted that his way was faster. Don’t tell.
  8. couple beyond transgressionsMake it a win-win. Steve likes to drive with the tire pressure displayed on the dashboard. Perhaps it is because he has run over the same cub three times and had to replace six tires as a result. There is just no saying. I prefer just about any other display. So we just split it. When I drive I look at something quirky…like mileage. Steve can spend as much time on PSI as the NFL and I keep my mouth shut. Mostly.  I’m calling this a win-win. On off days it might feel like a lose lose. But isn’t it easier to push a button to switch the display than push each other’s button?

Guess what I am getting him for his stocking this Christmas?

What are your triggers? Which ones can you ditch?

Why I was a cheating cheater

It’s easy enough to blame my affair on my dead dad.

The Husband

My husband and I met at Brown University. J was tall and golden and tanned. I imagined myself with someone dark and nebbish. He was a swimmer who wrote passionate stories and grew his own pot. My imaginary partner and I would sit to avoid our four left feet and stay out of trouble doing a crossword. My future husband would never be satisfied by such a simple grid. He created his own world snowboarding out of bounds, losing himself in atonal guitar, and populating imaginary universes with violent aliens. He represented infinite possibility. I was just trying to keep my grades up.

I grew up an hour from Providence so it was easy to take him home to show him off. My father was an artist who ate steaks and listened to sports radio. He worked for himself whenever he wanted. He even hired someone to take out the garbage. My boyfriend saw first hand that a life without rules was possible. I was both happy and wary when they started spending time together in my father’s studio.

The Problems

After graduation J didn’t look for a job. My father had taught him what he always knew…that he was too good for the grind. He worked for my father two afternoons a week. The rest of the time he was out on bike rides or listening to jam music too stoned to speak. He embraced a life apart, fueled and funded by my father. I thought space from my father and a fresh start might help us both. We moved to Vermont but took all of our baggage with us.

After my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer he pressured me formalize my relationship. Unlike many parents he didn’t exert his will through advice or pleas. Instead he covered up our problems and bound J and I together. When we moved to Vermont he built a studio for J so he could continue “working” for him. He insisted that I put J on the deed of house that I bought, tying us together legally before we even talked about marriage.

The Wedding

Just as my relationship had lost all of its luster we got married. I knew. I knew at the time that my answer was “I don’t” not “I do.” Still I went through with it. My father needed to know that I was settled before he could let go. I figured the gift to my dad was worth another year or two of a lonely life. We had a tented dinner on the lawn of our lovely lake front house. I didn’t dance. When J and I got back to our hotel room we fell asleep side by side without touching. I dreamed of rowing away, our little lake the mouth to a much larger body of water. One that I navigated alone.

We drove back to Vermont in  grey mist, which never really lifted.

The Affair

In the end I wasn’t brave enough to do anything alone. The next Golden Boy was the catalyst I needed to leave my marriage. The object of my lust was also unhappily married. He was a slightly grown up frat boy who laughed and teased in a way my haughty husband never would. It started the evening the two couples sat on the couch watching Jerry Maguire. The other woman’s husband had his dog at his feet. His hand was entwined in long fur. He stroked the dog gently at first then with more force. With each escalation of affection he caught my eye. It was strange but effective foreplay.

Like most cheaters I began to collect ammunition against my husband. He didn’t have a job, he smoked pot daily, he took himself too seriously, I hadn’t had an orgasm with him in months. The list was nothing compared to the big transgression. My father, his champion and patron lay dying three hours away and he never went with me to visit. I was commuting weekly between work and graduate school making the drive to sit by my father’s bedside. My husband stayed away because my father had taught him that that opting out was an option.

The Exits

In the end I left J before my father died. I hadn’t lasted six months in our marriage. My father was ill enough then that he never knew that his matchmaking had failed. I moved out through freezing rain and on that one day J was the partner that I hoped for. He bought me a tea pot with two handmade mugs for my new apartment. He wanted to move me in, but instead the other man helped me get settled. My apartment was on a river with a rushing waterfall. After sending them both away I sat in front of the window and watched the icy rain pour into the water.

On Valentines day I spent another secret evening with the other man in my apartment. When the phone rang at 11:42 I knew my father had died. I sat on the scratchy carpet listening to the river rush outside. My tears flowed just as quickly. I felt a face against my back and  arms that held me as I wept. For a few tortured months we stuck out the affair. We tried to turn it into a public relationship to justify our infidelity to the world. Yet the best of what we had was ours alone. I helped him out of a low point of his life and he held my hand as I climbed out of the murky waters of the death of my father and my relationship.

The Lesson

It might be easy to blame my affair on my father, but it is not fair. I chose a partner for me who couldn’t be my partner. My dad followed my lead, helping us to settle down in a way that was purely settling. At the time I felt shame over the fact that I wasn’t strong enough to stay single, and even more misery that I needed to cheat to be free. Over the years the shame has stilled. The rapids have slowed, allowing me to climb to shore on the other side on my own. 

Eventually I made it onto higher ground. Looking back at the wreckage of lost loves I realized could learn to navigate. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]You need to exit to exist. [/Tweet]

——-

It turns out I have confused some folks with this post. The affair that I am writing about happened in 2000. The husband I cheated on was not Steve. Steve and I have an incredible relationship brought to us in part by my past mess.Couple cheating

Crash Landing

I rushed back to the airport with my ID in hand. It is a lucky thing that I arrive at the airport for my flight before the plane has even left its prior destination. This gave me time to uber home, grab my striped pouch and head back to the airport in time to make my flight.

I was tense the entire ride, but felt my breathing begin to regulate as I glided through pre-check and boarded the below ground train for terminal B.

When I got to the gate I was surprised that the plane waiting was a prop plane. I hadn’t ever seen one in Denver. Years ago I flew Cape Air to Provincetown from Logan. What should have been a 12 minute flight ended up as a five hour shit show. Our sesna had to make an unscheduled landing in Hyannis (because it had an emergency response team that P-town lacked.) The landing gear light was on, and our 21 year old pilot was literally flipping through the instruction manual. Needless to say I was doing some flipping of my own.

He had us assume the crash positions and circled really low. I lifted my head a few inches the way I had as an elementary student instructed to put my head on the desk. Out the window there were ambulances and huge inflated crash pads. There were three dudes on the tarmac with binoculars looking up at the belly of our airborne tin can. The scene did not inspire confidence.

After a safe landing we stood in a huddle in the Hyannis “airport” and watched our pilot refuse to get back on board. We had to wait for Cape Air to summon some other sap, probably straight from the beach. It doesn’t matter how many things I read about how safe prop planes are…I will never feel comfortable again.

Back at DIA I peered into the jetway and saw Steve. What was he doing in the jetway? As I took a step forward to ask I saw the gate agent next to him. She was cupping his cheek in one hand and leaning in. I was frozen. Then I wasn’t. Screaming “get the fuck off of my husband” I barreled towards the jetway only to be held back by the other gate agent.

Steve walked towards me.

“What is going on?” I demanded.

“I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down.”

His calm dismissal was worse than the almost transgression. I tried to follow him but I couldn’t see clearly through my tears of rage and lost him in the throngs of people.

I woke with my heart pounding. Steve was sleeping sweetly next to me and at first I felt a rush of relief. It was very quickly followed by the same rage I felt in my dream.

He opened his eyes and said “good morning love”

“Don’t you good morning me- you were terrible last night!”

“What did I do?”

“You cheated on me with the gate agent. At least I think you did. I couldn’t get you to confirm or deny it because you wouldn’t even talk to me, you better be really nice to me to make up for this.”

“I’ll be nice to you because I am always nice to you, not because I cheated on you in your dream.”

(See he admitted it, he did cheat.)

“Why do you do such awful things?”

“Why do you dream about me doing such awful things?”

Sometimes it is hard to be married to a calm and reasonable man. One whose landing gear never goes out.

The moral of the story as far as I am concerned is that prop planes suck, and never ever forget your ID when you are going on a flight in your dreams.

 

 

No Thank you

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The picture above  from the boys’ second cousin who stayed with us for a few days last month.  Leo read the card aloud and decided he needed to add on. Somehow with a mother who has never once asked him to write a thank you note Leo wanted to thank the thank you.  What if he gets a thank you for that? When will the thanking end?

I know, I JUST wrote about thank you notes. I’m not done yet. In the past two days I have gathered more ammunition in my battle against the social norms surrounding gratitude.

Saturday a hundred plus of us stood in a shallow arc looking up at the couple on the centuries old granite stairs. In this moderate sized town where most people are known to each other these two have made a larger than average mark. Their contributions include real estate developments, school board service, neighborhood committees and a restaurant which attracts enthusiastic diners way beyond the small community it was built to serve.

The beaming crowd of friends and family made up for the lack of sun as she walked up the sidewalk in her elegant white dress.  Joining him on the stairs they clasped hands through the entire ceremony. I imagined it was part nerves and part love, and more than any words their hands together made me think about the ways they were already partners and the ways they would stand together in the future.

In the crowd Steve’s hand found mine. I tried to ignore how sweaty it was.

After the vows the newlyweds stood together in a receiving line of two. Middle school math tells me that two points are in fact a line. Waiting my turn I spilled a bit of my campari and soda on my dress, which made my decision on whether or not to hug the couple of the day easier.

As I waited and dabbed at my dress I thought about what I would say to them. I have never mastered the receiving line. Perhaps some people know how to express true happiness in a way that seems personalized. I am not one of them. It turned out not to matter. As I held the bride at arms length about begin my exclamations she looked deeply into my eyes and said with great fervor.

“I owe you a thank you note.”

“What?”

“I owe you a thank you note. You sent the waffle maker and I owe you a thank you note.”

I had become the human personification of an errand.

Here on her wedding day surrounded by people who wanted to celebrate her she was keeping internal tabs on whom she still needed to thank.

This is the pinnacle of why I despise pro forma thank you notes.

If someone does something out of the ordinary and you want to offer appreciation a note can be a lovely way to do that. If society has decided that a note is necessary milestones like weddings, anniversaries, and even sympathy gifts lead directly to a whole sheaf of shoulds. And as a wedding guest I was thrust unwillingly into that role.

Gratitude should not be teased out of us by a nagging, it should come naturally. Then it still has meaning. Ideally our thanks aren’t born from a to do list, but arise unbidden as part of the threads of a relationship.

The clasped hands of the bride and groom on the evening of their wedding was more of a thank you than any note could ever be.