Marriage: A Tool for the Depraved? VOL. 6

When Herb and I were going through pre-marital counseling, we were asked by our counselor to think about the areas we might struggle in. We replied that while we knew there would be difficulties, we could not answer that question until we were in the middle of it.

Well, we are in the middle of it. We are in a relationship with the least amount of boundaries that there can be between two people. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, our close friends and roommates have stumbled across the occasional glimpse behind the curtain. They make their way back until the inevitable happens. They stop. They reach a point at which, despite their love for us, they can go no further. You know what I mean. We have all seen parts of our friends that we just don't want to approach. Their drudge. Their junk. We see it. Clearly. Often, we are even affected by it. But to really address it often requires that we pay a cost that is far too high - it is incongruent with the actual value of the relationship. Instead, we navigate and negotiate the relationship and our boundaries so as to be the least impacted while avoiding all unnecessary conflict.

This is not what we desired in our marriage. We have done our best to blur the lines between where one begins and the other ends. Our goal has been to combine ourselves, our things, and our hearts as much as possible in order to make it impossible to separate us from each other. We wanted the other person to see "everything".

In taking down all of the curtain we have with other people, we are exposed. We have given another person the privelage to not only go behind the curtain, but to take it down, fold it up, and put it on the top shelf in the linen closet . . . that infamous shelf where we put things we don't want to throw away, but we know we will never use again. Without the curtain hanging their to protect us, everything is fair game. We are being seen like never before. Feedback that nobody has ever dared to share is being heaped on faster than we know how to process it.

We are frightened. We are angry. What we see is difficult. And being seen is even more difficult. I don't think we realized that creating the deepest type of intimacy that we are capable of creating during the first months of marriage would hurt so badly.

Blending ourselves means that what's mine is yours. So, in addition to acquiring my witty sense of humor, an all access pass to the fruits of my kitchen skills, and my quirky view of the world, Herb got all of the sour stuff too. The student loans, a wild set of in-laws, and an old Honda Civic. Wait, it gets better. Herb gained the baggage that comes from being a part of a broken family, having a mild case of depression, and the world view of a narcissist. Who would have guessed all of that was wrapped up in that pretty white dress and gauzy veil?

The reality is that "having and holding" one another is a big job. "Having" always seemed like a good thing. "Sure, I would love to have some ice cream." Having has never so much seemed like "choking down" to either one of us. There is a lot to have and a lot to hold and it takes more than nine months to learn how to do so. Our new marriage is not strong enough to hold the weight of "having and holding" all that has been presented to us by the other. So we wait, endure, fight, and make-up. Rinse and repeat. It is disheartening, sometimes, to see the commitment to your love turning out to be the hardest thing you have ever done. And, again, it is harder to see your love struggle so hard to love you.

In my most dramatic, selfish, and fatalistic moments, I want to walk down the street, pass the park, and forget how to go home.

Last night I happened to glance at my wedding vows. They are posted on my laptop but I try not to look at them because they do little more than make me feel like a complete failure as a wife. However, this little line stood out to me, "I will journey, explore, and adventure alongside you - even when the path seems uncertain and the outcome is unkown."

I have no idea how to get to where the path is leading us. Most days, I can't actually see the path. I often want to sit in a corner in the basement and wait for the hard part to pass. I want to fast-forward us about 25 years. In this fantasy, my hair will be cool - wirey silver ringlets. I will have a huge ass and I will wear a lot of velvet tunics and bangle bracelets. Herb will have a gaggle of neighborhood teenagers that follow him around for no aparant reason and call him Chief. He will chase the neighborhood cats with more urgency than he does now. He will develop an odd laugh and call me "Queenie" and pinch my huge velvet clad ass in front of our friends and neighbors to make them squirm. And we will like each other. Really like each other. We will banter in the kitchen as kids and dogs run between us. We will see the other's junk and we will call them on it without personalizing it.

But my wedding vow was prepared for the present reality and prescribes a different approach than a sojourn in the basement for a "Sex and the City and Sudoku party" scheduled to last until the year 2031. "Journey, explore, and adventure". Three very strong verbs. A verb is an action word. This means I cannot sit down and wait for this part to end. It means I have already committed to staying actively engaged. So I I come out of the basement and come alongside of Herb; verbing as much as I can.

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Blogger Kelli Gambee said...

Cara, you are such an eloquent writer.

I can offer this encouragement (sort of). In my ten years of marriage I no longer believe that there will ever not be a hard part. Every time I think the path has gotten easier, or at least that I have gotten used to it, the terrain changes. We're walking on gravel and it turns to sand. I do know this, you will get to know your partner well enough to anticipate his next move and he yours. You will kick away the stone before he stubs his toe and he, in turn, will lift the branches, before they hit you in the head.

And at some point, without you even noticing, what was once 90% effort and thought, and 10% enjoyment and bliss, reverses. You will only notice that you can finally turn to him and say "I really do like you... and the journey".

4:14 AM, July 27, 2006  
Blogger bansheewigs said...



and frank.

...much appreciated!

12:07 PM, July 27, 2006  
Blogger Gary & Aly Rowe said...

Though my tag says "Gary and Aly", it's really only just me! C, here is some wisdom from this old married woman of 18 months...you are NOT alone. There are plenty of happy marriages out there. Truly happy with "normal" issues. But you, and I, and maybe a lot of our friends should they ever get married, may never be part of that clan.

I believe it's b/c we are different - if we weren't different, we'd have been snatched up at 21, while in college, married the day after and have 2.5 kids. In our desire to do something different, to be something more, to journey, explore and adventure - we have changed our DNA from "normal" to "extremely interesting and exciting" (though I am not passing judgement on any peeps in the above scenario).

And we marry these same type of different-ness. Different-ness clashes sometimes, as we who are "left" to get married a bit later in life, have our own minds, our own quirks, our own plans and ways. But I would not trade one fight nor one time where I actually did drive past the park and forget my way home, for a "normal and complacent" marriage. That marriage journey is going to be unique to just you and Herb. So keep on verbing and I'll do the same.

6:33 PM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Jennifer Coomer said...

I think our divorce rate would go down if more people had that attitude and work ethic. I think we've made it all too romantic. We think "love" should come easy and fix it all ("all you need is love, bah bah bah bah, all you need is love..."). I applaud you and Herb for recognizing the challenge and taking it on. Knowing that it might be exhausting and painful. But worth it. And something you've committed to doing. And I'm going to start calling Herb "Chief" right now. So glad to be your friend. When I get married I want to be a verb, too.

8:31 PM, August 01, 2006  
Blogger Lolita said...

hmmm... i've debated replying to the above post 3 times now, so i'm going to jump in.

i thought it was interesting that gary or aly or whoever the poster was didn't "pass judgment" on anyone in a "truly happy marriage with 'normal' issues", at least not until s/he called those marriages "normal & complacent".

while i always respect the experiences of the um, more "interesting & exciting" marriages, i cannot always share the level of struggle & strife i hear these people communicating.

my marriage is very happy, but not because of complacency.

11:02 PM, August 01, 2006  
Blogger Cara said...

mel, there is nothing about your marriage that is complacent. it is, in fact, quite lovely.

there is nothing better or more glamorous about the marriages that are rougher around the edges. in fact, it often feels much worse. but things grow and change and flourish in their time. tough it is just what they are for that time being.

11:15 AM, August 02, 2006  
Blogger Tony Gambee said...

Hi, I'm Tony, an old aquaintence of Herb's (Matt Whiteford's neighbor - relatively, and Kelli's husband)

We are almost 10 years in now, and I have to say that we have a good marriage, but it hasn't always been. I think what I like about your post is that it felt familiar.

No one wants to hear that their problems are common or ordinary - they aren't - they are uniquely horrible for each of us. And that's why there is not a single book, talk show, counselor, or wise advice that can 'fix' it. Your struggle is painful and beautiful at the same time. It would be ugly if there were no struggle.

My most vivid memories of my last 10 years are my extreme highs and my extreme lows. I don't know if you want to anticipate remembering this feeling forever, but it does make a good day seem great, and a great day seem like Heaven.

a twist on a wise old saying...

Marriage isn't safe, but it is good.

12:37 PM, August 03, 2006  
Blogger Gary & Aly Rowe said...

I certainly did not mean to express that a truly happy marriage is negatively "normal and complacent" - or anything like that that would indicate something less than glorious and exciting. My apologies if it came across that way.

Possibly we think of complacent as a bad thing, like we're not trying anymore. I guess sometimes that is the case.

I would believe that marriages become actually more exciting and fulfilling as the relationship deepens and grows. However, I unfortunately do know many people that are living a very dreary existence, in their words - not because they don't love their spouse or children, but because they are a bit "unexcited" - everything is the same day after day. It scares me to ever reach that point. I guess I am just basing my ideas on those experiences versus more healthy relationships.

But I still do believe that my nutty personality and somewhat outlandish ideas did hinder the likelihood that I could be married at any time I felt like it. And with that, I accept the fact that those quirks brought into a marriage will definatley make my marriage, for lack of a better word, interesting (and a bit tiring too!)

3:28 PM, August 03, 2006  
Blogger Lolita said...

Okay, now I think I understand where everyone is coming from. And I suppose I myself could be considered one of the quirky types....

So my only input is to embrace the quirks. Embrace the everyday. Embrace each other, and hold on tight. One day you will wake up and know for sure that you can never ever let go. :)

Sometimes I think that our life is mundane & suburban, but then my husband goes out to buy me pregnancy compatible cold medicine, and comes home with a bag of peanut butter M&M's to boot. What more could a girl want?

8:37 PM, August 06, 2006  
Blogger denverherbie said...

I'll have to steal Cara's blog space since I have yet to plunk down the time and energy of setting up one for myself! :)

I just wanted to share an exchange with my doctor a couple of months ago. I see him every month, so he keeps tabs on most of the goings-on in my life. He started by asked how my stress level was...
Me: Fine. Nothing to big... just relationship stuff, you know.
Dr: Oh, how's that?
Me: You know, just the roller coaster ride of marriage (being ambigious, hoping he would drop it)
Dr: (Not one to drop things) Oh... well, how big are the dips and hills on your coaster ride?
Me: Well, they've been pretty high and pretty low at times.
Dr: What are YOU doing? (He's been married 25 years or so, he will always assume I am the cause!)
Me: Well... you know we have over 50 years of combined selfishness we are trying to work through and it's been really tough at times.
Dr: {laughing} You should have that posted above your front door like McDonalds. "Over 50 years of selfishness!"
Me: {Laughing with him now} Oh, and then we just count down for every year we take off?
Dr: No, underneath that, you start counting how many years of selfLESSness you guys have together.
Me: yeah... (That's about all I can usually muster up when presented with such clear wisdom).

We'll never erase the selfishness, but we don't have to be tied to our past. Identify it and move in a new direction... together. To quote RENT, "Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today. There's only now, there's only here, give in to love, or live in fear."

1:00 PM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger HintofDisaster said...

I'm only just now reading all of this, and it's fun to see my wife's (Lolita) reponses.

I think we have an exciting, adventuresome marriage, and we have each other to share it with. That makes it more exciting.

Marriage doesn't seem so difficult to me, and I wish I knew the reason for it. I know that I love Melanie, and I love our child(ren), and we have shown each other that we will do whatever it takes to truly be one. Our goals and desires are meshed and interwoven. To be sure, we are still individuals: You won't find Melanie at a mewithoutYou concert and you won't find me breezing through a chick-lit novel in an afternoon. But we respect our differences, and allow those to become the things we love about each other (not including my knuckle-cracking and nail-biting).

Thankfully, there really are alternatives besides "exciting and somewhat chaotic" and "boring and mundane". But it is up to the people in the relationship to make it different. I, too, know plenty of people who view their wives, husbands, children, as kind of boring. I work with them. But they don't invest anything in these relationships, so what are they expecting? Of course everything else will look better if they don't value what is in front of them.

I truly believe we can choose to make our path less rocky -- at least between husband and wife. And when we choose to be united, the rocky path we travel together doesn't seem so treacherous.

12:20 PM, August 10, 2006  

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