So…Liz and Jason. As their wedding draws nearer, I know that they are overwhelmed with details. I also know that they are overwhelmed with all the things they love about each other.
Meanwhile, there have been some loose ends in my own thoughts on marriage. I know that I heard all of this before I got married, but it’s just now starting to make sense. I just remember thinking everyone was killing my love-buzz. And now that I’m not a newlywed…where did all those sages go who had so much good advice? Suddenly insight bills at $125 an hour.
Pop culture to the rescue.
Summary: The no-escape clause
At some point, ironically, the sameness in marriage and the changes in your spouse might make you shake your head and say, “I don’t think I knew what I was getting into.”
But it doesn’t exempt us from the “til death do us part” part. So we have to figure out how to deal with the fact that forever has a lot more Mondays than we’d calculated, and our spouse seems to have grown an extra arm out of his or her personality.
There are three movies I’ve seen that had some telling insights into this. They are not particularly fabulous movies. At all. I didn’t even really like them, and I don’t think that their overarching themes hold the key to happy marriages. But there were moments in each one that made me say, “THAT’S IT!”
The first is an older rom-com starring Topher Grace (see disclaimer above!) called “In Good Company” (83% on Rotten Tomatoes). I remember exactly one thing about that movie: this quote, right here. (Carter Duryea is placed by Topher Grace, and Dan Foreman is played by Dennis Quaid.)
Carter Duryea: Dan, you seem to have the perfect marriage. How do you do it?
Dan Foreman: You just pick the right one to be in the foxhole with, and then when you’re outside of the foxhole you keep your dick in your pants.
Carter Duryea: That’s poetic.
Similarly, another sort of lackluster rom-com was “Friends with Kids” (67% on Rotten Tomatoes) I watched it because I needed a Kristin Wiig fix. Well, she’s in it, but she doesn’t say much, and what she does say is not funny. But Jon Hamm plays her husband, sooo…yes, I kept watching.
In the movie, Jon Hamm’s character Ben says something along the lines of, “You pick the person you want to be with in the bad times.” Probably also good that they share the good times… but that’s the easy part.
I tend to get dramatic about my needs, my feelings, Lewis’s needs, and Lewis’s feelings. But in the end, it all comes down to committing to the partnership like your life depends on it, and then dealing with the flurry of bullets and grenades. And you have to remember that the person in the foxhole with you is the one person who has taken a sacred vow to be ON YOUR TEAM. Taking aim at them is totally counterproductive.
Does that sound like too much negativity? Well, here’s the reason it’s not: you are no longer alone in the foxhole. That fact alone should be the underpinning smiley face on the rest of your days (which are more numerous than if you really were facing sprays of bullets and hand grenades, so, again, hooray!).
Also, it emphasizes the importance of picking well. Pick your spouse well. Because the last thing you want is some screaming Mimi running out into the fray.
But even if you pick the right person, there’s still days where the foxhole gets a little…foxholey.
The next movie that I did not like, but that I did feel had some insight was “Take This Waltz” (77% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s about an achingly hipster married woman who seems “restless in a kind of permanent way.” Basically, she’s jonesin’ (in a muted, listless sort of way that hipsters express longing) for excitement . And there’s a shiny new boy across the street.
It’s her alcoholic sister-in-law, played very nicely by Sarah Silverman, who falls off the wagon and delivers the moral of the story.
“Life has a gap in it…it just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.”
I’m keenly aware of the gaps in life, and the perils of my hunt to fill them. If Lewis was everything I wanted him to be every single day, he’d have to be psychotic, because I change my list of demands as often as I change my socks. Often to reflect exactly the opposite of yesterday’s demands.
The hip Christian way to say this is, “you never marry the right person.” The choice of words there is a little too let-me-blow-your-mind-nouveau-Puritan for me. I propose this revision: “You can’t marry God, so cut your spouse some slack.”
It was actually Ira Glass, host of This American Life, who put this all together the best. He was talking to a man who had decided that marriage should have a contract expiration. That because people change, they shouldn’t have to stay in relationships forever. Honestly, I expected quirky, progressive Ira Glass to agree with him. Instead, he said,
I think it was the “no-escape clause” that gave me a panic attack two weeks before I got married…and has kept me from having one since.