Friday, November 5, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives

Man, I had no more than posted the link to my prior post than a male friend I've known since forever (I won't specify exactly how long forever is...) pounced to Greg's rescue.  People are often jumping to Greg's defense, and I've often wondered if my comments, which seem like routine wife gritching to me, are harsher than I realize or if he's such a sterling individual and I've lost sight of that in the muck and mire that is marriage.  In either case, Greg abusing my darling car isn't really the point.  Really.  Probably somebody with a lot of marriage counseling under their belt can call our recent sparring for what it is:  the more harmless outlets for the more serious issues we have wrestled with as a couple over the last year that we are afraid to address directly for fear of reopening wounds not even healed.  You could peel away layer after layer on the onion until you hit the real heart of it, which is how he chose to deal with the weight of his grief, and I how I feel about it.  I know that there are no good guys versus bad guys in this scenario, it's just a messy, sad story that creates the backdrop to my Saturday morning.  Maybe it's a heavier load that we carry than most couples, but it's a scenario that repeats itself a million times over every day in the modern American marriage.  And that is the point of the blog.  Marriage.  I am pondering marriage.  Not mine necessarily, just the whole institution.

There are a few intersecting stories about other couples I know that brought me here.  But, that's really neither here nor there either, other than I've taken what I've observed about these situations and chewed over them and this is my conclusion.   Which is: modern society does not prepare us well enough as we are growing up to the grind of daily married life.  This may change in a generation when all the kids who saw all of us struggle choose their partners, but for those of us living through it now, we grew up chasing the fairy tale and just assumed it would be there for us.  Think Brady Bunch and any and every Disney movie you've ever seen.  Admittedly, there was Rhoda - if anyone even remembers that one.  She got divorced after a year.  But for the most part, the stress was on finding the mate, landing the mate and then it was a big vast nothingness as to what happens next.  The shows we watched that did show married life always had these neat little conclusions to the Problem Du-jour played out to a laugh track.

Premarital counseling is nearly a joke.  At least it was for us.  The associate pastor had us come in for a few sessions - I want to tell you three - and asked us some non-probing questions that we were prepared for.  We had neat answers for them - he didn't try and throw a wrench into them and say, "But, what if this happens...?"  And even if he had, the bravado of youth would have caused us to shrug anything he hit us with as inconsequential.  There isn't much you can do with total strangers in three half hour sessions.  And your job as a pastor is to marry people, not split them up before they even make it to the altar and pay your fee.

I'm not disparaging marriage.  Far from it.  I'm just saying it's hard.  Really damn hard.  People should know that going in.  On the other hand, I'm not casting judgment on people who throw in the towel and divorce.  Most of my friends have done just that or consider it from time to time.  But, it's painful.  I watch my friends as their families are torn apart and as things get said back and forth designed to hurt because no one knows where the soft underbelly is better that your spouse, and it's painful to see.  It hurts you, it hurts your kids, it hurts your wallet.   I wish they didn't have to go through it.

Why is it so hard?  Because life is hard and nobody's perfect.  In its mildest, marriage is two individuals coming from different places and trying to meld their differences into one household.  In my case, we each had these little things that irritated us about one another.  He was famous for inviting people over with little or no notice.  He does it still.  I hate that - it makes me crazy.  To him, they're not coming to see the house, they're coming to see him or us, but I go into panic mode trying to prepare everything to be clean and presentable.  Hard to do with six dogs.  For my part, I am known to leave cleaning supplies laying out randomly.  Drives Greg nuts.  I'll clean voraciously and then hit this mental wall where I'm just done.  I'll wander off and leave the cleanser on the counter or - the big one - the vacuum sitting out in the middle of the room.  I have no defense, it's an inexplicable habit.  That's the Mickey Mouse stuff.  We graduated to more serious affronts to one another.   Life threw curve balls, we picked them up and tossed them at one another.  Why?  Because we were right there in throwing distance.

Yet, my husband and I are a testament to the power of marriage actually.  We've for some odd reason preserved over a quarter century.  The last year has been a true challenge, the last six months have strained it to the breaking point more than once, but what I've come to learn is that you have to accept there are times when you look at your spouse and simply not like what you find.  You have to be willing to get through days like that with the belief that they will end, and you'll be glad you stuck it out.  But I wish someone had sat me down and really prepared me for the reality of living with another human being.  It's not a panacea for what ails you.  Sometimes it makes it worse.  But sometimes it's what gets you through the times that are just too horrible to imagine, and I guess that's why we keep on trying to make it work.

Someone should have made me watch The Best Years of Our Lives years before I found it on my own.  One of the many reasons that it made it onto my Big Six List (the six movies that always make me cry no matter how many times I've seen them) is because of the scene where Peggy announces she's going to break up a marriage.  Al and Milly's reaction to that announcement ring pretty true to me.  If you get to where I am in life, it's a pretty safe bet you can say what Milly said to her daughter and mean it.  I certainly can.  If and when Marissa comes home with a shiny ring on her finger, I'm sitting her down and making her watch it.

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