Recently, I realized that my marriage is not perfect.
Isn’t that shocking? I’m shocked. I thought it was perfect. I didn’t say this aloud, but I was sure that we were the only perfect couple in the world. And not sure in the “Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty great!” way. Sure in the like “I have found God and there is only one Truth” way.
I’m not sure which is more embarrassing– that I thought our marriage was going to remain unblemished and preternaturally self-possessed, like a child model. Or that it isn’t.
When people fall in love, they’re supposed to go crazy. Their brains release all of these ridiculous chemicals and they start running around, jumping in fountains and throwing things in the air and laughing with their mouths wide open and their heads thrown back. That stage lasts for two years. Which is a lot of fountains.
It’s science. People need to get like that so that they’ll commit to each other and then they can raise babies and stuff. Unless they’re gay, and then science gets all awkward and nods a lot and says, “We’re working on that one.”
I was sure my love for Bear wasn’t science. It was something much better. Something much, much more unpredictable. This was pure, wild luck, and Bear and I were its masterpiece.
I’ve known Bear for close to three years now, we’ve been married for a little over one, and I’m starting to recognize our particular struggles as a couple. The things that get stuck just below the surface for too long, until suddenly they erupt. The ways in which we go gradually in circles. The things that we are each really bad at. I have sorted issues into piles. The pile of stuff that bothers me a little but is really fine. The pile of stuff that bothers me more than a little, and I am not sure I’m fine with. The pile of stuff that bothers him, and I should really do something about.
I am not as dependent on Bear as I was at first. At first, I had to see him all the time. I had to, I had to! Every night was a giddy, giggling slumber party. I wondered how I’d ever make time for friends. I started cooking every evening, experimenting with lamb stews and complicated, clashing salads. I sat up in bed and watched him sleep, stunned by his absurd perfection. How could someone have perfect lips as well as perfect ears as well as a perfect chest as well as perfect arms and perfect nostrils and perfect freckles and perfect knees and perfect hair on his perfect shoulders? How? (I’m still not sure, honestly.)
Now I like to go out a lot more. I spend whole evenings with my friends. I want to break up the weekend sometimes, with couple’s brunches or a little work, or with me going to see a movie with someone else. Not because I don’ t want to see Bear– but because it’s beginning to feel like I have enough time to do all of this, since we’re going to be together, y’know, forever. My need for him has lost its frantic edge. It feels safer. It feels less competitive.
Oh no! I think. This is the death of passion! Comfort is the worst! This is the beginning of the end! Pretty soon it’ll just be us sitting for hours in the same room, reading. And then one of us will say, “Did you remember to take the chicken out of the freezer?” and the other one will say, “No.” And the first one will say, “Well, could you please do that?” and the other one will say, with a long sigh, “Fine. I’ll get it. Don’t feel like you have to get up for anything. We wouldn’t want that to happen.” And the first one will say, “You know what? I work really hard.” and the other one will say, “Doing what? Writing some blog about your boobs? And how’s that novel coming, anyway? It’s been, what, a year? Two?” And the first one will say, “Oh, really? You want to go there? I’m going to be famous one day.” And the other one will say, “Uh huh.”
What if that happens??
It doesn’t help that Bear is nervous, too. He makes these little, totally hilarious jokes about me leaving him and breaking his heart and destroying his life. I’m kidding– they’re not hilarious. I feel like I should reassure him. I should be more attentive, more earnest. I should write him more adorable, adoring emails. I used to do that. It looks bad that I stopped. I should be doing something more.
When we were planning the wedding, I remember hating it when people said that marriage was all about hard work. All about constant compromise. All about getting over things and lowering expectations and just dealing with annoying stuff. We wanted a relationship based on play, instead of work. We even put that in our vows.
It turns out that marriage can’t be all about play. But that doesn’t mean it has to be constant emotional labor. What I’m learning is that it needs room to change. It needs space to shift into the next phase of its gentle evolution. Bear and I are so nervous about losing the first phase that we’re hanging on, wide-eyed, afraid that the first part was true love, and the rest, somehow, won’t be.
It’s strange, but I think the biggest problem that Bear and I have is that we are starting to notice that our relationship isn’t perfect. We’re unprepared and defensive. But…wasn’t that the way love worked?
Well, yeah. It was. And so is this. That’s part of the adventure. You see where the love goes. But you have to be brave enough.
OK, secret: I’m a little relieved.
Being perfect is too hard. Actually, in the end, ironically, it’s too much work. And marriage isn’t about work. I won’t let it be. What is it about? I don’t know. Getting to know each other better than anyone else in the world? Being committed to each other? Having someone no matter what? Growing together? Laughing at each other’s jokes?
I know a couple who make sure their jokes get laughed at. If one person says something particularly clever and the other person doesn’t react, the first person says, “Hey! You forgot to laugh!” And then they do it over again. I love that. Marriage is about that.
And when Bear and I both stop being nervous about how imperfect it turns out we are, and realize that we don’t have to be a perfect couple to have an amazing relationship, I am really looking forward to getting to know him better. To living the rest of my life with him. To sitting side by side in a quiet room, reading. One person will say, “Hey, honey, did you remember to take the chicken out of the freezer?” and the other will say, “Nope.” and the first person will say, “I’ll do it, then.” And the other person will say, “I love you.” And the first person will say, “I love you, too.” And then the people will have really hot sex on the couch.