I have heard it said that the unbroken circle of a wedding ring is symbolic of a love without beginning and without end. Dear Hubby – who is a gem, albeit a quirky, diamond-in-the-rough sort of gem – will, if he thinks his audience is ripe for a laugh, whip out one of his favorite jokes. He caresses his wedding band and declares in a world weary voice, “That’s right. There’s no beginning and no end, my friend, no end.” It’s a bit of the old ball and chain sort of humor, but I take no offense, because really there is some truth in his tone. Marriage is a really tough gig. Getting married is the easy part, being happily married takes work. Real, honest, down in the muck and mire, in it for the long haul kind of work.
A few weeks ago, Dear Hubby and I had the rare privilege of sitting in a darkened theater, sharing popcorn and cherry soda pop, and holding hands – without our wheedling, wiggling, noisome progeny. We saw Judd Apatow’s latest gem, This Is 40. I know some folks have panned it for being out of touch with reality; you know who cares about a rich white couple whining about finances and marriage, oh boo hoo. But the film is hella funny (and I can count on one finger the number of times I have used the term hella, but I shit you not, it was hella hella funny). In one twisted and surprisingly tender scene, Paul Rudd’s character, Pete, and Leslie Mann’s character, Debbie, are lying in bed during a weekend retreat and discussing how they would kill each other. No really, it’s funny. Watch the clip.
Debbie: “Why do we fight?”
Pete: “I don’t know. It makes no sense at all.”
Debbie: “It makes no sense.”
Pete: “You get so mad at me. I feel like you want to kill me.”
Debbie: “I do want to kill you.”
Pete: “How would you do it?”
Debbie: “I don’t know. I’d poison you. I’d poison your cupcakes that you pretend not to eat every day and just put like enough in to just slowly weaken you.”
Pete: “I love it”
Debbie: “I’d enjoy our last few months together.”
Pete: “Me too”
Debbie: “Cause you’d be so weak and sweet and I could take care of you but while killing you.”
Pete: “See, you know what I love about us? You can still surprise me. I figured for sure you’d knock me out with one fell swoop. You’d poison me. You’d extend it over a series of months.”
Debbie: “Have you ever thought about killing me?”
Pete: “Oh yeah”
Debbie: “How would you do it?”
Pete: “A wood chipper”
Debbie: “A wood chipper?”
Debbie: “A wood chipper?”
Pete: “I know. Did you see Fargo?”
I confess, Dear Hubby and I laughed so hard that I very nearly wet my under britches. We laughed because there is such simple honesty in Pete’s and Debbie’s confessions to one another. Dear Hubby claims Pete stole his idea. The wood chipper would be his preferred method of offing me too. I favor a swift high kick to the back of the head, though I probably lack the flexibility to pull it off in real life. In theory it would create a satisfying Thwack! sound upon contact. Apatow is hilarious for sure, but there are also some things he gets right at a fundamentally human level in his film. 1. Sometimes marriage feels like one long slog, during which one’s personal goals, hopes, and desires must be sublimated and subjugated for the greater good of the family. 2. Being an adult child of divorced parents means muddling about without the benefit of a model for a healthy marriage and defining that for one’s self is sometimes fraught with problems. 3. Marriage is messy and complicated and parenthood just makes it more so. 4. It is worth it. No joke.
In the past decade or so, there have been conflicting studies about who benefits more, both psychologically and physically, from marriage. Many studies indicate that men benefit more, even in the 21st century version of marriage. I think this is true on numerous levels, though in attempting to quantify benefits it seems that marriage becomes a sort of cost analysis spread sheet, which overshadows the dynamic give and take of a healthy union. I couldn’t approach marriage this way. There’s something more to it on a visceral – deep in the gut – level. Not long before we were wed, Dear Hubby and I took a long meandering ride on his motorcycle. We followed the Mississippi River south and eventually ended up in the town in which I attended high school. It’s a lovely little river town, though it was also the setting for a difficult time in my life. I don’t often visit. Driving past the last home my mother, Brother Mine and I shared together before Mom died, I realized something had shifted for me. Dear Hubby asked what I was thinking. This sad little house no longer defines who I am or where I come from, I thought. “You’re my family now,” I said. This man I married didn’t rescue me from the wrong side of the tracks or pick me up out of a gutter or save me in any of those archetypically damsel-in-distress fashions. But, in asking to marry me, this tenderhearted dear of a man afforded me the chance to create a new family, a family of my choosing. We were wed in a beautiful garden on a lovely August day. We wrote our own vows, though I don’t remember the exact words. Mine involved a high-minded and thoroughly overdone metaphor about life and marriage as poetry. I know, really, sometimes I can be a bit much. Dear Hubby’s vows were simple and sweet and made reference to watching me fly down an alpine slide with my pigtails flapping behind me and our life together as a new adventure filled with joy. Our minister got to the heart of the matter when she said that some couples were like two peas in a pod, just alike and perfectly suited. She looked at us, then looked at the folks gathered to celebrate our wedding, and then said that two peas in a pod we were not. But, she said, our differences would complement one another. So they have.
Contrary to the old adage, love is not blind. I can nearly always finish my husband’s sentences. Sometimes, I think his predictability might drive me mad and I imagine myself leaning back on my left leg, finding my center of gravity and kicking up and out with my right foot, striking with a cobra’s speed. Likewise, I am absolutely certain Dear Hubby can hear the motor of the chipper revving in those moments when I do whatever it is that I do that drives him out of his sane mind. So, no, love is not blind. Though I think love is forgiving or a least love suffers occasional bouts of amnesia long enough to allow those moments of crazed anger to dissipate. At those times I remember that he may be predictable, but this also indicates how well I know him, and there is something reassuring in knowing someone so well and knowing how he might react in any given situation. He is steadfast and kind and fun. After nearly a decade together we have enjoy small rituals, a sort of shorthand of affection. I tuck notes in his lunch bag every morning. He makes sure the tires are rotated and the oil is changed. We kiss goodbye in the morning and kiss hello in the evening. We say things like “O.J.V.M.” and “Beagles and Toes,” coded declarations of love from memorable moments and inside jokes. Each night, lying in bed, he taps his ringed finger against the bedroom wall. We hold hands in our sleep. When the TruGreen truck comes rumbling through our suburban neighborhood each spring to hawk its guarantee of lush, weed-free lawns and the sales representative tut-tuts at the sand spilling out of the sandbox and the holes dug in unlikely corners, Hubby Dear shoos the man out of our yard saying, “We’re growing kids here, not grass.” He likes to say we’ve circled the wagons. I like to think we’ve created our own safe haven. Not peas in the pod, no. We see each other’s faults. We just love each other anyway. I’m sure some marriages are smoother than others, but no marriage is a sunny day’s sailing. There are moments of peace and joy and richness hidden in amongst the great work of marriage and parenthood.