I’ve decided to write about love. February 14th is just around the corner and I thought, hey what a great topic. Except, right now my husband and I are having an argument and I’m having a daydream about renting a fabulous apartment where I can entertain handsome suitors on the weekends I don’t have the kids. I also fantasize my husband finally realizes my profound wisdom and disavows his inner voice in favour of blind servitude. Too bad reality gets in the way of most fantasies.
Both my husband and I come from broken marriages. I think our parents’ generation really took to the novelty of it. These are people who grew up in the normalcy of domestic abuse, racism, paternalism and sexual oppression. They were in their twenties when the 60’s liberation begun and by the time they hit their thirties, their world view had been drastically altered. In your thirties, you stop eagerly engaging new playground friends in favour of a nuanced selection of personalities that best accommodate your beliefs. More tellingly, you start shedding people that piss you off. Today, this means unfriending on Facebook; in our parent’s time it meant not returning phone calls or answering the front door or getting a divorce. With women working, it wasn’t a bad idea anymore. To hell with Mr. Simpson, Mrs. Simpson can buy her own milk and give it away for free if she damn well feels like it. Of course, the kids grew up a bit smarter – or so we thought. We realized getting divorced meant no more fancy cereal or vacations for several years while the lawyers got paid and new furniture was bought. It also meant new adults showed up who smelled different and took up room on the couch. Sometimes it was okay. Sometimes it really sucked.
When I decided to get married, I was 26. I had a pretty good idea of what I liked and what I didn’t like. I didn’t like drug addicts or alcoholics. I liked good kissers. I didn’t like physically or verbally abusive assholes. I liked good food and anyone who could cook it for me. When my husband asked me to marry him in a bar in an anxiety ridden moment of drunken hope, I said yes. Since we had only been dating 8 short months and living together for 4, I stipulated an opt out clause of one year. For one year, my husband was on pins and needles waiting for me to disembark. We’ve now been married 11 years and have two really cute kids. He is a great cook, a great kisser and a great friend. During our arguments when I have those secret movies in my head along the plotlines of Sex In The City, my imaginations never go as far as elopement. My reality is much better than Carrie Bradshaw’s frustrations with Mr. Big and the trappings of existential urbanity.
I don’t pretend to understand what a good marriage looks like. My mother remarried an alcoholic who thought domestic violence was normal until my mother beat it out of him. I was angry for a long time because she worked and he stayed home and watched a lot of television. But, I realized in my twenties that whatever they had seemed to work in a really, really strange way. My step-dad is incredibly quiet and my mother likes to talk a lot. She sometimes forgets to filter important things out like anything inflammatory to her coworkers or her students so we moved every couple of years. My step-dad does two great things: he always listens to her and he always agrees with her. For my Mom with an insatiable need to be heard and to be accepted, these are gifts he gives her in abundance. He simply accepts her for who she is and has never asked her to change. In return, my mother has loved and provided for a man with a Gr. 8 education who would have likely died on the streets in an alcoholic stupor. My Mom is really smart but she thinks her husband is brilliant. He says a lot without saying anything at all.
Love is not always shiny and white. It can be dark and subjective. I have a friend who has been divorced twice from abusive men and is now dating a much younger man from her church and schooling him in everything but coitus. He can’t imagine marrying a divorcee with two kids and she can’t imagine getting ensnared in another marriage but they scramble to share every spare moment together. I have another friend who has had two beautiful children with a man currently relegated to roommate-with-benefits; he looks after the kids but sleeps in the basement bedroom until invited. The fulcrum of their power balance was decidedly shifted when he returned after 6 months in absentia after the birth of their first child. The guilt of desertion was a sentence of submission. Another friend, extremely adept at everything, married a man plagued my ineptitude. The only thing he did really well was fall madly in love with her. Disillusioned by her inability to transform him into a prince, and stifled by his growing insecurity and jealousy, she divorced him. Their divorce was finalized at the same time he entered into a hospice for Lou Gehrig’s disease, the stress of the divorce having brought on the acute symptoms of a disease that in retrospect may have attributed to some of his prior failings. She takes their 5 year old son for weekly visits to the hospice, her angry disappointment now softened to compassion as she watches her ex husband’s slow demise. These are love stories unlike those told in movies and fairy tales; there is no satiety at the ending. Like anything sticky and sweet, gorging on empty calories can be its own satisfaction. Having an emaciated heart is no fun.
If love does not liberate us from ourselves then why bother? Perhaps it shouldn’t. Perhaps the benefit is found in the sharing of our pathologies. Entwining ourselves is implicit in our desire to love though fraught with an infinity of opportunities to inflict pain. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is bearable. My measure are the good moments far outweigh the bad. So far, so good.