I went hiking today and on my way home, I decided to stop by a gas station and grab myself a bottle of diet pepsi. In the middle of the afternoon, during the week, is typically a very slow time for a gas station and today was no exception. When I walked in, the gas station attendant was apparently so aimless that she had time to get into a very involved conversation with the only other customer in the store.
The women were both very animatedly discussing marriage. The customer kept interrupting the attendant to insist that ‘she didn’t need to get married, she could be perfectly happy being alone for the rest of her life!’ in that way that people do when they’re trying to convince themselves more than they’re trying to convince you. Still, the attendant nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
After grabbing my diet, I stood behind them uncomfortably gnawing my bottom lip. A couple of times, I considered holding up my bottle and asking, “Hi! Do you mind if I just buy this and leave?” But, I refrained because I was raised to believe that interrupting is impolite.
Finally, the gas station attendant acknowledged me, although she had no interest in actually ringing up my purchase. Instead, she asked, “You’re not married, are you?”
“Well, yeah. I am,” I answered.
“You guys probably haven’t been together for long, though, right?”
“Well, um, almost 8 years now.”
Both the attendant and the customer crowed at me, awestruck, as if I just told them I was preparing to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary or something. You know the institution of marriage is in trouble when anything over 2 years is considered impressive.
“Wow! People like you are a dying breed,” the customer said, “Not many people can get married nowadays and make it work!”
“Well,” I replied carefully, “A lot of people go into marriage with a lot of unrealistic expectations.”
“Ain’t that the truth!”
At that point, I plopped my diet pepsi on the counter, gave the attendant a very meaningful glance, and sighed in relief when she took the hint and rung me out. After all, I seriously have better things to do than discuss the ins and outs of my relationship in a goddamn gas station.
But the whole thing did get me thinking about the expectations people seem to have about marriage. From what I can gather, it seems as though people get married hoping for a fairytale. They envision a lifetime of being completely in sync with another person, where every situation is tackled zestfully and worked out with optimal results and no one ever feels the least bit lonely or taken for granted or unloved. Oftentimes, if you ask them, they’ll concede that people do change, but in their particular case, they are expecting to change together because they are best friends and soul mates and they intend to stay that way forever.
Two years later, when they’re filing for divorce, you’ll find them wondering where they went wrong. The easy is answer, there is no such thing as fairytales. A marriage is a series of peaks and valleys. Sometimes, you’ll be so in love with your partner that you can’t imagine life without them. Other times? No so much. Hell, there will be moments in your marriage where you won’t even particularly like your spouse. People who say there’s no place for ambivalence in a marriage usually haven’t been married for very long.
Unfortunately, when plunged deep into the valley for the very first time, most couples panic and call the marriage counselor. If that doesn’t prove to be a quick fix, they find an attorney. After an expensive, bitter, hateful divorce, they go their separate ways destined to repeat the entire scenario with their next spouse.
No one ever tells them that the valleys are temporary. If they wait it out with good humor, they’ll likely peak again.
I don’t really know how men feel about the valleys in a marriage. However, I do know women tend to overreact intensely to any sign of dissatisfactionin the marital home. Women have an almost obsessive need to feel connected to their partner and even the slightest amount of distance instigates crying fits, martyrdom, temper tantrums, blame games and other overemotional displays of womanly angst. A man forgets one birthday or is less than enthused about a single outing and suddenly the love is gone and the relationship is dead. Unfortunately, jumping the gun or attempting to force a connection never helps. You can’t nag your way into a happy marriage.
I’m not a marriage expert. As I said earlier, I’ve only been married a shade under a decade myself. However, I’ve found that when my marriage hits a valley, a useful and effective thing to do is occupy my time somewhere else. I’ll take up a new hobby, get involved with another cause, or make a new friend. If I want to take up salsa dancing and my husband doesn’t, I don’t whine and cry that he never does anything I want to do or insist he doesn’t love me anymore. Instead, I’ll shrug my shoulders and go salsa dancing myself.
A long time ago, it occurred to me that we are two separate people who will likely grow and change over the years, but it’s not necessary for us to live the exact same lives. Sometimes, we’ve got to be willing to do our own thing. Our individual identities are our own and we’ve got to take some personal responsibility for our satisfaction in life instead of depending on each other to make us happy.
Besides, in doing our own thing, we often find more things to love about each other. No matter how long and tedious the valley may seem at the time, we always peak again.