Thursday, 15 June 2017

Advice from a Couple That Clearly Knows What They're Doing

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in about a year, and I hadn't written regularly for about a year before that. For a while, the world didn't feel right to me, and the funny fell out of life. So I stopped. (In hindsight, not writing probably made it worse). Life is easier now, and the humour has come back- enough so that I have enough ideas to get me started again. But like I said, this is the first one in a while, so don't set your expectations too high.)

(PS- I missed you.)





Jason and I have been married for 21 years. Although not overly impressive in itself, when you factor in a surprise baby born to teenage McDonald's employees, and the resulting years of abject poverty, I feel like a high five is appropriate. When you factor in the FURTHER realization that I have spent my entire 42 years never having been wrong, and have had to coach poor, misguided, constantly wrong Jason every step of the way, high fives give way to actual gold plated statuettes. 

(I'M KIDDING. I am wrong quite often. It happened as recently as 2014- I know, cause I wrote it down on the calendar.)

I'm hoping one day, our great-grandchildren will come to us before their weddings and ask (in a somewhat reverential tone), how we did it- how to make it all work.

And I'm hoping one day, we'll have an answer for them. There's no one thing I can point to and say "This. This is what did it. Do the 'this', and you will be happily married till the end of your days", but I have some ideas. They may need refinement before I share them with the Gen XYZ 2.0'ers, though. 

1) Be too poor to split up.

I'm dead serious. 18 and 19 year olds with babies living in shitty apartments on fast food wages ARE NOT DESTINED FOR LONG TERM SUCCESS. We both know it and fully admit it- had we not had Isaiah, there is absolutely no way either of us would have bothered to put in the kind of effort required to sustain a marriage. After the very first post-50-cent-draft-night-at-Dooie-Steven's argument, one or the other one of us would have packed up our mix tapes and gold chains and blown the hell out of that pop stand.

As a long-term strategy, I realise it's not super effective, especially given that the goal of most marriages is to make it OUT of the poverty-stricken first few years, but if you time it right, by the time you start being able to afford 2 residences, you'll have learned to like each other again. If not, hopefully by then you'll have had kids, and and the cost of child support will delay the process another few years.

Seriously, though- marriage is WORK. A lot of it. Marrying my husband has been the best and smartest thing I've done in life, but it's also the hardest job I've ever had.

2) LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. 

I get that there needs to be that first spark, and that physical attraction is what human beings are primed to see first, but sweet Mother of Pearl- if you can't adjust your perspective, STAY OFF INSTAGRAM, or it will lead to divorce. Anyone going into wedded bliss expecting roses and chocolate strawberries and Chris de Burgh in the background EVERY SINGLE DAY is going to be deeply disappointed. Stomach flu happens. People get fat. You're working third shift. One night, his toenail will gouge a hole in your calf, waking you from a dead sleep. You will get diarrhea. He will grow a creepy moustache. And when all of that happens, you sure as hell need to have something in common besides the physical- current events only carry you so far.

3) Learn from history.

Jason and I learned a great deal from our parent's marriages. His parents were supremely happy together till his dad passed away when he was 11, and he has learned to value the time he gets. My parent's marriage taught me how I expect to be treated by the men in my life, and what standards I want to hold them to. We try not to repeat yesterday's screw ups, and are constantly working towards something better. We know now that I have trouble keeping every thought to myself, regardless of how inappropriate they are, and that Jason internalises his feelings to the point where it can be hard to tell he has any. We meet in the middle now (usually accompanied by a cartoonish smashing noise, and lots of yelling).

4) Marry your best friend.

I know it's super cheesy, but by the time you marry someone, shouldn't they be the person you would most like to spend time with? If they're not that person- MARRY THE OTHER ONE. Why not spend your emotional energy on the one you value the most?

We were best friends before we started dating. You could generally find us at Shappay's right after school, drinking cups of cheap coffee and sharing a plate of onion rings and ketchup. We only ever played 3 or 4 songs on the juke box, and those songs are more 'our songs' than the first dance at our wedding will ever be. Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven', Madonna's 'This Used To Be My Playground', and Sophie B. Hawkins' 'Damn, I Wish I was Your Lover' (in retrospect, Jason always picked that one, and I'm only just now realising how truly obtuse I was back then). I pierced his ear (badly). He did my math homework (with far greater success than with which I pierced his ear). We hung out at the smoke doors. We gabbed on the phone for hours. So when eventually we started dating, the progression was so natural we didn't really even notice the change. I'm not saying you have to have that kind of history with everyone, but it's nice to have someone who GETS YOU. When I say 'Goodnight, Dick', I don't have to explain that I'm not suggesting sexy time, but rather that I'm referring to the Smothers brothers. When he says 'Hi, baby', I know exactly what he thinks of the infant in front of him. That's the kind of stuff that only comes with time and (ad nauseum) repetition and a mutual sense of humour.

5) Watch out for the deal breakers.

I'm not talking about the shit that can happen AFTER marriage, like cheating or alcoholism, or abuse- those should go without saying. I'm referring to the stuff beforehand. I joke about how Jason only ever wanted 1 kid, but it's one of those things I say cause it's funny, not because it's true. Half our offspring started as a twinkle in HIS eye, when I thought I was good and done. If someone doesn't want kids before marriage, you're not changing them afterwards. It took me five years to get rid of Jason's favourite pair of JEANS- I don't have another 30 to spend questioning whether or not to populate the planet. Why create obstacles when so many already exist?

Religion is another one. Unless you can find a way to mesh your ideas of spirituality, it's gonna be a factor later. Jason and I are both Christian, majoring in 'I've had enough organised religion for now, thanks' and minoring in 'Let the kids choose for themselves when they get older so we don't have to go to church and as a bonus, we look super tolerant.' If you have to fight over a church wedding vs. a JP, you're already on shaky footing. Figure out the math BEFORE you have the argument about giving up Matzoh balls for Lent, that's all I'm saying.

6) Chill. The Hell. Out.

I was serious about the Instagram thing. If you're too worried about appearances, and how everyone else is perceiving your marriage, you are setting yourself up for failure. Just be ridiculous. We spent our (very generous gift of a) honeymoon in Disneyland, doing what WE wanted. Neither of us were interested in a romantic beach getaway, or a couples massage or the lights in Paris at night. We wanted churros and $32 frozen bananas. We camp together ALL THE TIME, cause it's when we're at our most relaxed (usually). We still hang out at the mall and people watch, and we genuinely enjoy doing things together. We tease each other, and make fun of each other (probably too often), and subsequently bicker, and that's fine. 5 years ago, we stopped fighting about who would do it and just agreed to pay someone to mow the lawn. I (tried) to stop correcting his grammar. He's stopped keeping track of who got to sleep in (it was me).

Granted, all of this gets easier and easier as the kids get older and there's less exhaustion and stress and fewer sleepless nights. I wish we could have learned all of this 21 years ago when our big kids could have learned it from us, but I'm content that we ARE learning. We're getting better at marriage every year. We don't make the same  mistakes we made 10 years ago- we make new and different ones. We've stopped wasting time arguing about the little things so we can save it for the actual big things. We've learned that in an emergency, our immediate reaction is to work together, rather than let it divide us, and we've learned that although our methods may be different, our end goals are exactly the same. We have spent the last 21 years growing into our marriage, and every passing year reinforces the fact that we made the right choice.

So I'm hoping one day, that when we sit before our (awed and adoring and a little humbled in the presence of matrimonial greatness) great-grandchildren and they ask us that question, we will know to tell them all these things.

(Or at the very least, have had the lucidity to understand what they're saying, and the foresight to have had the answer printed on a colour pamphlet.)

Happy 21, babe. I love you.