For some reason, all I want to do is watch documentaries about relationships. I’d probably read those books with titles like “The Three Love Types: What Who You Fall In Love With Says About Your Type ” if someone left them lying around. I watched Daniel Gilbert’s documentary about happiness, which was mostly about relationships, and a couple days later I watched one of Michael Apted’s documentaries in the “Married in America” series, and then I watched some random documentaries about being married that had narrators who were like, “So now we go to the labs at UC Davis to discover the MEANING OF LOVE AND LUST!” but when you get there it’s just some awkward scientist feeding a couple of confused-looking monkeys.
I got married without reading up too much on the whole thing. We were busy. We wrote our vows the day before. We were engaged after six months, married about a year after meeting. We said things in our vows like “you’re really hot…” Bear jokes around that I married him for his body. Which is, of course, true. There were other things, too, though. Something to do with his brain…I can’t remember…
We didn’t talk a lot about marriage before we did it. There are couples like us in the documentaries I watched, but things are never going great for them. They’re like, “We rushed into it, you know? We should have given it more time…We didn’t even know each other when we got married…”
Disembodied voice of documentarian: “And would you say that’s made things hard?”
Couple, looking at each other sadly, then back at camera: “Yeah…It’s made things really hard… Hard is putting it lightly…” (sad little chuckle)
That is what people say about marriage. It’s hard. It’s harder than you expect. You go in all innocent and rosy-cheeked and skipping and a year later, there you are, worn down on the front stoop, your hair unwashed, eating Doritos by the handful as you stare blankly into space.
At the same time, all of the researchers explain that people have the wrong ideas about marriage. The problem is that we have this mold in the shape of a fairytale, and we’re all trying to cram our sloppy, oozy lives into it, but there’s always some spilling out the sides, getting everything sticky. We have this image of happily ever stuck in our heads. A recent NYT article quotes experts who ask that people give up “the marriage fantasy.” You know, the one about marriage being a lot of fun and games. In the documentaries, scientist after psychologist after sociologist patiently explain that one of the big reasons why marriage is so tough for so many people is that they aren’t properly prepared for it. The NYT piece agrees. “…perhaps we need to change our expectations so we’re not so unhappy,” says the president of an important-sounding group of divorce lawyers. Our culture tells us there will be this white horse that we get to ride away into the sunset on, and then it turns out you can’t even find a damn taxi. “It’s really important that you know what to expect,” legions of earnest researchers tell the camera.
People run blithely into marriage, never thinking that they will be the ones to get divorced. But ha! Joke’s on them! EVERYONE gets divorced! OK, not everyone, but like, almost everyone. The researchers are shaking their heads. People just don’t understand how hard marriage is, that’s the problem. They think they’re the special ones. They think they won’t get divorced. They don’t have any idea what to expect.
Well, I beg to differ for a second here.
All I’ve ever heard about marriage is that it’s hard.
I mean, yeah, I’ve watched a few Disney movies, and yeah, sometimes they end with a big white wedding, but also I got older after that and watched other movies and read books and watched TV and talked to people and lived in the world and it seems like most of us are pretty sure that marriage is really hard.
Marriage is about compromise and work and sacrifice and denial. There are benefits, of course, but you have to really earn them. That’s what I learned from the world.
When I got engaged, my single friends were as supportive as they were able, but sometimes they’d let something slip about marriage being a prison that you’re supposed to stay in for the rest of your life. Something about how they just weren’t ready to give up their freedom yet. Something about how frustrating it must be to have to constantly explain yourself to someone else, instead of just, you know, living.
“Good luck…” said the older people. “You’ll need it.”
The couples in the documentaries agree. They can’t believe how naïve they were when they got married. They never could’ve seen what was coming. In the beginning, when they’re first interviewed, they’re talking about how they met- it was so romantic! By their second interview, the man has fathered three other children with someone else and the woman has a dead look in her eyes. She’s taken him back, and they’re “working on it.” In fact, in the pieces I watched, almost all of the men left almost all of the women at one time or another. “Hard” means “you will want to die and also you will never be able to trust again until you get so much therapy it bankrupts you.”
Some of the couples who have emotionally destroyed each other are heralded as successes, because they’ve made it through. Somehow, after he cheated on her with her sister and she found out on Facebook and then cut off three of his fingers with a cleaver, they are still together! Yes! There is hope!
I have been married for two years and I am embarrassed to say that it feels really easy. I don’t actually know why. We just get along really well, I guess. He’s really nice to me. I try to be nice to him back. We tell each other how much we love each other a lot. Like, all the time. It just comes out. I like his shoulders. I like his face. I cry when I think about something bad happening to him. I am constantly grateful to myself for having the sense to marry him. I am constantly grateful to him for marrying me.
But I try not to tell anyone any of this, because it sounds ridiculous. It sounds like I’m lying, or trying to show off. It sounds like we just haven’t hit the hard parts yet. Don’t worry, the world is thinking, you’ll get there…Just wait. It’ll come. When you have kids. Then everything will change. When someone’s parent dies. Just from the ceaseless grind of the years passing. It will come.
It has to come, because marriage is hard.
I’m sick of hearing it.
I’m tired of feeling like I must sound fake for being happily married. Like I must not know what I’m talking about.
When I got married, I didn’t want to talk about marriage, because I knew how the conversation would go. It would be about what to expect. How hard it was going to be. Oh no, you’re Jewish and he isn’t? That’s going to be hard…that’s going to be a disaster…
There are infinite ways for things to turn into a disaster at any moment, but my relationship with Bear has always felt delightfully safe. It has its challenges, of course, like dealing with his illness, and sometimes getting too distracted by my work to listen to what he’s saying. But I never expected it not to have challenges. I didn’t think there would be a white horse, but I did fully believe that we were capable of loving each other enormously for a very long time. I believe that now.
Some of the experts say that the first year of marriage is supposed to be the hardest. Some of them say it’s still a part of the delusional “honeymoon” phase. So it’s hard to tell if we’ve actually reached any milestones yet.
And as far as I can see, it’ll always be hard to tell, because the research says marriages tend to fall apart after two years, and after five years, and definitely after seven years, and when there’s a new kid, and when the kids go to college, and when you’re eating breakfast, and if you get a dog, and if you have slightly different sleep schedules, and if you ever thought for a second that you were going to be happy.
So I’ve decided not to listen. Instead, I’m going to keep being happy about Bear and our marriage, like a little dork who doesn’t know what’s gonna hit her, and I will just keep on doing that for as long as I possibly can, which might just turn out to be—wait for it and roll your eyes– forever.
* * *
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a striped t-shirt. Like a boy. But a cute one.
82 Responses to “please stop telling me that marriage is really, really hard”