The Long View of Marriage

You can always tell when someone is newly in love on Facebook because they use words like Soul Mate and TLoML (“The Love of My Life” for those not in the know) in every reference to their significant other.  With those references come an abundance of couple photos with both people looking better and brighter than they ever have.  Naturally the first like and comment on all these photos if the other half of the Soul Mate – the virtual equivalent of hanging on every word.  I love every Facebook minute of it.

I do confess however that I sometimes want to say to those newly in love and especially those newly married, “That’s awesome but don’t forget The Long View.”  We all know that love ebbs and flows, and from time to time The Love of Your Life will become The Pain in Your Side.    And those occasions at least double once he has provided The Loins of Your Children.  One day your significant other may stop referring to you as Soul Mate or stop being the first to like your Facebook posts, or stop liking them all together because he figures you already know.  Don’t even be surprised if when you gently suggest that he post a picture of the two of you on a big event like an anniversary, he might say: “Nah, that’s not really my brand.”  The thing is:  You’ll already know that, and it will make you laugh.

Brand loyalty isn’t as much in vogue as it used to be.  We change brands all the time and dispose of relationships as soon as there’s a tear in the paper plate or the lease is up.  In order to be brand loyal, you have to have a high relative attitude toward the brand (marriage and commitment) and you must exhibit repurchase behavior (you must do the things that work, and do them repeatedly.)  Thank goodness there are lots of brands to choose from, because we all have different tastes -- but there are some good brand principles. Here then are some of my observations from a limited sample set on how to make it work. 

The great thing about the long view is that only shared history really helps you understand your significant other’s brand.  There’s no short cut to understanding how to correctly share a bed with someone when your nine months pregnant, or when you have a killer sunburn or the swine flu or when a futon is your only option.   We all come with different touch points – physically and emotionally – and there is no substitute for having someone know your good ones, the ones to stay clear of, and the ones you have trouble feeling.  Longevity also allows you to say, “Like you mean it” when the other person is giving you a back rub because you know when they can do better and when their heart’s not in it.  But you also accept that not every back rub is going to be sensational.  After all, if you were still keeping score, you’d be in the deficit column when it comes to giving back rubs.

It’s hard to keep score after a long time, and that’s a relief.  Once you have jobs and kids and a house, your brain is already overloaded with more than it can handle.  Keeping a tally on who last unloaded the dishwasher only adds to the chaos.  Tally sheets are especially dangerous when one person is working and one is at home raising the children you brought into the world together.  So having a spouse that comes home from work to see the children playing extra iPad time while TLoHL is busy writing means that it’s his turn to make dinner.  He’ll be even more appreciated if he doesn’t interrupt with dinner-related questions and if he pours her a glass of wine.  And while we won’t be keeping score, she may even choose to shave her legs later that evening.  Out of love, not obligation.

You’ve seen each other through bad haircuts, pudgy winters and fashion changes.  When he downsized from XL to L not because of weight change but because he finally believed you when you said that clothes that actually fit do look better.  When he agreed to retire a couple of ratty old college tee-shirts for the sake of the marriage and you agreed to let him keep the special one.  When you went through your suits phase, your unsuccessful bohemian phase, your scarf phase, you tights phase (still in), and he pretended to believe you when you demanded it wasn’t a phase.  When he traded in a baseball cap for a beret (not yet, not ever – it’s off brand.)  You’ve watched them expand their wardrobe to include crazy patterned shirts while you’ve added running gear.  They’ve watched you make 29 different purchases of a black dress -- none of which fit exactly right -- while you’ve watched them save their 19th pair of shoes for working outside.  It’s just not fashion hits and misses, it’s about making the boxes you came into the relationship with a little bit bigger.  It’s about a woman who used to be sure that she would die running a mile choosing to run a marathon.  It’s about a man who hates stuff but loves to buy his wife her 77th pair of earrings.

Even when you are past the point of hanging on each other’s every word, over time you start to feel like it’s hard to have a social interaction without them.  One person is the details, the other the color commentary -- the stories always better when jointly told.  Actually some stories stop making sense unless told together but there are key details you count on the other person knowing.  It feels like a limb missing when there isn’t the person across the room to make eye contact with to say “come here”, “let’s go”, “get me an adult beverage”, “you’re cute” and a million other things you learn to read with only your eyes. 

You learn how to prop each other up when falling asleep during a boring lecture, or how not to wake each other up for any reason even if you think it’s the “best movie you’ve ever seen.”  You learn how to shut up in Home Depot and assume he has it under control, but you also know the exact moment when it’s gone over his head and it’s time to bring in the help.  He knows to help in the kitchen, and you know to not move his piles on the desk.  You know to compliment him on his yard, he knows to compliment you any time you get dressed up and when you are dressing casually adorable.

She can even say, “I look old.” And he can say “Me too.”  At some point, truth telling is just easier.   Besides that, he was there twenty years ago telling her to apply the sun screen.  She didn’t listen then, she’s listening now.  And though he doesn’t look as old as she, she will let that slide because it feels better to be in it together.   He can even say when everyone else can’t, “YOU are good, but you’re screenplay isn’t good enough.  Yet.”   It’s about telling the truth, but doing it gently and adding in the “yet” at the end.  Long term couples also know where to layer in the benign white lies, like when after 20 years she is finally doing laundry because of abnormally long European wash cycles, they will still claim publicly “He does all the laundry.”  Not only it is part of their couple brand, it's also his short hand for saying, “You must know.  This woman is not just a housewife. We are IN IT together.”  The secret is not just being in it together, but both believing you got the better end of the deal.

TLoML will not be sending me flowers anytime soon.  He probably won’t even “like” this post, but he will be buying me a train ticket to Paris today.  Yesterday he sent me his schedule and asked me what day to block on his very full calendar for my May trip to Paris.   It feels extravagant (and it is) -- this going to Paris every month plan – there is stuff to do around here – he has a very busy calendar -- but he wants me to go.  Every month.  Knowing what feeds your Soul Mate’s soul and then pushing them towards it, that my friends is The Long View.