Everyone’s a critic
Last month, I posted what I hoped was a relatable relationship essay entitled How to Stay Married During a Pandemic. I tried to write something funny but maybe a little wise about the pressure that being quarantined together can put on any marriage.
When I post pieces on my Facebook page, I get lots of comments from people I don’t know. That one had several nice ones. Cute read! one person said. Fun article! another added. Too short but loved it anyway! chimed in one more fan.
A comment from Anita M felt a little bit passive aggressive: No problem here!I’m isolated with my best friend!
Besides sounding a tad defensive, Anita seemed to be implying that if my husband Saul was my best friend, I wouldn’t be bothered that he eats too much sugar or asks if I’ve seen his glasses at least fifty-seven times a day or starts scrolling through his phone if I talk about my feelings about our relationship for more than thirty seconds. I guess if Saul were my best friend all those things would be tolerable.
Then there are the just plain mean comments like the one from Steven D: If the love is genuine you’ll never have to read crap articles like this.
I have to believe Steven D didn’t actually read my “fun” article that was a “cute read” but was “too short.” And after a little sleuthing I found out Steven D is single, so his comment was similar to me telling an NFL quarterback the proper way to do well…anything related to football.
But I would be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t hit a nerve deep down in my soul where all my shame-tinged fear lives. Was he right? Should you not have to work on a relationship if the love is true?
The right way to nap and grocery shop
Saul often wonders what I would write about if I didn’t have him as inspiration — or as he calls himself — fodder. We aren’t one of those Zen couples who automatically validate each other’s feelings and immediately work towards a compromise whenever we have a disagreement.
We had our first quarrel on our third date when Saul came to my apartment and promptly took a nap that lasted an hour. Who takes an hour-long nap on a third date?? I was raised to take ten-minute “power naps” discreetly behind the closed doors of my office. I finally woke him up by yelling at him. Whenever I tell this story, Saul reminds me that he was working two shifts as a teacher at the time, but his propensity for taking what I consider too-long naps at what I feel are inappropriate times can still be a source of friction between us.
Even before the pandemic, grocery store visits could get tense. I am unable to comprehend why my husband insists on choosing the tiniest shopping cart possible no matter how much we need to buy, as if using a regular-sized cart would be some sort of wasteful extravagance.
And it’s very important to him that we park our car in the absolute closest space possible to the grocery story entrance. I’ve often had to begrudgingly pull out of the space I chose and drive ten extra feet closer to calm his anxiety.
To be fair, I may have a few habits Saul finds annoying. I’m sure he would mention my inability to remember to close a kitchen cabinet door or my tiny habit of leaving things around the house without putting them back. And I do like to share an awful lot of helpful tips on how I feel he can improve his life.
So yes, we can both be stubborn at times. We’ve had our squabbles and run-ins and out-and-out fights. But doesn’t everyone?
Fake couples as real role models
It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I have very early memories of my mom and dad’s passionate arguments. Then my dad died suddenly when I was seven, and I’m pretty sure the lesson I learned was fighting leads to abandonment. Since my mom never remarried I had to look other places for clues, and television was my best resource. That left me very confused.
Mike and Carol Brady didn’t ever tear each other down with sarcastic jibes. I never saw John and Olivia Walton bicker over shopping cart size at Ike Godsey’s General Store. On the other hand, Ricky could get pretty pissed at Lucy when he started screaming at her in Cuban. And Ralph Kramden was always threatening to send his wife Alice “to the moon” on The Honeymooners with the implication it would be achieved by punching her up into space.
Which were the healthy couples? Who was suppressing their feelings? Which ones had unresolved anger issues?
What rocks can teach you about love
I’m a sucker for clickbait.
I recently read an article listing the 7 signs your relationship won’t last after the quarantine is over. I was a bit nervous an uncomfortable number of signs would apply to us, but was relieved we seem to have the same run-of -the-mill issues as most couples spending too much time together. (The number one red flag was someone having an affair. How the hell could you have an affair while being on lockdown? It sounds too exhausting.)
Saul and I are in good shape, but it didn’t always come naturally. We’ve done some couples therapy sessions. I’m sure there are people out there who feel this is not something one should have to do with their best friend with whom they share genuine love, but I think there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
Our therapist gave us a great analogy. He said people in relationships are like two jagged rocks. When they first meet and are in that romantic love phase, the rocks are far apart since each person knows so little about the other that they tend to fill in what they don’t know with their own fantasies. As they get to know each other, the rocks get closer and start periodically colliding. After some years of those sharp edges hitting against each other something happens…the jagged parts eventually fall away, and the rocks become two polished stones.
I think Saul and I have lost some of our jagged edges. I’ve recently stopped trying to win the grocery store parking lot battle and now just automatically look for the closest spot possible. I still don’t know why it makes my husband so anxious, but why do I need to push him to the edge of the cliff?
Finding the piece that fits
I love that Saul is willing to work on our relationship together. When I first started dating him my friend Sara, who saw me go through a lot of bad dating experiences said of him, “he’s in it to win it.” Saul said during that same period. “You have to admit, we both give a damn.”
There is so much about Saul that makes me happy. I have never seen a person care more about his pets. He brushes our cats’ teeth, so their gums don’t bleed, and wakes our dog Alfie up every morning with what he calls a “lovedown,” which consists of hugging him and petting him from head to tail. And he has kept our home full of delicious meals and desserts at a time when going to the grocery store feels like going on a police raid.
Since the pandemic started, we began doing a jigsaw puzzle together. I am very good at sorting the puzzle pieces into groups — the fence pieces, the chimney pieces, the sky pieces — but I am terrible at fitting them together. Luckily Saul excels at that. We are a perfect team at figuring out difficult puzzles and have fun doing it. Could that be a sign of genuine love?
Since I read Steven D’s quote I’ve been searching for other’s about love. One is by the author Andrew Holleran from his book, Dancer in the Dark. “You must stick to the earth always, you must love another man or woman, a human lover whose farts occasionally puncture the silence of your bedroom in the morning and who now and then has bad moods that must be catered to.”
But I think a shorter quote from Ruth Bell Graham might sum up what I’ve learned the best, and I think it holds true whether you are two finely polished stones or two misshapen rocks. “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”